Bike Computers

Bike computers. Evidently I love them. It’s pretty cool to know how fast I’m going when I’m going fast. And how quickly my legs are spinning, my cadence, is a fun stat – I’ll see rpm numbers from 37 crunching up Botsford Hill to 122 screaming down 202 in Northville by Kevin’s road. At the end of the ride, I’ve got a distance number to log so that by the end of the year, I can brag that I cycled 4100 miles. Where computers really come in handy though are on cue-sheet guided rides – New routes that I’ve designed on MapMyRide or Google, or on organized rides like the D2R2.

And yet…How much better is any ride for knowing its metrics? When I’m in the parking lot eating the post-ride watermelon Leslie brings, the numbers are peripheral. Yeah, it’s nice to know mileage or the average speed of our paceline down 202, but that’s not the big focus. That’s on the experience, the fun, the heat, the cold, the rain, the driver we thought was going to take us out, the tandem we passed, the 80-something year old former pro riding around the lake with no helmet, or twice, the bald eagles we passed. It’s easy to imagine missing some of these things obsessing about stats.

And yet, I do love knowing, and I have a computer on each bike. They died within months of each other last year. Both were CatEye Astrale 8s, and had quietly tallied the miles and rpms with utter reliability for years and years. CatEye doesn’t make the Astrale 8 anymore, but the equivalent seemed to be the $50 Strada Cadence. The mount was different, and the screen toggle is more convenient – You just push down on the computer, and it clicks through the functions. But on rough roads this spring, I found the computers would lose connection with the senders. I’d look down and be registering 0 mph when all other evidence suggested I was moving forward at a reasonable rate. The fix was to wiggle the computer in its mount until the contacts contacted again. No big deal except that I’d have no idea how far I’d gone while the computer was AWOL, plus, instead of paying attention to the road, I was fiddle-farting with my computer. That’s a safety issue as well as a navigation problem on a cued ride. Plus, wiggling it would change the screen, and I’d have to toggle through to set the dual functions at speed and cadence, instead of average or elapsed time or total miles. I expect more from a $50 item.

I emailed CatEye. I got a canned response saying to send back the computers for inspection and possible warranty replacement or repair. Thanks, guys. You make your money because most cyclists are even more obsessed with ride statistics than I am, and you want the old computers back before sending new ones? How long, exactly, will it be that I don’t know how far, fast, and hard I’m riding? And given that both computers have exactly the same problem, I’m thinking this is a design defect and that I’m not the first customer to have this issue. How about building some customer service karma and sending me the new computers on my word, along with a return shipping label for the defective ones?

I thought about it for a couple of weeks, while on about every other ride, the computers continued to glitch. Then, with the Orbea in the shop for a frame repair, I figured I didn’t need that computer for a while. And honestly, I know the mileage of the routes I ride the Specialized on, so I can keep track of that. I won’t know how fast I’m going, or how frantically my legs are spinning, but really, so what? I’ll still enjoy the rides, which my legs and heart will identify as fast or slow, hard or easy. So, last night, Pat packaged up both computers for me, and I dropped them in the mail to CatEye this morning. It will be interesting to see how this is resolved.

In the meantime, Garmin 800s are coming down in price. A couple of side jobs this spring, and I’ll be able to buy a GPS computer that cues my rides. There’s some chance that CatEye is going to lose my business no matter how well or poorly they handle this warranty issue.

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About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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