5 Sports Tech Tidbits: Hammerhead Karoo, Garmin Vivofit 4, Shimano Power, New Bike Build, CES 2018

Happy New Year!

As you’ve likely noticed, it’s been a wee bit quiet around here the last few weeks.  I wish I could say it was because I was relaxing on a beach, but alas, I’m exhausted from it all.  Thankfully – I’m able to get back to a normal posting schedule this week with new products posts or reviews planned each day! Then we’ve got CES next week, and the Tour Down Under the following week. Boom!

However, first, a huge thanks to everyone who helped over the past couple weeks, I greatly appreciate it!  And don’t worry, I’ll get into the details of that down the road – it’s exciting (albeit, exhausting).  For now though, let’s talk some tech!

1) So…Hammerhead Karoo:

As I said on Twitter: “Well then, that escalated quickly.”

What started off as a relatively off-hand comment thread on the existing Hammerhead Karoo announcement post (from last May) quickly spiraled into the company having to issue a formal apology to backers of the project for lying to them.  You can read that entire thing here (or the Facebook posts here).

While that was all going down, a DCR reader decided they didn’t want to be part of the deception and shipped me their unit (fully boxed) since my unit is still on backorder.  So, I did the most natural thing I could think of: I unboxed it.  You’ll be able to find that video goodness on my YouTubes as soon as I go to Starbucks and upload it.  The WiFi where I’m staying this week is less than awesome.

In any case, I have gotten in a few rides since then.  I think three in total, though one was lost when I accidentally pressed to delete it (they’re working to add a confirmation dialog).

As I’ve said numerous times before – Hammerhead has a lot of really interesting ideas in queue for the unit specific to navigation, some of which are implemented.  Those are things that nobody else is doing, or at least not doing well.  A totally random example, but check out the above screen, it allows me to edit the Strava activity title before uploading, as well as things like privacy settings. Love it.

The challenge Hammerhead has though with Karoo is all the other things.  It’s could be death by a thousand cuts of little features you assume/expect to be there, that aren’t.  Wahoo dealt with the same challenges with their units before finally having things gel around the time of the Wahoo BOLT.  Hammerhead will get there, but it’s likely to be a bit of a rougher ride along the way.  Still, I’m lookin forward to them starting to ship as well as to see how quickly they can not only play catch-up on ‘baseline’ features, but also to push the envelope on newer areas.

I’ll plan to release an in-depth review whenever they start shipping units to normal consumers (non-beta peoples).  In the meantime, you can follow along in the comments here on my previous post.

2) First Rides on My New Bike:

Woot, finally! Back about a week or so ago I got in my first outdoor ride on the new bike build.  I’ll wrap up a full post on just the bike and build process in the coming days (the parts are mostly outlined here), but here’s a look at it.

Gotta say, the one thing I’m most in love with is the shifting.  I’ve got the eTAP so perfectly dialed in.  Obviously, one can do that just as well with mechanical shifting and a good mechanic.  But, it’s just so much easier with electronic shifting.  Silly simple.

Anyway, more details shortly!

3) Vivofit 4 Announced

As you were still a bit groggy on Boxing Day (that’s the official name for the holiday on December 26th whereby everyone basically just gets further drunk or tends to the existing hangover) you may not have noticed that Garmin announced a Vivofit 4 that day.  I’m not entirely sure why they selected that day, though historically when companies choose (seemingly) horrible days to announce a product, it’s often because their hand is forced externally. Perhaps a magazine contains an ad for said product that’s going out slightly early, or something else is going to break.  Either way, I have no idea what happened here.

In any case, it’s announced ($79, versus $99 for the Vivofit 3).

I do have one, though, it just arrived and I haven’t had a ton of time to play with it yet.  The basic new features compared to the existing unit are:

– Added countdown timer
– Added Weather display
– Added Find My Phone
– Added Stopwatch
– Slightly bigger screen (88x88px vs 64x64px)
– 1.6mm thicker (11m total), 2.3mm wider (23mm)
– Update: And apparently, no ANT+ HR sensor connectivity anymore. 🙁

So basically, it got some of the more simplistic Vivosport and Vivosmart features.

