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.

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!

I decided to mix it up this week and talk about what to expect on the sports technology front at Interbike this upcoming week. You probably read Dan's post about the place and purpose of Interbike - which is a great starting point to understanding how the show impacts the industry.

While much of the technology (though not all) being shown at Interbike has been previously announced, this is the first time where folks get hands on access to announced but still unavailable products. I split up the post based on a couple of core areas.

Power Meter Related:

It seems folks say that every year is ‘the year of power', and while that can certainly be said of 2011 - I actually don't think we're there yet. While most of the attention as of late has been focused on Garmin's Vector pedal based power meter, their announcement now puts that in March 2012 - and initially at $1,500 (I think that'll drop significantly once initial demand is met). To date, they haven't allowed/enabled any non-Garmin staff/testers to have hands on time with the product, so it's unclear where it really stands.

Compare that with Polar/Look and their pedal based power meter and you see a company actually a bit ahead of the curve (albeit behind their previous Spring 2011 estimate). They've let some non-Polar folks ride it at Eurobike, and Bicycling Magazine recently got a pair to work with. In fact, I'm scheduled to get a set here in the next couple weeks as well. Thus, their clearly showing willingness to allow folks to see the product and see what the data streams look like.

But there's much more going on in the power world besides Polar and Garmin. O-Synce is a European based company that's also doing pedal power, and expect them to show off some functional wares next week as well. Also ANT+, they'll be competing in the race to get an affordable pedal based power meter to market.

And it's not all pedals either. CycleOps released a few new models this past summer, mostly focusing on weight savings and bike shop easy of maintenance improvements. But the big ticket for us regular consumers was the significant drop in prices across their entire lineup (which has subsequently led to the near fire sale of older models that you've seen over the past 3-4 weeks).

CycleOps also introduced their PowerCal product, which is an ANT+ Heart rate strap that estimates power output. The unit requests an initial calibration test - similar to a VO2Max test, but more tamed down. They'll be doing those tests live on the show floor and then handing out units. I'm lined up for first thing Thursday morning - so while I'm certainly looking forward to the initial test - I'm really looking forward to seeing how it stacks up against a regular direct force power meter over the next few weeks.

New Head Unit and Watch Devices:

There aren't as many new head units this fall as there have been in years past - or at least, new ones with significantly new capabilities.

Probably the biggest contender of the CycleOps with their Joule GPS, which is due out later this fall in the November timeframe. When I travelled to Denver back in June to be briefed on the devices as part of a whole suite of announcements they made, they did not have a functional Joule GPS available for us to poke at. So I'll be looking forward to seeing if their close enough to have powered on units available for use. That'll be telling as to how much closer they are to availability.

Garmin announced their Edge 200 device leading into Eurobike, but for most readers of Slowtwitch it likely lacks the more advanced feature set - especially given it does not contain an ANT+ sensor (thus no heart rate, cadence, power, etc…). That device is primarily aimed at the entry cycling market. It is not expected that a replacement for the FR310XT will be announced this week, but instead, a new watch is still likely trending for announcement later this fall (per my previous conversations with the Garmin PR team). This new watch will indeed support power meters, but whether it's a direct replacement for the FR310XT, or a new addition to the lineup remains to be seen.

Timex has not announced a cycling specific head unit, but did announce their new Timex Run Trainer . To date this device hasn't been seen in person outside of Timex staff, so like many other products - I'm optimistic we'll get to at least see it in person, if not be able to push some buttons. I'm really excited about the Timex Run Trainer as I think they really listened to what the running community wanted and nailed the price point (sub-$200). It delivers more features than the competitively priced FR210 , but doesn't get too complex either. Of course, details are in the overall execution - and for that we need to see the device in person.

We'll likely see a few more second tier companies announce cycling head units that are likely ANT+ (as well as a host of cheaper cycling computers designed for the sub $50 market). Many of these second tier companies are making great products, but they just lack the marketing power (or savvy) to make them well known.

App Proliferation Continues:

Lastly, we're continuing to see just about everyone get in the game with an app for phone support. The smart companies are realizing that it's no longer about stand alone devices, but about platform and online services integration. One of the easiest way to do that is via phone app.

We see the importance of the app market in cycling with major Interbike events being sponsored by app-only companies such as Strava. And we're also seeing some of the more traditional cycling companies jumping into that arena too - such as CycleOps with their app expected out this fall as well. And for attendees, what's better than finally having an Interbike app as well - one stop shopping for attempting to navigate the massive maze of booths.

The one challenge that app makers face though is differentiation. You need only surf through the different app stores/marketplaces to see how many apps are duplicates of others from a functionality place. One has to offer something unique, and give a reason for cyclists or triathletes to use it. Many of us are creatures of routine when it comes to training - and we don't easily change platforms or devices given our training logs and history.

If you see me out on the show floor, say ‘Hi'! And if you've got requests for specific sports technology companies you want me to check out - drop me a note and I'd be happy to work it into the schedule. I'm always amazed at all the cool things I've never heard of before that I find there - and like Dan Empfield said - usually in some small 10' booth stuck in a bad corner of the show hall.

Recent Mailbags:

Weekly Mailbag - August 28th, 2011
- What device for cross country skiing or inline skating?
- Workout history page and 1-second recording options
- Using ANT+ sensors with more than one watch?

Weekly Mailbag - August 13th, 2011
- Whether to buy wired PowerTap at $699 or wireless PT at $799
- PowerTap and Cadence Information
- Which non-GPS watch for trail running?

Weekly Mailbag - Aug 2nd, 2011
- The watch vibration feature: Worth it or not?
- Is the Bontrager Node 1 ANT+ cycling computer good for commuting?
- How to downgrade your FR310XT firmware (and other Garmin watches)
- When will the next Garmin Forerunner watch be released?

You can find all past Slowtwitch Mailbags here , and all prior ones 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.]