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Monday, September 1, 2014

My Week in Runs, Rides, & Regrettable y Swims

After my sub par workout performance last week I decided to get serious semi-serious about this whole training for the triathlon in 3 weeks thing.  And that lasted all of about 1 day!  As you can see from what I originally titled this post I was planning to do some swimming but as you will continue reading there is a noticeable lack of said swimming.  Well that's because it just didn't quit happen or even come close to happening.  I think I just have a serial issue with getting out of bed on time for a morning workout.

River Trail & Wahoo TICKR Run Testing (Monday)

Because Monday is one of my days off from my real person job I am pretty much required by bicycling law to go for a bike ride.  Nothing particularly special on this ride as I knew I would be running afterwards.  After the ride it was right into a brick run...well actually I cooled off at home and then walked 15 minutes down the street so I could run on a treadmill.  Not exactly a brick run by most people's standards but I'm not most people and sometimes product testing requires sacrificing that brick run.  I then proceeded to run for 6 minutes on the treadmill to configure the Wahoo TICKR Run followed by another 2 miles post configuration.  For a first impression I was pretty impressed with the speed/distance on the TICKR Run but I also noticed Garmin has made some significant improvements on the Forerunnner 220 from when I first reviewed its' treadmill mode.

Triathlon Training in the Mist (Sunday)

Given my lackluster week after a solid start, I figured I had to salvage some small shred of dignity by getting in a ride on Sunday morning.  That process was further supported by the Husky who felt the need to wake me up at 7:45 meaning I therefore could actually fit a workout in.  So I hit out on the River Trail to basically do a time trial of the non-city sections.  Also, I had some new tires on the bike: Kenda Kadence so we'll see what I think down the road.

I got outside to what looked to be overcast but was in actuality a slight mist.  Either way I didn't care as it was much better than the 100 degree weather we have had for the last several weeks.  For my "time trial" section my goal was just to maintain the highest average "reasonable" speed for the sections of the trail that are out of the city.  That section ended up being 11.67 miles and I held a speed of 19.39 mph which in my book isn't too shabby!  I was actually slowed down a little bit crossing the Big Dam Bridge (it is too crowded to go fast) and by a group of cyclists riding 2 abreast towards the end of the NLR side so I just had to wait patiently for room to pass.

The bike leg for that spring triathlon I am supposed to sign up for is 15 miles so maybe if I throw some clip on aero bars on the bike I can just go out to set the fast bike time for my age group and then blow the hell up on the run!  At least then I could point to some small modicum of success.

Monday




Sunday

Friday, August 29, 2014

National Teams at the World Championships

Picture from: www.sbs.com.au
I think the national championships are one of the most interesting events of the cycling calendar.  To me it is an awesome event that crowns one undecided World Champion; not to mention they get an awesome Rainbow Jersey.  The one part I don't get is why the World Championships are raced by national teams instead of trade teams.  Now, don't get me wrong I like the national teams but I feel like they already have an event, the Olympics.  I am still pretty new to cycling as I have always said so maybe it is just one of those things I haven't had explained to me.

            I feel like the trade teams are really good why is there a need to change it up and ride national teams.  I feel like trade teams are more balanced to compete for race titles that national teams.  Furthermore, I don't like that some national teams get more riders than others.  I do know that national teams earn their number of riders based on how that country has performed so it is somewhat fair but I don't feel it is the fairest system out there.  Why should riders from powerhouse nations get a much higher shot at winning than really good riders who are from non-cycling nations.

 
Picture from: cycling-passion.com
           I feel  like the UCI is constantly trying to expand cycling to new nations and the World Championships are a great vehicle for that but how would you feel to be a cycling fan in some small nation who only gets 3 or 5 riders in the race when others get 8.  You would feel like the system is set up to perpetuate European or established cycling nations at the expense of newer nations to cycling.


            The solution is either to qualify countries for the World Championships with every qualifying nation getting the exact same number of riders or do away entirely with national teams and just ride as the trade teams that are used the rest of the season.  In a system with trade teams the great riders from non-cycling nations would not be handicapped because if they were the best on their trade team the team would ride for them and they could contest the race.  A great example is Peter Sagan who comes from Slovakia which is not known for cycling.  So in the World Championships his team has few if any riders to support him over an exceptionally long and grueling course.  However, if he were to ride with the support of his trade team, Cannondale (soon to be Tikof-Saxo), He would have quit a few riders working for him to bring the race to a sprint finish that he could contest.