I’m not sure this is a needle mover per se, but it probably doesn’t really need to be.  The general trend for activity trackers is shifting towards that $110-$150 sweet spot (where Vivosmart 3 lives), and so at the lower end price-wise Garmin simply needs ‘keep up with the Joneses’, which is basically just keeping up with Fitbit.  And in many ways, Garmin’s low-priced activity tracker is actually better than the equal unit from Fitbit (the Alta, non-HR). Update: With the lack of ANT+ HR sensor support, it seems like Garmin is cutting the most unique value prop they had. Not really sure that’s a wise move.

Perhaps at some point in the next few weeks I’ll dive into the unit in more depth.

4) Shimano Power Meter Arrived

A week or so ago, a day after the new Stages LR unit arrived for testing, so did the Shimano R9100 power meter.  I’ve yet to install it, but it’ll be going onto my new Canyon bike above, and both it and the Stages LR unit will be travelling with me to Australia for the winter (err…their summer).  So lots of nice warm testing time ahead!


Note, I didn’t receive an official box for the Shimano unit – thus, no fancy unboxing this time.  I did receive one for the Stages, so, expect that video to hit in the next week or so (I think that’s when I’m allowed to post it…the day keeps sliding around).

In any case, I’m likely to stick the Stages LR on first, merely because it arrived first and there seems to be a bit more interest there.  But we’ll see how the day goes, hoping to install it a bit later on.

5) Preparing for CES!

Finally, with CES 2018 just a week, I’m hard at work on a number of things for that timeframe.  I don’t want to say ‘exactly that week’, since you’ll see more of a shotgun approach this year to it.  We’re seeing companies jump the gun a bit, as well as slightly delay to the week or so after.  This is mostly because companies are realizing that announcing at CES itself is a double-edged sword.

For big companies that are household names, they can announce whenever the heck they want and still get media attention.  So competing with tens of thousands of other companies the week of CES means less media attention/time.  A story about your tech the week of CES will last about 90 seconds on the front page of The Verge, Engadget, or similar.  They’re posting 300-500 pieces per day.  It’s crazy.

And while the same is certainly true of smaller companies, at least with CES they have the opportunity to get in front of media that they wouldn’t otherwise realistically have.

Further, this year with CES I suspect (read: I know) you’ll see a sharp decline in well-known fitness vendors being present, or, a sharp decline in what they’ll announce.  Some of this is due to what I just outlined above, and some of it is just companies not being around anymore.  For example, the Recon’s, Mio’s, and so on of the world no longer exist or are not in the product business anymore.  Companies like Polar aren’t exhibiting at all (but are present at the show more privately).  And many more like Wahoo continue to shift to private suites instead where they can show to selected retailers/distributors/media/etc at a fraction the cost of a booth.  Remember, most of the companies I post about have a base CES booth fee of $40,000-$100,000 (full price list here), and that ignores staffing, shipping, setup, etc…

Oh, and finally, all of this prep also included a number of company visits to the DCR Cave for meetings.  There were the Avio power meter folks, along with a few others I’ll refrain from mentioning for now (to prevent giving away hints about upcoming products).  I’m excited about all of them.

As for CES, I arrive Saturday and will leave next Friday – definitely looking forward to it! With that, again, Happy New Year and looking forward to getting back in the groove again!

Thanks for reading!

DC Rainmaker :

View Comments (79)

  • Hi - any idea if the Vivofit 4 works with an external ANT+ heart rate monitor? Really want to replace my vivofit 1 whose display digits are slowly disappearing!

    • Thanks for confirming this. However, :-( now, as this was going to be a perfect replacement. Might have to go for the 3, or one of the Vivosport etc, but not what i’m after, as the year long battery life is such a great feature. Sure you’ll raise this at CES!

