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5 Random Things I Did This Weekend

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a 5 Random Things post. Largely because with everything in the world, there hasn’t been a ton of non-tech things to do/show, except riding our bikes in circles every weekend around Amsterdam. Which, I suppose is what this one is as well. But hey, I’m optimistic this series will begin a slow return to its normal self over the next while.

Plus, a bunch of you have asked for a recap on my Tenerife cycling/hiking/adventure trip after seeing everything on Instagram, so I need to do that too.

1) Zwift & More Zwift

For the most part, I vary my weekly allotted training time between Zwift, TrainerRoad, and Peloton. With occasional meanderings to other platforms here and there. Sometimes though, as situations would have it, I ended up just doing a number of back-to-back workouts on a given platform. This was one of those weekends.

Friday I did a structured workout on Zwift. I would have probably done this on TrainerRoad, but alas, my iPad was elsewhere, and I didn’t feel like occupying my laptop. So, Apple TV it was:

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I was testing an odd slate of other things. Those will become apparent in short course. Some hardware, some software. The hardware worked well, the software was a proper fail. Or at least, my understanding of it was a fail. I’m now in the midst of slow-lobs back and forth with the company trying to make sense of a feature that has virtually no purpose in life as implemented today. It had tremendous purpose if it was implemented how they had marketed it, but once I tested it, I realized it was but a shell of its marketed sell. And entirely useless.

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In any case, at least it was a good workout! Sometimes I get frustrated mid-workout when things I’m testing are clearly failing, because it usually means that workout was a waste of time (versus doing something else). But in this case, I couldn’t see the failure till afterwards, so…a fool’s paradise I suppose.

2) Farm Land Bicycle Gangs

The weather has been acceptable around these parts lately. A year ago this time we were packed with ice and snow. First snow, then a lot of ice, and then more snow. This year, the flowers are already blooming, and trees doing the ‘getting green’ thing. It’s kinda insane.

So given the lack of sideways rain and such this past weekend, we had some fun with the kids out in the farm lands. Which, is basically like at the end of our street. But hey, how quickly Amsterdam turns from city to farms.

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Our two oldest peanuts (P1 is 5yo, and P2 is 4yo) bike everywhere these days. School, around the city, around the farms, etc… P2 already needs a new bigger bike. That kid puts out like 120rpm cadence trying to keep up with her little bike/legs. Meanwhile, P3 (who is 2yo), does her best to mimic the others. She’s best on the trike, but once she saw her older sisters take out their two-wheeled bikes, there was no option in her mind for a third wheel on this journey.

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We had some fun on the boat-bridge thing. Basically, you pull yourself across using the cable. The older girls have fun going back and forth on it, with me ready to go for a swim if I have to (though, their very regulated Dutch swim lessons teach the kids early on how to get themselves to safety if they fall in a canal with their full winter coats/gear on). Plus, the wide-angle lens looks far further away than they actually are.

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There were oddly no cows in the fields today out there. I don’t know where they were. But none were to be had. Which is probably for the best, as our kids for sure would have wanted to trounce through the muddy fields to say hi.

3) Garmin Firmware Update Tweak

While testing the Instinct 2, I noticed a curious change to the behavior of firmware updates – which is that the unit was prompting me mid-morning (e.g. usually around 10AM, about an hour after I got deep into e-mails/etc at the office sitting at my desk), rather than doing it overnight during sleep as it had been in the past.

I asked Garmin if I was seeing things, and they confirmed that no, not in this case. This was actually a change they’ve recently made for Instinct 2/2S, Fenix 7/Epix G2, and as of today (Feb 14th), also the Fenix 6 series.

In short, the update will transfer in the background like it always has, except now, it’ll ask you immediately if you want to update, or update later. If you choose later, it’ll find a time when you’re sitting around doing nothing (based on actual activity), and then ask you to install it. If you don’t respond, it’ll give you a 30-second countdown and then begin the update. The reason why this makes the weekend cut is that I actually watched it happen in real-time on Saturday. Though, I had been sitting down doing nothing when it first prompted, and then got my coat on to head out:

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The update took about 2-3 minutes as usual to complete.

I suspect the reason why they might do this during the day now, is that it lessens the chance of a notification-bomb at 2AM from your phone, if your phone/device were having any previous connectivity issues. In theory, if you’ve configured do-not-disturb it wouldn’t occur (and I’ve never had it happen to me during the night because I have that auto-configured). But I have seen cases where after a device reboot (from numerous vendors) it’ll enumerate dozens of older notifications. This would mitigate that.

