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Is a bike computer really a computer?

Posted Mar 03 2011 12:00pm

I have this theory that at any given time I can only remember seven technical procedures at the same time. You know like changing the clock in my car, or programming my DVR, or swapping out the screen saver on my computer.

The second I learn the eighth technical procedure, like how to set my cell phone from ring to vibrate, the very first procedure in line falls off the cliff into the ocean of forgotten crap.

So it was with a mixture of dread and trepidation that I along with a friend of mine set out to install the newish Cateye wireless computer on my wife’s bike.

Now I really only need or want about four readouts from my bike computer:

1) Speed
2) Time
3) Distance
4) Tire pressure

Of course nobody makes a bike computer that tells you tire pressure but wouldn’t it be a cool and useful feature to have on your bike. (I hope all you Cateye executives are paying attention here because a) that’s my great and free suggestion to you and b) I’m about to tear you a new one.)

Unlike me, my wife also really likes to know her padel rpm or peddle cadence as some of you may call it. And since I hate wires, I shelled out well over $100 U.S. smackaroos for the Cateye wireless bike computer that also measures padel cadence.

This little monster has something like 4000 buttons and 15 different readouts on 20 different screens.

To install it you will first need an artist painting stand. When you open the box you’ll be amazed to find this tiny folded piece of rice paper that folds out into a city map sized directions manual. And just to be clear here the scale on this foldout direction map would be about 1 to 1.

Once you unfold this treasure of Japanese origami you’ll need the painters stand to display these massive directions which come in every language including Swahili and several dialects of Latvian. Who knew they biked in Swahililand, or whatever that nation happens to be called this hour?

Anyway, once you locate the Queen’s English you will immediate be directed over to read the car owners manual sized instruction book that comes along with this beast of a bike computer. And when I say car owner’s manual, I’m including all those other warranty books and mystery pamphlets that come packaged with the car manual that nobody reads.

Once again you have to locate the Queen’s English in this baby Bible. Once you locate the correct section the fun really begins. The manual explains that you have to press a serious of buttons in a very specific order to get the sending unit and the receiving (head) unit talking to each other.

It took us about 1 hour to acquaint these two parts. Somehow we did it by a) pressing the bottoms in a completely random order, followed by waving a dead chicken in the air all the while reciting the pledge backwards, and promising to name our second born Cateye.

I suggest that if you buy this particular bike computer you also make a quick stop at the grocery store on the way home to purchase your dead chicken. It will save you a trip, plus make a tasty meal after hours of futile effort to properly install this device.

Anyway, we now had the two units talking to each other so we installed them on the bike. This process took about 2 painless minutes and I was ready to declare victory and get my wife’s knowing and satisfied admiration.

That’s when my friend noticed that the computer was displaying the speed and distance in kilometers.

This is a problem since we live in America and are bit set on the mile. If I had only known that it would be much easier to ascend Everest than change the Cateye to display miles, I may have spent the next several hours trying on crampons. Instead we dove into the abyss only to discover that this very expensive bike computer has so many functions as to even confound Einstein.

For instance, and I’m pretty sure about this, the eleventh screen (you can scroll through screens like on a cell phone) can be used to recalculate third world debt.

The twelfth screen, and I’m almost certain about this, is used locally by NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) to analyze world weather patterns in the year 2080.

The fifteenth screen, and here I’m totally guessing, will calculate the number of drops of water in lake Michigan, if one drop equals one rotation of the front wheel, divided by your rpm while coasting down a 12 percent grade.

After many long hours of studying the Swahili section of the owner’s manual, and hitting every button in every possible combination, we happened to switch it over to miles when I accidentally dropped it from my tired and clammy hands.

* Post Script:
My wife has now used the Cateye on several rides and she has yet to figure out how to reset it. I keep suggesting that she drop it into a garbage with enough force to teach it who’s boss.

Roman Mica is a amateur Clydesdale triathlete who lives and races in Boulder, Colorado and is the managing editor of

Follow on twitter @ everymantri or view latest videos on YouTube .

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