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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Soleus Draft in for Review

Soleus is a company that has been involved with GPS running watches for quit a while but readers will remember that not too long ago I reviewed the Soleus Go! activity tracker. With the GO! Soleus was testing the waters outside of their traditional focus on running watches. Well in the same vein Soleus has the Draft GPS bike computer and I now have a unit in to test for a review!

Now what is really interesting about the Soleus Draft is the budget spot it takes in the market. The Draft is GPS computer that retails for only $99 dollars! That is half of the Sigma Rox 10.0 I have been testing ($200) and $30 less than the Garmin Edge 200 the only other comparable bike computer out on the market.

The Draft is interesting because to hit that bare bones price tag it delivers bare bones features but Soleus is betting it is just the right set of features to attract users at that price point. Basically the Soleus Draft is a GPS only unit with no other means of communication (either Bluetooth or ANT+). Which means that the Draft doesn't support any sort of ancillary peripheral devices like speed/cadence sensors, heart rate monitors, or power meters. It just does GPS!

Hardware wise the Draft is definitely on the small side at 2.5" by 1.75" with a backlight dot display screen. The Draft utilizes a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery that is charged via the included charger. Soleus is big on showing off the 30 ride storage capabilities of the Draft as well as the ability to directly upload activities to Strava. Water proofing is good to 30 meters so unless you crash your bike into a very deep lake the Draft should survive without any issues.

Which exemplifies exactly what Soleus is going for here. The Draft is all about delivering basic GPS based metrics like speed and distance as well as creating a GPS track for post ride upload. And doing so in an affordable and rugged little package. Clearly this computer isn't for everyone but then again if you are using a Garmin 1000 you probably don't fit the target demographics very well. But if you have been using your iPhone to track rides for upload to Strava then you should most definitely take a look at the Soleus Draft!

But for the next several months I will be testing out the Soleus Draft to make sure that everything works as advertised. Hopefully I can get a lot of testing in before winter takes me indoors to the bike trainer. In the meantime feel free to comment at the bottom with any questions or visit Soleus' Draft site.

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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!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TrainerRoad in for Review

TrainerRoad is a PC based software that is pure pain and by that I mean it is for the evil contraption called a bike trainer. But on the bright side the point of TrainerRoad is to make you a faster cyclist, they literally say it right on the front of their website, bold claims in my book. But they whole program revolves around structured workouts and training plans. There are tons of training plans, pre-made workouts, and the ability to create custom training plans. The TrainerRoad program is available for download via the web through their site: www.trainerroad.com. Using the service requires a subscription which is $10 per month. That gives you unlimited usage of TrainerRoad. No tiers just a straight up ten bucks.

Per my usual review circumstances I get to test the software provided by the manufacturer but not keep it. Hence, I have a free subscription for 6 months at which time I can kiss it good bye or start paying. It isn't necessarily the same thing as sending it back to the manufacturer but about as close as you can get with software.

But first let us dive into how exactly TrainerRoad works! You do need a little bit of equipment to get set up namely some way of capturing power data. Obviously there are the traditional choices of a power meter or a bike trainer that computes power (KICKR for example). But what really widens the appeal of TrainerRoad is their Virtual Power system which figures power based on a known power curve for a bike trainer and your speed/cadence. So this basically means if you have a bike trainer you can use TrainerRoad and effectively train to planned power based workouts irrelevant of whether you have yet to plop down a couple grand for a power meter or a KICKR.

The next big question after hearing all of this is how exactly does the information from my bike accessories make it to my computer. The answer is a handy little ANT+ USB stick which used to come with bunches of Garmins. Or you can buy one like I did from Amazon for like $30 which kind of sucks but hey it'll be worth it. When inserted into your computer it allows the TrainerRoad program to pick up the ANT+ signal transmitted from power meters, heart rate monitors, speed/cadence sensors, etc. So on your computer in live time you can see all of those stats which is pretty awesome; especially as my girlfriend is out of town for the week so I "might" have rearranged the living room allowing my computer to plug into the TV via the HDMI cable. So during this chilly 30 degree days I effectively have a 48" screen for my bike trainer workouts!