4) Toying Around with Solar & Lighting

The whole concept of how much energy can be gathered from solar for wearables’ sake is interesting. Obviously, none of that is new in Garmin’s (or Casio’s) worlds, however, the return on that solar energy and the efficiency of the platforms continues to evolve. In the case of Casio, they’ve had forever power on solar for some time. However, that’s largely limited to non-GPS activities and very basic watch functions. Once you turn on GPS, it blows through that power super quickly.

(One-second background: Garmin’s solar tech has two panels on watches today, one that usually sits around the edge of the watch that’s thin but visible and captures far 10x more energy than the secondary panel that sits invisibly above the entire display surface, but doesn’t capture as much despite having a huge surface area.)

In the case of Garmin’s Fenix 6 solar units, the solar wasn’t super useful in most contexts. It just didn’t gather enough juice. However, the Fenix 7 improved that in some scenarios. Meanwhile, the Instinct 1 solar was actually pretty solid in solar power, and you could unlock ‘forever power’ with enough summer sun, and less GPS usage. In fact, you can even charge an Instinct watch from dead by leaving it in the sun (you can do the same on a Fenix 6, it just takes forever). And then of course, the newer Instinct 2 doubles down on those forever power claims even further.

Point of all that being all of Garmin’s claims around solar power are based on a threshold of 3-hours of 50,000 (50K) lux conditions per day. In the summer, that’s trivial, where you can easily clear 100K lux on a sunny day. In the winter though? That’s tougher – but certainly not at all impossible. For example, on Friday with thin/high clouds, I was clearing 60K lux conditions:

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I’m about to head out on a ride now, with zero clouds. I’m curious to see what I get out of it lux-wise. Of course, in these conditions you have to be more particular about the angle of the watch (or light meter). Versus you can seemingly get away with a broader view of the sky in the summer in brighter conditions.

Anyways, point being, it’ll be interesting to see where Garmin takes this. We’re now on a newer generation of solar panels from them for the Fenix 7/Instinct 2 lineup, and an increased edge on the Fenix 7 series to increase how much they can capture.

5) SHIFT with Zwift & Peloton

A bit over a year ago I wrote about the SHIFT accessory for a Peloton Bike. It turns your Peloton Bike into a smart trainer, automatically controlling the resistance using the knob, while transmitting out on Bluetooth Smart FTMS, so apps like Zwift can control it automatically. It didn’t end up reaching its Kickstarter goal, though it has gone on to get funding elsewhere. I’ve been poking at a prototype for a few months now, and did a quick mention of how it works up on Instagram stories last night (with some video if you want to see it in action). In short, you place this atop the red resistance knob, and then it’ll automatically rotate the knob to simulate incline.

(Also, sorry some of these are fuzzy cell-phone pics in a dark room, I re-took a few the next day to make them prettier during daylight, but not my action ones, because obviously, those contain the action.)

It works quite well in that respect, with response time pretty darn quick. Of course, you then still need to “shift” to adjust virtual gears, so for that there’s a touchscreen on the device.

That also works reasonably well – not all that different than what some smart bikes too, except just not on your handlebars. Perhaps they can hook-up with Kommander and use those shifting buttons to make shifting quick and easy.

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Also, because I was feeling frisky last night, I had the brilliant idea of repurposing a small projector to broadcast Zwift above the Peloton Bike on the wall in front of me. Obviously, countless people use Zwift and projectors. Normally I have large TV screens for Zwift, but the Peloton Bike is wedged into the corner of our bedroom, and there’s no TV screen in there.

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This worked well enough. It was simply paired up to the iPad there, so rather than me having that draped atop the Peloton Bike, I got a bigger screen out of it.

As far as a review of SHIFT goes, it sounds like there’s still some moderately significant changes being made around form factor. So I’ll wait till that’s all done for a more final product. But in terms of where they are today technically, it works well for me.  Note that it also works in Peloton’s Power Zone mode as well, which I’ve also used. In that scenario, you set up your zones on the unit, and then it’ll hit the targets for each zone automatically. Thus, it’s like true ERG-mode, something that Peloton is missing on both their Bike & Bike+ (since they don’t allow Resistance Auto-Follow on the Bike+ within Power Zone Training, for reasons that don’t really make sense).

In any case, it’s time for my ride before this sun disappears. Out I go, and thanks for reading!

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38 Comments

  1. Volker

    Doesn´t the solar functionality work on F6 series this way:

    if it is enough sun available and the device is not covered with something (and keep in mind, during movement, the device isn’t always well aligned to get enough sun), the device should use less battery as if the activity is done without sun. The battery percentage should not go down as fast as it would do without sun – you won’t see a surge of the battery percentage during an activity. That’s the way it works for the F6. After 6-7 hrs just laying in the sun without doing anything with the device, you may get 1-2% battery gain. Isn´t the F7 series solar functionality working the same way?

