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We’re starting off the New Year with something from the old year. I bought the TreadTracker a year ago, and I’m finally getting around to posting about it. Fear not, what’s old is new again. And, for many of you mid-winter, what’s old is still very relevant (since there’s nothing else like it).
The TreadTracker is essentially a Bluetooth Smart footpod that doesn’t require a foot. Instead, it sits below your treadmill and has a smaller roller wheel that tracks your treadmill’s pace and transmits it as a Bluetooth Smart footpod sensor that any app (like Zwift) can pick up and utilize. The main reason to use something like this is that it’s ‘set it and forget it’, or if you have multiple people using a treadmill. Whereas a footpod is certainly more portable (such as while travelling), but some may require calibration and frequent charging. Plus there’s the question of accuracy. But fear not, we’ll get to that.
Oh will we ever! I’ve spent probably 8+ hours today alone on looking into accuracy, and in particular, accuracy of my treadmill and other methods to validate that. It’s now 1:30AM though, and I’ve satisfied the itch that I stumbled upon this morning. So come along on that journey.
Now if you’d like this entire review in one nifty video – then go no further than the play button below:
Else, onwards with the photos and text and plenty of data!
What’s in the box:
The box is pretty straightforward, which I like. Here’s the outside:
Inside, you’ve got the unit protected by some plastic. Take it out and you’ve got the unit, some paper stuffs, and a mini-USB cable for power/charging. Oddly however, you don’t have a USB to power outlet adapter. Given this is something that’s somewhat designed to be plugged in permanently, it seems like a quirky oversight. No worries, I have plenty.
Here’s the manual. It’s pretty straightforward, we’ll talk more about how to use it in a second.
And that’s all there is in the box. Not much more to say here. Let’s get into using it.
This device is silly simple to use, so I’m going to try and keep this efficient. I’ll still probably fail at doing so.
The TreadTracker is designed to be placed below your treadmill such that it snuggles up against the belt, measuring the speed of the belt using the small roller wheel at the top of the TreadTracker.
However, a key part of that snuggling bit is ensuring it can adapt to different treadmill heights, and ensuring that it keeps a tight fit to the belt while doing so. So the entire unit comes ‘locked’ by default, which means that it’s lying flat like this:
However, on the bottom there’s a little lock latch. Once you unlock it, the unit pops up:
It’s on a spring, so if it ‘hits’ your treadmill belt before it reaches its peak – then that’s all fine. If however after the first un-popping it’s still not long enough you can extend it again:
The minimum clearance you need under your treadmill is 7cm, and the max it can handle is 21cm. Here it is sitting under my treadmill:
On the face of it there’s two lights:
Blue Light: Bluetooth Smart Status light Other Light: Battery indicator
That battery indicator has three status levels within it:
Green: Battery above 50% Orange: Battery less than 50% Red: Battery less than 10%
The unit should be charged with a 1AMP USB plug (most plugs will be close enough to cover this, or slow charge it at worst).
Meanwhile, on the bottom there’s the lock for the arm:
However, there’s also a small plate that extends out and allows the unit to rotate slightly and pivot. This is actually kinda cool and is notable in case there’s any unevenness.
When it comes to placement of the unit, the company recommends the center of the treadmill in their manual:
However, online in their FAQ section it says it doesn’t matter, as long as it makes contact with the belt. I tried both positions and tested accuracy for both and found no difference. So for me, I prefer the back because then I can easily see/check the status lights if need be.
Note that you do NOT need to use the RunSocial app at all – ever. Not once. However, if you do download the app, you can actually customize the broadcasted Bluetooth Smart name. This would be useful if you had multiple units and wanted to name them (e.g. ‘Treadmill 1’, ‘Treadmill 2’, etc…)
Most of you will be using TreadTracker with Zwift running (or some other indoor app, I suppose). To get it configured there you’ll simply open up the run pairing screen and then select the TreadTracker from the list:
Seriously, it’s that easy.
Note that Zwift will automatically pair to the cadence channel from the TreadTracker, but in reality the TreadTracker doesn’t transmit cadence (it’s just part of the BLE footpod spec, so TreadTracker conforms to it). Thus, if you have some other thing that’ll transmit running cadence, you’ll want to select that for cadence.
Simply pair to your HR strap if you have one and you’re off and running (literally):
Your pace will be displayed automatically in the app, based on the speed of the belt of your treadmill. In an ideal world, that’d match the actual speed on the treadmill, but that’s an entirely different ball of wax that I’ll cover in the next section.
