DC Rainmaker http://www.dcrainmaker.com Tue, 24 May 2016 17:38:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.4 Initial Thoughts: New Pebble 2 with optical HR, and Core with 3G, GPS & Spotify http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/initial-thoughts-on-pebbles-new-optical-hr-time-2-and-3g-gps-connected-core.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/initial-thoughts-on-pebbles-new-optical-hr-time-2-and-3g-gps-connected-core.html#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=60877 Today Pebble announced two new fitness focused devices, the Pebble Time 2 and the Pebble Core.  Both are squarely targeted at competing with existing fitness companies, but in this case Pebble is taking a bit of a different twist on … Read More Here ]]> Today Pebble announced two new fitness focused devices, the Pebble Time 2 and the Pebble Core.  Both are squarely targeted at competing with existing fitness companies, but in this case Pebble is taking a bit of a different twist on things with the Core.  It’s almost a throw-back idea to the days of having separate accessory pods for GPS, except unlike those days it’s got a bunch of cool stuff in it.  So it’s like a throw-forward…or something.  But more on that in a minute.

Longtime readers know that I don’t often like posting on products until I’ve had some hands on in person.  And they’re working to get me a unit to play with a bit before the Kickstarter campaign ends.  However in this case, I have spent numerous hours both in-person earlier in the year, and then on Skype calls discussing the concept and then getting live demos of the unit.  It’s not quite the same as hands-on, but I know there will be a bunch of interest around the products and my thoughts so I figure this is a good starting point for now.

The Pebble 2:

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The Pebble and Pebble Time both receive pretty solid upgrades, with the inclusion of an optical HR sensor – making them the Pebble 2 and Pebble Time 2.  This sensor will be used for both 24×7 HR tracking as well as workout tracking.  The sensor is integrated directly into the back of the unit (versus some Pebble sensor band ideas that have been floated about).

Of course, anytime you start talking optical HR sensors you get into the realm of accuracy and recording rates.  At this point Pebble says they’re seeing test results within 5% (bpm) of other units (chest straps and Mio optical HR sensor), 95% of the time.  On the optical HR sensor update rates, during 24×7 mode, the unit will sample at a reduced rate that’s still being decided (considering allowing the user to control rate), while during workouts it’ll record at every second.  But again, I’d wait until the egg hatches before deciding one way or another whether the sensor is good or not.

The unit does *not* have GPS in it, as that’s been pushed to the Pebble Core, the pod-like clip-on accessory.  Of course at $99 the Pebble 2 (with optical HR) would be one of the cheapest optical-enabled watches out there.  The larger Pebble Time 2 starts at $169, but that features a much larger and color screen.  Both of which the base Pebble 2 lack.

They expect battery life to be about 10 days for the Pebble Time 2, versus 7 days for the Pebble 2.  Both the new Pebbles are waterproof to 30 meters, despite also both having microphones in them (often a tricky point for waterproofing). And both Pebbles have automatic exercise detection. In fact, the optical HR sensor will kick up the sampling rate automatically when it detects you’re exercising.

The main appeal of Pebble outside of its core smartwatch and health features is the app ecosystem.  It’s been around well before the Apple Watch, and thus has a pretty dedicated following in terms of apps.  Of course, it doesn’t quite have as many mainstream apps as something like the Apple Watch (i.e. there’s no United Airlines app), but you still get some majors like Uber, PayPal and Evernote.  Which is more than Garmin’s Connect IQ has in terms of major brands.  As fitness watches become more and more mainstream, watch ecosystem app stores will continue to be more and more important.  And that’s even more true as you get to the ability to connect directly to cellular networks without a phone, as the Pebble Core provides for.

The Pebble Core:

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The Pebble Core is essentially a small device similar in size to a small iPod Shuffle, and is designed to work both with and without the Pebble.  In fact, you don’t need a Pebble at all to use the Core, you can use it sans-phone and sans-Pebble (though, you’ll need a phone to configure it eventually).  I’m probably much more excited about the Pebble Core than the Pebble 2, as I think it’s a pretty intriguing concept, and a device that I’d likely use across a number of scenarios – running and non-running alike.

Inside the 40mm x 40mm square case packs a ton of tech, especially for $69.  Some of it we’ve seen before in other devices, but none of it we’ve seen all wrapped together as a single unit:

– GPS (no GLONASS though)
– 4GB of storage for music storage
– WiFi Connectivity (802.11bgn)
– Bluetooth connectivity for wireless headphones
– Headphone jack for wired headphones (3.5mm)
– Micro-SIM card slot for adding cellular connectivity (3G – Bands 1900/2100)
– Microphone for audio recording/capture
– Wireless charging via Qi charger
– Entire device is simply Android 5.0 based
– Internal accelerometer
– Waterproofed to IP67, weighs 50g

All of that is paired with a software layer that also has some unique unseen before items, most notably:

– Spotify integration (for those with Premium accounts)
– Sync to various fitness platforms, including Strava, MapMyFitness, Under Armour, and RunKeeper
– SOS/Emergency notifications to friends/family using cellular connectivity
– Planned sync with Tapiriik (the developer interns for Pebble), so that gets you to Training Peaks and many others.
– Automatic app-integrated button actions, such as ordering an Uber (or anything else 3rd party developers think of)

While running with just the Core alone (no watch), you’ll get audio cues for things like Pace, Distance, and Time via Bluetooth or wired headphones.  When paired with a Pebble watch you can also see that on the watch face.  Additionally, with 3rd party apps like Runkeeper and Strava, you’ll get a similar experience there as you would using those apps normally.

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Note that unlike either Apple Watches or Android Gear based watches, the Pebble is compatible with any recent iOS or Android device for day to day usage.

Like the rest of the Pebble ecosystem, the Core is extensible for apps.  The Core will have its own Core JavaScript API, which is simply an extension of the existing PebbleKit JS API used on the Pebble already.  And since the core is running Android, you can also side-load Android app APK’s as normal.

However, for users not using 3rd party apps, there are some initial limitations.  For example, the Core won’t connect to any Bluetooth Smart sensor initially (i.e. Heart Rate, Cycling sensors, etc…).  Though, if you’re wearing a Pebble 2/Time 2, it will record HR data via the optical HR sensor.  And 3rd party apps can connect to sensors using the standard Android Bluetooth API’s.

Many cyclists will be wondering about ANT+ sensor connectivity.  In my discussions with Pebble, it’s something that hasn’t been finalized yet and they are considering some options.  While ANT+ connectivity doesn’t matter much to runners, it’d be critical to gaining any momentum as a cycling tracker.  There are tons of incredibly interesting scenarios with a 3G connected pod this size – most notably race tracking, such as the Tour de France live tracking (similar to this) or like Quarq’s Race Intelligence System.  Numerous sporting events would love to use such a small clip-on device with live tracking.

Speaking of which, while the unit can be clipped onto either a keychain or your clothing, the back of it can be swapped out for other accessory clips down the road.  Meaning that someone could design a bike-mount style clip as a replacement for the Core’s side-door.

Pebble is saying that you’ll get about 9 hours of battery life in GPS tracking mode while playing stored music.  You’ll get upwards of 20 hours in GPS-only mode though, but only about 4 hours in GPS+streaming music.  As noted above, the unit charges via wireless charging.  The idea being if you had it on your keychain you could just drop everything on a charging mat.

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Probably the most appealing aspect of the unit for me is the Spotify integration.  In fact, I rarely listen to music while running simply because I don’t want to deal with downloading specific playlists to a dedicated device (nor do I want to carry a phone while I run).  I find I never bother to update the music on standalone devices, so it ends up being the same music over and over.  This solves that problem by having 3G & WiFi connected to my Spotify account, continually fresh music. Not to mention the ability to use either wired or wireless headphones.

The only downside here is that the Core doesn’t ship till January 2017 (the Pebble 2 units ship in September).  For the Core though, that’s an eternity in the tech world. And even more so once you miss the 2016 Holiday period (November to December).  That January 2017 dates means that all sorts of new competitive devices would be announced at/by CES 2017 in the first week of January.  I’d have thought they would have attempted to nail a November 2016 delivery timeframe, but I suspect the runway simply isn’t long enough for an all new device.

Hopefully Pebble will be able to get a unit in my hands before the end of the campaign though, and I’ll be able to give you a better idea of whether it’s a worthwhile investment for something this far off.  And also on the bright side, unlike many other Kickstarter companies – Pebble is a well understood animal at this point.  Not to mention having well established manufacturing chains to make their timelines happen.

With that – thanks for reading!

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56
Versailles Triathlon 2016 Race Report http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/versailles-triathlon-2016-race-report.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/versailles-triathlon-2016-race-report.html#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 11:56:42 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=60865 This past Sunday I raced in a popular sprint triathlon just outside of Paris.  It’s officially the Triathlon du Roi (Roi means king in French).  But more commonly it’s known as the Versailles Triathlon, which I last competed in back … Read More Here ]]> This past Sunday I raced in a popular sprint triathlon just outside of Paris.  It’s officially the Triathlon du Roi (Roi means king in French).  But more commonly it’s known as the Versailles Triathlon, which I last competed in back in 2013.  It’s held on the side of the Château de Versailles, one of the most famous châteaux in France.  It’s a popular tourist destination to escape to for the day if visiting Paris.  It’s also one of my favorite places to run to (and there’s even a huge running race that ends there, Paris to Versailles).  But enough about that, let’s get on with the day!

Pre-Race:

The easiest way to get to Versailles from Paris is via train.  The RER-C train goes directly there from below my apartment, and then it’s a short 5-minute bike ride once you reach the end station.  Given the race for the licensed men didn’t start until 3:30PM (yes, mid-afternoon), I didn’t have to leave town till until around 1PM or so.

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Upon arrival I went to find my bib number on the board and then pickup my bib.  It was only lightly raining at this point, though you could still see the mess it made.

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The whole process only took a minute or two, and was super quick.

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I then took everything out of the bag to see what the goods were:

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I got myself a swim cap, two race numbers, one sticker race number for my bike, a timing chip, and then a fabric race bag (actually a fairly nice one).  Oh, and there was a Clif bar in there.  Woot!

From there it was into transition area to get my bike all settled.  Though first they’ll inspect your bike (bar plugs, brakes), as well as your race bib (attached at three points).

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Then I made my way up the hill to my rack:

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It only took a minute or two to get everything all setup.  I had tossed some running socks in, mostly because I figured if a bunch of sand/mud was getting into my shoes during the run I’d probably want that in between the socks and the shoes, rather than grinding between the shoes and my feet.  And if done properly it only takes a second to put them on.

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You can see I had setup a GoPro Hero4 Black on the bike in a case, as well as an Edge 520.  I tend to like having a dedicated bike computer, versus switching units or looking at my wrist.  But that’s just my personal preference.

After wrapping up there I headed down to the water and got in a short warm-up swim prior to the race start.  Just 5-8 minutes worth.

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Doesn’t the weather look beautifully inviting?

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It’d actually end up raining even harder during the swim portion of the race.  So hard I could feel it through the wetsuit while swimming.  Kinda crazy.  In any case, with my warm-up complete it was time to head out of the water and listen to the pre-race instructions.

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That only took 3-5 minutes though, efficiency for ya!

The Swim:

After which it was back into the water, so the 370 or so guys worked their way down across the continually sinking pontoon docks and into the pond.  This specific wave was for licensed men.  Other waves for women and unlicensed athletes were in the morning.

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The pond doesn’t have much circulation to other bodies of water, so like most small ponds the water pretty much tasted like duck and goose crap.  But, at least there wasn’t any lightening.

Props to the undoubtedly weary folks standing along the pond ready to watch the start.  I’m sure they were just as wet as we were.  In fact, we were probably better off than them.  At least we weren’t standing in mud.  Plus, wetsuits are kinda nice and warm.

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I was wearing two watches during today’s event – the FR735XT, and on the other wrist for comparison the FR920XT.  Both were connected to the HRM-TRI strap.

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I was also using a GoPro Hero4 Silver during the swim/run, within a waterproof case.  I simply tuck it into the neck of my wetsuit once the swim starts.

And with no count-down or fanfare (as usual), the starting gun fired and we were off!

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It was actually a bit of a rougher swim than normal.  I think the muddy water churned up by hundreds of athletes near the start line basically meant that nobody could see anything below water, so you lost some of your ability to avoid and had to rely on above-water sighting for avoidance.