    • Your question has the most impeccable timing. I had just pulled out the Vivofit 4 about 5 minute ago and was trying to figure out how to pair it to ANT+ HR sensor as well. Mystified, you can't anymore. Really perplexed, that's always been the key selling point of it. :-/

  • Ray, are you willing to nail your colours to the mast and say wether you think Hammerhead have a viable product worth the pre-order price? Would you as an individual keep faith that the device will ship in the next 2-3 months and software update will eventually supply all the features Hammerhead have promised.

    I can only, personally, justify buying one cycling computer in the next 2-3 year cycle. I though the Karoo was a gamble worth taking, but am rapidly losing faith.

    • Breaking this down a bit...

      RE: State of the product in 2-3 months

      While I suspect the company will make some gains in the next 15-30 days, I also suspect most of the attention after they start mass shipping will be on bug fixes. They're going to be in the same exact situation as Garmin/Wahoo/etc after a new product launch where when you add thousands of new people to something, you find all sorts of crazy bugs you simply couldn't find before (either due to compat/enviro/etc... type stuff, or just poor QA). Thus, in general, I don't expect any new few features in the first 2-3 months short of things well into the pipeline.

      I posted the unboxing video today, but it actually has an entire section of the exact state of the product as of yesterday afternoon. I ended up re-shooting that whole thing yesterday (the UI portion) as I couldn't stand the lighting on my first attempt. It's here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMuGnHdb5Bk

      RE: Navigation

      I made a really valiant effort yesterday to shoot an entire video on this. I started around 10AM and went till almost 1PM trying to get it to work. I shot a video of creating routes, downloading maps, downloading routes, loading routes...and then, it failed. And I couldn't get beyond that point, because as I'd eventually discover my map downloads were actually failing at 94-96%, and saying they succeeded even though they didn't. Thus resulting in a corrupt map base.

      Given it's 6PM and dark now, and I leave for the airport in the morning for CES (sans-bike, pre-dawn), it's unlikely I'll be able to finish putting together a good mapping video unless I steal someone's bike temporarily in Vegas (not planned given how busy my schedule is). Thus, it may have to wait till next weekend when I get to Australia for the Tour Down Under (where I'll have my bike).

      Sorry! :(

    • The thing that's bothering me most about the Karoo at the moment is that NOBODY seems willing to show any evidence of the navigational aspects of the device in use yet - just a stream of excuses or a complete silence.

      I'm amazed that at this very late stage (and with reportedly 100 units in the hands of the 'beta tester crew' it's still impossible to find ANY video evidence of this working at all - which in itself is very worrying.

      This is an absolute make or break for me, so I'm really keen to see it in action so I know whether I should finally cancel or not...

  • Hi Ray,

    While you will be on CES, please ask at Garmin stand, who's "brilliant" idea was to cancel usernames?

    They did not delete old ones, like yours or mine, just the new users are getting this strange coded usernames e.g. dc5dd8f3-7b53-446f-9413-5768cbfbfad9...
    Just wanted to know who was that idiot implemented this, rather then concentrating on real Garmin Connect problem mitigation...Thx

  • Would the Dura Ace power meter fit a Trek Madone with the bottom bracket integrated brakeset? Am contemplating adding a power meter, but most of the options add a meter to the left crank arm and caution about clearance. A Garmin cadence sensor seems fine right now, but it is not as elongated as most of these power meters. If the Dura Ace meter is inside the crank arm, then this would not be an issue.

    • I got mine from Amazon to New Zealand....wish I didn't. Only cause I can't read the damm thing! Not bright display like the adverts!

