As part of my Sisyphean quest to find a bicycle computer that doesn’t make me want to start tracking my rides with an abacus or programmable loom, I recently bought a new Garmin device to replace a deceased old one. The new device is not yet enraging me; it has everything I liked about my old one, plus more, and it also works.

Part of the “more” is three new mountain bike metrics. The most obvious is a screen that pops up and beeps at you whenever you momentarily leave the ground, saying “Great Jump!” and telling you how long you were in the air, how far you traveled, and how fast you were going at takeoff. Given my level of mountain bike proficiency, I read “Great Jump!” as sarcastic every single time.

The other new metrics are called “Grit” and “Flow.” I’d not read the manual before my first ride but I remembered reading that “Grit” was a measure of the difficulty of the route and “Flow” was a measure of how well you maintained speed while descending.

I hit a few loops of smooth singletrack at the ski club and tried to increase my “Flow” score with each lap. No matter how much I focused on improving my “Flow” score — staying loose, breathing slowly, pretending that every instant of pressure on my brakes came from a finite budget — I couldn’t get my “Flow” above five or so for a given lap. I didn’t know what five flow meant or if it was any good, but I was confident I could do better.

When I got home, I read Garmin’s description of “Flow,” which told me two things:

  • a “Flow” score between one and twenty is not bad, but
  • a “Flow” score between zero and one is ideal

Optimizing for the opposite of the right metric seems worse than the more common problem of optimizing for the wrong metric altogether; it’s probably worth looking out for in general.