The swim was supposed to be 750m, and my track was pretty clean on the four-point course.  I didn’t waste that much time/distance on bad sighting.  But given how small the pond was, you could pretty easily just sight off the walls on the side for much of it. The FR735XT recorded 854m, whether or not the swim was measured correctly I don’t know (many aren’t).  I’d probably split the difference and guess I swam an extra 50m, though unlikely I swam an extra 100m – it was a pretty easy course to stay on target for.

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Once past the first buoy, things were pretty calm and I just kept trucking.  I probably should have pushed the pace a bit more on the swim.  I’d guess that my swim pace was more appropriate for an Oly or longer.  These sprints always throw me for a loop on getting the right swim pacing – I often forget just how short they are.

Speaking of which, before I knew it I was climbing on the sorta-not-really-floating pontoon dock and running up into transition.

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It’s there I found my bike waiting for me, with my shoes on it and ready to roll.  Given the race starts uphill, I had put the bike into an easier gear ahead of time.  Once I got going I’d put my shoes on during the first minute or so of the bike.

I had setup another GoPro on the bike already, configured with the one-tap recording option.  So that meant I just pressed a single button and it started recording.  I left the first GoPro in my running shoe for when I’d return.

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Oh, the total swim time was 14:18, or an average pace of 1:30/100y according to the FR735XT.  So definitely need to kick up the pace this upcoming weekend during the Paris triathlon.

The Bike:

The name of the game for the bike was simple: Don’t crash.

Seriously, that was it.

More than a enough ambulances had already been utilized earlier in the day in the other races.  The word was pretty clear among discussions at the race – play it a bit cautious.

So it was out of T1 I went.  You ran up the hill towards the exit.  It was a single long skinny transition area, a few hundred meters long:

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Once out of transition, you continued uphill and away from the park.

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You’d be riding a few minutes away to an automotive race track where the majority of the bike course was held.  Going uphill your speeds were pretty low, so there wasn’t much of a concern of crashing.  Though, the multiple sets of wet train tracks and 90° turns attached to them were reason for numerous volunteers to be standing by yelling at competitors to slow down.

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After that you were home free in the race track area.  The pavement wasn’t perfect though, which would take down plenty of people, such as this athlete to the left.

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The ambulances were standing by throughout the course and often attending to folks.  I’m guessing some crashes were solo/self-induced, while others were part of pack riding fails.

Given the race was draft-legal, packs are a very real and important part of the bike segment.  If you don’t latch onto a pack you’ll end up numerous minutes slower and you’ll have to work a heck of a lot harder for it.  Unfortunately I didn’t find much of a pack initially.  I overtook a few scattered folks, but none were riding fast enough to be of use to me.  Finally, a small group of three others formed with me, and we did a pretty solid job of rotating through.  Probably one of the better packs I’ve seen in races here (most of the times, people don’t take their turns).

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We came together into a section where volunteers were having folks slow down on a steep/rougher descent, to prevent crashes.  It was going back up the equally steep section that I dropped my chain while shifting.

That sucked.  As I then lost some 45-55 seconds trying to get enough traction pointing straight up the steep hill to get going again.

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And more importantly: I lost my group.  Thus I was mostly riding solo the remainder of the bike segment.

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Coming down off the hill (race track area) into transition I was pretty cautious.  A small group passed me on this section, but it didn’t quite seem worth it on a curved descent in the last few hundred meters in the race to try and pass.  The ambulance racing up the hill to the rest of the bike course was a reminder of that.

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Not to mention we’d all be stuck behind each other on the massive conga-line into transition.  You ran a few hundred meters with your bike, single-file, so basically it was just trotting along with no room to pass.  The right side had numerous spectators and super-slick mud, so it was best to stay on the carpet.

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While I wish I could have had a faster bike, I’m happy I didn’t end up on the pavement. I really enjoy draft-legal triathlon racing, mostly because it increases the importance of the run (which I’m generally good at).  On the flip side, if you don’t find a group, then it severely punishes you.

The Run:

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Just like the bike segment, the name of the game on the run was simple: Stay upright.

The run course was relatively simple: Two loops of the pond we swam in.  Except, there was no asphalt path.  Instead, what you see above is the run course.

Well, actually, that’s incorrect.  The first few hundred meters was a trail-run through the slanted hillside in the woods. It was basically just a giant-slip and slide.  Me and another triathlete were making our way through with all sorts of random shouts coming from us as we attempted to keep ourselves on the trail.  I don’t have any usable photos there unfortunately.

Side note though: If it’s raining hard out, you should consider leaving your running shoes in transition upside-down.  I didn’t think about that, and thus my shoes were full of water by time I got there, like small ponds.

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It’s kinda neat though, you can see the impact on the cadence/vertical oscillation/stride length in that first section in the data below.

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Once out of the woods it was onto the trail around the pond, like this:

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The trick to the run was not falling, or sliding significantly.  In some cases running in the deeper grass was the best place to be.

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Yet in others, the ground below the puddles was actually firm. So you were best just running straight through the puddles (some of which were surprisingly deep, well over my ankles).

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I passed one guy who had taken off his shoes and was just running barefoot while holding them.

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You got a slight reprieve from the mud as you crested a small hill.  This being the highest section on the course the water ran down into the pond.  It’s also where you picked up your first neck ribbon.  Kinda like grabbing Mardi Gras beads, except without as much excitement for either party.

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The neck ribbon simply acts like a timing mat.  It ensures you did the appropriate number of laps.  After you’ve got two ribbons, you can finish the race.

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It’s funny: This old-school system would have easily prevented the now infamous Canadian triathlete woman from cheating.  No lost chip excuses here.  The French race officials would have told her to run another lap and HTFU.

The bummer with the mud is that most of your energy was spent trying not to slip and fall.  So my average pace was some 6:50/mile (4:18/KM).  I think it took me about 2/3rds of the first lap to get the hang of running in the mud.

After my second lap I headed on in and did the short out and back section before working my way down the finishing approach and into to the finish line.  The expat tri team was there though, and cheering quite well – despite the downpour.

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Afterwards they had Champagne ready in hand.  Meanwhile the finishers tent had sausage and other food goodness.

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The accumulation of the mud post-race most easily seen on everyone standing around:

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Or my legs:

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Still, it was fun.  In a Muddy Buddy sorta way.  Something different to look back on years from now.

Congrats to all others who raced!  I’m looking forward to this weekend’s Paris Triathlon race.  It’s also draft-legal, but is Olympic distance.  And most importantly, there’s no run on the mud!  Here’s my race report from last year.  With that – thanks for reading!

(For those curious, here’s my Garmin Connect multi-sport file from the FR735XT.  As noted, it was connected to the HRM-TRI for heart rate, and to a Quarq RIKEN for power data.)

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5 Random Things I Did This Weekend http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-24.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-24.html#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 13:32:26 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=60761 While the weather was almost totally crap for much of the weekend, we still made the most of it here within the pockets it stopped raining.  Or in some cases, we just dove right into the water…literally.  Here’s what the … Read More Here ]]> While the weather was almost totally crap for much of the weekend, we still made the most of it here within the pockets it stopped raining.  Or in some cases, we just dove right into the water…literally.  Here’s what the last few days entailed.

1) Pre-Race Workouts

Leading into a race on Sunday, I got in a few different short workouts.  These generally lasted 30-45 minutes and tended to ramp-up intensity for short periods of time.  In the case of Saturday for example it started with a short trainer ride for about half an hour.

In this case, I used the Tacx NEO, simply because I have the same cassette (10-speed) on it as the road bike I’d be using.  Whereas if I was on my tri bike, I’d have put it on the KICKR (11-speed cassette).

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Then from there it’s out outside for a short 15 minute run at increasing intensities in 5-minute chunks.

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Quick and fun!  I always enjoy the pre-race brick workouts.  Nothing complicated, nor long.

2) Crepes & Picnics

We had a bunch of friends in town from the states over this past weekend.  Two different groups actually.  The first of our friends arrived on Thursday, and we got right into the swing of things and headed to the fromagerie behind the house to pickup some cheese.

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From there we packed up picnic baskets and headed down to the Champ de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower sits.  We may have stopped along the way for a few photos.

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It was a beautiful night out, and the lawn was still fairly quiet.

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And yes, Little Lucy was around too.

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Later in the weekend with the second group also in town, we hit up a local spot for crepes.  We tend to go to different spots for both sit-down crepes and take-away crepes.  And in this case, it was just a quick crepe craving!

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Can’t beat a well made Nutella-Banana crepe!

3) A Baby Shower

With the Little Peanut almost here, a bunch of our local friends put together an amazing baby shower for us (or, the baby?).

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They took over the apartment and setup an amazing spread of homemade food, drinks, and even macaroons and a cake!

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There were two games to be played.  One longer-term game involving predicting the baby’s actual arrival/delivery date.  The person who is closest to the actual arrival date has a bottle of wine set aside for them as a prize.

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And another to test people’s knowledge of baby-related terms in French (i.e. how to say bottle, midwife, diapers, etc…).

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Thanks again to all our friends – you’re awesome!

4) Riding Boats & Bikes

With friends in town we jumped on the Bateaux Mouches tour boats.  An hour tour/ride of the city costs about 13EUR, and is super cheesy.  But it’s neat at night as the boats light up all the buildings as they go by, and well worth the trip.  Plus, just grab yourself a 5EUR bottle of wine at a grocery store and it makes it all the better.

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Afterwards some of us biked homed via Velib.  The rain had temporarily stopped, making it a great way to see the city late at night.  Our route from Pont Alma took us down the Champs-Élysées, then through Concorde and eventually to the Louvre for quick photo stop.

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From there we continued on back through Notre Dame and walked home.  Not too shabby a way to end the night!

5) Raced the Versailles Triathlon

Finally, up Sunday was lots of rain.  And more rain.  Oh, and a triathlon.  The Versailles Triathlon. I last did this a few years ago, and it’s a great local sprint race.  But, that day was rather sunny.

This year?  Umm…this was the run course:

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I think it might have been dryer during the swim than the rest of the race.  Plus, it’s draft-legal on the bike.  So that adds a whole new element to things.  This was not a race of aerobic capacity or strength.  Instead, it was mostly a race of balance and staying upright.

But…more on that festivus in tomorrow’s Race Report.

With that – thanks for reading!

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The May 20th Sales Begin: Garmin, Wahoo, Suunto, CycleOps, Saris, Pebble, TomTom, Pioneer http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/the-may-20th-sales-begin-garmin-wahoo-suunto-cycleops-saris-pebble-tomtom-pioneer.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/the-may-20th-sales-begin-garmin-wahoo-suunto-cycleops-saris-pebble-tomtom-pioneer.html#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 16:18:34 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=60702 What? You didn’t know there was such a thing as the May 20th sales?  Well, neither did I.  But apparently this year there is.  Everyone must have gone out one night at some industry event or something and decided to … Read More Here ]]> DSC_0946

What? You didn’t know there was such a thing as the May 20th sales?  Well, neither did I.  But apparently this year there is.  Everyone must have gone out one night at some industry event or something and decided to put everything on sale starting…today.  For realz.

To keep things quick and tidy, here’s a table of what’s on sale from each company.  Note that most of these deals last till May 30th,  but some of them go a bit longer.  Totally depends on the company.  Also, all of these start today, May 20th, except for the Pebble & TomTom ones, which start Monday, May 23rd & May 29th.  They’re just keepin’ ya on your toes.

Here’s the run-down:

Wahoo Fitness – KICKR:

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This is technically REI, and not Wahoo.  But in this case that doesn’t matter – because the only thing you’ll care about is the KICKR & KICKR SNAP that are on sale here.

Wahoo KICKR Trainer – $959 (normally $1,199): With member coupon code REIMEMBER2016. Ends May 30th.
Wahoo KICKR SNAP Trainer – $560 (normally $700): With member coupon code REIMEMBER2016. Ends May 30th.

For both of the above, you’ll need to be an REI member (if not, it’s $20 more).  You can get free shipping on the KICKR by simply selecting to do a pickup at your REI store a few days later (option on checkout).

If you can’t quite decide – hit up my trainer recommendations guide here.

Garmin FR230/FR235 & Vector2:

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Garmin has on sale the FR230 & 235 series watches.  These are the latest generation running-specific GPS watches that came out last fall from the company.  This sale is really only these two models in this sale.  Likely because over the last 45 days Garmin has put pretty much every other fitness device on sale.  Plus, I suspect they knew about the TomTom sales and this is an aim to preempt that.  Now you can decide for yourself which company/model makes the most sense.