    • Yup, all that’s true on the Fenix 6 (that in short, you’ll burn less battery with solar if there’s sun, than without sun).

      And all that’s true on the Fenix 7 – except, you get more juice out of the solar because of three changes:

      1) Bigger solar surface area on edges
      2) More efficient solar panels in Fenix 7 vs Fenix 6
      3) Better internal power utilization

      When it comes to Instinct (both versions), that gets upped again:

      1) Far more solar surface area on edges that produce more power
      2) More efficient panels still
      2) Far lower power utilization of the platform at large

      Thanks for being a DCR Supporter!

  2. The Real Bob

    Ray your reviews are great and super helpful when deciding weather or not to part with big money on sports equipment. I think the battery analysis is one thing I would like to see more of in your reviews. Although, I know that would be insanely hard to do from a time perspective, so probably not worth your time.

    As example. Garmin says the instinct 2 (non solar) can go 28 days as a smartwatch, but they don’t tell you what that means. Does that mean sitting on your wrist never touched with every sensor on max (all day SpO2, etc).

    Maybe you could just to book ends for your reviews. Meaning, turn everything on and see what happens over a few days and extrapolate it based on a per day loss. Maybe I am the only one that cares about this.

    In your Epix article you said you don’t mind charging every week, I guess I am an outlier because I would. I got used to my 935 which still 4 years later last for like 3 weeks.

    Thanks for all the work on the reviews

    • Garmin’s official definition of daily smartwatch mode battery estimates is:

      A) Bluetooth connected to phone
      B) 24×7 HR enabled
      C) Some number of notifications enabled (I thought I saw this listed once, but maybe that was someone else)
      D) Normal day to day wearing

      I have been including more and more of the GPS-based battery burn estimates within reviews lately since those are recorded to the files and make it really easy with real-world conditions. For example, in the Instinct reviews, the ability to see the impact of a sunny day versus a cloudy day. Garmin, Stages, Hammerhead, and Wahoo all write battery estimates to their files today. Bryton has committed to doing so by spring. Albeit, Wahoo’s seem partially broken for the last few months, good reminder for me to poke them about it.

      My challenge with testing the daily smartwatch side, other than in the context of also using it for workouts, is that I simply use it for workouts. So, I can’t exclude it. And it’d be really hard for me to wear a watch on my other wrist for 28 days without doing workout mode on it (meaning, I can’t block out a month for a single unit but not use the unit for real-world testing). And similarly, just placing it on the table will put it into a lower-power utilization mode internally.

      It’s actually why I played around with some small devices to keep a watch moving, but then that doesn’t solve the optical HR bit in terms of keeping that on.

    • The Real Bob

      yea, I totally understand and there probably isn’t a return on investment for you to do that type of analysis as most people want the battery data you already get.

      I am primarily a mountain biker so I use my 1030 plus for most workouts. Mainly have a watch for health metrics and as a travel device (renting a bike while traveling so I don’t have to bring my 1030 and mounts, etc).

      So I imagine my use case is pretty specific in that I really only care about battery life as a health device but want an edge 1030 plus stand in when needed.

      Always on HR, spo2, sleep stuff, etc. I realize spo2 is limited in its use, but if its there the engineer in me wont let me not have it on all the time!

      Thanks

  3. Saad

    Hi,

    This SHIFT accessory, in addition to working with external apps, will it also just transmit power from the Peloton Bike+ if you do a regular Peloton ride? Kind of like that other DFC project that only does it for the older Peloton Bike? Thanks.

    —-
    Saad

    • It doesn’t work with the Bike+ at this point, just the regular Bike. Like DFC, it sounds like things are in motion, but not yet. It does have USB-C on the back though, so things are built-ou hardware-wise for it (and the resistance knob is the same).

      In terms of power broadcasting, it does that too (w/o control).

  4. KEVIN Hester

    Hey Ray,

    Have you considered expanding your coverage to ebikes? I can’t find a really great blog covering ebike tech and I suspect your ‘running and gadgets’ topic might expand nicely into “here’s what’s up for ebike motors/tech/ANT+/power-meter support” etc…

  5. Jackson Cheng

    Can you please charge a Fenix 7 from dead and tell us how long it took in whatever sun conditions who had that day?

    • A very long time. I haven’t had the sun, nor sustained sun, to be able to leave a Fenix 7 outside and get it from dead to full.

      But for perspective, an Instinct 1 Solar when I tried it last summer, took about 2-3 days to get from 0% to 40% or so (remembering offhand, my notes are on another drive). Meanwhile, the Fenix 6 Solar basically barely got anything at all. These were 10-12hr pure crazy bright summer sun days with zero clouds in Corsica.

