Selle Anatomica
A mountain biker’s view of the trail and cycling GPS while riding through the woods

How Not to Get Distracted by Your GPS on a Bike Ride

Nowadays, we’re used to having computers with us everywhere — in your car, in your pocket, even on your bike. In fact, many of today’s serious cyclists won’t set out on the road without their Garmin or another GPS device to track their progress and monitor their key health metrics.

Far more than just a GPS, these devices track the weather, your heart rate, speed, elevation, and more. They give you access to a trove of valuable data that can vastly improve your workout regimen and ride planning.

But access to all that information can also give your cycling computer a dangerous allure. With so much to see at any time, it’s easy to divert your eyes from where they need to be — on the road.

“When you’re staring at your computer, you may not be going straight,” says our friend and longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie. “Your bike may go off into traffic or off the side of the road."

Darryl has known friends who have given into distracted cycling. One of them even ran into a pole along the cycling path while he was looking at his cycling computer, sidelining him for weeks. 

To help you avoid the same fate, Coach Darryl offers a few rules of thumb for how not to get distracted by your GPS while on a bike ride.

Don’t Take in Too Much Information at Once

A single screen on your cycling computer might contain several pieces of data. Many of these devices allow you to fill up several screens with different readings and information you may want to access during a ride. You can scroll through these different screens just as you would on your smartphone.

And, just like your smartphone, that can lead to information overload. That’s a much bigger problem when you’re cycling than when you’re just scrolling your iPhone on the john. 

To minimize that information overload, Darryl recommends taking in just one piece of data at once. Look down at your GPS, observe one data point, then look back to the road while you let your brain process that single piece of information. Don’t try to take in more than you can handle while maintaining focus on the road ahead.

Organize Your GPS Display 

One way to not get distracted by your GPS while on a bike ride is to organize your display. Your smartphone may have 10 screens of disorganized apps, but that doesn’t mean your cycling computer needs to be that way. Considering that you might be rolling at 30 miles an hour on two wheels, you probably want to know exactly where to find the information you need. 

That’s why Darryl organizes his various screens with information that’s related and relevant to specific moments on his ride. He has one screen with all the data he wants during a climb, another that he uses when following specific pre-planned routes, and one that shows his power output at a point in time and over the course of the ride.  

He also keeps a specific set of commonly referenced fields in the same location on every single screen — speed, heart rate and cadence, the three sensors that are included with most cycling computers. That way, no matter which screen he is on, he can look down and see that critical, frequently referenced information. 

You can organize your GPS any way you want. The point is that you don’t want to be rummaging through screens for information; you want to be able to find it quickly and get your eyes back on the road.

Train Your Brain

As powerful as these computers are, you shouldn’t forget that your brain is a pretty powerful computer in its own right. If you make your brain work a little, it’s capable of capturing and analyzing more data than you may think.

So, instead of simply relying on your GPS for all of your cycling information, engage your mind and try to guess the data before you look at it. Rather than immediately looking down at the screen, ask yourself what you think your heart rate, speed or mileage is. Then check yourself with the GPS.

The more you do this, the better your guesses will be because you’ll learn to more accurately estimate your speed or heart rate by observing your body and surroundings rather than just looking at a number.

As Coach Darryl likes to put it, “I’m now bringing my cycling computer with me wherever I go — because it’s me!” 

When All Else Fails, Put Your GPS in Your Pocket

If you find that you simply can’t avoid checking your GPS throughout the bike ride, then just remember the old adage: out of sight out of mind.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave the GPS at home. You may want to have all that data to look at later and you won’t get it without your cycling computer. 

Instead, just take the GPS off your bike and put it in your back pocket. That way, it’s still connected to the sensors and collecting data for you, but it’s not there to bother you minute by minute. You can upload your information at home, where you’re free to dig as deeply into the data as you want.

Modern technology has given us more insight into our cycling lives than ever before. But remember, your safety is far more important than one fleeting piece of data. Before you hop onto your leather bicycle saddle and snap on that GPS, be sure you’re prepared to handle the temptation.


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by William Hook on Unsplash