Garmin Forerunner 230: $199 (was $249) – also on Amazon.
Garmin Forerunner 230 with HR strap: $229 (was $299) – also on Amazon.
Garmin Forerunner 235 with Optical HR sensor: $249 (was $329) – also on Amazon.

My in-depth review of these units can be found here.  Note that there have been some firmware improvements to the optical HR sensor since that review.  I’d say it’s more on par with the Vivoactive HR (see my review from earlier today).

Next, just like the REI KICKR deals, you can also pickup the Vector2 units for 20% off from REI too.  Same deal as above in terms of being an REI member, but $200 off is pretty solid.

Garmin Vector2 pedals (dual sided): $800 (was $1,000)
Garmin Vector2 pedals (single sided): $480 (was $600)
Garmin Vector2 upgrade pedal (single to dual upgrade): $400 (was $500)

Again, all three of these Vector deals these require REI member code REIMEMBER2016.  Note that REI excludes GPS watches from their deals, hence why these sort of sales are kinda unique.

This sale runs through May 30th.

Pebble Watches:

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Pebble joined this sale round with a bunch of units on sale.  Note that these sales don’t begin till after the weekend, but it seemed silly not to include them here.  The Pebble Time round (seen above) has quickly become The Girl’s favorite activity tracker.  I’m not certain if that’s because it’s rose gold, or because of the functionality though.  Either way, as long as she’s happy – I’m happy.

*These sales start on Monday, May 23rd*

Pebble Classic: $79 (was $99) – also on Amazon.
Pebble Time Round: $179 (was $199) – also on Amazon.
Pebble Time Steel: $199 (Was $249) – also on Amazon.

These Pebble deals run until May 30th, but they don’t start until May 23rd.

Suunto Watches:

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Suunto has a huge sale on basically everything.  There’s an army’s worth of units on sale here, with all sorts of variations.  So just to keep things simple I’m not going to show all 98 color flavors.  Instead, I’ll just cover the main units.  All of these are also available on Amazon (links of all Ambit3 watches).

Suunto Ambit3 Run: $199 (was $249)
Suunto Ambit3 Run with HR Strap: $249 (was $299)
Suunto Ambit3 Sport: $249 (was $329)
Suunto Ambit3 Sport with HR Strap: $279 (was $379)
Suunto Ambit3 Sport Sapphire: $309 (was $429)
Suunto Ambit3 Sport Sapphire with HR Strap: $339 (was $479)
Suunto Ambit3 Peak: $299 (was $399)
Suunto Ambit3 Peak with HR Strap: $329 (was $449)
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire: $359 (was $499)
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire with HR Strap: $389 (was $549)
Suunto Traverse: $329 (was $469)

My Ambit3 Sport/Peak review is here, my Ambit3 Run post is here, and my Suunto Traverse post is here. Go forth and read!  This sale runs through May 30th.

TomTom Watches:

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*This sale starts May 29th, so next weekend*

All TomTom Spark watches are up to $50 off, plus, the DCR coupon code (DCR10MHD) applies and you’ll save another 10%.  Your choices are:

TomTom Spark GPS (base): $99 (was $149)
TomTom Spark GPS with Music: $149 (was $199)
TomTom Spark GPS with Optical HR sensor: $149 (was $199)
TomTom Spark GPS with Optical HR & Music: $199 (was $249)

Again, these start on May 29th, not today (apparently TomTom wasn’t invited to the super-secret-squirrel May 20th meeting).  No worries, you can read my TomTom Spark/Runner2 In-Depth Review in the meantime.

Pioneer Power Meters:

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Pioneer has a deal running right now where if you pickup a dual leg power meter, you’ll get their head unit (CA500) for free.  That’s worth about $300, and includes GPS as well as advanced pedaling metrics.

Deal details landing page here

My in-depth review of the power meter is here.  Note this sale doesn’t include their single leg systems, though, those are a pretty good deal by themselves these days.  This sale runs through June 13th.

CycleOps Trainers & Saris Racks:

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Finally, both Saris and CycleOps (same company) have everything 20% off until June 6th.  And by everything, I mean everything except the new Hammer trainer.  But all the past PowerBeam/PowerSync trainers, along with any car bike racks (mostly Saris products).

Saris products link
CycleOps products link

Note that this sale does not include PowerTap products, which is considered a separate brand.  The sale runs until June 6th, and isn’t compatible with the DCR coupon code.  But you do still get free US shipping on items over $75.

With that – thanks for reading, and have a great weekend all!

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Garmin Vivoactive HR In-Depth Review http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/garmin-vivoactivehr-review.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/garmin-vivoactivehr-review.html#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 15:51:30 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=60482 It’s been a few months since Garmin announced the Vivoactive HR while at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  The unit started shipping last month and I’ve been wearing it on my wrist 24×7 since then.  The Vivoactive HR sits in Garmin’s mid-range watch pricing … Read More Here ]]> DSC_0781

It’s been a few months since Garmin announced the Vivoactive HR while at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  The unit started shipping last month and I’ve been wearing it on my wrist 24×7 since then.  The Vivoactive HR sits in Garmin’s mid-range watch pricing scheme, at $250.  It’s a bit of a Swiss Army knife in terms of functionality.  It can track runs, rides, and swims – heck – even golf, skiing, and rowing.  It’s not top of the line in any given category, but it’s still quite suitable in many categories.

After a month of using it, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what works well…and what kinda sucks.  More than that, I’ve got a much clearer idea of who exactly this watch is best for, and how it ranks up against other competitors.

Before we get going, note that Garmin did send over this unit (a final production device) as a loaner.  After I’m done here I’ll send it back to them in Olathe, Kansas – just like normal.  Then I’ll go out and get my own.  So, if you found this useful, hit up the support links at the end.  With that – let’s dive into it!

Unboxing:

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I like simplistic unboxings.  And this falls quite nicely in that category.  In case you’re wondering what doesn’t fall well into that category, it would be most action cam unboxings.  They tend to have boatloads of mounts, attachments, and small parts that take forever to photograph.

We’d slide the interior of the box out slowly, revealing the watch below.  You can add Barry White music here if you’d like.

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Inside the box you’ll find just three things: The watch, a charging/sync cable, and some paper junk.

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First we’ll start with the paper junk.  This just tells you all the things not to do with your watch.  It also lets you know what you can’t blame Garmin for later.

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Then we’ve got the watch itself:

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You’ll see the optical HR sensor on the back.

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Also, note that the bands can detach in the event they need to be replaced due to unnecessary roughness on your part.

Finally, the charging clip.  This will give it juice, but it also allows you to sync/download over USB in the event you’re smartphone-less.

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What’s that?  You want a video version of the unboxing instead? No problem – here ya go:

While I do some size comparisons in that video, let’s move along to photographic-based comparisons.

Weight & Size Comparison:

When it comes to size, the Vivoactive HR is definitely quite a bit different than the original Vivoactive.  For starters, the original Vivoactive was all about size.  And not in a big way – but in the ‘be the smallest GPS device ever’ kinda way.  And it did well there.  Except such a size doesn’t yet permit adding an optical HR sensor.  So the unit got a bit chunkier:

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In many ways, the unit is very similar in size to the Fitbit Surge. The Vivoactive HR maintains the same depth across the entirety of the unit, whereas the Fitbit Surge is deeper at one end, and shallower at the other.  On the face of things though, they’re pretty similar:

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(Left to right: FR920XT, Fitbit Surge, FR735, FR630, Vivoactive HR, Vivoactive original)

You can see above that the Vivoactive HR & Fitbit Surge are skinnier than most round-faced watches (or the wider FR920XT).  However from a depth standpoint, it’s about the same (all skinny):

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In fact, to demonstrate this I put these four watches in a row (Vivoactive original, FR735, Vivoactive HR, FR920XT):

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Then, I lowered the camera equal to the table.  The original Vivoactive is obviously much skinnier, but the FR735XT, FR920XT, and the new Vivoactive HR are all virtually identical.  The focal point in this picture is on the HR sensor of the Vivoactive HR:

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What’s interesting though is that while the Vivoactive HR screen appears bigger than the original Vivoactive, the underlying displays are actually identical.  What’s not identical though is the new touchscreen layer used on the Vivoactive HR.  Also, the screen is rotated 90°.  The new touch layer along with a refreshed user interface gives the watch a brighter and crisper feel.  Something that some lamented the original Vivoactive lacked (felt dim/dull).

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Also, on the new Vivoactive HR you can adjust the backlight brightness, should you wish to.

As for weights, ask and you shall receive:

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Left to right: TomTom Spark, Fitbit Surge, Garmin Vivoactive original, Garmin Vivoactive HR

Ok, enough sizing around – let’s get onto using the darn thing.

Activity Tracking & Sleep:

Given the very base of the product name is ‘Vivo’, it stands to reason that in the Garmin world that means that it comes from a long lineup of activity trackers (Vivofit, Vivoactive, Vivosmart, Vivonachocheese, etc…).   The Vivo lineup was historically based in step and general activity tracking, including sleep.  And that’s all true today, except it’s been extended to include automatic exercise recognition, called Move IQ.  But before we get there, let’s talk basic steps and sleep.

The Vivoactive HR will track your steps using the accelerometer inside of it.  It does this 24 hours a day.  You can see your steps for the day by just swiping the screen to the steps widget.  That also shows you distance walked and floors climbed.

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You can tap that and get a weekly graph of steps or floors:

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The floors climbed metrics is measured by the barometric altimeter internal to the watch.  The idea being that when you go up vertically at the same time as you walk, it means you’re going up stairs.  It can also could mean you’re pacing in circles in an elevator though.  Still, for the most part I found it worked fairly well and I got far fewer false positives in elevators than I have in the past on other devices.

While inactivity alerts are commonplace now, they weren’t always the norm.  Garmin has long had their inactivity bar, which fills up in chunks of red over the course of an hour if you’re lazy.  You can see it along the left side.

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The inactivity bar is cleared by walking about 100-150 meters.  While I had some issues with this until today on my unit, yesterday’s firmware update appears to have fixed the incorrect clearing of the move bar that I saw.  I’ve never had issues with feature in past Garmin devices, so hopefully this was just a one-off bug.

Below, you can see the inactivity chunks cleared off the red bar – this means that I’ve walked the required distance.

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Next is intensity minutes.  This was introduced last year within Garmin wearables, and is designed to motivate you to reach a goal of 150 minutes of exercise per week.  Basically, activities that get your HR up.  That follows general health recommendations of 5 days of 30 minutes of exercise each week.  So, 5*30 = 150.  You can swipe to see your intensity minutes at any time:

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I’ve seen a bunch of weird numbers shown for the intensity minutes.  At one point earlier this week I could sit on the couch and manage to get intensity minutes to accumulate.  However, with the firmware update yesterday, I seem to be good again and I’m no longer receiving credit for being a couch potato (for better or worse).

Like with the other widget pages, you can tap on them to get an overview of the week.

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Next we’ve got Move IQ.  This is also new, and the first Garmin device we’ve seen it enabled on.  The idea here is automatic exercise recognition, even if you forget to press the start button in an activity.  Now there are some limitations.  First is that it’s not going to be super precise.  It’s really designed to capture walks and rides around town, more than it is designed to capture a detailed workout.  While you’re using the unit, there’s no interface to see the Move IQ data being captured.  Instead, it all happens behind the scenes.  The only way you can see the Move IQ captured ‘workouts’ is on the calendar page (a 1hr walk in this case):

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As you can see, there’s no distance displayed for activities like cycling, swimming or walking.  Instead, just duration.  That’s because the unit doesn’t enable GPS.  This is purely accelerometer based.  The next challenge is that it’s only listed in the calendar view on the app. I have no idea why it doesn’t show up as workouts/activities like it does on other platforms (Fitbit, Withings).

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Still, I do find it useful for better quantifying those long walks and quick rides around town.  These being activities that I don’t tend to start the GPS for, since I don’t typically find it worthwhile.

Note that I definitely wouldn’t use it for any of my workouts.  I want precise accounting of that, and that’s ultimately why you buy a GPS watch.  If you didn’t want to capture that data accurately, then you could honestly save a bunch of cash and get a simpler device (like the sub-$100 Vivofit3), which also has Move IQ.

Finally, the unit has automatic sleep tracking.  There’s no need to press any buttons, it just does its thing behind the scenes.  To enable it though, you will need to setup/tell Garmin Connect your usual sleep times when using the app.  Though, I’ve found this setting has virtually no bearing on accuracy of sleep tracking (in a good way).  I’ve tracked sleep outside of these times without issue.