            I also think that racing trade teams would actually increase the prestige of the World Champion not diminish it.  The wearer of the Rainbow Jersey wears it as a part of his/her trade kit for the entire year anyways yet the riders who support him while wearing the jersey didn't help him earn it.  The riders of the national team that helped the World Champion earn that prestige fade back into anonymity because they most likely race for different trade teams.  But if a trade team won it the whole team could ride with pride knowing they as a team earned the Rainbow Jersey.  Cycling is a team sport so it is unfair to the riders who work so hard for a World Champion to fade away because they don't ride as a team the rest of the season.

            Also, it would provide great exposure for the trade teams who already get much of the news coverage anyways throughout the year for having the World Championship jersey display their sponsors' logo even though they didn't really earn the right to be there.

            The race would be easy to hold using the 18 World Tour teams and then the top 2 pro-continental teams from each of the UCI continental circuits.  This would provide great exposure for smaller teams that normally only race in their home region but instead get to step up onto the World stage of cycling for one race.  Every team would be allowed 7 riders which would give a total number of only 196 rides which is actually smaller than the current World Championship event. It would even be possible to ride 8 riders per team and still only have 224 riders in the event. This would create a level playing field for all teams as they would all ride with the same team size.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mio Link Review

The Mio Link is the newest iteration of optical heart rate monitors by Mio.  Although it technically doesn't replace the older Alpha (still for sale) it improves on the unit in pretty much every way possible.  Two caveats being decreased battery life and the lack of a screen but as I will discuss in my review both are for the better.

So first off what is an optical heart rate monitor other than an expensive ass bracelet?  Well most runners are familiar with heart rate monitor straps which are worn around the chest while exercising to measure heart rate by its electrical activity; basically a portable EKG machine.  Heart rate straps have been around a long time and although there have been significant improvements to the hardware at the end of the day many people find them uncomfortable.  The Mio Link and optical heart rate monitoring is an alternative to traditional heart rate straps.  Optical heart rate monitors work by shinning lights down into your skin to illuminate capillaries which a sensor will count how often the capillaries pulse.  They will pulse at the same rate as your heart beats therefore allowing you to get your heart rate via an optical method worn on your wrist.

Basics of optical heart rate monitoring covered (the in-depth science is over my head) what exactly do I have?  Well as I said previously I have the Mio Link which was provided to me by Mio to test for this review.  Afterwards the review unit goes back to Mio so that you all know my reviews are unbiased and I wasn't compensated.  To me free products equals compensation!

In the Box

Because the Mio Link is basically just an advanced heart rate monitor hardware wise it makes for one easy In the Box section.  There are really only 4 items in the box: Mio Link unit, USB charger, quickstart guide, and your warranty stuff.  I do really like the new packaging for the Link over the Alpha packaging as it puts the actual device hardware right in the customer's view; really shows off how small the device is.  The Link hardware I will discuss below but the charger for the unit is almost the exact same as the one for the Alpha was, just smaller (obviously given the smaller device size).

The charger magnetically attaches to the underside of the Link unit and aligns the four pins with receivers on the bottom of the Link.  The charger is only about 5 inches long so although it can be used with USB wall plug ins it is realistically much easier to use with the computer.  Also, just a heads up, there is a right way and a wrong way to charge the Link so that the pins match up.  I couldn't get my unit to turn on for a couple seconds only to realize that I had left it charging for about 30 minutes upside down.  This highlights my only real complaint with the Link which is the LED light but I will get to it in more detail later on.

Honestly, I have not even opened the warranty booklet although the quickstart guide actually does have some use.  By the way, it is a legitimate quick start guide, only 6 pages long in each language, so just the nitty gritty of how the device works.  It covers all of the basics for device usage but the part you might come back to a few times is the LED light color chart on pg. 9 which breaks down the color coding system.  Just file that piece of information away for about 60 more seconds.