  • Ok I have loved my Vivofit 1....easy to read and thought....now to upgrade to 4. Bad choice - display is not what you see on the advertised products. Wish I had waited until a proper review. Like all the other functions but can't read them unless I wear glasses. Grrrr

  • Please add me to the list of readers who are salivating for your review of the Shimano FC R9100-P Dura Ace crank-based power meter. I really like the idea of its design - direct measurement of both legs, single battery & single signal - as well as it being from one of the big 3 component manufacturers. However, bikeradar.com just posted a review stating it has a L-R measurement imbalance. They drive at their results being neither sample defect, tester error nor firmware. Given the Shimano brand and time to market, I’m keenly interested in YOUR test results. Due to knee replacement, reliable dual side discrete measurement with good analytics (hopefully angular analysis) is really important to me.

  • Any chance you'll look at DigitSole? They seem to have a smart foot bed and are based in Paris. From the web site the amount of data they collect doesn't seem all that useful (no inside of foot to outside of foot balance, no ability to tell of toes up or down (i.e. how much ankling)

  • After my first ride with Karoo (not from the Caracal program) yesterday and waiting for a response from Hammerhead's support (I'm still waiting) I've concluded the unit is not market-ready or worthy. It's the lack of response from H that has me most concerned. Nowhere is there a complete user manual -- in print or online. I'm reasonably tech savvy but I'm not happy that I have to do the lifting. Seems like Hammerhead is avoiding an answer to that omission. There are no data points for elevation or grade on the screen, but they are recorded in the FIT file and on Strava. I live in Tucson where elevation changes are a constant. How do you bring a computer to market without displaying these elements? You don't. Its absence is of concern.

    My speed yesterday was fantastic, far better than I've ever done on this ride. Alas, FIT data showed it was 20% higher than reality. This could be due to the wrong input for wheel circumference or a need for more rides to allow its alleged-AI to do its thing.

    The display and tactile feel of the buttons is great as is its response, but if the company is willing to release its computer not fully-baked and refuses to respond to one of its first customers how can I be optimistic, at this point that it will achieve its ambitious goals?

    For me now a comparison to the biggest scam to hit cycling gadgets is coming to the fore. Is this another Limits? Unlike Limits, Hammerhead's mea culpa in December admitting its previous lack of veracity was clever and well-written. Now I think it was slick, too slick. From my vantage it has sold the sizzle but the steak is but a morsel.

    I didn't use navigation on my ride but if any have questions about it or anything else I'd be happy to answer.

    I'm hanging in, but the company has to quickly get its act together and put in place a credible and transparent customer relationship program pronto, and update its software to include, at a minimum, obligatory data (i.e, elevation, etc.) or it will not succeed. For those on the sideline I'd advise staying there -- pricing isn't going anywhere until it delivers a prime-time ready device.

    • Thanks Ray. Fair enough about comparisons to LIMITS. That company was a farce from the beginning in my opinion (too?)

      Five days on, nothing back from Hammerhead. Not an auspicious beginning. I'm nettled and at the same time puzzled that the company has not established a customer relations program. Surely it had the time to do it. Is this an indication the company has bitten off more than it can chew? It has set an incredibly high bar with what it has promised

      Clearly Hammerhead rushed the Karoo to market due to pressure and delays. Lets see how long it takes to update it to meet minimum market standards.

      BTW, an update was pushed when I set up the device.

    • No, I don't think they're anywhere near LIMITS. The differences being that Limits delivered basically a chunk of metal. Hammerhead has delivered a head unit, albeit one with some bugs and incomplete features.

      There are certain closeness in certain scenarios between the two - but I see them at dramatically different. I see LIMITS as lying about state and progress from Day 0, with ever intent to mislead based on cleverly worded statements and imagery.

      Whereas I see Hammerhead as simply getting themselves into the deep end without realizing how deep it was. Hammerhead has learned now how deep it is, and is trying to get themselves back to shore. Their at least swimming the right direction. LIMITS just seems to keep drifting off into the sunset with no power on the boat (no pun intended).

      There's no elevation data points I've seen in the .FIT files - which matches what Hammerhead has said about not yet leveraging elevation data (coming in an update). Strava simply pulls the GPS data for it.

      You might want to post your comment on my larger Hammerhead post though, as there's a fair number of other comments there and I know Hammerhead is keeping an eye on it as well.

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