Golden Cheetah is quite simply the best free-of-charge data crunching software for cyclists with power metres. If you love staring at complicated graphs and tables based on the numbers generated by your cycling activities, then look no further. It’s time to download Golden Cheetah. As one of the most valuable community software projects for nerdy cyclists all over the world, prepare to have your mind blown…
Power metre generation
We are the power metre generation. Many serious cyclists today have a power metre to track their performance and to use as a training aid. And once you have this tool, a whole world of software cranks up a level. From Zwift, to Strava, to Garmin, Wahoo, Sigma, Relive, and the rest, the extra data that you collect from your bike now you have a power metre can be used in such a wide variety of ways it can be a little overwhelming at first.
Many of the apps and head units that collect or process your power data are for either displaying your data to others online, relating your power data to your location, or enabling you to cycle better in a virtual world. Golden Cheetah is very different. It does not have slick and appealing graphics; it’s a scientific tool, and it looks like it. The software takes time and quite a bit of dedication to understand—there are numbers everywhere—but it really is worth getting into if you want to get the most out of the power metre, which has probably cost you quite a bit of money.
Golden Cheetah origins
On the 20th of April 2006, a bike racing (and running) software guy called Sean Rhea bought a PowerTap power metre, and figured out a way to download files from the PowerTap and onto his Mac. Rhea was also a MIT graduate student and computer science research scientist at Intel Research in Berkley, California, and raced for Metromint Cycling and Essex County Velo. He wanted to crunch his cycling data. And we can be very grateful for that, as that project became Golden Cheetah: an open-source data analysis tool primarily written in C++ with Qt for cyclists and triathletes with support for training as well. There is now a large, global community keeping this project alive. And we love it!
How can this be free?!
In today’s world of never-ending monthly subscriptions for everything from films to music and virtual cycling, we sometimes forget that there are other philosophies. The idea behind open source software is that the source code is available to everyone and this allows for open collaboration. And, as the wiki page says: “This promotes the production of high-quality programs as well as working cooperatively with other similarly-minded people to improve open-source technology”. And we non-computer oriented folk can be very grateful that this is how Golden Cheetah was developed.
But those of us who use this software almost daily, might think: “Hey, it would be nice to contribute to this. Maybe even a donation?” But nope. Not possible. As the site says: “We are a free software project. Free as in freedom. Our software is developed by a community. We do not have any facility to collect funding or spend it! We would rather you spread the word if you think our software is good, and maybe help out with documentation, tutorials or translations if you can.”
Deeper training knowledge
The fun (and work) begins once you have downloaded Golden Cheetah onto your computer and imported some ride files (including power data) from your cycling computer. You have to create a rider (athlete) profile, which includes your weight and Functional Threshhold Power (FTP). The theory of power metres and cycling exercise and fitness is complex. There are two books worth considering if you want too get a deeper understanding of what Golden Cheetah is telling you: Training and Racing with a Power Meter, by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan, and the Power Meter Handbook by Joe Friel.
These will open up the world of terms, parametres and charts, which Golden Cheetah can generate for you. We don’t aim to help you decide how deep (or superficial) you want to make the analysis for your power meter-based training. But there are a couple of newbie tips we would like to pass on.
First: every ride has to be entered into Golden Cheetah for a correct analysis. Second: perhaps one of the most useful charts of all is the Performance Management Chart. Putting every ride into Golden Cheetah must become routine if you want to gain the best insights. And if you have several bikes, not all with a power metre, don’t worry: you can manually enter ride data (you can work out your TSS score, for example, based on heart rate) to keep your PMC up to date. Basically, a PMC is a diary of fitness and fatigue and therefore indicates form.
Yes, there are a lot of technical terms there. And we haven’t even started talking about your “W-prime tao”, or your “aerobic decoupling percentage” and any of the various and complicated metrics that your power statistics will reveal. It is up to each of us to decide how deep we go into this fascinating cycling science. And, for the moment, we will leave it at that. But this excellent training tool is an eye-opener to any cyclist with a power metre who wants to start understanding more about the ways to interpret their power data. Download it now.