Is Data Overload Making You Slower?

Ten years ago, my bike had a cyclocomputer with speed, distance and cadence. I’d ride, get home and log my distance and average speed in a notebook and call it a day. With the advent of consumer priced power meters and smart trainers, virtual training platforms, cycling analytics apps and other tools we now live in a world where riders can analyze every aspect of their ride in ways only coaches for world tour teams could just years ago.

But, does all that data make us faster? Or is it, in fact, possible to improve your cycling performance by limiting the amount of data you see during a ride or event?

A fascinating new study examined exactly that by looking at whether too much feedback during a time trial makes you slower on the bike.

Study Conclusion:

Experienced cyclists indoor 30 min cycling TT performance was impaired with multiple feedback compared to single feedback. Whereas non-cyclist’s performance did not differ between multiple and single feedback. Experienced cyclists glanced at power and time which corresponds with the wireless sensor networks they use during training. The impairment may be related to a mental overload from the multiple feedback variables as information acquisition decreased over time. Overloading athletes with feedback is not recommended for cycling performance. Thus, cyclists-triathletes may find benefit from selecting a single feedback variable to inform performance during training and competition compared to using multiple feedback variables together.

Bayne, F., et al., Less Is More—Cyclists-Triathlete’s 30 min Cycling Time-Trial Performance Is Impaired With Multiple Feedback Compared to a Single Feedback. Frontiers in Psychology, 2020. 11.

It’s an interesting result. Cyclists, myself included, are so focused on power output and other metrics these days. But when I talk to pro cyclists they seem fairly indifferent and often report not looking at their numbers in depth.

As such, I’ve been thinking about the potential impact of all this data on my performance on the bike. I’ve caught myself more than once limiting an effort because I think my power number or heart rate is too high, not based on how my body actually feels.

I think it might be time to slim down my Wahoo screens… Back to the days of time, distance, speed?

Say something witty