When doing a TrainerRoad workout the computer screen will map out the workout as target power. Then you basically just try and hit that target power level for the duration of the graph. It is pretty self explanatory and as a cool feature you can actually dock the TrainerRoad application at the bottom of the screen out of the way. Doing so frees up the rest of your desktop for some good ole Netflix; the only way I can survive anytime on a trainer. But with whatever "pain cave" set up you choose, just follow the workout on the screen and suffer!

Yeah that's my computer background
I love my dog!
To add to the fun TrainerRoad has just released their new iPhone app (Literally the day I'm writing this 11/17/14 at 10:00pm CST) which allows you to run their workouts through the app. This should make the system even more flexible although it will require either Bluetooth 4.0 sensors or a Wahoo ANT+ dongle. Luckily I have some Bluetooth items in for testing so it should work out well. I should point out that the computer version of TrainerRoad supports Bluetooth sensors as well but you still need a Bluetooth dongle; even if your computer has Bluetooth 4.0 like mine does. Hence if you need a dongle anyways you might as well go with the more common ANT+ unless you are decked out with Bluetooth sensors.

I will be testing and then subsequently reviewing the TrainerRoad PC software and their new iOS app this winter. I will be paying particular attention the Virtual Power system as it is really cool! Also, I might break the app and the pc software into separate reviews but I'm not sure yet; open to suggestions. In the meantime per the usual feel free to comment below or visit TrainerRoad's brand new website (as of my writing) if you have any questions that can't wait until my overly detailed review.

Support This Site

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, November 24, 2014

It's Thanksgiving! Snow?

Being a resident of Arkansas we don't exactly get much of the fluffy white stuff. If we do it is full on ice which just sucks! But this year the family is headed up to the Great White North... Illinois!!! Where Nicole's family lives which I envision as looking a lot like Buffalo right now but in reality probably looks more like the below picture :( I actually love snow so I have high hopes of convincing Lilly to pull me on a sled instead of doing a running workout.

But all of this is a roundabout way of saying I won't be posting next week due to being out for Thanksgiving. Just Kidding! Unlike that lazy BikeSnobNYC guy and due to the wonders of modern post scheduling you can get your fill of my worthlessly, overly detailed product reviews!

If that isn't important to you well then check out My Holiday Gift Guides to make that apocalyptic event dubbed "holiday shopping" a little less world ending.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!
Perception vs Reality

Friday, November 21, 2014

Winter Cycling Apparel

 The trees are losing their leaves and it is noticeably cooler than last month because summer is coming to a close and it will soon be fall and then winter.  To many that means racking their bike up for the winter or going to a stationary trainer, but it doesn’t have to.  Winter cycling is just as fun as summer cycling; you get the clear skies, the crisp air, and one quarter of the people on the trail.  Best of all winter cycling can be done easily as long as you know how to dress appropriately.

Winter Cycling involves covering and layering up to deal with the cooler temperatures.  Layering is the end all be all of winter cycling because cycling will involve many different weather conditions and body temperatures in the same ride.  Example: you are panting your way up a cat 4 climb so you are probably pretty hot combined with low wind due to low speed.  However, when you go down the descent you aren’t even pedaling and the wind chill has dropped just a bit.  When you dress for a winter cycling ride start with your extremities then move to your core and finally add layers and possibly wind proofing.

Full Finger Gloves

I recommend full finger gloves as your very first winter cycling purchase.  Hands can get cold quickly due to their distance from the body.  When combined with cooler temperatures, cold winds, and a lack of movement your fingers can quickly become the coldest part of your body.  Full finger cycling gloves offer more coverage and advanced versions will even include a windproof layer.  On the palms full finger cycling gloves are padding just like half finger gloves so you still get the same feel.  One tip, make sure to have decent finger dexterity with your choice of gloves so that you can still manipulate your computer and shifters.


