Bike Computers: Data Fields for Cycling

BY IN Exercise Institute News On May 21, 2016

Using your bike computer to train smart

Ever wondered about how to use your bike computer in real-time to get the most out of your training environment? There is so much data available we want to make sure we have the correct information at our finger tips and know how to utilise that information when we are out riding and use it to our best advantage.

This is even before you add the information provided by a power meter! Then it becomes a minefield of values, percentages and algorithms all able to be displayed on your screen whilst you ride and to be interpreted once you finish.

Value of power data

The value of a power meter is indirect. It doesn’t make you go faster; it doesn’t ‘boost’ performance; and adding one to your bike will not make you aerodynamic. So what is the value the investment in a power meter?

When a power meter is coupled to a bike computer the benefits are many, and can be described in two ways:

  1. Retrospective data analysis- ‘after the fact’ analysis of what you have completed. Enabling you to make assumptions around performance on the day.
  2. Real-time data analysis – analysing what you are doing in real-time to ensure you get the most out of your current training.

The value of real time data analysis is this – setting up the Garmin or Wahoo head units into specific data fields can mean you are able to track performance in real-time and motivate yourself further when training alone or in isolation without a power meter.

Why use a Garmin or other device?

We all know that training with another person can motivate you. Chasing them, not getting left behind, attacking each other. Its fun and its motivating and makes you go harder than you would on your own.

An early study in sports science investigated the effect of cycling with another person. In the 19th century, researchers set a cyclist off to complete a set loop and measured the time to complete the route by themselves.

They then set off the same cyclist to complete the same route except with another cyclist in front of them by 200m. The results were obvious. The second condition yielded faster completion times in the timed cyclist. Researchers hypothesized that humans are social animals and, as such, are motivated by ‘other’.

So when in the absence of a riding partner or other external stimulant (such as a group ride or race), the Garmin can be used too simulate riding with another person or act as your personal motivator to ride harder, push beyond your limit and reach your training target.

It also means that if used correctly the Garmin can provide you with essential tools to train smarter and more effectively. Its not just about speed but about using your Garmin to its true capability and helping you get stronger.

The correct data fields

Tracking your output in real-time means you can motivate yourself to push further and harder during set tasks on a bike. The data fields below, on the training page of the Garmin, enables accurate tracking of variables to ensure you can push yourself that little bit extra during intensive training.

If a coach set you 5 x 5 minute efforts at 145-155 watts how would you go about doing this effectively? We explain how to do this below, and provide evidence to why each data field is implicated.


Garmin data fields for cycling with a power meter

Data Field 1 (top) – Power 10 sec Average; this smooths the data to a 10 sec average meaning the measure doesn’t jump around as much as 1 sec measures. It measures what you are doing at that moment. Thus a rider can ride to 145-155 watts in real-time.

Data Field 2 – Current Heart Rate; measuring your internal input to exercise. To read more about why heart rate and power correlations are interesting to performance read here.

Data Field 3 – Current Lap Time; counts up from 0 when the ‘lap’ button is pressed to ensure your interval duration of 5 minutes is completed. Pressing ‘lap’ button at the end of the 5 min period saves the lap data and resets the current lap timer to zero

Data Field 4 – Lap Power; this is the current average power for the lap you are on. Here you can see if you are hitting the desired lap average of 145-155 watts. By monitoring this through the effort you can adjust the 10 second power average (Data Field 1) to increase or decrease this lap average

Data Field 5 (bottom)- Power Last Lap, this measures the power average for the last lap. Once the 5 min period is up, you press the ‘lap’ button and the average for the lap moves from Lap Power (Data Field 4) to this data field for your reference. This enables you to see if you could meet the target prescribed once the interval or effort is completed.

Thus we are  able to ride to power and attempt to better ourselves in the long run with goal setting via current data analysis.


The benefit of using these fields is that week to week, if your training program has repeated efforts of similarity or set climbs you usually complete, you can take a lap average of these efforts  and look for small changes in output, indicative of performance gains. Goal setting is a very important factor to athlete motivation, attention and success.

Setting internal goals for oneself (not based on an outcome or competition with others) has also been positively correlated with athlete well-being and resilience to training and competition.

The above Garmin screen is one way in which goals can be internally activated and bench-marked week to week, even day to day.

Your power meter, a psychological ergogenic aid.

Brad Hall
B.Sc. (Psy & Sport Sc.); B.Psy (Hons)


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