“There is no safety, there is no comfort, there is no security for you in this life anymore unless, when you’re walking down the street, you can feel a hard rectangle in your pants.”
– Jerry Seinfeld, on cell phones
I built my first computer in 2007 with the help of some sketchy dude who worked at Bob Evans with me. Ask me to build literally anything else and I’ll hate every aspect of it. Heck, ask me to even touch an Apple computer and I’ll pull away like my hand has been set ablaze. But with certain forms of technology, I love to build and troubleshoot and advance. With biking, the technology I have used has changed dramatically since 2007 and it’s some of the more exciting revolving tech in my life.
When I first started commuting to work 10 miles one way in 2007, I don’t remember having any way of tracking the miles and speed. In fact, if I recall properly, it would be a few years before I would have any means of tracking my activity. When I finally got a bike computer, it was of the $10 variety from my hometown superstore, complete with a magnet that connects to your spokes and a wired sensor attached to the bike fork. I would go through several of these kinds of computers over the years, in love the data they provide, even if they may be slightly inaccurate. It got to a point where not having my current speed or distance traveled presented in front of my face was extremely disconcerting.
Cat Eye CC-TR300TW
It wouldn’t be until 2013 that I would finally upgrade to a different kind of bike computer, the Cat Eye CC-TR300TW. This computer was wireless, came with a heart rate monitor strap, and it also allowed for a cadence measure through a sensor on the pedal stem.
This was all a huge upgrade over the standard computer readout I was used to. It allowed me to put more focus on cadence and exertion rather than overall speed, which is not a true indicator of effort. Going 20 mph with the wind is a much different effort level than going up a 6% grade climb with a 16 mph headwind.
However, the sensor located near the pedal was susceptible to damage and that eventually led to the computer malfunctioning.
Cat Eye CC-RD500B (Strada Smart)
My next upgrade stayed in the Cat Eye family, but I wanted something that automatically synced to other apps that I used for cycling, which I will get to in a bit. The Cat Eye CC-RD500B (Strada Smart) monitor synced directly with the Strava app and had options for wireless syncing with cadence sensors and heart rate monitors.
I still have this computer but I stopped using it when I moved to Philly because I did not want to have to take it on and off every day after my daily commute to work in downtown University City.
Even though the Strada Smart can sync with a heart rate monitor, I did not love wearing the chest strap due to slight discomfort and the need to put it on before leaving for a ride. I found myself needing to justify whether the ride was long enough to warrant putting the whole thing on. Because of this limitation, I turned my attention toward using other types of wearable fitness tech for heart rate and activity monitoring.
BONUS #1: Lumoid
I was then on the hunt for a wearable device that could automatically detect cycling (more elusive than it would seem), provided constant heart rate data, and could detect and monitor sleep.
I first tried a Kickstarter project that came with a shoe clip to allow for cycling detection but that did not function the way I had hoped. I didn’t want to keep buying an item, testing it out for a few days, finding out that it wasn’t want I wanted, sending it back, ordering a new one and waiting days in between the exchange of the old one and the arrival of a new one.
Instead, I found Lumoid, a service that allows you to rent five wearable tech items for a week for a set fee. If you keep one of the items that you rented, that rental fee goes towards the purchase of that item.
I ordered a batch of five wearable items and tested out all five and found that only one was even remotely viable for cycling detection. By remotely viable I mean absolutely amazing.
The Basis Peak could not only record cycling activity but would automatically detect when I was cycling, walking, or running without the need to put the watch in workout mode. It also provided a constant sleep and heart rate monitor and had a battery life of up to four days. In the short time I had the watch, the company continued to patch the software, updating the watch to receive text messages and emails and even allow the user to control music playback.
I absolutely loved my Basic Peak but note the use of past tense. The only reason that I am not wearing the watch now is because the company had to issue a mandatory safety recall because 0.2% of the watches had an overheating issue. If they fix the issues and release a new model, I will face a tough decision of whether to switch back to the Basis from what I currently use.