The Basics & Set Up

First off the Mio Link is WAY smaller than the older Mio Alpha at only 1 and 1/8th of an inch at the widest point.  The unit is available in two sizes (S/M & Large) to better accommodate different wrist sizes than the Alpha. My review unit is the smaller S/M size but that is because I have baby sized wrists and even so I am at the longer end of the band but still with more than enough room to spare.  The Link comes in two colors gray & white (I have the gray).  Hardware wise the one thing I really like is that the pod that makes up all of the "guts" of the Mio Link can be removed from the wristband.  So that way if for some reason you were to destroy the wristband, I'm looking at you puppies, you could theoretically just get a replacement wrist strap although I'm not sure if Mio offers them separately.

By decreasing the size from the Alpha so drastically the Link does lose the crazy good battery life of the Alpha but to be fair it is still a pretty darn good 7-8 hours which is in line with most GPS units.  I think the only people that need battery life exceeding 7 hours are Ironman athletes; although if you didn't turn it on until post swim then that battery life would actually come pretty close.  The bigger issue isn't the battery life but just plain remembering to charge the thing.  Although I've never had it die on me yet as I just throw it on the USB charger whenever I have to upload files post ride. Best of all the Link is waterproof to 30 meters so legitimate waterproofing.  Now the Mio Link dual broadcasts heart rate data out over both ANT+ and Bluetooth 4.0.  This makes the Link compatible with most smartphones and about every fitness device on the market.  Dual broadcast also future proofs the Link from the changes that are occurring right now in the fitness device market. Traditionally all fitness devices have used ANT+ and most still do but there has definitely been a clear trend towards Bluetooth by major players in the fitness market.  By supporting both technologies the Mio Link will be compatible for the device you own today as well as whatever you buy in the future. Also, the Link can broadcast over both formats at the exact same time which is super handy for conducting reviews for me but the value isn't quit as high for most users.  But it does mean the Mio Link could send heart rate data to both a Garmin Forerunner 220 GPS watch and the Polar Loop activity tracker at the exact same time which is definitely a real world scenario.

Now the real coup to me of the Link is its' price point at $99.  The original Mio Alpha was groundbreaking as the first accurate optical heart rate monitor for physical activity but its' $200 price point had to dissuade many users.  However, at $99 the mark up for the move from a heart rate monitor strap to an optical heart rate monitor is only $10-30!  That really isn't much of a premium if you find chest heart rate monitor straps uncomfortable.

Hardware wise the only thing left is the LED light! So this LED light is how the Mio Link can actually communicate with you given that it doesn't have a screen. This is done by the light changing colors which is why I mentioned earlier that you might want to keep the quickstart guide handy.  So when the unit is first turned on if the light is "cyan", which I believe would just be blue to most people, then the battery is charged.  If the light is yellow than you have less than 30% of the Link's battery left and a red LED means that there is basically no battery and therefore a heart rate can't be taken. To me that part is pretty easy to remember.  Now for charging the light will always be cyan and flash slowly while the Link is charging. Once the Link is fully charged the LED light will turn off.  So I'm still good with the LED light colors why did I need this guide again? Well while running the LED will show you what heart rate zone you are in.  Here are the defaults based on percentage of max: Cyan = 0-50%, Blue = 50-60%, Green = 60-70%, Yellow = 70-80%, Magenta = 80-90%, and Red = 90%-220 beats per minute.  Oh what now you feel the need the re-reference the quickstart guide as I recommended because that is confusing as all hell? I figured as much!  I get why Mio added the LED light scheme so that users who aren't traditional runner/cyclists with GPS watches, say yoga people, can still use the Link as a standalone device. But the problem is that A. the LED color scheme is hard to remember and B. more importantly the LED isn't very bright and therefore it is impossible to see under the best of conditions much less in the real world.  So the inability to see the LED light pretty much completely wipes out any usefulness here but I would never use the feature anyways as I am sending the heart rate data to another device anyways.

There really isn't much of anything to setting the Mio Link up. Basically you just put the device on, turn it, and then run/ride.  To power the Link on you simply hold the only button on the device down for 2-3 seconds.  The same will power it off.  Pairing the Link to your phone or GPS watch works the exact same way as pairing any other heart rate monitor.