Arm Warmers

Arm warmers are basically just cut off sleeves with an elastic band at the top to keep them in place.  The coverage to your arms will make you feel significantly warmer but arm warmers real advantage is their adaptability.  Unlike most winter cycling apparel arm warmers can be easily manipulated for changing conditions.  If you start to get hot you can roll them down to your wrists to cool off a little and then roll them back up afterwards.  Furthermore you can easily take them completely off while riding if the sun comes out and you start to get hot.  Arm warmers are the perfect for the fall and early winter when temperatures change significantly throughout the day.


Shoe Covers

Shoe covers can be made from many different materials but the goal is all the same making your really nice breathable cycling shoes less breathable.  By design cycling shoes are vented to keep your feet cool, which is great during the summer but not so good in the winter.  You can buy multiple pairs of shoes but for most that is out of the question because one pair already costs too much.  The solution Shoe Covers.  Shoe covers will block the wind keeping your feet nice and warm while riding.  Furthermore, most pairs are also waterproof which is a huge advantage if you hit rain.  Just ride through a rainstorm without shoe covers and your sopping wet shoes and toes will never let you do it again.


Base Layer

The idea behind wearing a base layer underneath your jersey is to give you more layers which allows for more accurate temperature control.  A base layer also provides more core warmth that is necessary as temperatures start to drop.  Normally I just wear a jersey with nothing underneath but when it starts to get cool out that means you can’t unzip your jersey when you start to overheat because the cool air against your bare chest can about put you into shock.  So, I add a base layer beneath my jersey to add additional warmth and make it easier to cool myself off after a hard climb.  Best part though is that base layers are pretty cheap compared to most cycling items with quality pieces available for 25 dollars.


Beanie/Hat

Covering your ears and head is required about the same time leg warmers are required.  We all know the figures about how much heat you lose from your head so I won’t repeat them but you might not know that the vents on your helmet are designed specifically to remove as much heat as possible from your head.  The solution is a beanie or one of those cool cycling hats with the little brim.  Personally I have to cover my ears because when my ears are cold I am just miserable and it isn’t fun to ride when you are miserable.


Knee/Leg Warmers

Leg warmers are the exact same thing as arm warmers except for your legs; knee warmers are leg warmers that stop a couple inches below the knee.  The biggest difference however is that they cannot be easily removed mid ride.  It is possible to stop and pull them off but it might even require taking off your shoes, and they also cannot be slid down like arm warmers.  But don’t let that deter you they are still great, you just need to wait till it is colder to use them.  Where I live knickers, or full length bib shorts, are really not necessary because will much cheaper leg warmers you can turn your favorite pair of bib shorts into knickers.  There are both leg and knee warmers because they are not easily removable during a ride.  Knee warmers are meant for warmer temperatures were it would be nice to keep your knees warm but full leg coverage isn’t necessary.


Gilet (vest)/Jacket

A quality rain jacket or vest designed specifically for cycling can be picked up for under $50 on sale.  If you already own a rain vest to carry when storm clouds on the horizon it’ll work well enough for winter riding also.  The point is to give your core a windproof barrier because as temperatures really start to drop keeping your core warm will help keep the rest of you warm.  I suggest getting a jacket or vest made specifically for cycling because it will include some nice features like no hood, back pockets, or a two way zipper so you can reach the back pockets on your jersey.


The Other Stuff

There is a lot more winter cycling apparel out there but I am not going to cover it because one I don’t ever need it really in Arkansas and two if it is cold enough to require a balaclava I think I’ll just ride on the trainer that day.  But just for the info there are items like full sleeve jerseys that remove the need of arm warmers but don’t have the flexibility.  They also tend to include a fleece lining for added warmth.  There are knickers which are bibs that have long legs and are also commonly fleece lined.  They also make really nice, and expensive ($400) Gortex cycling jackets that can be used in almost any temperature but I think the price point puts them out of reach for most of us.  Most of all these items are expensive and really aren’t necessary for a lot of cyclists.  You can make due with alternative options that are significantly cheaper and more versatile.



