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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wahoo TICKR Run in for Review

After an "interesting" day of mountain biking, more on that story to come, I arrived home to find a package sitting on my doorstep.  Said package turned out to be the Wahoo TICKR Run the newest heart rate monitor by Wahoo the company that first delivered Bluetooth heart rate monitors to the market.  Although the TICKR Run is more than just a "simple" heart rate monitor, much more!

To start the TICKR Run can broadcast heart rate data over both Bluetooth 4.0 and ANT+ so effectively every major product on the market today will work with the TICKR Run.  It is nice to know that no matter what product you are using or whatever you upgrade to in the future your accessories will continue to work with it.  Right now the sports technology market is definitely in flux right now with a shift from what was 100% ANT+ (and some random device specific protocols, I am looking at you Polar) to Bluetooth 4.0 starting to break in.  Originally with the use of smartphones for fitness training but also some devices are now following the trend as well with both the Polar V800 and the new Suunto Ambit3 both supporting Bluetooth 4.0 and NOT ANT+.

But a dual broadcasting heart rate monitor is great but nothing groundbreaking.  The Wahoo includes some other impressive features especially Running Smoothness (yea Wahoo trademarked the phrase which was a smart move) which measure vertical oscillation (how much you bounce), ground contact time, and cadence all from the TICKR heart rate monitor.  This allows the Wahoo Fitness App to create a Running Smoothness score to help runners try and be more efficient and healthy for their running form.  Now the Running Smoothness features will only work while using the iPhone Wahoo Fitness App and not when using a normal GPS running watch.

However, the TICKR Run can also use the same sensors that compile the Running Smoothness to determine speed and distance when running indoors on a treadmill.  This allows you to replace a foot pod cadence sensor with the TICKR Run.  Wahoo is not the first company to do this and there has been a big push to include accelerometers in devices other than foot pods to measure speed & distance.  The Garmin Forerunner 220 and 620 both have built in accelerometers to determine distance and speed but I haven't been particularly impressed with the feature on the FR 220 (My overly detailed review of the Garmin Forerunner 220 Here).  Garmin also captures many of the same metrics as Running Smoothness does with their New HRM Run heart rate monitor but it is only compatible with Garmin's top end running watch the Forerunner 620.  But the Garmin FR 620 is $400 and the HRM Run is $100 where as the Wahoo TICKR Run is $80 and uses the phone you already use.  I think we can clearly see which is the better value but I'll leave that up to you all.

So, I will be testing the Wahoo TICKR Run in the coming weeks and then posting my usual Overly Detailed review.  In the meantime if you would like to support this site you can head over to Amazon.com to get yourself a TICKR Run. 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!  Or you can visit Wahoo.com for more info on the TICKR Run.


Monday, July 21, 2014

My Week in Runs & Rides

So as it will become quit obvious through reading this post I rather handily failed in my goal to get back to working out out more appropriately this week.  My week started out good with back to back good rides but then I started my work week and with my new schedule that has me working through the afternoon and early night that means I have to run/ride in the morning.  Now there is ample time to workout before work but then there is the Tour de France on TV so it becomes a bit of which would I rather do.  And trust me it is pretty hard to beat my bed followed by a delicious latte and the Tour de France.  Luckily tomorrow is a rest day so maybe I can motivate myself.  If anyone has any motivation tips don't hesitate to share!

Triing the River Trail (Monday)

In an effort to be how would you say; Less Lazy!  I started the week on a high note by heading out for a ride Monday afternoon in the blazing heat of a 90+ degree day.  Because it was so hot I actually caved in and wore my triathlon top in an effort to stay cool hence the name of this ride.  To be more cohesive I went ahead and wore my Giro Mele Tri shoes instead of my normal cycling shoes but I had to cave and wear socks.  I guess I'm just not a true triathlete yet.

There wasn't much to my ride I just took it as a time trail effort from the edge of downtown Little Rock back around to the I-30 bridge in North Little Rock.  That section was 14 miles on the dot which I did in 44:06 at an average speed of 19mph.  On a side note I was pretty thrilled to carry 19mph as my average speed.  My average wattage was 191 with a pretty high average heart rate of 183bpm.  It might be a little more effort than I would want to put into the bike leg of a triathlon but it is encouraging as the Degray Lake Sprint Triathlon has a 16 mile bike leg and actually has less overall elevation gain than the River Trail.  The fastest bike leg last year had an average speed of 19.5mph.

Hills of the River Trail (Tuesday)

In an effort to improve my hill climbing abilities after my climb of Devil's Den a couple of weeks back I went out along the River Trail with a goal to hit every major climb that I could.  So I set out to hit all three climbs that are easily accessed off of the River Trail in one long ride.  Those climbs are Overlook Drive (0.7 miles at 8%), Pinnacle Valley Road (0.7 miles also 8%), and Fort Roots (1 mile at 5%).

