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) Garmin Fitness Product Development Cycles
2) Mac Cycling Focused Applications
3) Timex Global Trainer and HR while in the water


Question #1: Garmin Development Cycles:
From Michael-

"Any idea what kind of development cycle the Garmin Edge 500 is on? In other words, should I get one for the holidays or should I wait until sometime next year to get a 505 or whatever they call they next gen?"

I’ve talked a little bit about this in the past, primarily in my 2010 Sports Technology predictions post. But, here’s the latest scoop! Garmin tends to operate on a 2-year development cycle when it comes to fitness devices. In the case of the Edge 500 (which is my primary bike computer), it was announced last September at Interbike, and was in stores by December 2009. So in the case of the Edge 500 series, I wouldn’t expect a new one until next year at Interbike (2011).

The next offering in the Garmin’s cycling computer stable would have been the Edge 705…but that too was recently announced as being replaced by the much more capable Edge 800 – which while not quite available yet (aimed at November), I did get a chance to review it back in August upon its announcement. I still have the trial unit and love it, as well as the progress made in recent test firmware updates – and the touch screen works quite well.

If you look at the triathlon side of things, the FR310XT was released in Spring/Summer of 2008 – so it’s due for a replacement this upcoming triathlon season. Typically Garmin announces new running/triathlon devices in late Winter/early Spring, with availability usually shortly after the Boston Marathon.

Finally, the running side (since we’re on a roll, right?). Garmin just announced this week the GPS- based FR210 as an update to the GPS-based sibling FR110 last spring. They alsorefreshed theFR405 with a more updated FR410. While typically the FR110 would then last two years, one of the challenges has been its lack of features for advanced runners– hence the primary driver for the update.

So to wrap up your question…go out and pickup the Edge 500 for the holidays – as from a cycling standpoint, I think you’ve got a bit of a wait for new products.

Question #2: Mac cycling-focused applications
From Michael-

"I noticed you mentioned in your Sports Tracks update that there are bike-focused programs for those of us who aren't triathletes. As Sports Tracks is a no go for me anyway because it doesn't run on Macs, I am doubly curious about this issue."

Indeed, while Sport Tracks (which I love!) doesn’t run on Macs, there are a few good alternatives. Perhaps my favorite is an open-source freeware application called Golden Cheetah. I’ve talked about it briefly in the past a number of times, though haven’t put together a comprehensive review on it quite yet.

Golden Cheetah’s roots are in cycling…deep in cycling. It was born primarily as a multi-platform application (Mac/Linx/PC) that aimed to analyze and record cycling workouts, with a heavy emphasis as well. Over time that’s been broadened a bit to be able to support other sports, but the core is still clearly heavily bike-focused. GC allows you to view training files from just about every major training device out there, including recent support for Garmin .FIT files as well. It’s also added some pretty cool features as of late, including quadrant analysis.

You can grab Golden Cheetah over on their site. And if you’re a developer and are interesting in helping them out, definitely check out their development page as well. Out of all of the free applications out there, I think I see the most ‘really cool things’ coming out of the GC shop over the next 6-12 months – especially some of the real time training features I’ve talked about in the past.

Question #3: Timex Global Trainer and HR while in water
From Tyler-

"I am primarily a swimmer and have been looking at this watch as a training companion. With that said, I was bummed to learn about it's [Timex Global Trainer] inability to both get GPS underwater (not a real shocker there) and sync with the heart monitor. I called Timex about the latter and they said that as long as I stand up at the end of each set, it will reacquire lock and start feeding data to the watch again. What I couldn't get a straight answer on however was how long it takes for that to happen.

In your use of the watch, have you noticed it to be laggy at all when you stand up out of the water?"

For those not familiar with the ANT+ underwater story that Tyler is referring to…here’s the short version: It doesn’t work underwater. The ANT+ signal simply doesn’t transmit through water more than about one, "perhaps two" with bit of luck. This is a bit different than say some of the Polar devices with Polar T31 straps which will actually receive HR in real-time while underwater. Oh, and just to clarify - ANT+ is the technology that both Garmin and Timex use for their HR straps, including the Timex Global Trainer.

To answer your question however - it generally takes about 3-7 seconds for it to pickup the HR, and it will only pickup data from that point forward. There's some new straps coming out (ANT+FS) that will be able to store and forward the data later, but no devices out there fully support them quite yet. I heard a lot about ANT+FS last week while I was out speaking at the ANT+ Symposium, but don’t have a concrete timetable for when you’ll see them trickle out in the marketplace.

So in short, if you're looking for a watch that actively records HR in the water - then your best bet is honestly any of the Polar's. The Polar watches with any of the T31 coded straps will record and transmit through water without issue. Unfortunately, they aren't compatible with ANT+ devices.


Recent Mailbags:

Weekly Mailbag – September 28th, 2010
- Garmin Forerunner 305 and Walk/Run Tracking
- MetriGear Vector – wait or buy?
- Using Computerized Trainers over the Internet

Weekly Mailbag – September 21st, 2010
- Sport Tracks 3.0 Review
- CompuTrainer or Power Meter
- Fixing Garmin Edge 500/705 rubber cover

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.]