Garmin vívoactive HR
I now wear a Garmin vívoactive HR watch. Two drawbacks of this watch compared to the Basis are the need to put the watch into workout mode, specifying the exercise you are about to begin, and the fact that the sleep data generated from the watch is not as accessible. More specifically, the Basis Peak app would send weekly emails depicting your sleep patterns for the week and had the automatic sleep detection, whereas the vívoactive has sleep data buried deep in the app on the phone or website.
The pros of the watch include GPS capability allowing syncing with Strava, a color display, a screen with weather information, a customizable watch face with widget support, the ability to access data from previous rides and other activites, and auto syncing with the Garmin Index Smart Scale.
On a normal ride day, I push a button on the watch, select “Bike”, press start, and I am on my way. When finished, I stop the watch, save the ride, and have immediate access to summary data from the ride including lap times (5-mile bins), max heart rate, average heart rate, ascend and descend measures, average speed, and calories burned. The data is also accessible through the Garmin Connect app or website and the ride details–including the map–are also available on my Strava account. The calories burned throughout the day also syncs with MyFitnessPal, which I use to track my calorie intake and nutrient breakdown.
All in all, the Garmin watch packs a whole lot into a small but high-functioning color screen.
Garmin Index Smart Scale
The Garmin Index Smart Scale is pricey for a scale but its ability to link to my vívoactive watch makes the price worth it for me. In addition to its syncing ability, it can also auto detect several different profiles, meaning my wife, who walks several miles daily for her work as a nanny, can also utilize this expensive gadget. If you’re truly gung ho, the scale will also tell you your body’s water percentage, BMI, and muscle weight, among other personalized stats.
BONUS #2: External Battery
Finally, it’s not a super high-tech gadget but it is a necessity: an external battery pack. I always carry an external battery pack on me at all times so I never have to worry about a dead phone while in the middle of nowhere. Brand is not important but this little metal box really is a life saver.
As I cycled (no pun intended) through bike computers, I also changed the apps I used to track my miles. When phones first decided to get smart, I started using MapMyRide. This is a great app that uses a GPS to track your rides.
When I first started using this app, I used it sparingly, mostly mapping out longer rides. The first two big rides–RTYD and RTYD II–occurred back in the early days of smartphones and back before I used portable battery packs so I did not actually map those rides because my phone battery would not have survived that much use.
Around 2015, I switched over to Strava for reasons that I no longer remember. Even if I didn’t switch then, I would have switched when I got the Strada Smart because it syncs with Strava, as does my vívoactive. Both Strava and MapMyRide are good at what they do and I would have a hard time recommending one over the other, so the choice is yours.
One feature I do like about Strava is its ability to compare your personal records for certain stretches of road against other people’s best records. This is a great way to remember how terribly slow you are at biking compared to actual real cyclists. For example, I wrote in Easy Ride Turned Interval Training about a stretch of Sand Road in Iowa that is about as flat as you can get and I turned that minor training ride into interval training by doing that stretch with the wind twice. The second time through, I pushed myself to pedal fast and hard to see what top speed I could reach. I averaged about 20 mph for that 5 mile stretch, which for me is a great feat on my hybrid. My Garmin watch synced that training ride with Strava and when I checked out my speed for that stretch compared to other riders, I found out the top rider sits at a cool 34 mph average for the same 5 mile stretch. So there’s that.
Going on such long rides, especially late at night, has induced considerable angst in my wife, friends, and family. My wife took it upon herself to research a few different options for apps that would allow her (and whomever has the unique link for that ride) to see exactly where I was at all times. Yes, creepy, but I think this is one of those rare occasions when safety trumps privacy.
We started out using Glympse but ended up abandoning this one because of the short time limit (4-hour max) and the fact that when the map updates, it erases previously traveled sections, I believe keeping only the last 10 minutes of travel visible.