I have always hated Overlook Drive because it just goes straight up at 8% with no respite.  Pinnacle Valley is easier with sections over 10% but even a small downhill in the middle to catch your breath for a second.  Now on Fort Roots is my favorite kind of climb because it only averages 5% which is a gradient that I can truck along at for a long time.  I prefer long, flatterish climbs to steep short ones although Arkansas tends to have an abundance of the latter.  Now I didn't manage to set a record up any of these climbs but I was thrilled to make it up all three in one go of a ride that was 38.5 miles long and had 1,500 feet of elevation gain.  It is no day in the alps but definitely some hills for Central Arkansas.


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Friday, July 18, 2014

FreeWavz Kickstarter Campaign

So I don't normally (read: Never) post about Kickstarter campaigns just because there are so many variables at play when producing a project.  Although to be fair I love to see some of the really cool items that are coming down the pipeline and that will have an impact in the sports technology gadget landscape.  But because I have actually been in contact with the team behind the FreeWavz I feel a LOT more confident in talking about this product here.

What are FreeWavz

So first up what on Earth are FreeWavz and why do I care about them?  Well FreeWavz are wireless Bluetooth headphones.  Okay you are saying headphones...why do you care about headphones?  Well I am interested in headphones because they have some other cool stuff in the same package.  The big one is the inclusion of an optical heart rate monitor.  They also include an activity tracker for measuring distance.

Optical Heart Rate Monitor

Now the big feature for me given my focus on sports technology is the inclusion of an optical heart rate monitor in the FreeWavz.  I recently reviewed the Mio Alpha (Review Here) which was the first device to bring optical heart rate monitoring to the sports world.  The biggest difference between the FreeWavz and the Mio products though is that the FreeWavz measure heart rate through the ear and shine the optical lights necessary for reading the heart rate through both sides of the ear.  Apparently this is how heart rate is measured in surgical settings and by sending the light through both sides it isn't necessary for the FreeWavz to compensate or smooth the data due to interference.

Products like the Mio Alpha or the Basis B1 reflect the signal off tissue and back to the device.  This requires the device to compensate for different factors which some devices do better than other.  For example, the Basis can't function in exercise scenarios because it can't compensate for the disturbances caused by exercise.

The heart rate data will be able to be sent out over Bluetooth 4.0 protocols which will make the signal compatible with popular smartphones like the iPhone and some of the newer GPS watches like the Polar V800 that use Bluetooth instead of ANT+.  One thing that does excite me about the FreeWavz is that they do boast pretty solid battery life of 6-8 hours which is more than enough for all but the longest rides.  I guess someone training for an Ironman might need better battery life but 6 hours sure has me covered!

I will be honest it is the optical heart rate tracking that has me by far the most interested in the FreeWavz.  The prevalence of optical heart rate devices has grown hugely in the last 3 years with the number of devices increasing five fold.  As of yet no one has delivered to the market a really good optical heart rate device that works of of somewhere other than the arm.  To be honest I already have enough on my wrist so the idea of getting some sweet headphones that can also replace my heart rate monitor strap sounds like a brilliant idea!

Activity Tracker

A big feature touted by the FreeWavz creators is the inclusion of an activity tracker.  The devices will use a 3 way acceleromter to determine fitness metrics like distance traveled, calories burned, and duration of activity.  How effective this will be I can't exactly say but there are other devices on the marketplace that have very effectively using central parts of the body for measuring running metrics, the Wahoo TICKR Run comes to mind.  However, some daily activity trackers have been less effective so this feature will really come down to how the FreeWavz team deliver as similar things do exist although not in headphones.  But from my talks with the development team I believe they will be able to deliver pretty accurate activity tracking.

Now personally I am not overly enthusiastic for this feature as I already use a GPS watch to get those same metrics and a GPS will always be more accurate but that being said it does show you where fitness devices are going with accelerometers, pretty soon they might be in just about everything.  Which will allow the capture of an unimaginable plethora of data.  But for someone who is new to running the FreeWavz could be a solid option to cover a LOT of bases with one device.  With the activity metrics you can get distance and you also get heart rate through the optical heart rate monitor which covers the basics that most new runners are looking for in a first device.

One thing that is cool about both the activity metrics and the heart rate tracking is that the FreeWavz can audibly alert you to your progress in certain metrics.  So instead of looking down at your watch or trying to look at your phone the FreeWavz will let you know your heart rate or distance.  Could be pretty useful as I know a good ways into a long ride sometimes I forget to even really look down at my heart rate.  The FreeWavz would alert me with the push of a button and I wouldn't even have to look down.

Outside of just receiving metrics like distance/pace eventually the freeWavz platform could be harnessed by developers to do metrics like running dynamics that Wahoo and Garmin have done.  The FreeWavz have an open development platform that allows developers to continue to develop and push them forward.  Also because of the hardware that is inside of the FreeWavz software updates are possible so that new features can be added with time.  I can see a lot of potential using the accelerometer within the FreeWavz for more features to be added with time.