NOTE: This brings me to one thing I would like to point out.  The Mio Link is just a heart rate monitor at the end of the day which means it can only do the same things as any other heart rate monitor.  It can't save information for download, there is no timer, no nothing; just heart rate data.  So if you are wondering if the Mio Link can do blank just ask yourself if a basic heart rate strap can do blank.  If the answer is yes you are golden and if it is no then it is still a no for the Mio Link.

Accuracy

The biggest part about reviewing heart rate monitors is measuring their accuracy against other systems available to consumers.  At the end of the day the Mio Link and heart rate monitor straps accomplish the same function and even though some users find heart rate straps uncomfortable (I am not one of those people) few would change to something like the Link if it wasn't also accurate.  Well I can safely report that the Mio Link is pretty darn accurate in numerous tests running and riding as well as indoors and outdoors.  As you can see from the picture above, which is an overlay of the Mio Link on top with the Wahoo TICKR Run on the bottom, the devices pulled almost identical heart rate data.  They were so close together that both the iBike Newton+ and the Sigma Rox 10.0 actually had the exact same average heart rate.

Now this file from the left is from the exact same set up on a different ride.  For some reason on this one the Mio Link initially had some issues picking up my heart rate but then jumped up to correct itself.  From there on the Link and the Wahoo TICKR Run measure almost the exact same heart rate.  I did have major issues on one run but I am going to discuss it down in the Bugs section.

I can safely say that I have complete confidence in the Mio Link for recording heart rate for physical activities.  On almost all of my runs & rides it would track within a couple of beats from both the Wahoo TICKR Run or the Garmin HRM3.  Also some of what little variation there is could be attributed to either of the other heart rate monitors but I can't think of very many recreational runners to whom 2-3 beats per minute are going to matter.

Mio GO App

The GO app has a lot more functionality than I am going to discuss here because I am only going to focus on the parts of the app that are relevant to the Mio Link specifically.  So that is why I won't cover the app's functionality to track activities with GPS, the indoor courses, or Mio GO membership.  Instead it'll be just the usage of the app to set heart rate zones.  Because the Mio Link can have up to 5 custom heart rate zones using that sweet LED light scheme you need a way to set those zones.

That way is the Mio GO app.  First you will need to have the Mio Link on your wrist, powered on, and linked to your phone.  When you open the Mio Go app you will have to great a profile and all of that good stuff but once you are at the home screen the top left corner button will take you to your Mio Link device set up.  Once there you will see your current heart rate as well as known devices.  At the bottom you can choose to set up a device which will give you either the option to set up 1 target goal zone or to set up 5 custom zones.  Once you have set the zones appropriately you click save zone setting and they will be sent to your Mio Link.

I think it is cool that the zones are user customizable but then again it is pretty much completely hampered by the inability to see that silly LED light.  To be clear these zones will only show up on the Link unit itself and not on any device which is receiving heart rate data from the Link.  So cool but kind of useless.

What I DO Like:

  • Dual ANT+ & Bluetooth 4.0 broadcast
  • Smaller form factor
  • Band is removable from unit
  • Better sizing
  • Competitive price point

What I DON'T Like so Much:

  • LED light is impossible to see
  • Still a little snug on the wrist for long periods

Bugs

Aside from a few issues with the Mio Link not picking up my heart rate the Link has worked perfectly.  I have only had issues with about 1 out of 10 activities if even that.  As I previously mentioned I only had one run where it was completely off and then one ride where it was off for a little at the beginning but then caught up so to speak and was accurate after that.  The graph above is my heart rate for the run where I had a major issue as that line is pretty straight.

Now I think the root cause here was light distortion which is why I don't really even know if this counts as a bug.  Basically I had the Link a little too loose allowing light to get in to the sensor throwing it off.  By the way light, other that those cool green LEDs, is the absolute enemy of an optical heart rate monitor. I did tighten the Link up which is when the graph spiked up but clearly it still didn't pick up my heart rate correctly.  I am attributing this to its inability to lock in so to speak on my heart rate with all of the distortions that running can cause (aka a lot of bouncing).  