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When it comes to accuracy of the sleep tracking, there’s two elements to it.  First is whether it gets the falling asleep/wakeup times correct.  For that, it seems pretty close to spot-on.  For comparison, just a random day where I can show the Garmin data from the Vivoactive HR, as well as the Withings Aura and Emfit QS data:

To start, here’s the Garmin data. It shows me me falling asleep at 3:24AM, and waking up at 9:40AM.  That’s about right, give or take a couple minutes.

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Then, the Withings Aura and Emfit data (both sleep systems located below your mattress).  The Withings Aura data shows nearly identical times.  In this case, it shows me as awake for a while on both ends (correct).

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Whereas the Emfit data seems to think I immediately fell asleep.  The Emfit data is more detailed though (on many more levels than I’m showing here), appearing to roughly match what the Garmin is saying in terms of sleep states/classes (i.e. deep sleep).  Whereas the Withings seems to split the difference on sleep states (but got timing more correct).

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As you can see, things generally trend in the right ways, but there is still a bit of variation from device to device for sleep states.  Given I have no way to independently confirm my sleep states, we’ll have to table that piece.  Whereas for falling asleep/wake up times, that’s easy for me to confirm and generally speaking the unit gets that correct.  For me with most of these products, I focus more on the sleep duration, rather than the exact sleep states.

Running:

I often start with running in my reviews, simply because it’s a good foundation point for other sports.  In the case of most devices, many of the same concepts carry over to other sport modes.  For example, data screens and configuration options are all very similar.

To begin an outside run with GPS (it supports both indoor and outdoor runs), we’ll press the lower right button, which shows off the available sport modes.  Then we’ll tap ‘Run’.  At this point it’ll start searching for both GPS signal, as well as a better lock on your HR via the optical HR sensor.  The status of both is displayed at the top of the screen.  GPS in a bar that will eventually turn green, and the HR icon will stay lit/solid once locked.  Note below the HR icon isn’t yet illuminated, even though I have HR shown (61bpm).

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Then see how the HR icon is lit solid, which means it’s good to go.  I have found this takes a bit longer than other Garmin devices (upwards of a minute sometimes).

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If you want to change any settings before or during your run, you’ll hold down the lower right button again (long hold), which opens up the settings menu.  Initially you’ll be in the general settings menu, however you can tap ‘Run Settings’ to get to the sport-specific settings.  This pattern follows for all sports.  Within this area you can configure data screens, alerts, lap options (automatic lap or manual), auto pause, auto scroll, and GPS type.  Plus visual aspects like the background and accent colors.

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Most folks will be interested in the data screens.  The Vivoactive HR gives you three customizable data screens.

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Each screen can be customized with either 2 or 3 data fields:

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The available data fields as of this writing are:

Timer Fields: Timer, Lap Time, Last Lap Time, Average Lap Time, Elapsed Time
Distance Fields: Distance, Lap Distance, Last Lap Distance
Pace Fields: Pace, Average Pace, Lap Pace, Last Lap Pace
Speed Fields: Speed, Average Speed, Lap Speed, Last Lap Speed, Maximum Speed, 30s Avg Vertical Speed, Vertical Speed
Heart Rate Fields: Heart Rate, Average HR, HR Zone, Training Effect, HR %Max, %HRR, Average HR % Max, Average %HRR, Lap HR, Lap %HRR, Lap HR %Max, Time in Zone
Cadence Fields: Cadence, Average Cadence, Lap Cadence, Last Lap Cadence
Temperature Fields: Temperature, 24-hour max, 24-hour Min
Elevation Fields: Elevation, Total Ascent, Total Descent
Other Fields: Calories, Heading, Laps, Sunrise, Sunset, Time of Day, Steps, Lap Steps

Phew! Lots of options.

As for satellite type, I tend to leave it on GLONASS.  You’ll take about a 20% hit on GPS battery life, but it gives you more options for satellites, which may help sustain GPS coverage in tricky situations.

With all that ready to go, we’ll head out and run.  Simply press the start button and it’ll begin recording.

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The unit gives you the option to use either autolap or manual lap.  I prefer manual lap, which is enabled in the settings.  Once you enable it, the lower left button becomes your lap button.  To change screens while running, you’ll simply swipe the screen up/down on the touchscreen to rotate through the three screens.

The instant-pace is pretty darn stable on the unit.  Here’s an example of it during a run as I keep a steady pace.  I then stop and start, to show how fast it reacts:

Note that like virtually all Garmin wearables in the last few years, pace is shown in 5-second increments.  This is to provide a bit more stability.  All companies (Garmin/Polar/Suunto/Apple) have to smooth GPS data somewhere along the line.  This seems to be the clearest way to do it.  Note that if you’re trying to hit an interval pace at specific time (i.e. 6:22/mile), you can easily use Lap Pace instead (which shows down to the per-second digit).  Plus, that’s a better way to pace sections anyway.

It’s worth pointing out that the Vivoactive HR doesn’t have a beeper of any sort (for audio alerts).  Instead, it’s just vibration alerts.  I didn’t really find this a problem though, either during running or otherwise.  The vibration motor was strong enough for me.

Finally, to stop/pause your run, you’ll hit the lower right button again.  This then allows you to save the workout.

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It’ll at this point give you any PR’s (personal records) that you may have triggered during the run.

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After which, your run is sync’d via your phone to Garmin Connect, where you can analyze it more deeply.

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For your curiosity purposes, you can dig into the run above for example, using this link here.

Overall, for the vast majority of runners, the Vivoactive HR is a solid running watch.  Note though that despite earlier statements from Garmin otherwise, the Vivoactive HR does NOT have 1-second recording rates (uses Smart Recording).  This means it may appear that the unit is cutting corners on some maps, when in reality that distance is accounted for in the total distance, it just didn’t plot the points.  Personally, I think this is kinda silly since all it does is increase support calls to Garmin and decrease consumer happiness.  Plus, the file sizes even on 1-second recording rates are tiny.  There’s no reason in 2016 to have Smart Recording any more (heck, there wasn’t a reason in 2010 either).  Hopefully they’ll change that in future firmware updates.  I wouldn’t let that be a purchasing blocker, but rather, just something to be aware of.

Cycling:

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The Vivoactive HR can be used while cycling by enabling the bike mode.  Within this mode it’ll collect optical HR data from your wrist, or, you can mount it to your bike using a simple bike mount (and then collect HR data via a chest strap).  The unit can also pair to ANT+ Speed & Cadence sensors.  It does not pair to cycling power meters or Bluetooth sensors.

I’ve used the unit on numerous bike rides, and as a watch it works mostly well. I’m the type of person though that somewhat prefers a dedicated bike computer.  Something I can mount to the bike, versus having to rotate my wrist from wherever it is on the handlebars to see my watch.  But to each their own.

Within the cycling mode (either GPS outside, or sensor-based indoors), you’ll get your standard speed & distance, as well as cadence if you have a cadence sensor.  You can see this data on the watch in real-time by adding the cadence fields.  It can support multiple paired sensors, so you can effectively save multiple bikes (it uses the ‘sensor pool’ concept).  It does not have bike profiles.

Or, you can look at it afterwards on Garmin Connect, which will show any connected sensor data (see the ‘Bike Cadence’ section in orange):

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Now’s also a good time to talk about HR rebroadcasting.  That feature allows you to leave the watch on your wrist, but broadcast the heart rate signal from the optical sensor to another device.  This way if you have an ANT+ device (like a Garmin Edge), you can pickup the HR and display/record it.  To enable this mode, you’ll hold down the settings button and go into the sensors menu and select the optical HR sensor and enable broadcasting.

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The only challenge here is that while in the broadcast mode, you can’t do anything else with the watch.  You can start an activity though before you start broadcasting, in case you want to record it that way.  But once you start broadcasting you can’t go back to your other screens.  The activity will keep recording in the background though.  All Garmin optical HR devices work this way.

(Update May 20th: In last night’s firmware it appears to have broken even that capability, now you can only enable broadcasting outside of an activity. Sigh.)

Because Garmin appears confused on why you’d want to do this, let me make this clear: The world doesn’t revolve around Garmin. The idea here being you can still record your workout on your Garmin device/platform, yet, you can also broadcast to another app/device/platform. Indoor training apps are precisely this reason: Zwift, TrainerRoad, PerfPro, etc… Cycling studios, etc… Why add such functionality only to cripple it?)

Now this sounds good in theory, and I’ve had good luck with the concept on other Garmin optical HR sensor enabled watches.  But on the Vivoactive HR I’ve had a lot of issues with this.  The broadcasting would end almost immediately after enabling it (a few seconds).  Other users reported it ending after a few minutes.  I brought the issue up to Garmin earlier in the week, and it sounds like it may have been fixed last night as part of a gigantic firmware update with many bug fixes in it.  I’ll confirm back once I can validate that update during a workout (a longer duration).

Swimming:

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The Vivoactive HR supports the recording of swim data, though only pool swims and not openwater (lake/ocean/river/etc…) swims.  The reason being that the Vivoactive HR lacks the algorithms required to be able to handle the satellite dropouts that occur each time your wrist dips below the surface during an openwater swim.  Whereas in the pool, it uses internal accelerometers along with a known pool length to calculate distance.  Note there are some 3rd party Connect IQ apps that can do openwater swims though (with varying levels of success).

I’ve used the VAHR on a number of pool swims now, and had virtually no issues with it.  To begin you’ll need to setup the pool length.  This is required for the unit to determine the laps you’ve swam.

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Next, you can customize a single data page for swimming.  Once in the water, the touch screen is disabled, so you’ve only got one page to work with:

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Once you press start, the unit will track distance and other metrics as you swim.  You can do both flip and open (non-flip) turns and it won’t have any issues.  In my pool I often switch back and forth between the two of them, as people like to stand around at the end of the lane lines and discuss the finer qualities of baguettes and cheese – thus blocking flip turns at one end.

In order to create sets (or intervals), you can use the left (lap) button.  This will pause the watch and mark the end of a set.  For example, on today’s swim I did an 800m warm-up.  At the end of that, I hit the lower left button to pause it.  When I did that it went ahead and inverted the screen, letting me know it was in paused mode.

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After my brief rest, I pressed the lap button again and it started a new set.  This time keeping tabs within that set on the display fields I selected.  Also, later on it’d show these sets within Garmin Connect:

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Once you’re done, you can press the lower right button (stop) to stop the activity.  A few seconds later the touch screen will re-activate and it’ll allow you to save your activity.  Again – while swimming the touch screen is disabled.

Afterwards it’ll show you a brief overview of your swim activity.  Though, it’s far easier to dive into the details on Garmin Connect.

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In my case, I only had 2-3 laps missing in total across all my swim sessions.  In all of those cases they were easily explained by people stopping mid-lane in front of me, hosing up my ability to keep relatively consistent directional travel.  Remember that accelerometers look for patterns, and stopping mid-way down a lane is a clear pattern that you ended that length of the pool.

Note that the Vivoactive HR does NOT connect to either the HRM-SWIM or HRM-TRI from a swimming data standpoint.  It can use those straps for straight heart rate data while above water, but it cannot download HR data from those straps while in the water.

Additionally, the Vivoactive HR disables the optical HR sensor when you start a swim activity.  Well, sorta.  It actually does seem to poll occasionally for your 24×7 HR data.  This is a bit of a change from the past when it didn’t do this.  You can see that during my swim it did pick out some data points and plot those:

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That said, what would happen if you left it totally enabled while swimming?  And just how well would it work if you went openwater swimming in running GPS mode?  Well, I figured I’d give both a whirl.  So…off I went during a recent lake swim.

As you can see below, the answer on the GPS track is pretty crappy.  The track looks like I was quite drunk.  But this is a common looking track for a unit without openwater swim algorithms.

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Here’s the same swim on the other wrist by a FR920XT – far cleaner and where I went:

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As for the optical HR while swimming, it’s not ideal (hence likely why it’s not enabled).  Below you can see how it compared to the HRM-TRI chest strap worn and then paired to the FR920XT.  Sure, it may look like it kinda trends correctly, but if you look closer many of the peaks/valleys aren’t quite right.

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My general recommendation is that if you want to record openwater swims that you place it in your swim cap and simply record it as an ‘Other’ activity and then manually re-categorize it on Garmin Connect later on (it takes two seconds to do).  This time-tested and well used solution will give you the most accurate openwater tracks.