After Glympse, she found RoadID. The RoadID app lets you set a time limit just under 24 hours (RTYD III was the only one so far that required me to add more time) and sends a link to up to five people, which is perfect for longer rides on which you pass through several geographical areas that all have different “on call” individuals in case of an emergency. Or for people like D who just love maps. The links show people your current location, distance traveled, and elapsed time.
The app also has the option to alert linked individuals when you have been stationary for more than five minutes but I don’t use that feature, as I’m often stopping for short periods to eat, relieve myself, check the map, etc.
With all of its functions, this app really is amazing.
BONUS #3: RoadID Wrist ID
This isn’t really gear so I wanted to mention it in conjunction with the RoadID app. My wife recently got me a RoadID wrist ID, which includes my name, city of residence, two emergency contact numbers, and space for any medical alerts, in case of an accident where I’m found unconscious. I’ve always said that having another accident isn’t an “if” but a “when,” so having something wearable like this band helps put my wife’s mind at ease as well as my own.
The Garmin Connect app is quite detailed. I tend to do most of my ride analyses on the website for easier use but I do love just how much data is generated from the watch. I have some of the figures the app generated in my Month in Review: February ‘17 post and I bet I haven’t even explored all the possible options with this app in the few months that I have had access to it. The seamless combination with the Garmin Index Scale and MyFitnessPal only enhance the value of the app and the watch in general.
I have used MyFitnessPal to track my nutrition on and off for a few years now. The app provides a great way to keep yourself in check with the number of calories you are consuming. With our lifestyles now, it can be incredibly shocking to see how many calories you can consume in a standard day, junk food binges and eating out aside. Having that in the back of your head by logging your food is an extremely useful bit of information.
When I am not as concerned about my weight, I will use MyFitnessPal to keep track of my early calories so I know how much I can eat around dinner time without ever actually logging dinner in the app. Now, with this long ride ahead, I am logging everything and paying much more attention to the nutrition aspect as well as the calories.
In my current mode, I am still working hard to lose a bit more weight. Once that weight is off and has stayed off for a period of time, I will need to switch my eating habits over to consuming a whole lot more carbs than my wife’s Paleo cupboard stock currently allows. MyFitnessPal will be a huge asset for that process.
BONUS #4: Charity Miles
A few weeks ago, my wife found an app that seemed perfect for the particular mission of this blog. The entire purpose of starting this up and training so hard is to hopefully get a charity associated with my ride from Iowa to New York and fund raise as I bike, but in the meantime, using an app to earn money for a charity of my choice with every mile I bike is another great opportunity.
The Charity Miles app is simple to use. You just select your activity (walking, running, biking), choose one of the charities on their populated list, and then do your activity. When you are done, the app brings you to a completion screen listing all the money raised so far from its global participants for that particular charity.
I love the simplicity of the app as well as the intent but it does seem a bit buggy and vague. At the conclusion of several of my rides, I noticed that the app had closed itself out at some point during the ride. Additionally, I wish they explicitly told you how much money you had personally earned for that ride or even over time as you continue to use it. Are there sponsors that match dollars to miles? How much is earned per mile, or does it work in increments? Is there any way to increase the amount made per ride? No information is provided.
Finally, I hope the app continues to evolve to allow for syncing. If I could have my Strava account sync directly to it, then every ride will matter even more.
To wrap things up, I have been told I am high maintenance when it comes to biking and that may be true. Long solo rides require quite a bit of gear from clothing and lights to fluids and food to repair tools and bags. However, tech wise, things keep getting more streamlined. Today, I saddle up, start RoadID and Charity Miles, select Bike on my Garmin watch and pedal away. When I get home, I can pour over the data from Garmin and Strava, comparing past weeks and months to current paces, compare similar rides to each other to look for improvements in overall speed or heart rate and look for trouble spots on these trips. All of my current gadgets and tech do something different for me and they are all indispensable as I prep for this long ride… until, of course, something better comes along.