Giving Up My Garmin

Needing to replace my lost bicycle computer, I decided that the time had come for a significant upgrade: Garmin’s new Edge 500, complete with heart and cadence monitors. Disregard the price, I told myself, since it will help me improve conditioning and heart health.

With a little help from Garmin’s online support, I set up screens that reported basic information that I already understood. Then came the new possibility that interested me the most: the ability to monitor changes in elevation, which in the Northwest and in Arizona (the two places I bicycle the most) constantly change and often are severe.

But after a few weeks, Garmin’s glamour lost its luster. I hadn’t reckoned with the fact that like cell phones and computers it has to be plugged in every day in order to stay powered up. The electronics were more complicated than I had anticipated, and like many others my age I was unwilling to set aside my aversion to things digital. And to spend precious time downloading data to my computer, analyzing it online, and communicating with Garmin lovers worldwide? No way could I imagine doing that.

My first rides with Garmin were during the coaching week of PACTour’s Desert Camp 2010. With newly acquired data about my heart rate, I was ready for coach Fred Matheny’s guidance on how to use the information. Imagine how I felt when he said that people who are serious about their training don’t make much use of that information any more. “The electronics that report useful data,” he told us, “are power meters. And a growing number of cyclists in the pro circuit refuse to use any of these new technologies. Electronic manipulation of data, they have decided, takes too much time and offers too little help.”

“Perceived effort,” coach Fred continued, “is a reliable indicator of how hard a cyclist is working.”

I recognized the truth in what he said. When climbing Germantown Road into the hilly spine west of downtown Portland, I can tell with absolute certainty when I am going as hard as I can, short of having to stop to catch my breath. Ten years ago, while climbing Yarnell Hill in the mountains north of Phoenix, that point was when my heart rate reached 161. Now in my older age, it’s 154. In neither case, however, did I need to know the number. I could depend with full confidence on the feeling—the perceived effort.

One again, the lesson comes home: the happy life depends upon the right balance between the body/mind machine and the tools—mechanical, technological, and electronic—that a person uses. For me, a simple, wireless computer on a sports-touring road bike is just right. The Garmin Edge 500 is too much.

For me, yes, but not for my friend Mark-o, self-professed computer geek, who became my Garmin’s new companion. In half a day he developed more of its capabilities than I had in two months. With enthusiasm close to rapture, he told me all about it on that very first day.

So all of us are happy. Marko and I are nicely matched with our respective technologies, and the Garmin, I want to believe, is recapturing its glow as it travels in the Portland hills with its newfound friend.

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5 Responses to Giving Up My Garmin

  1. Renee Senior says:

    Hopefully your body/tool balance will not be upset by maintaining your blog. I enjoyed your first entry and look forward to more.

  2. Bob Cornwall says:

    Keith,

    I’m not a cyclist (my bicycle sits gathering dust in the garage), I love the sub-title of the blog. I look forward to reading more essays in the future! Welcome to the blogosphere.

  3. Martha June Bradshaw says:

    Interesting writing, Keith. More bicycle rides should produce more stories.
    I hope some day you may happen across a place once trekked and served
    by preacher John Rigdon in the Oregon/Washington area.

    Keep riding and writing!!

  4. Enid L. Jones says:

    I enjoyed both of these accounts. We cycled for six weeks one summer (with the George Tolmans), Europe and the UK. Do you know of Barry Lopez, traveler and author who now lives in Oregon? Someone you would appreciate.

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