Reaction time is virtually instant in my experience – super quick. In fact, you can see it’s a slight bit faster than Stryd is, if you overlay the two charts together. Here it is against the treadmill as well. Now, the accuracy isn’t good on this treadmill as I discovered, but you can see at least how quickly it responds in the intervals:
Zwift aside, what’s cool here is that it’s a standard Bluetooth Smart footpod. So it’ll work (in theory) with any Bluetooth Smart footpod capable device. For example, I successfully paired it up to my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus to get pace/distance into that, while that was attached to the treadmill:
Sure, I could have worn the watch and got a rough approximation, but that doesn’t often handle things like dorking with treadmill speed or drinking from a bottle (or wiping sweat) very well.
While I haven’t tested it with other devices/apps, it should also work with both Polar and Suunto watches as well.
In any case, the key message here is that it ‘just works’. There’s almost nothing to do except run on your treadmill and have it transmit pace and thus distance. Again, no cadence however.
It’s funny, accuracy testing this device should be easy. But in reality, it’s anything but. There’s a surprising number of ways things can differ, and more importantly – a hilarious number of ways it can go horribly wrong. I’ve taken the assumption that my treadmill may not be accurate. That’s usually a good assumption to make. If you’ve done any amount of treadmill running at gyms and hotels you likely know how different they can be. Even two identical treadmills side by side in a gym are somehow significantly different in pace (and thus distance).
My treadmill is about 3-4 years old, though it doesn’t actually have a ton of mileage on it. Almost all of my running is outdoors, and so my guess is that this treadmill only has about 80 miles on it. Not much (which usually drives the accuracy side of the equation). Before doing these tests, I calibrated the treadmill per the manufacturer’s instructions.
So, I set about trying to validate it, and thus by extension the TreadTracker.
Do to that I’ve got three validation sources. I’m not necessarily claiming that any of these devices is a known ‘good’, but, it’s just four devices to work from.
1) Orange Measuring Wheel (This one): This is specifically designed for measuring courses (orange one)
2) Yellow Distance Tracker: This isn’t so much designed for measuring running courses, but just distance (yellow one)
3) TreadTracker: The thing this entire post is on
4) ProForm 1250 Treadmill: My crappy treadmill
Invariably someone will say ‘Get a Jones Counter bike!’, and sure, that’d be nice. But that also presents the slight challenge of putting it on a treadmill. I could also leverage other magnet-based sensors as well to measure and place that bike on the treadmill somehow. But I think I’ve got enough sources.
Of course, then there’s the mother of all sources: Math
Ironically, the subject I hated the most in school. And no, I still haven’t had any use for calculus in my life yet.
In order to math this out I had to do some measuring on my treadmill and paint out some lines. I started off with a ‘0’ (zero) marker and then painted a line every 1 meter.
I had no idea how long the belt would be, but turns out my arts and crafts project was short-lived. The belt was exactly three meters long. So I had a ‘0’, ‘1’, and ‘2’ lines. I then put another line on the other side of the treadmill at the ‘0’ marker so I could easily see it and count it.
Then, I simply turned on the treadmill to a lowish speed, 3KPH, so I wouldn’t miss any lines as they went by, and then counted them. I used a random free counter app off the app store:
Because I got bored of counting lines quickly, I decided to simply go for 34 lines. I was going to do 33 rotations, but then I couldn’t get it stopped fast enough, so 34 it was. Or 102 meters worth (each rotation is three meters). While my orange and yellow counters measure in feet/inches, I converted them to meters to keep things sane here. When the marker line went past the marked starting point, I measured the ‘extra’ distance and added it in. And thus, the results:
Math Distance: 102.3 meters (true distance) TreadTracker via Zwift: 100.0 meters* Orange Counter: 101.83 meters Treadmill: 111 meters
Now, there was a slight problem there. Zwift only shows me the distance in increments of 1/10th of a kilometer. For example. .11 kilometers, .12 kilometers, etc… Meaning a gap 10 meters. Too high for what I wanted.
So I found a Garmin Connect IQ app for my watch that would show me straight meters (up to 1-kilometer), so it would show me exactly 101 meters, etc… Perfect. I paired the Fenix 5 Plus up to the TreadTracker as a Bluetooth Smart footpod and then did the test again:
Math Distance: 102.9 meters (true distance) TreadTracker via watch: 100.0 meters
Orange Counter: 103.0 meters
Treadmill: 106 meters
Ok, getting closer.
