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!

1) Choosing device for openwater swimming measurement
2) Waterproofing of Garmin Edge Cycling devices
3) When will Garmin release a waterproofed FR210?
4) How to fix Edge 800 that doesn't fit well between aerobars

Question #1: Choosing device for openwater swimming measurement
From Dawn-

"I really enjoyed reading your blog (which I came upon recently when trying to decide on the appropriate watch for my husband). He is a swimmer and getting more and more into open water swims. He had been doing most of his training in the pool and is now looking to move his training outdoors into lakes/rivers. I am hoping to find a watch that can track his distance in these open water venues. I was planning on picking up the Garmin 310XT after reading your reviews (and giving him your advice on attaching it to his swim cap) – but I just noticed the Swim Sense watch and Pool Mate Pro. Now I am thoroughly confused and wanted to see what you would recommend. I will also note that he does run as well (so if you suggest the Swim Sense, I would also probably get him a lower end Garmin for runs – the combo seems to be close in price to the 310XT)."

Hi Dawn!

You've unfortunately found the one area that's a bit tough – a watch that can measure distance indoors as well as outdoors.

In the case of indoors, you can go with the Pool Mate or Swim Sense. Both work based on accelerometers that look for the change in direction at the end of each length of pool in order to determine overall distance swam, lap times, etc…

I recently put together a first look type post at the FINIS Swim Sense watch back a few weeks ago, which you may find useful until I finalize a full in depth review.

Outdoors however, these accelerometer watches don't have a way to measure distance since you never reach the end of the 'pool'. As such, you're ideally looking for a GPS device that you can put in your swim cap and measure distance.

For this, the two best options are the Timex Global Trainer and the Garmin Forerunner 310XT. Both are fully waterproofed for extended exposure, which means you don't have to worry as much as you would with something like a FR305 (limited exposure). While the FR310XT technically has an openwater swim mode (I talked about it in depth last summer), I find it's not nearly as accurate as simply tossing it in your swim cap.

Question #2: Waterproofing of Garmin Edge cycling devices
From Pauline-

"I have a new Garmin 800 which is great and wondering if there is a technique to getting the USB plug back snugly into it's correct position so all is good for being weatherproof – I cannot seem to easily do it."

Well, I've got good news for ya – the little USB plug is largely a item of "show" more than one of requirement. See, in all the Edge series (500/705/800) the USB plug itself is internally waterproofed. In fact, so is CycleOp's Joule. Pretty cool, huh?

However, there's one little catch. While both the USB plug and the MicroSD card slot on the Edge 705/800 are waterproofed, the actual MicroSD card itself is not. This leaves you with the challenge of ensuring that the SD card doesn't go for a swim during your ride, as it itself isn't water-friendly.

I like the way the Joule solves this by placing the MicroSD card inside a waterproofed bay, which ensures water won't reach it. And given you rarely need to touch the MicroSD card physically (since you can load data onto it via the USB port), it makes the most sense.

Now, the real fun part is just a few weeks ago I took all of these devices and submerged them in a bathtub for five minutes (still a bit short of their 30 minute waterproof rating). You can checkout the whole time-lapse video and results in this post here.

Question #3: When will Garmin release a waterproof FR210?
From Jason-

"Any idea on when/if Garmin might release a waterproof FR210?"

If only I knew…

This is probably the most requested questions I get day in and day out. As you know, the Garmin FR210 is really about one of the best 'normal looking' running watches out there. But in lacking the waterproofing, it means you can't take it everywhere – such as the pool. You may remember when I killed the trial Garmin FR110 unit with the same waterproofing design in less than 20 minutes in the pool.

Because I'm not privy to Garmin's advance release product schedule, I can't tell you if – or when - such a device will be released.

But, looking at historical releases, Garmin typically announces new running and triathlon products in the Feb-March timeframe, with availability in the Apr-June timeframe. This is typically done on a two year release cycle, thus, the FR310XT is most likely to get an update this year. The other running watches – the FR405 – just got refreshed with the FR410 in November, and the FR110 just got refreshed with the FR210. So at the moment, I'm not optimistic we'll see yet another model come out (despite how bad I'd love to see a FR210 form factor watch with the features of the FR410 + power).

Question #4: Edge 800 doesn't fit well in between aerobars
From Herbert-

"My aerobars are Profile Prosvet with T2 Cobra extensions. I managed to get the mount on the short fat stem using two rubber bands interlaced, but the space to twist on the Garmin Edge 800 is to narrow for it, and moving it further back doesn't work because of the cable housing behind it."

Yes, I have the same problem on P2C with the Edge 800. You could get a slight stem extension/replacement - which would work, though it would also change your position, so you'd have to compensate for it elsewhere in your geometry.

I actually have mine simply mounted on my left aerobar, nearest me. I found that my arms don't actually touch the aerobars at that point, but rather graze by the left side of it, so it fits fine there. Alternatively, you could pick up the little $13 Profile Design aerobar bike computer mount and stash it in between the two bars at whichever distance works best for you. I have a few of them I use for testing, etc... and they work quite well - especially with the Edge 500/800/310XT with the rubber mounts.

Recent Mailbags:

Weekly Mailbag – December 28th, 2010 (Footpod Extravaganza Edition)
- Footpod SPM – what it all means
- Weird Footpod Values
- Getting cadence and speed outdoors via footpod?
- Saving routes with footpod data
- Troubleshooting footpod dropouts

Weekly Mailbag – December 17th, 2010
- FR210 Color Options
- Withings WiFi Scale or Tanita BC-1000
- Getting raw HR data from GPS devices

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. ]