Most of all remember that winter cycling is still a lot of fun and allows you to create a great base fitness level to build upon for the spring races.  A couple key items will go a long way in making you more comfortable.  If you are on a budget start with the items at the top of this list.  They are cheaper and more versatile than more the specialized winter only cycling items towards the bottom.  Shoe Covers can be used for time trials and arm and leg warms can be used to warm up for a race and then easily removed before the race begins.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Garmin Vivosmart in for Review

Garmin announced their newest activity tracker earlier this year dubbed the Vivosmart, the reasoning makes sense as I'll explain, but now I have gotten one in to test for a review. The Vivosmart builds upon Garmin's first activity tracker the Vivofit. I assume the names come from their functions with the original Vivofit being one of the first activity trackers to support heart rate monitors where as the new Vivosmart's big feature addition is smart notifications. So to me the names make some sense.

Back to the actual device the Garmin Vivosmart is obviously an activity tracker so it does all of the usual by tracking steps, distance, calories burned, etc. The Vivosmart also tracks sleep and can track activities such as running or cycling. Activity tracking is taken a step further with built in support for ANT+ heart rate monitors and bike speed sensors. So while you are running or cycling the Vivosmart can read, display, and record your heart rate and speed on the bike. It also measures distance while running using the internal accelerometer. So the Vivosmart is definitely a step, or 2, ahead of much of the market segment when it comes to fitness targeted activity trackers.

The big new feature for the Vivosmart as I mentioned earlier is the inclusion of smart notifications from a paired smartphone on the Vivosmart. So this means whenever you get a text message or someone like your most recent Instagram post the Vivosmart will let you know with an onscreen alert. The Vivosmart also has a vibrate motor so the device will vibrate as well which can be toggled on or off directly on the Vivosmart. The smart notifications are all run through the notifications center on your smartphone. So on my iPhone whatever alerts show up in my notification center show up on the Vivosmart. This is both good and bad although I would argue way more good. On the good side you can completely customize what notifications you receive and the iPhone supports a metric crap ton of different notifications. Literally almost every app supports notifications versus a closed Garmin system that would have no where near the breadth of support for different types of notifications. The bad part to me is that although I do receive the notification on my iPhone that doesn't necessarily make it pressing enough to push to my wrist. Yeah it is nice to know who has liked my most recent post but not important enough to push it aggressively to my wrist; it can wait until I have time to check my phone. At the end of the day there is always the option to reconfigure what notifications I receive period but it would be cool to be able to create a two-tier system although it is kind of nitpicky.

Size wise the Vivosmart is tiny! Similar in form to the polar loop but much smaller in every way. The screen is touch compatible and awakens with a double tap. From there it is sliding, taping, and holding to navigate the screens. It has already become second nature in less than a full day of usage! Sleep and activity tracking have to be manually activated in the settings menu of the Vivosmart. Continuing with the LCD screen the brightness is adjustable on the device but also supports auto-adjust depending on the brightness of the surrounds. The screen has a bit of a fuzzy look which reminds me a lot of the Withings Pulse although the Vivosmart does retain serious waterproofing as it is good down to 50 meters. So I think you are okay to swim with it. The battery is rechargeable via the included proprietary USB cable with the Vivosmart getting roughly seven days per charge.

One feature I do like of the Vivosmart is the variable step goal. Rather than having a static 10,000 step goal every day the Vivosmart and the companion Garmin Connect app/site increase/decrease the goal from day to day depending on the previous day. So if you do a 10k one day the subsequent day your step goal will be higher although it only changes marginally so one day won't kill you the next. I find the concept pretty interesting and possibly more motivational than crushing the same goal over and over again. Also there is a "you're being lazy meter" or a lack of movement bar that basically runs a clock on how long you haven't moved. Once it fills up the Vivosmart goes off and tells you to move some to reset the bar. I am all for additional features that make activity trackers more motivational rather than just glorified pedometers!

I will be testing the Vivosmart here for a little while before publishing my detailed review. So in the meantime if you have any burning questions about the device feel free to comment or visit Garmin's Vivosmart site.

Support This Site

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

 
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