Do you need a cycling computer, HRM and power meter?
Many years ago cyclists didn't know what power meters, HRM and cycle computers were! The best they had may have been a speedometer. So how did they survive, how did they structure their training or race at that level? Don't get me wrong, I have to admit, going out without the cycle computer and HRM would feel like going out naked! It's like having your own little personal trainer out with you. But there was a time these weren't available and there are many cyclists that still don't use them today. Cycle computers can tell you how many miles you have been, how much elevation you have climbed, how long you have been out, how fast you have been going and much more if you want it to. It all depends on what you want to monitor, if anything at all....
Heart rate monitors are fantastic for showing you how much you are suffering in real time and how much recovery you may need, it is useful to try and help you to plan your training sessions effectively. They are highly effective in helping you structure your training and is insightful data to log for future reference. Looking back on your data can give you a good insight to progression, peaks and troughs, times of the year in which you peak and also patterns in fatigue and peak performances. Gathering data like this can really help you structure training to ensure you get the best performance at the right time.
A lot of amateur and pro cyclists now have power meters to analyse how much power you are delivering through the pedals over the course of a training ride or race. A power meter can tell you how much power you have produced overall in a session and what your max power was during the ride. Power meters are extremely useful in helping you to structure your training and help you to reach numbers and goals set either by yourself or a coach or training aid.
However, you could argue, why do you need any of it? You can only go as hard as you can go right? If you are pushing as hard as you can, what difference would it make if you had numbers to look at? Would it make you any stronger? Probably not right. This is the same with HR, if you feel like you are maxing out and can't go any faster then do you really need to know? You know your pushing hard and that's all that matters, surely? If someone tells you to go on a slow and steady ride, then your head knows if it feels easy or not.
OK, let's say you need to hold threshold for 6 mins, how do I know that, you may ask? Don't you need your HRM and powermeter to tell you how slow to go? Its all about your perceived effort. Don't get me wrong, having a power meter and HRM certainly helps this but what if you are having a bad day and can't hit the numbers. Do you scrap the session or carry on hitting lower numbers? However, you know how a 100% perceived effort feels like and you know what you can hold for one hour. So this is where your perceived effort comes into play and is still by no means a bad way to train. Especially if you are racing. In the race environment are you actually going to be staring down at your cycle computer trying to hit specific numbers? The likelihood is not, so training to the perceived effort is a good thing so when it comes to a real-life race situation you can rely on your body to tell you what's happening a bit too. When racing, control of what you are doing does get a little up and down, if you have to go with certain moves or there is a sudden injection of pace, maybe you are chasing back onto a group, things can get very unpredictable and your body needs to be able to react to this. So, when training be spontaneous and mix it up a bit.
You may, however, to only monitor your stats in a controlled environment like on the turbo or rollers. This is a good place to do controlled and specific sessions as there are no outside factors or distractions to ruin the session. Things have got quite advanced now with smart turbo trainers which now connect to apps and allow you to race and ride with people all around the world. The smart turbos monitor absolute everything and are known for improving performance. And if you get hooked like millions of people already have, there are always the British cycling eRacing bike championships to qualify for. The first National virtual eRacing bike race took place in 2019 and are set to be one of the most competitive and popular sports in cycling.
The verdict is, do what you want to do. Mix it up a bit and do what is right for you. We firmly believe there is no right or wrong answer. The best way to train is to do what suits you and what you find you can sustain.