The analytics of cycling

Where is my auto-pilot? The Dolomites are stunning.

A few months ago, I posted an article about analytics in cycling. This post still remains one of the most popular posts on my blog. Thanks for all the great comments, feedback and questions. Many of you wanted to find out more. Here is a quick report of how technology helps improve cycling performance. On Saturday, I had the opportunity to ride the famous Alpe di Siusi climb in the Dolomites. It is a super nice and friendly climb: breathtaking landscape and not too long. It is fairly steep (average of 8.5%) but it is steady. In other words: a perfect opportunity to fit a short but challenging ride into a constrained schedule.

GADGET ALERT

High Tech in the hub: My Saris Cycleops Powermeter

A few years ago, powermeters became an affordable training tool for amateur riders like me. Smart technology is packed into either the bike cranks or the hub of a cycle and it measures a lot of data: power output, cadence, speed, torque, etc.. The data is sent to my Garmin Edge 705 cycling computer via ANT+ (similar to bluetooth) where it is combined with further GPS and altitude data. Following each ride, I download the data into a smart software called WKO+. This is where I can analyze each ride and learn a ton of stuff about myself.

PREPARATION

Blue line: fitness, pink line current training load, yellow line: freshness

Before leaving the house, I checked my performance chart in WKO+. This chart literally calculates and predicts my fitness using smart algorithms. The blue line for example shows my fitness ramp up. You can see that I had a rough spring: I was injured and could do not much until March. The yellow line indicates my ‘freshness’: a value below zero indicates that my legs are likely to feel heavy. A positive value indicates that I should have fresh legs. These algorithms work amazingly well and it really helps me put a solid training schedule together. For Saturday, I can see that I should have somewhat fresh legs (value is around +8). Perfect timing!

ON THE BIKE

An amazing piece of technology: The Garmin Edge 705

The climb went pretty well. Recent tests in training sessions have shown me that I am starting to get back in shape: I can easily sustain around 260w for about an hour. Wattage higher than 280 is likely to cause me some trouble (I experienced light cramps in a training session a few weeks ago). That information helps me with pacing. The climbs in Italy are pretty steep and it is easy to get carried away and push too hard. But after a few minutes I realized that the recent training efforts have indeed helped me improve and so I settled into a higher than normal pace. And this strategy worked out pretty well: I felt great and strong throughout the entire climb. I did have to hold back a little as it was getting extremely hot and I still had another climb across Passo Pinei.

OFF THE BIKE

Back home in Munich, I downloaded the ride into the software. How did I do? First, I take a look at my power distribution. A quick report shows me how much time I spent in different calculated training zones. The two zones on the right are the ones that really, really hurt. This is where your legs & lungs are screaming in pain. Hmm…Looks like I had a good day based on that. It seems that I have made some good progress. Time to increase the overall training intensity?

Time spent in different training zones

Let’s take a look at the detailed ride. The orange line shows the altitude profile. You can see that there were two different climbs. The other curves show the important stuff: power output (yellow), pedal cadence (green), speed (blue). Looks wild, doesn’t it?

Orange linge: altitude, yellow line: power output, green line: pedal cadence

But I am interested in my climbing performance. So let me zoom in on the Alpe di Siusi climb. To make it easier to analyze the data, I am drawing a few lines in here: the yellow dotted line shows my current threshold power (the power that I can produce for about one hour without falling off my bike in exhaustion) along with my favorite cadence zone (anything below 60 rpms does not feel good…). Aha. Looks like I had a good ride. Training is paying off indeed. I consistently rode above my estimated threshold and even had lot’s of energy to spare at the end of the climb (look at the yellow peak). Awesome.

The Alpe Suisi climb

The software also calculates several important and helpful KPIs. I won’t go into the details, but these KPIs help me further manage my training schedule. One easy example is Kilojoules:  I created energy worth 732 KJs (the equivalent of two Snickers!). That information is really helpful on longer training rides: it helps you manage food intake.

ANALYTICS IS FUN

Perfect. Despite not having much time, I managed to get a solid ride in. The powermeter helped me pace and push myself. The post-ride analysis showed that I need to adjust my training schedule: time for higher intensity workouts. Also, I will have more time to ride in the Alps over the next few weeks and will use this knowledge to ride some of the longer and harder passes.

