Thursday, September 24, 2015

We speak of cycling computers, iPhones and Strava surfing

Training on a road bike involves a lot of time on the bike, but if it's not on Strava then it didn't happen! Right?!?  So it would seem in today's connected road when friends have uploaded the ride to Strava before I even get home from it!  You can either dismiss this as a fetish, or join in the game yourself and get a cycling computer so you too can upload to Strava.  Most people use Garmin cycling computers to do this.  But, to get the decent Garmin 010-01369-00 Edge 520 Bundle Bike GPS with its bundled heart rate sensor and speed and cadence sensor will set you back $400.  If you have the money this is a great way to go.  If, on the other hand your wallet is still hurting from the purchase of the new bike, pedals, shoes, clothing, and other accessories you may want to look at some cheaper alternatives.

One alternative is to use your smart phone.  Applications are available for both iPhone and Android phones that will track your rides.  iPhone has Strava, Cyclemeter, MapMyRide and RideWithGPS while Android has Strava, MapMyRide and Runtastic Road Bike.  I have not used all of these apps so you will need to go elsewhere for reviews of these apps.  This approach has great merit, after all, you have this wonderful computer in your smart phone with a big display and you are carrying it with you anyway since none of us can go anywhere without our phones anymore!  There are two main problems.  If you want to see what you are doing while you are the ride you have to mount the phone on your handlebars in harms way and you have to run the display which along with the GPS will run the battery down quite quickly. Two to three hours is not uncommon for a max battery life with this approach.  Okay if you are going out for a short spin, but unworkable if you are riding a century.

Cateye Strada smart cycling computer
Cateye Strada Smart
There is another alternative.  That is to use a display that communicates by Bluetooth with your phone.  The phone will also communicate by Bluetooth with the heart rate sensor and speed and cadence sensor.  You still run an app on the phone, but the display is off and the phone is safely tucked in your jersey pocket or saddle bag.  I have tried two such devices out on my bike: The Cateye Strada Smart is running $176 as a bundle with  heart rate sensor and speed and cadence sensor on Amazon as I write this post.  The Wahoo RFLKT+ runs $129 without sensors on Amazon right now.  The Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor  and Wahoo Blue SC Speed & Cadence Sensor  can be found at costs of about $60 each.

So which of the two is better?  I performed an unintentionally long test on the Cateye earlier this year.  I really like it.... except that it was very buggy to use.  Most of the issues were related to the Cateye Cycling app that you need to use with the display unit.  This is why I tested for so long, since it was software related and I was working with customer service at Cateye I was hoping that they could get it fixed and they did fix most of the problems.  But one issue remained for me that finally killed the deal.  On every ride over 26 miles the display would lose its connection to the phone and I would have to pull out the phone, open the app and re-sync the Strada Smart with the phone.  This was frustrating so I gave up and moved on.
Wahoo RFLKT+

Wahoo RFLKT+ and RFLKT offer the same type of display for you smart phone technology that the Cateye Strada Smart does, but they are open source and work with more than one phone app.  The good part about that is that if one app doesn't do it for you then another might work better.  The bad part about that is the lack of consistency from one app to the next.  Strava works well, but offers very limited screens for the displays and has no plans to offer screen customization.  The Wahoo app offer great customization of the screens and works well except for a problem when on rides longer than 70 miles.  The app will stop and you will have to restart a new ride to continue.  RideWithGPS had the best compromise.  Limited customization of the screens, reliable operations and turn by turn navigation.

The device I have is the RFLT+ which includes the ability to pair with ANT+ sensors (on iOS devices only) and has temperature and barometric altitude readings.  It pairs pretty easily and consistently with the Bluetooth sensors and the phone.  The display is easily readable and the mount works well.  There are three mounting options that come with the unit.  I am using the infront of bar flyout mount and it has worked well for me.  Just make sure it is locked in place before taking off.  Some people have had it fall off because they didn't properly latch it.  The only real long term issue is the battery is a less common C2450 button battery and the life can be 2 months or less.  Replacing the battery is not something done on the fly either, there are four tiny screws requiring a jewelers phillips head screwdriver and a rubber o-ring to deal with.  Fortunately, if the battery goes dead while you are on the ride the data is not lost as it is still tracked by your phone even though you can't see it on the display.

If your phone battery dies then you lose it all!  Now, I have used this to track several century rides.  To do so I use a tubular backup battery for the phone with a short Amazon basics cable to connect the battery to the phone.  I can get close to the 100 miles without it, but not quite all the way there.  With the battery I can end the century with plenty of juice left.  The nice thing about the battery is that it is light, automatically controls the charging to conserve itself, and has LED flashlight builtin.

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