Function as Headphones

I guess I have rather neglected to mention it so far but the FreeWavz do actually function as headphones on the side you know.  Here the FreeWavz are completely wireless and use Bluetooth 4.0 to stream music or calls.  Sound quality is supposed to be exemplary but one feature that I found really cool is that you can actually control the amount of sound pass through.  Which is the amount of ambient noise that comes through the FreeWavz.  A lack of sound pass through is why I do not normally train with headphones, music is encouraging and all but I would rather hear a car coming up behind me.

But the FreeWavz allow ambient noise pass through and to take it one step further you can independently control how much to each ear.  So cyclists who need to hear with the left ear for cars coming up from behind could allow a significant amount of ambient noise through the left ear but leave the right ear canceling out all ambient noise for high quality music.  Sounds like the best of both worlds to me!  This feature and all of the other setting features on the FreeWavz will be controllable through the FreeWavz app.

All of this doesn't even take into account some of the features of the FreeWavz headphones like their secure 4 point fit on the ear, I am one of those people who can't wear Apple ear buds because they CONSTANTLY are falling out of my ears.  The FreeWavz also project music into the ear which is supposed to create a crystal clear music quality.

The FreeWavz can also be used to receive calls just like any other Bluetooth headset out there in the world.  Which could mean calls intruding in on your workout but then I also wouldn't have to stop on the side of the road to call my girlfriend and let her know that my ride is going to go WAY longer than expected.  With the FreeWavz I could do it while ride and get good audio quality using the FreeWavz multiple microphone system.  I am not 100% I want to be reachable by phone on my bike but you can't help but like it from a technological point of view. 

Summary

So I am pretty impressed with everything that FreeWavz hope to deliver and although they do have functioning prototypes that deliver all of the key features I can't wait for the production run.  Hopefully then I can have the ability to test the FreeWavz out for myself and do one of my overly detailed reviews with some direct comparisons of the heart rate and activity tracking features on the FreeWavz.  

At the time of me writing this there are 20 days left on the FreeWavz Kickstarter campaign which so far has been funded for a little over $105,000.  Yeah it is pretty impressive but the campaign needs to hit $300,000 for the funding to go through and FreeWavz to go into production.  So head over to the FreeWavz site or their Kickstarter page if you would like to see a little more about Bluetooth that also optically read your heart rate.



More Info


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Crystal Bridges Trip


A couple of weekends ago Nicole and I visited our college alma mater in Fayetteville, AR.  The trip included catching up with friends, riding the Devil's Den hill climb (post here), and a trip to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  Crystal Bridges was completed the same year I graduated from college and although I had been once before Nicole hadn't had the chance.  The museum was built with Walton family money and attendance is free due to a large corporate gift from Wal-Mart.  You Adefinitely can't say that Wal-Mart doesn't give a lot to
Northwest Arkansas.

Walking Trails

We started our visit by walking around on some of the walking trails that encircle the museum.  We ended up walking about 2 miles in 43 minutes to make a large loop.  There are numerous other trails as well but it was starting to get quit warm so we decided to skip them and head in to see the art.  Although I should point out that there are large pieces of outdoor art scattered throughout the trails.  There are also some of the mountain biking trails of Slaughter Pen which looked completely awesome.  I will definitely have to revisit them with a mountain bike although I could make a complete fool of myself.

Luckily there are some really nice trail maps that are provided at no cost at various locations along the trail and we quickly nabbed one to navigate the system.  After some basic directions to a starting point from a helpful guide we walked along the Crystal Spring Trail looking at the art and the back side of the museum, which in and of itself is a work of art.  That lead us to the Art Trail which featured several large outdoor art pieces of which my favorite by far was the large bear carving.  That trail then led us to the Crystal Bridges Trail which runs the entire backside of the museum and continues on in either direction to form part of a massive trail system that spans the length of Northwest Arkansas.  This is where some of the Slaughter Pen mountain bike trails are located and they are awesomely built up and well taken care of.

After a LONG walk on the Crystal Bridges Trail we crossed a little creek and caught the Enfield Trail briefly then the crushed dirt Rock Ledge Trail to start heading back to the museum.  At this point I was starting to get rather warm as I had previously been unaware of how extensive the trail system was and I for some reason had chosen to wear jeans in June in ARKANSAS, it was in the high 80's.

We LOVE pigs in Arkansas








The Traveling Exhibit

The only part of Crystal Bridges that costs is the traveling exhibits from other locations that are brought in temporarily.  The exhibit there at this time was "A Taste For Modernism" and at only $8 per person we definitely took the time to visit it as well.  Rather than describing it I'm just going to post all of the pictures below that I took.

















The Main Exhibit

After the Taste of Modernism exhibit we worked our way over to see the main exhibit.  In the process we almost got lumped in with a tour for senior citizens but we quickly figured out that we didn't belong in the group.  Below are all of my pictures from the exhibit.  Yes, if you notice a decrease in quality it is because about 15 minutes into the exhibit the battery on our camera died so we had to make the switch over to iPhones.  On a positive note I LOVED the architecture of JKLJKLJKL and although it is not normally a part of the exhibit I actually found it one of the most interesting parts.  I would definitely like to live in some of those structures which seem completely out of this world.






























Walking Trail Strava Track