It’s fun to ride this way: The analytics have allowed me to learn a lot about myself. I ride more consistently now. And I perform much better on climbs. It feels awesome when you have some energy left in the tank at the end of a climb: this time I raced a local delivery truck. Italians love cycling and the two guys in the car cheered me on while pushing the gas pedal a bit more. The sun was shining, the clouds opened up on amazing view and I felt like I could fly right in that moment.

Business Analytics and the art of cycling

Road biking is a big passion of mine. The other day I was out on a long training ride with a good friend. One of the nice things about biking is that you can talk a lot on those rides. Since we were talking about different aspects of our work, my friend finally wanted to know what was so special about this “Business Analytics stuff”. How do you best explain that to somebody who is only remotely connected to IT, Finance and management? Luckily, I had a great story to tell him. And it’s not just a regular story. It is actually my personal success story in cycling.

HIGH TECH

About a decade ago, modern technology entered the world of professional cycling. Smart technology became available to measure not only the typical parameters of cycling like speed, distance etc.. This new piece of technology was called a “Powermeter”. This high-tech gadget allowed cyclists to measure advanced data such as power output, pedal torque, cadence etc.. Today some of these devices even measure aerodynamic drag.  Powermeters help athletes like myself to learn about themselves and to perform better. Needless to say, I invested in this technology about five years ago. It is a CycleOps Powertap with Bluetooth technology.

THE ERP OF CYCLING

Ok. But what does that have to do with Business Analytics. Very easy. The Powermeter is my transactional system. It records my ‘business’ on the bike. Second by second. Mile by mile. While I am riding, I can check my speed, power output, cadence and many other things. Just like a good solid ERP system. The gadget allows me to manage the operational aspects of my ‘cycling business’, i.e. I can lower my power output, increase cadence etc..

ENTER ANALYTICS

After each ride, I can then download the ride data. There is an extremely awesome piece of software called WKO+. It was created by two smart cycling professionals that have conducted ground-breaking research. This application helps athletes analyze their ride data. The objective is to become smarter (think knowledge about your own body) and to make better decisions about your training. This is basically Business Analytics for cyclists. Let’s take a look at how this works.

THE DASHBOARD

After each ride, I can analyze a Dashboard. This dashboard provides me with an overview of my most important metrics such as power output, mileage, cadence, time in training zones, etc.. There is a daily and a monthly dashboard. This helps me identify potential issues and to check my overall performance and progress. In Business Analytics, we implement dashboards for our executives and managers. The only difference is that they look at different metrics like sales, margins, profits.

WKO+ dashboard
The cycling dashboard from WKO+

ANALYSIS

If I spot something curious, e.g. an unexpected poor performance on a ride, I can immediately drill down to analyze the detailed data from my ride. This analysis contains a detailed report of some metrics and I can visually analyze the ride second by second. Going through the data, I can spot interesting things like power spikes, rest periods etc.. This helps me put the overall picture together of why I performed in a certain way. The analysis also helps me learn more about myself: what are my boundaries, what are my strengths etc.. The same thing is true for Business Analytics. If we spot some problems or opportunities, we perform analysis using our rich transactional data. This helps us identify critical business insight.

WKO+ detailed ride analysis
The detailed analysis of the ride: power, altitude and more

LOOKING AHEAD

Now that I have understood how and why I performed on my bike I can start using this information to plan and adjust my upcoming training plan. There are some smart algorithms in the software that help predict future performance based on past power-output and training load. Using this inside, I can then fine-tune my training plan and hopefully scare my riding friends by outperforming. Many companies leverage Predictive Analytics to make sense of data and to look ahead. They want to identify customers that might be more profitable in the future. They might want to spot opportunities for cost savings. And they use the insights to formulate and update their business plans.

Planning ahead

THE ROI

My friend now understands clearly what Business Analytics is all about. Since I was able to seriously drop him on a climb he was curious about the ROI of this. Well, the technology has enabled me to learn a ton about myself. I know my boundaries and I am able to push myself much further than I ever have. I was able to survive a grueling 7 day stage race across the Alps and all that with a minimum of preparation. All that by being smart about my racing tactics and most importantly about my training approaches. The same thing is true for businesses. I have worked with companies that have literally transformed the way they do business using the insights offered by modern Business Analytics software. This software now represents the central nervous system of these organizations. Why don’t you try that yourself?

If you are interested in learning more about how I use a powermeter during training, please read my personal blog: