Here’s a quick start guide for setting up your data screens on your ride computer. I haven’t used any other computers besides the Garmin Edge units, but the other options most likely have similar data field options and the recommendations will be the same.
Your computer may not have the ideal settings out of the box. Here are some general guidelines to ensure you’re recording data properly.
Garmin computers (not sure if others do this) are set up with Smart Recording out of the box. The goal of Smart Recording is to only record “key” points throughout the ride, which uses less memory and allows for an extended recording time. This leaves gaps in the data which can be problematic for many reasons. Memory is rarely, possibly never, an issue during training rides. Using 1-second recording ensures you get the most accurate data collection possible.
I generally recommend using auto-pause 98% of the time, although there are some good arguments against using it. I’m of the opinion that when you’re training, stops should be as brief as possible. If you stop for more than 20-30 minutes it’s technically two different rides. If you’re a long-distance cyclist, I would recommend training/racing without auto-pause turned on. That time you spend at SAG stops eating Oreos and drinking pickle juice is considered rest, and your average power should reflect that. For the non-ultra cyclists, it doesn’t tend to impact that data very much unless you’re doing something like hammering a 60-minute group ride, drinking coffee for 30 minutes, and then hammering another hour without stopping your computer. Analysis software thinks you rode for 2.5 hours but only takes the average from your 2 hours of hammering. That 30 minutes of coffee drinking should technically be recorded as zero’s, thus bringing your average power down considerably.
Record Zero’s For Average Power
If you don’t record zero’s it will inflate your average power. After a criterium, you’ll think it was the hardest race you’ve ever done after seeing the average power – then be totally confused when you upload your data and it’s a lot lower. If this has ever happened to you I’ll bet you weren’t recording zero’s.
Don’t Record Zero’s For Cadence
Periods of coasting will make your average cadence look really lower. When viewing average cadence, you’ll only want feedback on the periods you were actually pedaling.
Screen 1 – Overview
I like to use this screen as a quick overview of basic information that I don’t need to really reference on a regular basis.
- Field 1 – Ride time
- Field 2 – Distance
- Field 3 – Kilojoules
- Field 4 – Average Power
- Field 5 – Normalized power
This is geared towards a power user, so if you’re only using heart rate I would replace fields 3-5 with average heart rate.
Measuring kilojoules is useful on longer rides where improving fatigue resistance is the primary goal. For example, I’ll have an athlete head out and burn 2000 kilojoules at a specific pace, then once they hit the kilojoule goal they’ll begin a series of intervals.
Monitoring average and normalized power are useful for longer rides where staying at a specific output are desired. Whether you should be monitoring average power or normalized power depends on the ride goals.
Screen 2 – Intervals
When you’re out crushing intervals, your main priority should be staying present in the effort. The data is used for feedback throughout so you can adjust accordingly, but shouldn’t take over your focus. In other words, if you have 10 data fields spitting out numbers and your eyes are glued to your computer, then you’re doing it wrong. Stay present, focus on the effort, and use the numbers as a guide.
The ideal screen setup will change a bit depending on your goals. Here is what I recommend:
Road /Trainer / Steady Paced Intervals
- Field 1 – Lap Time
- Field 2 – Average Power Lap
- Field 3 – 3-second Power
For any type of steady-paced interval work your task is simple – ride at X wattage for X time. I find 3-second power reflects changes in output better than real-time power, and 10-second or 30-second power responds to changes in the effort too slow. If you’re not using a power meter then replace field 2 with lap average heart rate and field 3 with real-time heart rate.
Off-road / Variable Paced Intervals
- Field 1 – Lap Time
- Field 2 – Heart Rate
- Field 3 – Normalized Power Lap
- Field 4 – 3-second Power
Heart rate is very helpful for off-road intervals, especially on technically demanding courses. Your power meter may not know you just sprinted up a flight of stairs or spent the last minute negotiating a gnarly rock garden, but your heart certainly will!
Rough/technical terrain means your power output won’t be nearly as steady as it will be on the road, so average power isn’t always the best representation of how hard you’re going. Normalized power accounts for the highly variable power output of off-road riding and will be a better guide to the overall effort.
Additional Fields / Screens
Screens 1 and 2 are really all you need for training purposes. It’s not uncommon for me to recommend modifications depending on the athletes goals/challenges. I personally like having current and average speed on my screen when focusing on time trials. During winter/indoor training, it can be fun to mix things up with cadence work, so adding a field or two for cadence to the interval screen isn’t uncommon.
Other Fun Screens
- Lap Summary – This can be helpful while doing workouts with lots of intervals (it’s easy to lose count while you’re deep in the pain cave). The lap summary will also show your max power, and it’s always fun seeing who can hit the highest wattage during city limit sprints.
- Map – I’ll actually keep this as my main screen during long rides. It keeps my mind off the numbers and present in the ride. I’ll also use it during road races when I’m not very familiar with the course to help keep me engaged on where the next turn is or the distance to the finish line.
- Battery Save Mode – This is a feature that a few units have, such as the Garmin Edge 820. The screen goes blank while still recording all of your data. Perfect for rolling down the road and working through all of life’s many puzzles. Plus, your computer will basically never die.
The amount of data we have available to us during our rides is larger than ever before. It’s easy to get caught up in all the numbers and let them consume our thoughts. We don’t ride to generate numbers on a chart, and we certainly don’t need any more time than we already do staring at a screen. Set up your computer to optimize your efforts during focused training and keep it simple. The time for deep analysis comes later after you upload your ride and fire up Strava or WKO.
If you can’t remember the last time you simply went hard and focused on nothing but the sensations of going fast, the burn in your legs, and the positive thoughts in your head (they better be positive!), then I give you permission to ignore the computer every once in a while and just enjoy the ride. Your computer will still record every glorious pedal stroke, I promise!