Posted by: Ian | January 17, 2010

Product of the week #2

This has been a great week for new products. For a start, at our bike maintenance course we came across Rema TipTop Hand Cleaner, from the people who brought us those ubiquitous puncture repair kits. The hand cleaner is like Swarfega only, according to Andy, much better. It doesn’t ping like a tub of Swarfega, it doesn’t have the same funky smell as Swarfega and it’s not alien-planet green. It does, though, get oil from your hands very effectively, and leave them soft. But then so does Swarfega.

The true threat to what is ultimately my Product of the Week was not the TipTop hander cleaner but my new green Fibre Flare. It’s essentially the same as my red Fibre Flare, which was my first Product of the week, only traffic light green and, I think, a bit longer. I’ve attached it to my drive-side fork (my red one is attached to my drive-side seat stay). It’s very effective and I love how it looks.

But the second Product of the Week winner is my Garmin Edge 500. It attaches very neatly (without cable ties) to the stem of my Tempo/Felt and has a great highly customisable display to show heart rate, cadence, speed, duration, time of day, calories burned and more. The only metric it doesn’t have that I get on the Polar is the percentage of calories burned from fat – but I doubt that it’s more than a proxy for heart rate anyway (lower average HR => more cals from fat). I’ve set up a speed/cadence sensor on both the Tempo and the Felt. In fact, the sensor is only used for calculating cadence – speed is determined from its GPS. In London on the Tempo this works really well. At lights and junctions, which frequently require stops, the 500 autopauses and resumes when I get going. It’s not quite so great here in Somerset – occasionally, the autopause kicks in incorrectly but only for a second. On the way from Taunton to Hill Farm House yesterday there was one stretch around Cricket Malherbie where the unit was permanently switching on and off, which may well lead to cals being under-reported. I’m a bit surprised by this as I thought the effectiveness of GPS was location-neutral – do they put dedicated satellites into geosynchronous orbit over major centres like London? If the patchiness hold up I’ll just turn the autopause feature off when I’m out of town – luckily, I don’t need it round here. On the upside, the signal was uninterrupted by fog.

One great feature of Garmin that Polar lacks is full support for the mac. The ability to look at the data offline is an incentive to invest more time on it. I’ve weighed myself for the first time in a couple of years – and found that in my bike clothes I’m 9 lbs heavier than I’ve entered on the Garmin/Polar. I also weighed the Felt – with a lightly loaded wedgie pack (but nothing else) on board it comes in at 21 lbs, which is the default (but over-rideable) bike weight on the 500.

There’s desktop software for charting the information collected but the best view of it is on the Garmin Connect web client. Here’s how my ride from yesterday afternoon appears, configured to show Heart Rate and Elevation:

The red symbol on the map moves at a configured speed and as it does so a red bar tracks through the charts at the top, while the meters at the bottom show cadence and so forth at each instant. It’s illuminating. For example, here’s a chart of cadence (orange) versus speed (blue) from the same ride:

There is clearly a relationship but also times when they diverge. For example, just after the red line the cadence rises while the speed falls, indicating a shift to a lower gear while pedalling uphill. By contrast, here’s a similar chart from a ride on the Tempo:

Since the Tempo is fixed wheel, cadence and speed move exactly in line.

Other features of the 500 that I like include the ability to track Heart Rate zones, which segs in with the Base Building book I’ve been reading. My 2010 resolutions have not flown off to an impressive start yet (swims 1, runs 0, core exercises 0, new pans 0) so some progress on the cycling plan would be welcome. I also like the % Heart Rate Reserve measure. This tracks my heart rate as a percentage between my resting (~48 bpm) and max (~185 bpm) heart rate.

Other features of Garmin Connect that is vaguely useful include the Calendar, which shows graphically when I exercise and for how long, and the Splits feature that gives a mile by mile breakdown of the key stats on each ride. Some of the data it can track are a temptation. For example, the various Power metrics would be great to have but I’d have to spend a fortune on a CycleOps unit or equivalent to make them available – and spend the same amount for each bike, and I’d need at least two.

More dangerous is the fastest mile information. On my last mile, which was the downhill run from the A30 to Hill Farm House, I had an average speed of 22.1 mph and a max of 35.7 mph. For my own safety I need to avoid the temptation to keep improving this.

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