Summary

Overall the Mio Link is a wonderful device that too the already good Mio Alpha platform and made significant improvements. Best of all these were improvements that Mio's consumers were asking for meaning that Mio actually listened to its' customers!!!  The smaller form factor with the multiple size design makes the Link significantly more comfortable and less cumbersome to use.  The dual broadcast over ANT+ and Bluetooth 4.0 makes the Link almost universally compatible.  Throw on top of that the diminished but battery life but oh still worth a solid 8 hours and you don't have much to complain about.

TAn optical heart rate monitor works exactly like a traditional heart rate monitor strap but there are definitely some solid pros in the optical heart rate monitor category given that many users find chest heart rate straps uncomfortable.  With the $99 price tag the Link is really right there competing with traditional heart rate straps for your heart rate monitoring needs and it does a wonderful job.  It is an extremely accurate device that really just makes it a personal choice. If you dislike heart rate straps I would strongly recommend giving the Mio Link a look. Oh I should point out that my only real complaint with the Mio Link, the LED light, really doesn't impact usage at all making it a minor inconvenience at worst!

Support This Site

I hoped you enjoyed this review and if you want to get yourself a new piece of sports technology joy please support this site by clicking through on the Amazon referral link below.  It allows you to get an awesome product at a great price (amazon is usually the cheapest) and I get a small percentage back from amazon at no cost what so ever to you..  So to recap: you get a great product and I get to keep writing some way overly detailed reviews...Sounds like a win-win to me!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Week in Runs & Rides

Kind of a meager post of Runs & Rides this week!  I am really not sure why but I haven't exactly been feeling energetic for the last week.  Since Thursday I've been really tired and lethargic; so I have slept in a LOT!  I need to get my butt in gear for this next week as I just signed up for my next triathlon (CATS Sprint Triathlon in Conway, AR).

Another Ride with Nicole (Monday)

I am slowly but steadily breaking down Nicole's resolve against becoming a cyclist.  This is the second week in a row that I have managed to get her onto a bike and all it took me was giving a head rub.  Just sacrifice in the name of progress!  Her only condition was that she didn't want to ride the Big Dam Bridge so we instead road down the Little Rock side of the River Trail and continued past the BDB until the roundabout before the Two Rivers Park Bridge.  After I did a couple of loops around the roundabout, don't I'm almost a professional and therefore qualified for such maneuvers, we followed the same route back home.  It was actually a nice tailwind on the way back that allowed me to pick up the speed a little bit above a crawl with nary a complaint.

Next it is time to take her bike shopping!!!

First long ride in a...Long Time! (Tuesday)

I wanted to test the Track feature of the Sigma Rox 10.0 which allows you to create a follow a GPS track on the device so I needed a place I was kind of familiar with but not overly familiar with.  So I decided to go riding in the fields east of Little Rock where it is pancake flat and usually full of crosswinds.  Luckily crosswinds were not in abundance but flat riding sure was!  I really tried to go for a long, hard, consistent ride and managed an average speed of 18 mph for the 40 mile ride.  Pretty pumped about that although I did completely die on the last 4 miles or so.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the Rox 10.0's track navigation but it did lead me down a wrong turn and have issues with the fact that one section of my track was both out and back.  The device kept telling me I was going the wrong direction.  Clearly it leaves something to be desired when compared to a Garmin Touring but it does work better than a basic bread crumb trail and works well if routing isn't a huge deal but just a useful feature to have every now and again.

Stretching My Legs (Wednesday)

After my long attempted time trialish ride on Tuesday I woke up with some pretty sore legs on Wednesday morning.  To try and remedy that I went for a SHORT run (1.1 miles) to literally just stretch the legs.  I tried something different with the Wahoo Fitness App and I was able to get Running Smoothness and cadence much better than previously.  I think locking my phone and then putting it in a SPI Belt might have made signal transmission difficult.  When I kept my phone out on and unlocked as on this particular run I got all of the numbers perfectly.

Monday


Tuesday



Wednesday

Thursday, August 21, 2014

All Night Heart Rate Monitoring

With the Mio Link in for testing I couldn't resist doing something it wasn't really designed for.  So with that in mind I set out to do some heart rate monitoring while I slept, of my entire night.  Luckily the Link has pretty stellar battery life (7 hours) so I juiced up the Link and my Garmin Forerunner 220 in preparation for the test.