      I’ll try it again next time I’m in a spot where I can set aside a few units in summer-like sun conditions.

    • Jackson Cheng

      Thanks Ray. I appreciate the response

  6. Ladislav Novak

    Hi Ray, I am user of Forerunner 945 LTE and it is look like Garmin stop developing the firmware for this clock. There is a lot of work to do, but from Garmin no beta or no new firmware version for very long time. Any update on that? Thanks Lada

  7. Sven

    I am hoping for solar to make it into the next generation of Edge computers. It seems like a good fit if they can incorporate enough solar surface area to keep up with usage. It would be very useful for long distance, touring, and bikepacking applications. Maybe not on all models but a revamped Explore…

    • Alex

      Reading this post, I had the same thought! Solar would be awesome on cycling computers for multi-day trips.

    • Graham

      Solar on an Edge would be kind of nice, but it seems like the latest ones have (finally!) got long enough run time for nearly everyone, so it may be a smallish market.

      The most obvious fenix 7 -> Edge crossover for me is the dual touchscreen/buttons modes of operation. It’s always seemed bonkers to me that the 820, 830, 1030 etc. didn’t have buttons for days when they just work better!

  8. Paul Whitelock

    Glad the updates are now during the day! I always had my Forerunner 945 on Do Not Disturb but invariably the watch would update at 2 am, vibrate when it rebooted and wake me up. I have the Epix 2 now and hope that the issue is finally a thing of the past.

  9. flarunner

    Good to see 5 Random Things again.

  10. Andrew

    Not sure if this has ever been asked and/or answered so here goes.
    Does Ray have a favourite Garmin watch face and which data fields does it display?

    • The FR745 default/stock watch face. 🙂

      Namely, entirely, because it displays training load. Since I mostly lack a super-structured training schedule, I just use training load as a way to judge whether I’m being lazy or not. I try and keep things around 700-950 each week when don’t have something specific that I’m doing.

    • C.Sco

      I’m sure you’ve already poked Garmin about adding that to their other watches, but if you could keep poking them we’d all appreciate it 😀 I’d love to see training load on a stock Fenix 7 watchface.

    • Yeah, I think they’re tired of me poking on that particular item. Obviously, I keep poking. 🙂

  11. Janne

    Hi Ray! Do you have any recommendations for kids bikes? I’m trying to find a new bike for my 5.5 year old daughter and current 16″ wheel bike is getting bit small. Would be nice to find a bike for all-year riding and in Finland it means at least need for wider tyres.

    • Eeks, I don’t have any recommendations there. We mostly go to some of the bigger stores here, and then let the kids try bikes, which basically means it’s a blend of a bike that’s acceptable design-wise (which, virtually all are here), combined with what each of the girls finds acceptable style-wise.

    • Thomas Roaf

      I would heavily recommend Frog Bikes if they are available where you are. My son’s cycling has drastically improved with this bike compared to his previous more generic cheap bike. Build quality is really high and easy to service.

    • tungustapi

      There are quite some kids specific bike producers making bikes better fitting and lighter than generic shopping store kids bikes, and would dare to say that better than kids bikes made by well established bike producers. Only some of the names to check: Islabikes, Woom, Beany, Early Rider, Frog etc.

    • Yeah, I’d love to go with something that’s not from a generic store, but it’s tricky in two realms:

      A) The reality of finding a local bike shop that carries more than just one brand of kids’ bikes, let alone having multiple sizes. At least for us in Amsterdam, most smaller bike shops will carry a single brand, and as of late, might have only one or two sizes for kids as small as ours. So then you end up going to half a dozen shops spread out everywhere, and still not finding what you want.

      B) The cost. Looking at the Frog bike (or Woom), it’s 420EUR, for a bike that has a usable of less than a year for a 4-5yo. Granted, the younger child could use that for a short period too, but then the challenge is selling a 400EUR bike – more than double the cost of kids 4-5yo bikes from Mantel or Decathlon that are still really well built. Especially in Amsterdam where the second-hand market is pretty wide-open.

      It’s tough…

    • Thomas Roaf

      You could offer to do a year long review of the bike…

  12. Scott.

    Afternoon all.
    Ray, you got me thinking… Why are Garmin not putting solar on their bike GPS’s? They have a large area and sit at the right angle to benefit…
    I’m a runner not a cyclist… But it makes sense.
    Cheers and thanks for the years of interesting reading!

  13. Tim

    To Ray or anyone reading this: I’ve never owned a projector, but Ray’s use of one in this article made me see the possible benefit for certain use cases in the home & garage. Any suggestion of a good website or other resource for me to dive down the rabbit hole of portable projector reviews?