Ray's Weekly Sports Electronics Mailbag

Hello, welcome to the Weekly Mailbag. I’m Ray, from DCRainmaker.com. If you’ve ever searched for reviews on sports technology – you’ve probably come across my site. I write about my triathlon/running training in general, along with sports technology and whatever else seems interesting to me. I started the Weekly Mailbag series earlier this spring as an opportunity to share some of the answers of the many e-mailed questions I get each week.

The mailbag has moved though – from my little place on the web, over here to Slowtwitch. So if you enjoy what you find here, then feel free to click the links to find even more in depth information on each topic. And if you have any questions, you can always e-mail me directly. Thanks for reading!


This week’s mailbag covers the following topics:

1) Vector from Metrigear Status?
2) New version of Garmin 310XT?
3) Wearing the Heart Rate strap in the water during a race? 
4) How far does ANT+ signal go? 


1) Vector from Metrigear Status?
From Manilo-

“Have you ever looked into the Vector from Metrigear as a Cycling Power meter? See link below It promises to be quite revolutionary given no need for installing a new hub but just goes in pedal.  Not out yet, but I was wondering whether you had looked at it in the past.

I really want to train with power but I really don’t want to buy new training and racing wheels… I already use Speedplay pedals, so that helps.”

Hi Manilo.  Yes, there hasn’t been a sports technology company in a while that’s kicked off more anticipation frenzy than Metrigear.  Had you asked back in the spring ago what I thought, I would have said I was looking forward to seeing them release products this fall.

But it’s become increasingly clear that simply isn’t going to happen, nor happen anytime soon.  The first sign has been basically total radio silence from them over the past month or so.  Especially with regards to lack of comment around the new Look/Polar pedal power meter that was announced (note, I analyze that new power meter here).  Given the design philosophies were similar at a high level, there would be some expectation that Metrigear might have something to say with regards to whether or not their technology was being leveraged.

If you turn the ‘way-back’ machine on to last year around this time, they were demo’ing semi-functional versions at Interbike 2009.  Though these units were only showing one pedal (thus not both left/right leg power), they nonetheless were showing that the had some sort of prototype at least doing something.  They were also updating the world occasionally via their blog – offering periodic insight with respect to forward movement.

However, things seem to have gone backwards in the past few weeks.  Just days after Eurobike (where the Look/Polar Power Meter was announced), Metrigear removed themselves from the Exhibitor list for Interbike next week.  We’re talking about pulling out for the biggest bike show of the year, just two weeks prior, and with no further comment from the company.  The general rule of thumb in the bike world is if it isn’t out/announced by EuroBike/Interbike…it won’t be out until next fall.

So, the long winded answer to your question is – I wouldn’t wait for their power meter.  I can’t imagine a scenario at this juncture where we’d see it before next summer – at least in its native Metrigear form.  I could see a scenario where someone else has bought out their intellectual property and is planning a spring release.  But by now, they’d be smart to have announced it and gain attention.
Just my two cents…

2) New version of Garmin Forerunner 310XT?
From Jonathan-

“Just finished my first IM this weekend up in Wisconsin right around 12:20.  Not a dominating performance, but a great experience.  WTC had 3,000 bodies banging hard through the swim and I lost my Garmin 310XT to the fishes halfway through the race.

My 2010 season is winding down, and while I'll probably be replacing the 310 soon, I was wondering if I should be holding off for anything coming down the pipeline from Garmin (realizing you might have insider knowledge...not looking for specific, but just a head's up as to whether and how long I should hold off.)”

Hi Jonathan!  Congrats on your race this past weekend!  Though, serious bummer on the FR310XT.  Before I get into the FR310XT replacement, and as a benefit to others – I generally don’t recommend wearing the FR310XT on your wrist during mass start style races.  The reason for this is that the band’s pins are easily popped out with a direct blow.  While the quick release kit does make it much better, it’s still a pretty vulnerable combo.  Even using the new 310XT Openwater Swim Mode, the data is still going to be better by placing it in your swim cap – so I generally recommend that instead if anything during a race.  Also see the good solution at the end of this post on attaching to your goggles.