Other Sports:

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I just wanted to briefly touch on all the other sports that the Vivoactive HR includes within its repertoire.  The full list of sport modes are:

– Run (GPS/Outdoor)
– Bike (GPS/Outdoor)
– Pool swim
– Golf
– Walk (GPS/Outdoor)
– Row (GPS/Outdoor)
– SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard)
– Ski/Snowboard
– XC Ski
– Run Indoor
– Bike Indoor
– Walk Indoor
– Row Indoor

Then there are these modes that are available to add:

– Strength
– Cardio
– Other

Don’t see a mode you want?  Well, you can add apps, which are basically sports (actually, they really are sports technically speaking).  For that you’d hit up the Connect IQ app store.  Everything in said app store is free.

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I want to briefly comment on a common question: Why does the Vivoactive HR have ski/snowboard mode, but not the new FR735XT, at twice the price?

For those not familiar, the ski/snowboard mode allows you to automatically track your ski runs.  I’ve used in numerous ski trips, such as these semi-recent trips, on other Garmin devices.  It works fantastically well.  Probably one of the most dependable watch features they have.  It pauses when you go up the lift, and then starts a new ‘run’ each time you start skiing/snowboarding. Pure awesomeness.

However, that feature requires a barometric altimeter.  The Vivoactive HR has such a feature because it counts stairs for activity tracking (which requires the altimeter).

Now, as to why the FR735XT doesn’t have a barometric altimeter when devices 1/2 as much do? Eff if I know. Yeah, I agree, it’s stupid.

Optical HR Sensor Accuracy:

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The Vivoactive HR includes Garmin’s Elevate optical HR sensor built into the bottom of it, which I used both in workouts as well as in 24×7 continual HR monitoring mode.  Garmin introduced this sensor this past fall, after previously using optical HR sensors from Mio.  While initially it was a bit rough in other products, subsequent firmware updates have significantly improved accuracy.  These updates have largely been applied to existing Garmin products using the sensor (i.e. Vivosmart HR, Fenix3 HR, FR235, etc…).

With each subsequent new unit released I re-visit sensor accuracy.  While it’s the same physical hardware, one can see the impact that firmware updates make.  Additionally, each watch has a slightly different form factor (exterior design), which can impact accuracy in terms of external light getting into the sensor area (which degrades accuracy of optical HR sensors).

Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position and how the band is worn are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got long/steady runs, hard interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs.  Night and day runs, rain and sun runs.

For each test I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the HRM-TRI), as well as another optical HR sensor made by Scosche.  I generally consider that sensor to be the most accurate optical HR sensor for fitness/workouts today.

We’ll begin with a tempo run of sorts from a couple days ago (May 17th). It immediately followed a bike, so I was already a bit warmed up.  I’m starting with this run, because I think it best represents what I see with the sensor.  Specifically that if it stumbles anywhere, it’s almost always in the first couple minutes.  Once it gets past that point, it’s usually fine.  You can see this below.

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Here, I’ll zoom in a bit.  You can see the Vivoactive HR is off by up to 25bpm for a couple minutes, compared to everyone else.

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But, as shown above, after that point it settles in nicely for the rest of the run.

Let’s then dig into an interval run, which has lots of stop/go sections, thus putting a strain on the optical HR sensors in terms of keeping track of things.  We’ll start with an easier interval run, longer sets.

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You can see that it handles the work portions without fail, it nails that.  But it does struggle a little bit on the recovery section, especially in the first interval where it totally misses the recovery.  But again, towards the end in those 4 spikes (30-second hard intervals), it actually tracks the work portion very closely.  It’s just the recovery that it seems to miss a bit.

But on this interval run below (different than above), it handles pretty well.  And has no issues during the warm-up.  You see some slight variance from the Scosche early on, I suspect that’s because I just discovered one of the three Scosche LED’s died (2 years old, multiple washing machine trips).  Still, after that, everyone is mostly happy.

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And there are many cases where the HR tracks just fine during a run.  This simple 5K run is a good example of that:

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As is this tempo run, where only briefly towards the end it seemed to trip up (I believe it matched my cadence briefly down a short downhill section):

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Moving to cycling, we’ll start with an indoor trainer.  This is a longer interval workout.  In general, it’s good, but there are these random points where it just gets lost for a short bit.  I’ve added a 15-second smoothing to this graph (May 10th) to make it easier to spot these oddities:

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Going outdoors, here’s a 2hr 30min ride (May 8th).  The first half of this ride (up until that weird gap) is actually three straps: Scosche, HRM-TRI, Vivoactive HR optical.  However, the Scosche battery died at the 1hr 15min marker (I forgot to charge it), so I switched the Edge 520 over to the HRM-TRI.  But the text shows otherwise.  In any case, up until that point, the three units agreed quite nicely.

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Afterwards, which is roughly when I started pushing a bit more, is when I started seeing more variation.  Lots of variation.  The above graph is smoothed at 30-seconds due to the length, to make it easier to see variances.  There’s a lot of the second half of the ride that just doesn’t pan out well for the Vivoactive HR.

Moving to another ride, this one has initial city sections at both start/beginning (so rougher roads), and then I do laps/loops around a park in the middle.  So you see some (barely) consistency in the middle.  But by and large it’s a total mess.

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Even indoors, in this simple trainer ride yesterday (May 19th), both of Garmin’s Elevate optical HR sensors (one on each wrist) seemed totally confused for the first five minutes.  Then they locked on and were perfect after that.  Yet two days prior on a virtually identical workout, both units handled mostly well during that time period.

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Note that all of my workouts while using the device are available for you to analyze yourself.  They’re in the below table.  You can see the other comparison devices for each one.  This same table is also in the GPS section, the links are same.  The dates for each of the graphs above are in the upper right corner.

Vivoactive HR Data Sets

DateWorkout TypeData TypeComparison Link
25-AprCyclingGPS/HRAnalyze
26-AprSwimmingJust poolN/A
28-AprRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
1-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
2-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
3-MayCyclingGPS/HRAnalyze
4-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
6-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
6-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
7-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
8-MayCyclingGPS/HRAnalyze
8-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
9-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
10-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
10-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
11-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
12-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
12-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
13-MayPoolJust poolN/A
14-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
15-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
17-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
17-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
18-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
19-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
19-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze

Before I continue to the resting HR section, do remember that I covered HR rebroadcasting within the cycling section (for lack of anywhere else to put it).  In that mode it simply broadcasts your HR as if in sport mode.  So from an accuracy standpoint nothing is different there (despite my connection issues).

Finally, we’ve got 24×7 HR data.  In general, I find the actual tracking of my heart rate to be accurate. Which is to say that if I look down at the watch at any point in time during the day, the HR is correct.  For example, as I sit here typing this it’s shifting between 48-55bpm depending on how fast my fingers are typing.  All’s good there.

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Where things get a bit messy though is what happens when I fall asleep, as well as how it computes my RHR.  First, let’s start with RHR (Resting HR).  This value is generally agreed upon as being the lowest HR value you see.  Where there is some disagreement among organizations is whether to count sleep in ‘resting’.  That’s fine though, that’s a philosophical debate.  We’ll set that aside for the moment.

What’s not fine is the above (click to zoom).  In this case, as I type this paragraph it shows me at a HR of 53bpm.  And the lowest HR value it shows for the four hour time block is 49bpm.  Yet as you see above – somehow my RHR value is 55bpm.  Huh?

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Next there’s the RHR tracking page.  This shows my RHR trends for the past few days. You can click on a given day to get more details about it.

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So what about sleep that I mentioned?  Well, there’s two issues here.  First is that once I fall asleep, Garmin fails to keep checking in on my HR.  For example, the below.  There are huge multi-hour gaps there.  It’d be one thing if it just checked in a few times per hour (still low btw), but 2 hour+ gaps?

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Garmin has done some work in other Elevate based watches to increase polling during the movement (daytime), and that’s much better than before.  But the failure to poll correctly at night is still an issue.  I’m not sure why it’s so difficult to simply have the optical HR sensor check in every 15 minutes even if there wasn’t enough movement to warrant a check otherwise.  Fitbit, Basis, and others are more than capable of polling every second, so surely Garmin can check in four times an hour (Just 4 seconds of 3,600).

Oh, for lack of anywhere else to talk about battery, I’m going to plop it here.  After all, the optical HR sensor is (on all optical devices) one of the biggest battery drains there is.  So how well does the Vivoactive HR’s battery hold up?  Well it’s a bit tricky to say, because I’ve got about 1hr of GPS runs/rides per day mixed in there (much longer on weekends), so that impacts things a bit in terms of number of days it lasts.  But I’d peg it at about 4-5 days between charges, inclusive of the GPS data for outdoor activities.

GPS & Altimeter Accuracy:

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Next up, GPS accuracy.  For my tests, I prefer to simply ride and run all over creation.  Meaning that I’m out running the various and unique routes, it’s just that I’m carrying multiple GPS devices at the same time to measure that specific run.  I think it’s super critical that you’re comparing data from the same exact run, as conditions can vary day to day.  I also think it’s valuable that you run all sorts of different conditions, thus running the same route over and over isn’t as valuable to me as running/riding everywhere.  Note that since I live in the city, most of my running/riding tends to start there.  Though, it then usually heads out into the countryside or large parks.  Thus I get a pretty wide variety of environmental conditions.

Let’s start with a 10-mile run I did on Saturday (May 14th).  For this, it was basically a simple out and back.  At the super-high level, you don’t notice any unit being an obvious outlier:

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And the totals at the end seem to reflect that:

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But still, let’s see where (if anywhere), things went wrong.  If I zoom into the end (lower right corner), at the turnaround, you see a bit of disagreement.  That area seems to account for virtually all of the differences between these units.  Some of that was caused by a large bridge/overpass and going below that.  Certain units did better than other units, though the Vivoactive HR actually handled this section quite well.

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Another area that tends to cause watches issues on my runs, is this turn on/off this specific bridge.  I don’t know why, but it repeatedly trips up units.  But this time, all units made it on/off the bridge without too much issue.  One could poke a bit at the Ambit3 Vertical here, but we’re only talking a couple meters variance in one direction.

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Switching to a totally different run (May 12th), I wanted to show how well it tracked across a bridge.  All three units agreed, and even more interesting, all three units even got the correct side of the bridge nailed:

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On the flip side, a few hundred meters away, all three units struggled a tiny bit as I went down a road in between two 5-8 story buildings.  This is a bit of a GPS canyon, and many units struggle here.  None were horribly off, but certainly a bit into the buildings.  Oh – and a reminder.  You can click to zoom in any on any of these maps using the table below (hence why I’m mentioning the date).

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While I could keep on showing sections the Vivoactive HR did well (or minor areas it fumbled briefly alongside others), I found that across the board it did quite well in GPS accuracy.  But again, you can dig into any of the GPS activities below and poke around yourself.

Vivoactive HR Data Sets

DateWorkout TypeData TypeComparison Link
25-AprCyclingGPS/HRAnalyze
26-AprSwimmingJust poolN/A
28-AprRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
1-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
2-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
3-MayCyclingGPS/HRAnalyze
4-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
6-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
6-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
7-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
8-MayCyclingGPS/HRAnalyze
8-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
9-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
10-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
10-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
11-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
12-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
12-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
13-MayPoolJust poolN/A
14-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
15-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
17-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
17-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze
18-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
19-MayTrainerHRAnalyze
19-MayRunningGPS/HRAnalyze

Oh, finally, what about barometric altimeter data?  Well, that data is in the analysis tables too.  But just in case you wanted an overview of what it shows – here’s a look at a few examples.  First, a run.  In this case you can see the Vivoactive HR tracks along quite nicely with the also barometric based FR920XT.  Meanwhile, the GPS-altimeter based FR630 is all over the place.

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Here’s another example, this one from a ride.  You can see it compared against the Edge 520 (also barometric).  Both units mirror each other, though with a slight offset.  I don’t typically bother to change/set altitudes manually unless I’m in the mountains and find an altitude marker somewhere.  In this case they vary about 5m offset from each other until about half-way through the ride.  It’s at that point that it started dumping out (storm coming in).  It’s then we see the Vivoactive HR drop a bit in altitude, though still match the pattern here.  On the flip-side, the Edge 520 rises slightly.  Note that in the middle section those are loops around a park, so the altitude would be identical each time.

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Here’s another example of a ride to that same park.  In this case, the Edge 520 & Vivoactive HR start off quite far apart, but over time the Vivoactive HR decides the Edge 520 is right, and slowly converges on it to identically match by time I finish the loops and head home.  Meanwhile, the FR630 is off beating to its own drum.

