What's Cool In Road Cycling

Time Trial Data Feedback: What’s Too Much?

Can Too Much Data Influence Performance?

We’ve all seen the memes of riders who spend their entire saddle time staring down at their computer units rather than the world around them. But is information power (as the saying goes), or can too much data or feedback be negative to performance to competitive cyclists?

froome
The most famous stem starer

Stem Staring

Rightly or wrongly, Chris Froome was the poster boy for memes about riders staring at their stems or bike computers, leading to all sorts of debate about robotic racing and ideas about banning power meters. Froome actually claims it’s his natural body alignment and posture on the bike rather than an obsession with data.

In lab experiments, we generally have participants perform time trials without any feedback (power, distance, HR, cadence, etc.), as we want to see their natural pacing strategy. In track racing, you’re allowed to record data, but the computer has to be hidden out of view. Off the boards, we will almost always know the distance of the race, and our computers give us access to a nearly infinite array of potential data.

So what is optimal? If we want to nail our club time trial, should we go the track or the road route? If the latter, how much info is too much info?

I previously wrote about a 2017 study about just what data points experienced and non-experienced cyclists focus on.

Bayne et al. 2020

Having a single versus multiple data feedback available during time trials was the focus of a UK/Qatari study (Bayne et al. 2020). They also tested the effects of feedback on trained versus inexperienced cyclists. Here are the main experimental details.

  • 10 trained cyclists (> 2 years of cycling or triathlon competition) and 10 fit (> 5 h of activity per week) non-cyclists.
  • A 30 min lab time trial was the test, with the goal of highest average power or work done during this time. Test was done in 18°C with a slight wind.
  • The single feedback condition was elapsed time.
  • The multiple feedback consisted of time, distance, speed, cadence, watts, and heart rate.
  • Eye tracking software was used to see how long participants looked at different data points.

The Eyes Have It

An interesting question executed with an appropriate and straightforward research design.

As seen in the bottom graph of this figure, all groups (CTMF = Cyclists, multiple feedback; CTSF = Single feedback; NCMF = Non-cyclists), had similar pacing strategies regardless of experience or feedback quantity. For the non-cyclists, single or multiple feedback had no effect on performance, with average wattage 131 and 137 W with single and multiple feedback, respectively. This would suggest that data availability was secondary to pure fitness and experience.

The trained cyclists presented quite a different response to feedback, however. With single feedback, their average power was 288 W. However, with multiple feedback, there was a huge drop down to 228 W, despite similar ratings of perceived exertion. This would suggest that the presence of so much feedback led to information overload and distraction from the task at hand.

Diving deeper into the eye tracking data, it’s not surprising that the cyclists glanced most often and also spent the most time glancing at power, even though their perception was that they glanced most at speed. One other interesting observation was that the total amount of time glancing at data decreased over the 30 min time trial. This could suggest a shift to focusing on internal cues over time, or potentially cognitive fatigue from information overload.

euro TT 2023
Watch where you are going

Eyes on the Road!

Based on this study, the advice for time trials and maybe even climbing or KOM-hunting may be to simplify your computer screen. Stick with one (e.g., power, average power, cadence) or at most two metrics (e.g., add in time, distance or distance-to-go).

I can’t conclude this study without a warning. This was done in the lab on a stationary bike. Out on the road, keep your eyes up and alert!

Simplify your life. Go minimalist and go fast!

References

Bayne F, Racinais S, Mileva K, et al (2020) Less Is More—Cyclists-Triathlete’s 30 min Cycling Time-Trial Performance Is Impaired With Multiple Feedback Compared to a Single Feedback. Front Psychol 11:. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.608426

 

 

 

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