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Data. Too much of a Good Thing?

Data. Too much of a Good Thing?

My bike computer ruined my birthday! The clip on the back snapped and it didn’t matter how much tape or elastic bands I wrapped it in, it kept falling off during a London–Brighton-London ride. (Yes, I really did celebrate my birthday with a 120+ mile round trip!).

To top it off, the batteries ran out so it was stuffed angrily in my back pocket. It wasn’t so much the loss of the maps for navigation that maddened me but the loss of total ride distance, average speed, actual moving time etc.

Without the data my ride didn’t seem complete. It gets worse (just let me just get this off my chest) – I returned the unit to Garmin. When the shiny new replacement arrived I excitedly hurried out the door for a ride. Except the d**n Garmin wouldn’t work. I nearly didn’t go out. And even though I did I was irritated for the duration of my ride knowing that yet again I wouldn’t have data!

OK – by the 2nd lap of Richmond Park I was starting to calm down and not think of the ride as a complete waste of time, started to enjoy the scenery, enjoy being outside, enjoy the exercise and started to think about data: is it actually a good thing?

This is what I concluded:

Doing a Chris Froome: I don’t even have a power meter or know my optimum power output but I’ve caught myself on many an occasion staring at my bike computer rather than the scenery or paying attention to the road (I’ll admit to crashing into the back of a car whilst checking max speed – no that’s not me on YouTube!). Too much data is dangerous.

Lies, damn lies and statistics:  What if the data is just plain wrong? My wife's Jawbone tells her to ‘get some exercise’ when she is pushing the pushchair and a small child who should really be walking - but hasn’t recorded a single step. When she discarded the Jawbone into her handbag- swinging on the pushchair - it thinks she’s running 2 ultra-marathons a day. Data can be misleading.

All statistics have outliers: I had a boditrax scan recently, whilst I don’t really believe that I’m80% percent muscle, my BMI score can’t really be ‘obese’ either – I’m just short and heavy! Neither is it helpful knowing that my Impedance is 425.9 – but I’m worried about it now – even though I don’t know what it means. Data assumes you’re average.

If the data is boring, then you’ve got the wrong numbers: It is possible (with your smart phone) to record every step, pedal stroke, heart beat, calorie, even your sleeping performance can be recorded, analysed, rated and even be shared on social media for the world to see (if anyone was interested).  Is this going too far? Some data is best kept to yourself.

There are 2 kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up:  If you’re a professional athlete – data is essential, you need to analyse data to ensure maximum performance and search for every area of potential enhancement.  If you’re a dedicated amateur data can be an important feedback tool and motivator too.  If you’re someone who goes out for the occasional run….well. Data is not for everyone.

Like many things in life, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Is the ubiquity of data over complicating what should be relatively simple pursuits that help us escape the complexities of life?  I’m not saying I’m going to go completely data cold turkey but I’ve decided: sometimes I’m just going to go out for a walk/run/ride for the fun of it.

(I have a confession, that ride in Richmond Park I wasn’t riding totally blind – I ran the App. on my phone, so whilst I couldn’t see the statistics in front of me when I got home I could analyse. And guess what? I was slower, much slower – with no lap times or speedometer to gauge my performance, I didn’t so much as stall as select reverse and go backwards. My final conclusion…a bit of Data is a good thing).


the author

Ben Walder

Ben is a keen cyclist, road and mountain biking, runner, skier and even enjoyed a brief flirtation with boxing. He’s cycled John O Groats to Lands End, London to Paris in 24 hours, 5 countries in 3 days and ticked off some legendary climbs from the Tour de France. When he’s not dragging his mates out on cycling adventures across Europe he’s being dragged around by his 2 young daughters to karate, ballet, gymnastics, tennis and swimming..