My ramblings on the stuff that holds it all together
Biking for Geeks
A slight diversion from the usual topics, over the last year I have been getting back into cycling after a long break. Mainly to regain my overall fitness but also as a social thing with our daughter who loves cycling.
Whilst I enjoy cycling, like any geek I need an extra hook to keep me interested and track my progress against my goals, following some advice from colleagues who are really into running I looked into the Suunto range of products.
My list of wants for this personal training “solution” included
- Mileage & altitude logging (being as I typically cycle where there are a lot of hills)
- EPOC, energy consumption, heart rate
- GPS route logging so I can view routes on Google Maps etc.
I ended up at the Suunto T6C wrist top computer which comes with the heart rate belt, data cable etc.
Suunto have an active user forum with people sharing both technical and training tips, it wasn’t cheap but is widely regarded as “the business” and I increased the RoI :) as I needed a normal watch – it’s not the smallest of watches, but it’s workable for me.
The Suunto range works using wireless “pods” which are battery operated sensors that record data including speed, heart rate, cadence etc. which are logged on the watch memory, the watch itself has built in sensors and logging for environmental items like temperature & altitude.
It doesn’t however satisfy the GPS route logging want; there is a GPS pod for the Suunto range however when paired with the T6C it just functions to monitor speed rather than allowing data logging and anyway Suunto bike pod provides a better solution for cycling.
Suunto also have the X9i
and the newer X10 model
Both of these can do data logging but they were out of my price range at the time and didn’t get very good reviews for performance and build quality, whereas the T6C got good feedback all round.
I did also buy the GPS pod (Suunto GPS POD) which is how I discovered it’s lack of the route logging features I required :( – it’s now in reserve for a future foray into running.
The watch comes with a USB cable to download the logged data to a PC using the Suunto provided software (Suunto Training Manager); this is freely downloadable and allows you to analyze the data; there is also a wireless USB receiver (Suunto PC POD) if you don’t want to use the cable or have a more complicated real-time coaching requirement for multiple people (i.e professional coach)
The following screenshots are from the Suunto Training Manager application.
There is also some commercial software called FirstBeat Athlete which comes well recommended and takes a more active coaching approach whereas the Suunto Training Manager is more about allowing you to analyze your performance retrospectively although have not tried it yet (2-week evaluation copy here)
This is the road bike pod
It records speed, and thus distance travelled – my hybrid bike has quick change wheels so it replaces the standard front wheel skewer and works with a magnet on the spokes; Suunto also do another version of this sensor for bikes without quick change wheels (Suunto Bike POD) just be sure to check the fork size is compatible as the non road bike mounts to the front fork.
I chose the road bike pod as it was a neater solution and there was less chance of the sensor being knocked off whilst the bike is being transported around.
This the the cadence sensor (don’t confuse it with the standard Suunto bike pod; both are of a similar design but do fundamentally different things)
It works by attaching a small magnet to the inside of the pedal crank and a sensor mounted on the frame with supplied cable ties, cadence is an important part of monitoring your training – particularly when cycling as it’s easy to coast down hills :)
I have found the heart rate belt fine to use, some people have trouble with it slipping off but I’ve not had any issues, they can break/wear out but there are spares available.
All of the sensor pods have flat type batteries which are user-replaceable.
Some further resources are here
Suunto manual download page
Suunto training guides
The last part of my list of “wants” was GPS route tracking so I can record my cycle routes and store them for reference or working out where I got lost, I wasn’t bothered about actual on-bike navigation just post-ride analysis.
Being as the Suunto offerings I went with don’t have GPS route logging capabilities I looked at several standalone route logging devices like this and this, but they all require data to be downloaded and converted into a mapping programme.
Being as I always carry my mobile phone (Blackberry Pearl 8120) when I cycle I wanted an integrated solution. The version of the Blackberry Pearl that I use can run Google Maps with cell location but it lacks a built-in GPS. as a result I looked for a Bluetooth GPS receiver and some software to run on the Blackberry to log and possibly automatically upload data.
After a lot of experimentation I found Instamapper (www.instamapper.com, blog) which is an online service that integrates with Google Maps and works by receiving GPS data from client software running on a variety of handsets.
The clever part is that you never need to download/upload data to the service, the client buffers and uploads data automatically whilst the application is running, I found some problems with this initially that when the handset locked the application was terminating – this forum post fixed it for me and it has worked 100% ever since.
You can analyse the data online via the instamapper website, but it also gives you the option to export the data out to a variety of formats, including a .KMZ file which works with Google Maps
You can then view tracks like this in Google Earth
My bike is an Iron Horse Transit 3.0 which is a hybrid bike, I spent a lot of time researching which bike to buy and was looking for a Marin or Specialized bike but to be honest I was offered a good deal on this at an Evans Cycles warehouse sale last year and it was too good a deal to turn down.
It’s a great bike and I have clocked up nearly 1,000 miles in the last year it can cope well enough with a mix of road and gravel/forest trail type conditions – it’s not an off-road bike by any means as it has pretty slim tyres but its pretty versatile and light and well suited to the type of riding I do (mainly road with occasional trail/park) the riding position is excellent for heavy traffic as it’s quite upright and the flat handlebars make manoeuvring in traffic easy.
We have a 3-year old who likes to come along on rides, for this I have one of these seats.
It mounts to the bracket shown below which I just leave on my bike all the time. The seat is quick and easy to get on and off the bracket and is secure when on, the metal mounts offer a reasonable level of suspension for our child when sitting in the seat and stops the worst of shocks from the road.
I did look at some of the Weeride type seats but didn’t like the proximity of the childs head to my chin/teeth :) especially over bumps! although I can see they would be better for weight distribution and balance.
As an added bonus if you need to do any shopping the child seat can hold the shopping whilst you ride home (assuming you don’t take the child with you of course :)).
I hope that was useful to someone, my inspiration for looking into this originally came from the following links