Now before that, I had done some 1KM in length tests. Except at this point it’d take a lot of waiting and likely screwed up counting to get the marks counted. So instead I went with just these three sources. Here’s round #1 where I slowed to a crawl and then stopped the treadmill at precisely the moment Zwift showed 1.00KM.
Ok, so at this point I’d summarize things as follows:
1) The treadmill is definitely off, by roughly 2.5% to 5%, usually reading faster than it is
2) The two roller counters are really darn close to each other
3) The TreadTracker is very close when using Zwift to record (within 1.0-2.0% total distance)
4) The TreadTracker is even closer (within 2.5% matching the counters when using the Garmin watch to record)
So why the slight variance between using a Garmin and Zwift? I suspect it has to do with either dumb luck, or some aspect of how precisely Zwift counts, especially when the unit first starts and stops. Keep in mind we’re talking distance here that are relatively small (1KM tests).
Thus, let’s increase the distance. This time I went with a longer run, a structured workout on Zwift with paces all the way up to 15.6KPH. It looks like this:
Now, there was one failure during this test. After the very last interval during the cool-down Zwift and TreadTracker randomly stopped talking. Zero pace displayed. I ended up rebooting the TreadTracker and that solved it. I haven’t ever seen this before. So there was about 10-20 seconds (at 10KPH) that I was trying to figure out what the heck was going on, and thus the Zwift/TreadTracker and Stryd total would be reduced by 10-20 seconds worth by the time I got everything stopped. Nonetheless, here’s those totals for the fun of it:
And here’s how that looks if I plot distance over time.
Interestingly, one thing I clearly noticed in my faster intervals (thus above about 14.5KPH/9MPH which is 4:10/KM or 6:40/mi), is that the treadmill actually surges faster even though the speed on the treadmill remains the same. I can audibly hear the motor surging, my legs surging, and then the TreadTracker and Stryd footpods surging. Meanwhile, the treadmill itself does the equivalent of ripping a silent but deadly fart in the middle of a packed conference room, without admitting it. It plots the same pace, even though it surges from 14.5KPH up to about 15.1KPH (3:58/KM or 6:23/mi):
So what’s my total accuracy round-up here? I like bulleted lists, they’re simple:
A) My treadmill isn’t super awesome (which, I already knew in general, but this confirms it)
B) The counter wheels bungee corded to my treadmill are surprisingly good at accuracy
C) The TreadTracker is within 1-2% in most cases of math, and seems to respond very quickly to pace changes
I’m looking forward to trying this with the rebranded $29 Zwift (Milestone) Running Pod when I grab it next week. I have an earlier Milestone pod I’ve long used, but I figured I’ll test out the newly rebranded version. I’ve got one I ordered that should show up next week.
Side note: No, I don’t plan on making a habit of reviewing treadmills (and this would not be a review of my treadmill, though I’ve noted many times I dislike it). I might do others if there’s some unique to market treadmill that shows great interest from readers. But for the most part, I don’t terribly enjoy running on treadmills, so it’s gotta be something that’s totally different and thus appealing in some new way.
Another note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool. It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.
In some ways the best question about this is actually more like who’s it for?
For many people, it might be easier to just pick up a footpod and have it always on their shoe. That way if they’re out traveling the world, it’ll give them mostly accurate pace/distance no matter what treadmill they’re on. Certainly a coin-sized footpod is easier to travel with than this nearly shoe sized device.
But footpods aren’t quite as stable as some people think they are. They’re often prone to slight tweaks in pace based on shifts in cadence or even running style/efficiency. Sure, those like Stryd are quite good – but they’re not perfect. Same goes for the Milestone/Zwift pod. Of course, Stryd is $199, and the Zwift pod a mere $29. Obviously Stryd’s pod does power and other things, but most people don’t care about that.
The appeal of the TreadTracker is that it’s set it and forget it, especially for those with more than one person using it. For example, The Girl and I using the treadmill. In this case it just sits there below the treadmill and available for use for whoever jumps on – zero calibration needed. Heck, the name even looks like it’s the treadmill.
Will it make sense for everyone? No, of course not. But I actually like the idea. I’m very much a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of person. I want to jump on and not worry about whether or not my footpod is properly calibrated (or charged). It has a high ‘just works’ factor.
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