Tools of the trade for cyclists

bike computers and heart rate monitors can help you trainIn any bike shop you’ll find a glass case displaying rows of small shiny devices that measure anything it’s possible to collect statistics about on a bicycle. Elite cyclists wouldn’t be without them, but they can also be useful tools for recreational cyclists.

The most common ‘tool of the trade’ is the bike computer. Most measure current, average and maximum speeds, distance and pedalling time. Some bike computers also measure cadence – how quickly you’re spinning the pedals.

The other tool that’s becoming more common is the heart rate monitor. This measures your current, maximum and average heart rate, kilojoules used and exercise time. Some will also measure your kilowatt output, altitude and so on, and let you download it all to your computer. The idea is that you ride within a ‘zone’ based on your age, gender, height, weight and projected fitness level.

Certainly such devices are not necessary to get out and enjoy some exercise. But they can add a bit of fun and help you if you’re training toward a particular goal.

Many recreational cyclists carefully record every kilometre in a diary or spreadsheet. Some even come back from a ride and do a couple of laps around the block to tick over the distance to that magic 80, 90 or 100 km. Of course, they’ll usually laugh at themselves for doing it.

A bike computer is a good way to keep track of how far you’ve been riding when you’re training for an event. And it’s always cause for celebration when you come back with your highest average speed!

The thing to watch is that the tools don’t become your masters. What if you want the computer showing an average of 24 kph but you can only keep up 20 kph? What if you had hoped to achieve a cadence of 95 but can only do 78? What if your heart rate has suddenly popped up to max and you’re only half way into a ride?

Don’t stress too much. The tools are simply indicating that, today, your body is not capable of the targets you had set yourself. You might a little more work to do, or you’re having an off day (as we all do), or your targets are unrealistic for the conditions of the day. Adjust to the circumstances and have another go next time you are out.

Remember, they’re only tools to support the main activity – enjoying your cycling.

See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla

First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 12 January 2007. Image courtesy


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