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And finally, one last ride example.  This one is actually really clean – shows nice agreement.  I suspect the reason you see such good agreement throughout the entire ride, is that this was after using the watch outdoors at that location (with GPS), so the unit had time for the barometer to settle.

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Note that you can calibrate the altimeter on the Vivoactive HR, so that would likely reduce any of the slight shifting that I’ve seen.  It just appears that the Edge 520’s automatic calibration algorithms are a bit superior to that of the Vivoactive HR.

To access the altimeter calibration menu on the Vivoactive HR, you’ll hold down the lower right button, then Settings > Sensors > Altimeter > Calibrate > [Enter your altitude].  Pretty simple really.  There aren’t any other altimeter options beyond that though (unlike some more advanced watches like the Fenix3 series).  Still, for most people this setting along with the defaults will probably give you what you want in terms of ascent/descent values.

Smartphone Integration:

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Like all Garmin wearables these days (heck, any wearable these days), the Vivoactive HR connects to your smartphone to provide additional functionality.  At the basic side of things it’ll sync frequently using Bluetooth Smart to update Garmin Connect mobile, which is the application that allows you to view your workouts, steps, and other daily health goodness (such as data from the Garmin WiFi scale).

2016-05-20 13.19.55 2016-05-20 13.19.45 2016-05-20 13.18.56

However, more than that, the phone can push notifications to your watch.  These notifications are configured using your phone’s notification control panel.  The Garmin Connect Mobile app is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

The notifications show up concurrently (basically instantly) with your phone’s notifications.  So as you get one on the phone’s screen, it’ll buzz your watch.  You can then clear the notification on the watch, which also clears it from your phone’s home screen.

DSC_0915 DSC_0914

Next, the watch uses that Bluetooth Smart connection to get data for various widgets.  You can download all assortment of widgets/apps from the Garmin Connect IQ store.  But out of the box you’ll have a weather widget, a calendar widget, along with ones for controlling music on your phone.

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All of these work fairly well.  Note that these data/information service focused widgets generally require connectivity to your phone to see data.  In other words, the calendar widget won’t work if your phone isn’t in range.  Nor will it work if the Garmin Connect mobile app is closed (background is fine).

DSC_0918 DSC_0920

But, general notifications will work just fine if the Garmin Connect mobile app is closed.  That’s because that connection happens directly between the phone’s operating system and your watch.

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The data sync of workouts typically happens in the background without you even realizing.  Generally speaking an hour-long GPS based workout may take 30-60 seconds to sync.  That depends on how much sensor data there is, or how much GPS movement there was (since it uses Smart Recording).  For steps, that’s constantly syncing throughout the day.  There’s very little impact to battery for either your phone or the device.  On the device side it happens via the low-power Bluetooth Smart protocol/connection.

Product Comparison Charts:

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I’ve added the Vivoactive HR into the product comparison tool, which allows you to compare the Vivoactive HR against any other watch I’ve reviewed.  For the sake of comparison, I’ve framed it up against a few competitors that I think most folks will be comparing against.  Additionally, I’ve decided to add a few quick thoughts ahead of that.

Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit Surge: On a pure feature basis, there’s really no competition here.  While both units are priced the same, the Vivoactive HR has approximately 3,283 more features than the Fitbit Surge.  Ok, maybe just like 80 extra features.  But, none of that really matters if you’re focused on counting steps and all your friends are on the Fitbit platform.  Or if you use other Fitbit wearables/devices.  From an accuracy standpoint, the Garmin optical HR sensor has improved enough to say that it’s better than the Fitbit optical HR sensor.  And, the Vivoactive HR does more in terms of modes (swim, golf, sensor support, etc…).  The Fitbit Surge is about 18 months old, so its starting to show its age in this fast paced market.

Vivoactive HR vs Garmin FR230/FR235: This is actually easier than you think.  While the FR230 & Vivoactive HR are priced nearly the same, the FR230 lacks an optical HR sensor.  If you want that, it costs another $80 (FR235).  But why is it more?  Well, the FR230/235 are running watches.  They’re not all-rounders like the Vivoactive HR.  So they’ve got more advanced running features.  Things like VO2Max estimation, structured workouts, interval modes, and so on.  For many people, those features won’t matter.  So in that way, the Vivoactive HR is probably the best all around watch for runners at a cheaper price point than the equally optical-equipped FR235.

Vivoactive HR vs TomTom Spark: This is a pretty solid competitive comparison.  Both units support running, cycling, and pool swimming (neither support openwater swimming).  The TomTom Spark has some additional running focused modes around intervals.  But more importantly, the TomTom Spark has music storage.  So you can connect Bluetooth headphones to it.  From an optical HR sensor accuracy range, both are in the same ballpark.  Garmin has more sport modes (and customization), and generally updates the firmware more often.  But again, the TomTom has music.  So if that’s a major factor for you, it’s definitely a unit to consider

Vivoactive HR vs Polar M400: The Polar M400 is getting a bit long in the tooth, almost 2 years now (Aug 2014).  Though, it’s received some modest firmware updates over the years to keep it in the game as a reasonably good low to mid range running watch.  It doesn’t have an optical HR sensor, nor all the partnerships that Garmin or Fitbit has.  But it’s a better running watch than the Fitbit Surge is in terms of features and data.  It’s just going to require a separate HR strap.  As for comparing it to the Vivoactive HR, that’s tougher.  It’s roughly $80 less than the Garmin, so that may be a factor for some.

Vivoactive HR vs Apple Watch: This is a bit of an awkward comparison, but I know I’ll get asked it 98 times…in the first day alone.  The Apple Watch isn’t a GPS running watch, it requires your phone to get GPS data.  Otherwise it uses an accelerometer, which isn’t super-accurate based on my testing.  The Vivoactive HR gets a number of days of battery life, whereas the Apple Watch gets 24-36 hours.  On the flip side, the Apple Watch has a gazillion apps for it that you know the names of (Instagram, United Airlines, etc…).  The Vivoactive HR has a crap-ton too, but 99.99% of them you’ll never have heard of.  But neither points really matter: If you want a fitness watch, go to a fitness company.  If you want a day to day/office watch, get the Apple Watch.

As for the comparison tables, here ya go:

Function/FeatureGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated May 22nd, 2016 @ 6:09 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$249$249$329$149-$199 (Features Vary)
Product Announcement DateFeb 19th, 2016Oct 27th, 2014Oct 21st, 2015Sept 3rd, 2015
Actual Availability/Shipping DateQ2 2016Dec 10th, 2014November 2015October 1st, 2015
Data TransferUSB, BLUETOOTH SMARTBluetooth SmartUSB, Bluetooth SmartUSB/Bluetooth Smart
Waterproofing50 metersATM5 (~50m), but no swimming50 Meters50m
Battery Life (GPS)13 hours GPS on10 hours GPS on (5-7 days in time/step mode)Up to 16 hoursUp to 11 hours (varies)
Recording IntervalSmart Recording1-second1-second & Smart1s
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerYesNoYes3 days
Quick Satellite ReceptionYesSo-soYEsYes
AlertsVibrate/VisualYesVIBRATE/SOUND/VISUALVIBRATE/SOUND/VISUAL

Again remember that you can mix and match and make your own comparison tables here using the product comparison tool.

Summary:

DSC_0863

Overall the Vivoactive HR is a pretty solid multi-tasking unit.  It seems to accurately track GPS on cycling and running, and I haven’t had any issues while in the pool either.  It’s not the most advanced watch Garmin makes, but it’s also not the most basic.  It sits nicely in the middle of the road, and offers what 90-95% of runners would want in a running watch.  Or, what the majority of people would want in a day to day fitness smartwatch.

As noted throughout the post, I did see a handful of bugs.  Both with the optical HR sensor, as well as just other random things.  Some of the non-HR sensor pieces appear to have been addressed in a firmware update that was released yesterday afternoon (May 19th), such as areas around move notifications.  But areas such as resting HR number inconsistencies Garmin says is slated for a future firmware update.

Since I already outlined how it compares to various competitive units in the previous section, I’d simply summarize that it’s an incredibly competitive watch in terms of features vs price.  While it’s certainly not as thin as the previous Vivoactive, I think the market is clearly going towards optical HR sensors being the norm.  So it makes sense for them to take the Vivoactive line in this direction, despite making the unit a bit chunkier.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Wanna support the site? Here’s how:

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  While the VIP program won’t currently apply to the Vivoactive HR, you can still pick it up with Clever Training.  Plus, they have it in stock.  And, since this item is more than $75, you get free 3-day US shipping as well.

Garmin Vivoactive HR (select dropdown for sizing)

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (though, no discount). Or, anything else you pickup on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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Riding around the Velodrome at the UCI World Headquarters http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/riding-around-the-velodrome-at-the-uci-world-headquarters.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/riding-around-the-velodrome-at-the-uci-world-headquarters.html#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=60169 It’s time for a non-product post.  And given today sits in between two different in-depth review posts, I figure we’ll travel back in time to almost a month ago when I visited the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) for the CycleOps Hammertime launch … Read More Here ]]> IMG_0164

It’s time for a non-product post.  And given today sits in between two different in-depth review posts, I figure we’ll travel back in time to almost a month ago when I visited the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) for the CycleOps Hammertime launch event.

While many cycling brands hold worldwide launch events at epic riding locales, CycleOps decided to hold theirs in a conference room where the federation undoubtedly debates rules and other boring details.  There were nifty little UCI pens and paper tablets though on the table.  Though, they only had about 10 sheets, so you must use them wisely.

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Of course while this was a standard office building conference room (albeit with a pretty scenic view and outer decks/terraces), it was attached to a structure of far larger interest and importance: The UCI velodrome.  In fact, despite all outward photos you may have seen of the famed UCI Headquarters building, it’s actually really tiny.  The vast majority of the structure you think you’re looking at is the velodrome, and not the headquarters.

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In the image below, the headquarters is only this singular pizza slice wedge.  It’s attached to the velodrome and community rec center (with tumbling mats), which dwarf it in size.  Here, I’ve made a nifty map.  That way every time you see the UCI photo on a news story post, it gives it perspective on just how small the UCI offices actually are.

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Given the CycleOps announcement was a trainer, the best way to ride that was indoors.  So instead of taking out some new bike component into the mountains, it only seemed appropriate that folks ride indoors in an equally cool spot: The UCI velodrome.

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Now this would be the second time I’ve been on a velodrome track.  The first was a few years ago in LA at the VELO Sports Center.  In that case though, I was riding my triathlon bike on the track.  So that ends up being just a wee bit different than riding a legit track bike on the track.

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For one, a track bike has a single speed with a rear hub that doesn’t freewheel. That means that there’s no way to stop pedaling without the bike coming to complete and full stop.  So it’s kinda like a spin bike, if the wheel is moving, so are the pedals.  They are one and the same.

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In this case, they did affix PowerTap P1 pedals to the track bikes, so we could check out our power.  But to be honest, I never did that once – mostly because I was so focused on not crashing.  Be it into someone else, into the walls, or just imploding in the middle of the track.

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To get started you lined up against the wall.  This was the approved start/stop area.  Even the pros that were out there riding for a few hours before me were to start/stop there and in the same manner.  You clipped in while holding onto the railing, and then once clipped in you started pedaling.

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You’d start off slowly on the lower portions of the track, and then build up speed to get higher and higher on the wall.

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There were specific minimum speeds needed to keep from sliding down the wall, primarily in the curves.  The UCI coach man told us these speeds.  But my bike kinda sorta lacked a speed sensor (no GPS indoors).  So basically, I just kept pedaling harder and harder hoping it’d be enough.

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Probably the best way to experience this is to show it to you in a video.  So here’s a 360° video I shot using the 360Fly.  Because the 360Fly has generally crap resolution, this falls into the camp of ‘it is what it is’.  Also, it didn’t help that the building only had on perhaps 1/4th (or less) of the lights in the velodrome.  So the lighting is pretty tough.  Still, I think you’ll enjoy.  And remember, you can change the view by just dragging around in the YouTube window.  I try and commentate a bit, but eventually the wind noise becomes too much for the mic.

So there ya have it – a fun snippet of riding around the velodrome!

Thanks for reading all!