With respect to the FR310XT new model replacement…I don’t have any insider knowledge into what Garmin plans to release.

However, looking at typical Garmin product release timetables, they tend to refresh a given product/line every two years.  The 310XT was released in late Spring 2009, which means it would be due for a refresh in the Spring/Summer of 2011.  This has held true for quite a while with their fitness models, and I’d be surprised if they don’t update it next spring – especially given the increasing competition from cell-based apps doing very similar things at a fraction of the cost (albeit with some limitations).

That said, I love my FR310XT and would happily go back into a store and replace it tomorrow if it died today.  10 months is a long time away…

For more of my Sports Technology predictions and thoughts, see this post I made earlier this year.  And if you recently killed your device or are looking at a new device – here’s my consolidated 2010 Recommendations.

3) Wearing the Heart Rate Monitor Strap in the water?
From Dale-

“Regarding the FR305 HR strap, do you generally wear that in the water under your wetsuit?  Even if I don’t carry my Forerunner 305 watch on the swim leg, I would still like to have the HR strap on to minimize T1 transition time.  If not, do you wear it on races at all?”

Hi Dale!  Yup, most folks (including myself) will wear the heart rate strap under their tri-top/suit and then under the wetsuit.  The straps are fully waterproofed, though they won’t pickup signal while underwater.  As long as you’ve paired it to the watch prior to leaving transition – you’ll be good to go.  Once within range of your Garmin unit it’ll automatically pickup the ANT+ heart rate signal, and then start displaying/recording that data. 

The one recommendation I would make, is to ensure you pair it well before you get to the race.  As long as you’ve used the device in training prior to arriving at the race site, there’s nothing more to do than use as normal.  But if you show up with a new heart rate strap and/or unit – it's incredibly difficult to pair new accessories to head units while in a transition area because there are so many other people with ANT+ accessories.  While some of the newer Garmin’s (like the Edge 500/800) do at least display ANT+ ID codes (along with all of the ANT+ iPhone adapters), it’s still virtually impossible to get that connection made if there are a few thousand other athletes around you at the time with similar devices.

4) How far does ANT+ signal go?
From Jason-

"I was hoping to the Forerunner 310XT and Heart Rate Monitor this not just for triathlon activities but for my kick boxing.  How far away can the watch and heart rate monitor be where it is still working?”

The ANT+ signal will go surprisingly far actually.  In fact, it’s kinda funny – my place overlooks a cycling/running path and popular bike commuting route.  If I sit there near a window and place any of the Garmin’s into pairing mode, it’ll actually pickup the occasional cyclist or running going by.

In indoor non-line of sight situations I can easily pickup accessories up or down a floor, and on the other side of my place.

In line of sight situations without anything in the way I can usually get some of the better sensor units to go 15-20 yards without issue, and in some cases upwards of 20-30 yards.  One of the reasons I found this out is I was at the track one day doing trainer/track workout brick combo’s and had to swap to a different Garmin unit when my batter ran out.  Unfortunately it kept on picking up my friends heart rate strap who was also there.  I had to go about halfway across the football field before it would finally let me re-pair my heart rate strap.


Recent Mailbags:

Weekly Mailbag – September 7th, 2010
- Picking a swim-friendly heart rate monitor
- Wahoo Sports iPhone ANT+ Adapter Update
- Timex Global Trainer and Multisport Mode Recording
- Which Power Meter Head Unit for Power Tap?

Weekly Mailbag – August 29th, 2010
- Multiple Users and Garmin Fitness Watches
- Rolling/Folding Wetsuits
- Which websites to find races
- Forerunner 310XT Mount Options

You can find all past mailbags here.

[Editor's note: our capable editor-at-large for electronics Ray Maker is the publisher of the online sports tech blog DC Rainmaker, one of the top-ranked sites by Google for extremely in-depth reviews of advanced GPS and Heart Rate Monitors for triathlon, cycling, and running.]