Sunday, November 01, 2015

Exercise Bike Confusion

There is an exercise bike I use at the gym, primarily because it is not a recumbent bike, that has a very confusing display. It has three categories of information it displays at a time, and you can toggle between two sets of information. The six pieces of information are, in what to me is the logical grouping, Speed, Distance, and Calories Burned in one group, and RPMs, METs, and Watts in the other group.

I group Speed, Distance and Calories together because the typical gym goer will use those real world estimations for their fitness efforts. They will do a workout based on a particular distance traveled, or target number of calories. They will gauge intensity by their estimated speed. It is a display grouping that makes sense based on a large group of people. Speed and distance particularly are a pairing of information that makes a lot of sense together. The two are essentially a combination of instantaneous speed and average speed x workout duration.

The other group is a little more of a technical set of data. METs is a term that cyclists might not use, but fitness types with a little more fitness knowledge might use it in fitness goals. They could have a goal of so many METs for a workout in a similar way to how the typical person would use distance traveled or calories. Watts is possibly the best indication of workout intensity for a bike. A good analogy would be to say that Watts are like the number of weight plates on a particular exercise machine or free weight exercise. RPMs are a good way to ensure that a particular speed is using either aerobic or anaerobic respiration as a source of fuel. Watts and RPMs together is a fairly technical set of information, and it is something more technically inclined cyclists would probably want grouped together.

Why is it confusing? It is confusing because the pairings are RPMs, Distance, and Calories paired together and Speed, METs and Watts paired together. RPMs and Watts should always be together because their utility together is better and those who will use one or the other will likely want both. Speed and Distance should be together for similar reasons. If we ignore METs and Calories, there is no reason not to have Speed and Distance together, and there is no reason not to have RPMs and Watts together. But that is exactly what is happening on this bike. Instead when I want to see Watts I have to have the display on that data grouping, and when I want to reference what pedal RPM I am at for the Watts I have to toggle the display to the other grouping. Alternately if someone else is looking at their distance traveled and want to see how fast they are going they have to toggle the grouping.

If I could have my way I would have a bike with just Time, RPMs and Watts, and a spot for Heart Rate when I am using the heart rate sensors. Those are measurements that can be reasonably accurate and tell me good workout information. I wouldn't even bother with Speed, Distance, Calories or METs. All of those are estimations at best, and Speed and Distance rarely match real world bikes. Riding an exercise bike and riding a bike are two very different experiences and activities. If you are lucky the exercise bike will match one of the gear ratios on a real world bike, but that just means you have somewhat accurate data for some of the time on a real bike. The actual workout intensity is still going to differ.

I would love to meet the person responsible for the display groupings, and ask him or her what in the world they were thinking. It almost makes me want to try the recumbent bikes to see if they are the same. Almost
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