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14
Cycliq Fly12 Bike Light/Camera In-Depth Review http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/cycliq-fly12-bike-lightcamera-in-depth-review.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/cycliq-fly12-bike-lightcamera-in-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 10:54:00 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=60441 It’s been over a year since Cycliq first introduced their Fly12 combo bike light and HD camera.  While the road to shipping was certainly longer and bumpier than the company wanted, they started shipping units to customers last month.  You’ll … Read More Here ]]> DSC_0659

It’s been over a year since Cycliq first introduced their Fly12 combo bike light and HD camera.  While the road to shipping was certainly longer and bumpier than the company wanted, they started shipping units to customers last month.  You’ll remember that Cycliq is the company behind the Fly6 tail-light and camera combo unit that’s been out a couple of years now.  The Fly12 extends that concept to the front of the bike, thus completing both sides of the equation.

However, it’s more than just making the light white and calling it a day.  The unit now has Bluetooth Smart and WiFi integration, as well as an app.  Those allow you to quickly grab videos on the fly.  Plus, it integrates with Strava and can overlay 3ft (and similar) tramlines directly onto your video.  Allowing you to demonstrate just how close those cars are passing you.

But, enough of the overview, let’s get into the details.

Note that Cycliq sent me a few units to try out as a loaner.  By few, I think I’m up to about 8-10 Fly12 units since the start of beta last year.  So I’ve got a ton of experience with the device over the past year, in various forms.  But for this review, I’m focused on footage and thoughts from just the final production devices (of which I also have two).  All of which will go back to them as normal as I wrap things up here.  If you found this review useful, you can support the site via the links at the bottom.

With that, let’s dive into it.

Unboxing:

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The Fly12 is perfectly viewable from within its little skylight-styled shipping home.  You’ll see both the unit itself, as well as a secondary mount and thumbscrew for locking it in place.

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Once you remove it from the outer shell, you’ll find a hidden tray below the orange plastic shell.

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That tray holds the manual, a hex tool, the handlebar mount, a micro-USB cable, and a small safety lanyard.

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Here’s what that all looks like unraveled on the table:

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Meanwhile, the Fly12 itself is locked in place in the orange shack by…well, shackles.  So unlock that.

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It’s sitting inside a tripod style mount.  While the uses for such a mount are somewhat limited, there are a handful of 3rd party mounts (i.e. some K-Edge mounts) that have a tripod connector for other action cams.  So in this case, if you have one – you’re good to go.

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Otherwise everyone else will just use the GoPro style mount that’s included in the box.

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You’ve got two different screw choices: Thumb screw or regular screw.  The regular screw is for when you don’t want someone dorking with it.  The thumbscrew is for when you want relatively easy access to remove it.

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Last but not least, a quick glance at the weight.  It comes in at 244g heavy.  This is obviously fairly heavy for an action camera, but it’s not too heavy for a front light this bright.  Nor for something that’s built to take a whacking.

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Ok, let’s dive into how to use the thing.

General Usage:

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Before we mount it to the bike, let’s cover the five things you can dork with on the back of the unit.  Two buttons, one card slot, one USB charging port, and one master reset button.

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The two buttons allow you to control turning the unit on and off, as well as whether individual components are on/off.  For example, if you press the WiFi button while the unit is powered off, it’ll simply turn on WiFi without starting recording.

Meanwhile, if you press the power button first, the unit will turn on (and always start recording).  Once on, the power button becomes the light pattern/brightness changing button.  This allows you to iterate through the different light options you’ve pre-configured.

Next, there’s a micro-SD card slot.  The unit comes with a 16GB micro-SD card, which is kinda small if you’re recording 1080p video.  It means that you’ll get just a couple of hours before it starts overwriting older footage.

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So I recommend you swap that out.  A 64GB card (the size I use) costs a mere $18 on Amazon, or $28 for the exact version that I use (overkill).  That gets you a crapton of footage.

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On the right side is the micro-USB charging port.  That’s the same port type used for most non-Apple cell phones these days.

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Finally, just above the micro-SD card slot is a tiny reset button.  It’s there in case the situation becomes all FUBAR.

As for riding, to start you’ll want to get the unit all mounted up.  The Fly12 comes with a standard handlebar mount.  The machined metal mount allows you to affix it to your handlebars, and then you can use the screw (or thumbscrew) to attach the Fly12 to the mount.

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Though, if you’ve got some sort of aerodynamic front handlebars that are flat or something, you’re kinda hosed.  Same goes for triathletes with aerobars. Though, a few companies have just announced new products for aerobars, and I did use one of them from PowerPod for portions of this review:

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The thing you have to be super-careful of is the weight of the Fly12.  It’s a beast.  As such, it’s going to be heavier than most mounts allow.  Especially plastic mounts.  But even in my case, I broke a first generation machined PowerPod mount (it was above the weight limit of the mount).  They’ve since re-designed their mount to handle the Cycliq unit, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Also, some out-front mounts may introduce bounce into the video, thus effectively reducing the quality of the video.

Back on the device, there’s also two tiny holes at the bottom to affix the small string strap, in case the mount breaks.  That way the unit doesn’t go for a flight.  If you neglect to do that, don’t worry, I’ll show you what happens in the next section.

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Don’t forget to then attach the other end of that lanyard to your bike.  Otherwise it’s like having a seatbelt in a car without wearing it.

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In any case, with everything all on your bike, let’s start ‘er up by pressing the power button:

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When you do so, it’ll chirp that it’s starting.  You can configure the volume levels within the app. I’d describe the sound levels as “Heart-warmingly soft” to “Holy @#$@# that’s loud!”.  The unit will also start blinking the single LED light to indicate that it’s recording and the battery status.

Disappointingly though, I really wish this light was both located elsewhere, and stayed on permanently (instead of flashing).  It makes it tough to validate the unit is on while riding.  In their initial designs, they had a light-ring around the back of the unit.  That produces a GoPro-like benefit of being able to validate the recording light from almost any angle.  In this case, about the only way I can see the unit is if I get off my bike and look at the light from the underside of the handlebars.

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Now, there is actually a second way to validate that I’ll discuss in more detail in the app section – which is to have it generate a beep at a preset interval.  This means that the unit will chirp every once in a while (i.e. 10 minutes) that it’s still alive and working.  But, that doesn’t really solve the 9 minutes and 59 seconds in between.  Note that it will also chirp at you if it’s powering off (low battery).

As I alluded to earlier, the unit is ALWAYS recording when on.  There’s no option to turn off the camera.  That’s for good reason – the entire point of this thing is to record an incident.  If you forget to turn it on, it defeats the point.  What is optional however is the lights.  You can configure them to either stay on or blink, as well as the intensities for them.  Also, you can just leave the lights off.

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To change the light setting simply tap the power button.  It’s just like pressing mode on some other device, it simply iterates through the different light options for you.  I’ve configured mine to iterate through brightness levels, but you’ve got quite a few choices in the app.

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Looking at it from a night-riding perspective, it’s going to depend on your surroundings obviously.  But I’ve done a bunch of riding in the winter at a local park where there’s no lights, and I had no issues using this as my singular light in those cases.  More than bright enough.

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From a lumens standpoint, the unit clocks in at an official rating of 400 lumens in the brightest mode.  You’ve got three brightness levels though (I talk about that in the app settings section).  And, just for fun as a point of reference.  Here’s what the camera saw while I was taking the above photos:

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And a few shots out in the dark, first on a fairly dark bridge (note: this snippet is in my video at the end):

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Notice as the car passes me, I can still make out the license plate if I freeze the video (there are lights on this bridge).  Also note this bridge is not smooth asphalt, but small cobblestones (thus impacting clarity).

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If I zoom in, you can clearly see the plate.  Note, this car did nothing wrong.  It’s just the only car that passed me on the dark bridge that was easy to use to illustrate.  In fact, it actually gave me a lot of room.

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And here’s another shot, on more of a main street.  Just demonstrating how easy it is to pick out car license plates. None of these snippets are edited, it’s a simple screenshot from the raw video straight off the Micro-SD card.

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It’s worth nothing I had no issues with rain.  I’ve had more than enough of that, including some fairly epic rainstorms in the last month.  In fact, all the Cycliq products are internally waterproofed as well.  That means you can literally fill them with water and then simply let them dry out and they’re fine.  I did that with the Fly6 where I opened up the ports and filled it with water until all the air went out.  Then I dumped it out and let it sit for a day (no rice or anything).  It turned on just fine.

For the most part, the water rolls off the lens.  You can see below how it looks mid-way through a rainy ride.

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The claimed battery life is 10 hours of recording (without lights), down to 2 hours of recording with lights at full blast.  For those countries that allow it, blinking lights will dramatically save battery life.  I haven’t seen battery issues in terms of running out on me during a number of multi-hour rides.

Finally, in the event of a crash the unit will recognize it as such.  A crash is detected when the unit tilts more than 45° while riding. When the crash alarm is triggered, it’ll go ahead and chirp like a dying bird in a blender.  The secondary (and likely more important) purpose of the alarm is to write-protect the footage of the crash.  So it keeps it protected from being overwritten.

Crash Test:

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Given the unit is designed to withstand a crash, how well does it hold up to one from a durability standpoint?  Well, I kinda found out by accident.  On a ride a few weeks ago the 3rd party machined metal mount I was using snapped, sending the Fly12 off the bike at high speed across the stone cobbles and to the concrete curb.

The unit survived just fine:

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However, the video data was not recorded.  This was one of the handful of times I’ve seen the unit shut off at some point during the ride (20-40 minutes prior) without me knowing it.  I haven’t seen it do this on rides since, but it did happen on another ride in April.  It sounds like this was fixed on the most recent firmware, and I haven’t seen it since.  But it was definitely a bummer.  You can see the marks on the unit from the experience above, around the edges.  But no broken glass or any other parts.  Still works just fine (and I have continued to use it).

This all despite a flight at 20-25MPH across the very hard and rough ground.

Wait?  What’s that?  In a tribute to Mythbusters you want a re-enactment?  Well, since I’ve got more Fly12’s sitting around here than I know what to do with (before I sent them back), why not…umm…do a do-over?

So this time I went back up to the street and decided to get up about 20MPH and them simply release it and see what happened.

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And the results, in video form:

See, I don’t disappoint.  And yes, the unit is still alive (in fact, the night segments you see were then recorded a few hours later).  Though, I suppose if this were a true Mythbusters tribute, I’d blow the thing up….

App Usage:

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While most of your day to day interactions with the unit will be from the hardware side, it’s also quite likely that (for better or worse), you’ll use the app a bit.  I say better or worse because in most cases if you’re using the app it’s because you’re trying to share something that occurred on the ride.  Hopefully said ‘something’ wasn’t a bad crash.

The app allows you to connect to the Fly12 via a combination of Bluetooth and WiFi, enabling you to change settings and download videos.  In general it’s fairly simplistic, and seems to do the job.  But, it could also use a bit more love to make it a bit cleaner experience.  Note though, that as of this writing the app is only available for iOS, not Android.  Cycliq says the Android app is coming by the end of the month.  Additionally, both apps are getting total overhauls (I saw some preview shots this week), which look a million times better.  That should show up in the next few weeks.

The Fly12 acts somewhat similar to a newer generation GoPro in terms of pairing.  It uses Bluetooth to assist in configuration, and then WiFi for streaming videos.  That’s because Bluetooth doesn’t have the bandwidth for video streaming.  So once you’ve paired it up, you’ll see your unit connected up top.  Either the top bar in blue for Bluetooth, or in green for WiFi.

If it’s blue, you can tap the Review Footage option, and it’ll go ahead and turn on WiFi for you automagically, getting you to the green bar.  Like I said: Magic.

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Once that’s done, you can now review your footage.  But first, let’s dive into settings.

Within this section I can change the video resolution (1080p45, 1080p30, 720p60, 730p30), as well as light and sound modes.

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The light modes are the different modes it’ll iterate through when you push the light button.  So if you don’t want the flashing modes, you can turn them off for example.  That’ll save you button pushing.

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Next, there are audio alerts.  There are two alerts here.  First is the recording alert interval, which simply chirps at a preset interval to let you know it’s recording.  And the second is the volume level.

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After that we’ve got the Strava integration.  But, I’ll circle back to that in the next section.  So let’s move onto the tramline settings.  Within this section you can configure tramlines.  These lines will be overlaid on your video to demonstrate how close a driver might be.  In many parts of the world, there are 3ft or 1m rules that specify how close a car is allowed to get to a cyclist.

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You can change both the width of the tramlines, as well as the handlebar and height sizes.  Further, you can configure an offset, if your camera isn’t precisely mounted on center.  All of which results in something like this:

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While it seems spot-on at the point closest to the bike, I think the points further away could probably use a bit of work.  Take a look at the following, which is a bike lane that basically perfectly lines up at the point closest to my bike, but is a bit skewed further away from my bike:

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Next, there’s both an incident setting and a config setting.  A sound will trigger if you crash (alerting others to a camera that may want to be retrieved for evidence), whereas the config settings enable both incident and idle modes.

