3 Reasons To Leave Your Odometer At Home

Many bicycle tourists consider their odometer to be one of the most important parts of their bike. They not only want to know how fast they are going and how many miles they have ahead of them, but they (most importantly) want to keep track of the total miles they are racking up on their tour.

Bicycle odometers are great and have a number of uses, but I simply can’t stand them on long distance bicycle tours!

After less than a week on my very first bike tour down the California coastline, I got so sick of staring at my odometer that I ripped it off my handlebars and threw it away. Since that time, I have never (NEVER!) ridden with an odometer while on tour.

Here is why you might want to leave your odometer at home:

Staring at the odometer mounted to your handlebars is addicting. You want to know how fast you are going and how many miles you are racking up, but when you look down every three seconds to see how much further you have gone, this only becomes demoralizing. Based on my own experiences, the last thing you want on a bike trip is to become demoralized.

Secondly, carrying an odometer is unnecessary. You don’t really need it. It’s really just a toy. It’s nice to know how many miles you have traveled, but you can usually figure this out with street signs and mile markers anyway. Rather than carry this useless item, leave it at home and save a tiny bit of weight! It’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about.

Finally, I think it’s important not to put too much emphasis on the miles. Many tourists get so wrapped up in the miles they are clocking that the other aspects of the ride become less important. Getting rid of your odometer takes your eyes off of the handlebars and puts them on the scenery surrounding you. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many miles you cover. This isn’t a race. This is supposed to be fun! Hold your head up and enjoy the ride.

If you insist on tracking your miles with an odometer, here is what I suggest:

Rather than mounting the odometer to your handlebars, mount it to your seat post. Place the odometer magnet on the back wheel (instead of the front) and put the odometer itself under your seat. This way you will still be tracking your miles and speed, but you won’t be forced to look down at the odometer every seven seconds. With the odometer underneath you, you can now enjoy your ride and check how many miles you’ve covered when you stop to get off your bike.

26 thoughts on “3 Reasons To Leave Your Odometer At Home

  1. Ray says:

    Good advice! I was actually considering buying one of those for my upcoming tour, but after reading this article I can understand why getting one wouldn’t be the best idea. Thanks for the tips.

  2. Fred Zahn says:

    Ray. I went through the same things you talked about with a cycle odometer. It is a toy that is very distracting. If you have to have one, under the saddle is the place for it.

  3. Pat & Cat Patterson says:

    Very good advice, I (Pat) became so addicted that when I wasn’t watching those 10ths of a mile drag by I began watching my cadence. It was driving me crazy. Luckily I lost it when the box containing my bike blew apart on a flight from Halifax to Reykjavik. Never replaed it and never looked back.

  4. Keith Ayers says:

    I find an odometer very useful when following directions. I like to have an idea of how far it is to the next junction. Also, if I’m touring without a fixed plan, I like to have an idea of how far I’ve been, when deciding if I can make it to the next town, or whether I should be looking for a campsite right away. Mine is on the handlebar, but is often obscured by a map on the map-holder. I don’t have to look at it if I don’t want to!

  5. Bob says:

    Somewhat OCD I would say. I look at mine at the beginning of the ride and check it again at the end. I like to have it on the bars and use it for speed when climbing. To each his own!

  6. Alex says:

    I agree with Keith, I am a tourist and a racer and I use odometers on both bikes because most directions or maps tell you how far in between turns or you have a cue sheet with all the turns and the mileages. Also on longer days, when lets say you have over 80 miles to chug, you can get into a lot of trouble when it gets dark because you were lolly-gagging. Just my 2 cents but I agree in smelling the roses. I tour with friends and just one of us has the computer and map which lightens the feel.

  7. Darren Alff says:

    I understand the arguements for using an odometer when navigating and trying to figure out distance. I think the reason I have never found an odometer useful for that sort of thing is because 1) there are usually street signs that tell you how far away certain roads, cities, and other locations are (and thus the odometer is only useful for the time between the signs)… and 2) I have a very good sense of direction and distance. I can ride 20 miles on my bike and stop within a quarter of a mile and know that I need to be turning soon. I’ve spent so much time on my bike that I now navigate more by feel that by any other means. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but it works pretty well. I’ve always arrived at my destination for the night, so I know that navigating with my nose really does work, but I wouldn’t recommend others with less experience try the same thing. In the end, carrying an odometer or not is a personal choice. It’s not a big deal if you to choose to ride with one. I simply want to offer up the idea of riding without one for those who might be interested.