I debated sending the data to my phone instead of just the FR220 but I have had some issue with the Wahoo Fitness app recently so I figured I would play it safe with old reliable.  I was a little unsure of how well I would sleep with a heart rate monitor attached to my wrist so I figured I would minimize the need for a redo.  Also, during the test I wore the Withings Pulse O2 activity tracker (Full Review Here) to get sleep quality data.  Luckily I still had it in from my detailed review as I actually shipped it back to Withings the day after this test.

Testing Begins

So after an episode of the BBC show Sherlock (Nicole and I have been binge watching it for a couple of weeks) and with no work the next morning, I slapped on the Mio Link and fired it up.  Next was the best part of this particular test: the sleeping.  Don't get me wrong, I like cycling, kinda like running, swimming is  more complicated but I LOVE sleeping.  If only every product I tested allowed me to disguise sleeping under the onus of product testing.

How the test was conducted: it started at 11:05pm when I activated the sleep mode of the Withings Pulse O2.  I was wearing the Mio Link and the Pulse on my left wrist.  The Link was sending the heart rate data to my Garmin Forerunner 220 which was sitting on my night stand.  I ended the heart rate tracking at around 4:00-4:15am when I woke up for some reason.  My left hand felt slightly numb and in my state of mind at that moment I was unable to just loosen the Mio Link up one notch.  So rather than botch the second half I just concluded right there.  The total file length was 4:55:30.

The Results

Now for the interesting part what actually came out of doing this!  Well not a whole bunch but there are definitely some interesting parts of the data.  My average heart rate for the test was 67 bpm, my maximum was 139 bpm, and the minimum recorded was 51 bpm.  I am a little surprised my average heart rate is not slower as my resting heart rate tends to be around 63-65 bpm.  Sleep heart rate research suggests that your heart rate should dip 8-10% from your resting heart rate as you approach and then fall asleep.  Interestingly enough once you hit deep sleep or REM sleep you heart rate is actually freed from most of its normal constraints and can vary widely up or down and actually hit numbers well above waking numbers.

As you can see from the graph above my heart rate  followed a general downward path initially then started a period of up and down swings then followed by a more controlled period around 65-70 bpm.  Then there was a general trend up followed by a general trend down.  It looks like the next section of about 20 minutes or so the Link had issues picking up my heart rate as it is pretty unlikely that is was a perfectly level for that long.

Then there is another seciont of wild swings followed by a level period then a LONG section of wild spikes.  Then a downward trend with a couple of spikes and a VERY long section of relative calm.  Then some spikes including a crazy one that hit the maximum at 139 bpm and apparently woke me up as not much later (5 minutes) I ended the activity.

So how does all of that compare to the Withings sleep tracking data?  Well according to the Pulse I had 4 periods of deep sleep from roughly 11:30-11:40 pm, 12:20-12:35 pm, 12:50-1:50 am, & 2:35-3:35 am.  Interestingly enough the first set of heart rate spikes occurred roughly 30-40 minutes into the file matching up pretty well with my first period of deep sleep.  The second deep sleep period again matched up with heart rate spikes around 1:20 into the file.

Now for the third deep sleep period it does occur during a period of heart rate spikes, however they do not clearly end or begin with the deep sleep period and therefore fail to define it the way the spikes had the previous two deep sleep periods.  This is carried through with the last deep sleep period which starts during a period of consistent heart rate (around 55 bpm) but then ends during a period of high heart rate spikes including the maximum where I am awoken.

Summary

So I really don't know what to make of this data other than it piqued my interest to the point that I think I might follow it up with some more testing using the Wahoo TICKR Run instead.  The heart rate spikes and my sleep pattern matched for large sections but then didn't match for others.  Also, I still feel like the numbers for my heart rate are a tad high.  I do wonder if my body was tired when I did this and therefore I got the above average numbers.  If by chance anyone who reads this is a cardiologist and can shed a little more light on some of this data I would be exceptionally interested to hear!  Thanks 

Strava File