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Whereas the Alarm mode is something you can enable from the home-screen of the app.  This will act like a motion detector.  If you have your bike within range (such as sitting at a cafe), and the bike is moved, the unit will start blinking/beeping, and your phone will alert you as well.

Finally, if you want to change the WiFi settings (network name/password), you’ll need to be just on Bluetooth mode (like below to left), at which point the WiFi option will show in the settings (lower left first):

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With the settings section out of the way, let’s circle back to the video/footage piece.  We’ll click Review Footage and get back into the main footage reviewing area.  It’s here we can go ahead and select a video from the unit.  The Fly12 records videos in 5-minute snippets.  You can see these along the bottom.  If I click on one, it’ll show it up above.

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On one hand the 5-minute chunks makes it easy to find snippets as long as you know the time of day.  On the flipside, it makes it a mess if you want to use the videos in some other program, or to form a longer ‘story’.

Once I’ve selected a chunk of video I’ll tap ‘Edit’ to open up another portion of the screen that allows me to narrow down around the portion of the video I want to share.  You can see those flags at the bottom.  You can move them around, as seen below.

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The flags are honestly a bit finicky to use.  I would have thought simply using the blue banner section and editing within that would have been a much cleaner experience.  And, it’d match how most video editing programs work.  Hopefully that’s something they’ll tweak in the future.

It’s here I can enable tramlines as well.  Once I’m done, I’ll click ‘Save’. The saving process isn’t super fast given how long these clips are, but I suppose most clips are only going to be a few seconds in length.  So even waiting a minute or so isn’t horrible.

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Once they’re done, they’ll show up in your ‘My videos’ section.  You can then either play the video, or share the video:

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If playing, you’ll get the full horizontal view and you can see the tramlines:

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Ok, so that’s cool and all – but what about Strava integration?  Let’s dive into that next.

But first, a quick note on the files recorded on the Fly12 itself.  If you use the included micro-SD card to view the cards on your computer (or if you just plug in the unit), you’ll see a folder full of files.  Or, a bunch of folders.  Each folder is by year, and there appears to be a maximum number of videos per folder.  None of that matters if you use the app.  It only matters if you use a computer to look at the original video files.

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The Fly12 records all clips at two versions: A higher 1080p resolution version, and a super-low resolution version.  So if you look in that folder, you’ll see duplicate clips:

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The reason for the duplicate clips is to make it faster for the app to playback streaming files.  So it uses the low-resolution version for previews on the app. In case you’re wondering, Cycliq isn’t alone here. GoPro does the exact same thing.

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Each clip is 5 minutes long. That means you’ve got a boatload of clips.  But it does make it easier to find a specific clip, versus having one gigantic clip.  On the flipside, it makes it a bit messier if you’re trying to use a 3rd party editing program on your desktop as you’ve got to pull in all the clips and sift through them.

But as long as you use the native Cycliq app, then none of this matters to you as it’s totally transparent from the app standpoint.

Strava Integration:

A key selling point of the Fly12 is the Strava integration.  Now at first you might think: How on earth would this integrate with Strava?

Well, Cycliq has essentially outsmarted having to have their own GPS chipset in the unit for things like speed and grade.  In this case, as long as you upload your ride to Strava (using any device you want, or even the Strava app), it can overlay that data right onto the video.  To begin, you’ll head back into the settings and sign-into your Strava account (see how it says ‘Signed out’):

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Once that’s done you’ll be ale to enable various options, from showing a map, to up to 3 out of the 5 data fields (seen above on right).

Now, we’ll go back into the Review Footage section and find a snippet of video.  Once I do that, I’ll tap ‘Overlays’ and you’ll see two new options: Heads Up Display and Map Overlay.

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It seems to take a bit of time sometimes for the app to download the data or otherwise enumerate.  Once it does though, you’re good to go.

From there you’ll just click save like normal and it’ll do its thing.  Outputting a video with Strava data overlaid right on it:

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Obviously, in order to get power data, you’ll need a power meter and that power meter data in your Strava file.  Same goes for heart rate too.

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The little map at the bottom is handy too, making it easy to see where you were exactly.

Note that at this time Strava doesn’t support video uploads (just photos), so it’s not something you can upload to Strava itself.  But, like before you can share it anywhere else you’d like as a simple video.

Video Snippets:

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The video quality seems a fair bit compressed for 1080p resolution.  Given I have the ability to swap out the micro-SD card for any size I’d like (one of the first things I did), I wish I could lessen the compression.  Said differently: The quality doesn’t really look 1080p given the artifacts I see in it.

Still, it’s more than sufficient for capturing bad drivers.  To demonstrate the quality, here’s a pile of snippets from various rides over the last couple months.  I’ve got video on numerous Fly12 beta devices dating back to this past fall, but for this full review I’m just focused on the product devices.

Rather than upload a whole bunch of 15 second YouTube videos, I’ve simply compiled them into a single video (daylight first, then night).

Just in case you’re wondering, you actually can’t combine clips within the Cycliq app.  One clip = one video.  So I just used the free iPhone app from Apple, iMovie, to do it for me.  Super easy.

Summary:

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Overall the Fly12 works pretty well.  The hardware is definitely rather robust, despite my repeated attempts to kill it.  And the recorded image is good enough, even in night, to make out license plate numbers on passing cars.  The addition of WiFi & Bluetooth make the unit quite a bit quicker and simpler to use than the Fly6.

On the flipside, the app is still a bit rough around the edges.  There are occasional connectivity issues with the Strava metric overlay, which can significantly slow down getting clips out.  Still, I’m reasonably optimistic those will be addressed soon, based on my discussions on the challenges they faced until recently with their (now previous) software development firm.  Plus, the upcoming new app design looks fantastic by comparison to what you see today.

Now the $349USD unit is expensive.  Though, about the same price as buying a good set of lights and an action camera capable of shooting well in the dark.  But that would still ignore the bike-specific pieces that simply aren’t found on any action cams on the market today (tram lines, accident mode, Strava integration etc…).

If you approach the Fly12 from the perspective of being an all-around GoPro replacement, you’ll be disappointed.  Instead, I’d focus it on being a solid front bike light, with a pretty solid camera and bike-specific platform integrated into it.  Further, in many ways the camera portion of the Fly12 is like insurance.  It’s not there for when things are going well, it’s there for when things didn’t go according to plan.

Found this review useful? Or just want to save 10%? Here’s how:

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased, most notably 10% savings by using DCR coupon code DCR10MHD. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pickup the Fly12 (or Fly6) through Clever Training using the links below. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers. And, since this item is more than $75, you get free US shipping as well.

Cycliq Fly12 Front-Facing Bike Light & Camera (this review)
Cycliq Fly6 Rear-Facing Bike Light & Camera (My In-Depth Review here)

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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5 Random Things I Did This Weekend http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/random-things-did-this-weekend-24.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/05/random-things-did-this-weekend-24.html#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 04:00:52 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=60291 Finally, a relatively calm weekend here at home.  Now technically the weekend is still continuing here, as Monday is a public holiday for many in France.  And while the weather wasn’t quite as nice as last weekend, we made the … Read More Here ]]> Finally, a relatively calm weekend here at home.  Now technically the weekend is still continuing here, as Monday is a public holiday for many in France.  And while the weather wasn’t quite as nice as last weekend, we made the best of it.

1) Swim with the Expat Tri team

Friday late afternoon we headed a few blocks away from the Eiffel Tower to join up the Paris Expatriés Triathlon club for a swim session.  To date during my nearly four years in Paris, I’ve only ever swam in public pools (during public hours).  So swimming with a team would be a first.  Most notably that the pool was otherwise closed to the public during this timeframe, making it quite a bit calmer.

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The workout was pretty good, a bit of variation.  And most importantly – I didn’t have to deal with 19 other people in my lane of varying speed.  Everyone in my lane was quite brisk.

Both The Girl and I swam.  Regrettably, our post-swim selfie didn’t come out too strong.  GoPro had generally crap pictures inside the pool for some reason.  Odd.  Sorry!

2) Gotta Lotta Watches

I headed out Saturday afternoon for a 70ish minute run with a boatload of watches.  I was doing GPS and optical HR accuracy testing, primarily of the FR735XT and Vivoactive HR.  Though, anytime I’m collecting data I’m doing so with current firmware on various watches.  So I was equally curious if GPS improvements had been made with the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical since that came out last fall.  So kinda a twofer type test.

Except, with 6 watches:

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(Garmin Vivoactive HR, Suunto Ambit3 Peak, Garmin FR920XT, Suunto Ambit3 Vertical, Polar V800)

When I’m dealing with optical HR sensor watches, I like to only have one per wrist.  For GPS testing, I place the remainder on the upper shoulder straps of my CamelBak, which gives it good strong GPS signal location without much interference.

In this case, all 6 watches came out fairly close.

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Here’s the analysis link if you want to dig into them a bit more.  All units tracked very closely, with them all within 100m +/- of the FR735XT.  The only notable variations you see in the GPS track was a single large bridge underpass, and some slight differences at the turnaround point.

Oh, and I was wearing Varia Vision connected to the FR735XT:

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Short summary of that experience: While I find it just fine and dandy with cycling, it’s bound to make you motion sick while running.  My sunglasses bounced around quite a bit.  That said, it was kinda nifty not having to ever glance at your watch.

Afterwards, The Girl and I grabbed a rather late lunch at the crêperie around the corner:

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Hard to top off that ending to a run.

3) Rooftop battery tests

Well, I was back on the roof trying to kill watch batteries again this weekend.  Specifically, the FR735XT’s battery.  Now the battery in this unit has been of interest to a lot of folks, due to its claimed 14hr battery life (with optical HR & GPS enabled).  Some have said that seems odd given an Ironman has a 17hr cutoff.

So I was curious: What if you saved on the optical HR and instead used just GPS and traditional sensors?  Even more so since the optical HR is disabled during a swim (1-2 hours likely for those above 14hr finishing times).  How long would the watch go on just GPS alone?

Well, I set out to find out.  First test came in at 19hrs (well, 15 seconds short of it), but that was with Smart Recording, and there wasn’t a ton of data.

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So I set up another test last night, this time using an ANT+ simulator and 1-second recording to generate continual HR/Power/Speed/Cadence data.  More on that once it finishes.

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As for testing optical for long-life battery tests, I haven’t quite come up with a great idea.  Some people have put watches on potatoes, meat, and other objects to get a fake pulse.  That might work…but I have a feeling that leaving a steak atop my roof might result in some pretty interesting footage that’s not at all related to the watch.

4) Birthday Parties:

Saturday afternoon The Cake Studio was filled with kids for a birthday party.  I had thus spent the morning ensuring that it was a bit more kid-proofed than usual.  While we often have events in there for adults, kids present an interesting…challenge.  Especially in what’s otherwise a day to day working kitchen (with the DCR Cave below it underground).

With our office space soon full of extra mixers and baking racks, The Girl and I got busy getting the main table all ready.

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The space had been rented for a kids birthday party, and The Girl would be working with them to decorate their own cupcakes.  She’d channel her inner school teacher (remember, she used to be a teacher in the states before we moved to Paris).

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On top of that, she had done a full cake as well as some mini-cupcakes too.

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She created a few more simple sample cupcakes, which would be what the kids would use as inspiration for their own little creations.  The theme of the party was Monster High.  I even created a Monster High Spotify list…which…will invariably confuse my recommended songs for some time to come.

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As for the end-creations?  The kids each took home a box of two cupcakes.  Here’s a sample of a few of them, ready to take home:

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Not too shabby!

5) Openwater swimming at the lake

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Finally, on Sunday we headed up to the lake to go for an openwater swim with a few of our friends.  We did about 2,000m or so, just a simple out and back.

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It would be the first openwater swim for me with the FR735XT.  Since the unit will automatically disable the optical HR sensor during swimming, I went ahead and connected it to the HRM-TRI, so I could download HR data afterwards.

Seemed to work just fine.  The only annoyance was that I didn’t realize a 500y auto-lap was enabled, and I can’t seem to find any obvious way to disable any auto-lap settings once the activity starts (unlike other watches).  I had the same problem during my run as well on Saturday (1-mile auto-lap enabled by default). Somewhat frustrating.

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Afterwards, we lounged around in the grass and setup a bit of a picnic for a few hours.

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Not too bad a way to end the weekend!

With that – thanks for reading!

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