  8. Lars says:

    Sure an odometer isn’t necessary, but it’s a great tool if you’re an achiever list most people are – regardless of what they try to make you believe. Keeping track of your miles is very satisfying.

  9. Bob Julyan says:

    I long resisted getting an odometer, even when my touring friends argued for one. I finally relented only because I needed one to follow directions. But I still agree completely with how an odometer can take over a tour and prevent us from being present where we are and experiencing the moment, and I’ve had to discipline myself not to look at the device all the time. Putting it on the seat post is a great idea.

    I recently rode with a guy who had a $500 device on his handlebar. It had a GPS and told him where he was, his elevation profile, his heart rate, whether he was in his optimal training zone, his speed and distance, his cadence, and much, much more. His eyes never left the display; he could have ridden by a brontosaurus and not noticed!

  10. Dave Rommell says:

    I like my odometer. I like the idea of knowing how far I’ve gone and about how far I must travel to achieve my daily goal. In windy and up hill riding – in my case often I’m not absolutely sure of the easiest gear for the most speed. My odometer helps determine this. Most of the time I have it set on the clock setting. I haven’t taken a watch on bike trips for several years now. My odometer becomes a pocket watch when not riding.

    There are a few frivlous things I take – my odomoter – In my opinion is not one of them. In my case I don’t think I am obsessed with it – or stare at it too much of the time. If I thought that was the case I would take the adivise of one of your readers and strap it to my seat post.

    Love your website. Please don’t think I’m disagreable. Just my opionion on this one piece of kit.


  11. Rick says:

    Thanks Darren…
    I think your right about looking down on the dang computer…I’ve misted a few pictures with my camera when I was looking down….
    Putting it under the seat….hmmm never thought of that…I might have to give it a try..
    Thanks again


  12. Ron says:

    You’ve got a point there. However, it’s up to you… I NEVER use cycle computer on my racing bike (because when racing I’d never need to know precisely how fast I am or how many miles/km’s left to the next point) but it’s always on my touring bike. No one forces me to stare at it. I think this problem is prevalent between inexperienced riders, I’m sure about it. About my odometer… It’s there and when I need its help, I use it. I know what you mean by navigating by feel and it works pretty fine, but many, many times it would have been hard without odometer because I need to determine precisely (!) my location. If I had a GPS, I wouldn’t need no odometer, but otherwise it’s there and it doesn’t bother me at all- it’s just there..there’s so much other things to think about/look at….. I think this topic should rather be about technocracy on the road- not just odometer but any kind of gadget. Some people can’t take a loop without a laptop, solar panels, gps’s and every other electronic stuff they can find so the basic camping spirit is totally forgotten. They basically become a bunch of rolling nerds. That’s it! I’m not saying I wouldn’t use GPS, laptop or a solar panel but so far the most I’ve needed is my PDA, and during my first tours a simple paper notebook was good enough. odometer…. pfft… it doesn’t bug me. it’s there and I’m rather using one small piece of plastic rather than a chunk of GPS…

  13. Darren Alff says:

    Ron, I think you’ve got a point. Maybe this post isn’t about odometers necessarily, but about technology as a whole.

    I see what you mean about people carrying every type of electronic device with them on their tours. I’ve already admitted to the fact that on my first bicycle tour the only piece of technology I carried was a credit card. Since that time, I’ve toured with a handful of electronics – from cameras, to PDAs, to Solar Panels, and a few other wacky gadgets.

    Technology is becoming an ever increasing part of our lives. But unlike some traditional cycling enthusiasts, I embrace the new technology revolution. I’m excited to see what is coming next. I think that technology and bicycle touring does have a future. But at the same time, I understand the need and the desire to get back to basics.

    I think there needs to be some balance between these two things (Nature and technology). And maybe, just maybe, that is what I was trying to say with this article.

  14. Donald of Sacramento says:

    I like the distance and clock feature of the odometer but on my daily commute and training rides for touring I began to obsess about my speed. I am not a particularly fast rider so this was very odd but I worked very hard at becoming less slow, watching the speed setting all of the time. I fixed that, I covered the speed portion of the display with electricians tape. On tour I like the odometer feature. A quick peek at the end of the day gives me my mileage for my journal. I also use it to determine distance to next town or sight seeing destination. Sometimes I am going so slow on my climbs I like to look at it now and then just to remind myself I am actually making progress. On tour I uncovered the speed display to keep my top speed reports honest when writing about those screaming downhills along the Oregon and California coast. On the climbs I learned that it stops working below 3 miles per hour. At that speed I am lucky I did not fall over.

  15. Randy Rasa says:

    I don’t think I’d want to give up my cyclocomputer entirely, as I enjoy logging the mileage, and knowing how many miles you’ve gone can aid in navigation.

    But I agree with Donald that covering up the “speed” portion of the display (using a chunk of inner tube slipped over the computer (a Cateye Strada in my case)) can be a useful technique. That way I can just ride at whatever pace feels comfortable without worrying about maintaining a particular pace or average speed, yet still log the ride.

    It can be very liberating, especially after a period of intense training, to just ride comfortably, with no goal other than completing the ride and having fun.

  16. Kenneth says:

    You either want one or you don’t.I for one love mine.I also build bicycle/trike bike and you bet I have them on all of my bikes.Its like buying a car you have them there and I don’t look at them all the time either.Its a must have for me.

  17. S Knight says:

    A bicycle computer can also tell you the time, temperature and can help beginners maintain a steady speed. I use one but I find the road ahead and the general scenery much more interesting to look at.

  18. putra says:

    but i think odometer is my friends while i ride by my self in night or alone riding…maybe odometer not to important but it accompany me showing an number and its quite fun

  19. Carmen says:

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  20. Rick says:

    I can certainly agree that if you’re missing the ride because of odometer obsession relocating it is a good idea.
    Fortunately for me that’s never been a problem. I like to have objective feedback on speed and distance to compare to my subjective perception. I also find that it helps me make better decisions about navigation and changes in route plans.
    Lastly, I like to keep track of maintenance intervals and component lifespans, ie. chain and tire life, or mileage since hub overhauls, etc.
    I guess it’s about finding what work for you.

  21. Rick Arnett says:

    As there are reasons for gauges in a car, so, too are there reasons for a trip computer on a bicycle. The key is to recognize it as the tool that it is rather than a distraction or a digital addiction. A motor vehicle can be operated safely without a single gauge, but having gauges affords an accurate description of performance. I appreciate the data being available at the press of a button and I am no slave to it. While I will not have one on my cruiser, having one on my touring bike is important. On my first US Cross-Country, it became a game of sorts to break the 40mph barrier daily going through the Appalachians, Hitting 54mph twice in the roller coaster Ozarks and passing a car at 44mph in a downhill curve with flashing speed-limit of 35 coming down Monarch Mountain in CO. While I don’t NEED the data, as with full gauges and air conditioning and a remote key in my vehicle, it’s sure nice to have.

  22. Bryan B says:

    This is one thing I cannot agree with you on, Darren. I don’t find my bike computer to be demoralizing when I look at it. I understand how slow I move and it motivates me to see even the smallest measurable traces of progress. This way, I actually know I’m getting somewhere. In a remote barren area, it might feel demoralizing biking for hours and not knowing if you made a lot of distance or not. And there plenty of places that don’t have accurate or frequent signage ( you should know this first hand).

  23. Rick says:

    The times I’ve tried to tour with a cycle computer, it’s been stolen off my bike, had the wire ripped out, and lost the front magnet. I’ve taken those as a sign finally. And yes, I tend to find the values on it very depressing, so I’m happier without it.

  24. Ron Webb says:

    I see in your more recent videos (e.g. Yellowstone) that you are using a Cateye Odometer. Has your opinion on using odometers changed?

    • Darren Alff says:

      I’m not for or against odometers in general. I’m just saying that some people can become too dependent on them… and if that is you, you don’t necessarily need to use one.

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