DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Tue, 14 Jul 2020 20:04:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/images/2017/03/dcrainmaker-dc-logo-square-40x40.png DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com 32 32 5 Random Things I Did This Weekend https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-106.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-106.html#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2020 08:43:40 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114981 Read More Here ]]> Summer marches on! Sometimes that includes indoor activities, and sometimes that’s including the great outdoors. But more importantly, sometimes that includes pizza. Here’s what I was up to this past weekend.

1) Zwift L’Étape du Tour Stage 2

Well….right.

As you’ll remember last weekend from this saga, during Stage 1 of the L’Étape du Tour, Zwift on my iPad crashed about mid-way through. That in and of itself wasn’t an issue per se (well, it was, but whatever). Rather, it was the way Zwift recovers from that crash that sucks. This has nothing to do with iOS or hardware. Basically, Zwift puts you back in the same spot on the course, but not actually in the race. And then a few seconds later it offers to take you into the race, but then moves you way ahead of where you left off. Thus, you skip over large parts of the race. I completed the stage nonetheless. Also, plenty of you reported similar issues.

In any event, this weekend I tried Stage 2. This time with a mere 5-month-old Windows machine that’s pretty well equipped. Once again, it *Zwift* crashed. Technically, it hung. I had set everything up well ahead of time, and was good to go. And yes, laptop atop the suitcase this week in the shed/garage thingy.

IMG_4480

But then I noticed the Tacx trainer had dropped out of pairing for some reason a few minutes before the race when I got back to the bike. So, I simply went into the pairing, re-paired the Flux 2 over to ANT+ instead of Bluetooth Smart. No biggie. But then I saw the HR strap was off too (also originally via Bluetooth). So I went to re-pair that via ANT+ instead too.

2020-07-11 11.05.53

And then the app hung. I gave it a few minutes. Nothing.

I then switched to other apps. Nothing.

Eventually, I killed Zwift and opened it back up again. By that point, the race had left, and I’d lost out on my timeslot.

Now, in this case I’m pretty sure the underlying Windows Bluetooth subsystem actually froze. But that’s not a valid reason to have Zwift freeze entirely. If that subsystem isn’t responding, then don’t hang your app forever. C’mon.

Two hours and another restart later, I completed the race. To Zwift’s credit, the course is really nice, and clearly leaves lots of opportunity for expansion – both with respect to new roads, but I think also with respect to the roadside content on existing roads.

2020-07-11 13.11.00

It’s really well done:

2020-07-11 13.17.54-1-1

Some of the smaller touches like having the white van/trucks at the top of the climb are so realistic of a typical TdF scene.

2020-07-11_14092591

Well done there, looking forward to next weekend. Just…ya know…please don’t crash again.

[And yes, again, I know that plenty of people, including myself, frequently ride Zwift without crashes. For example, I’ve never had a crash using Zwift on Apple TV. But that wasn’t an option this weekend. I find large events are where the Zwift app crashes or handles crashes poorly. And judging by the in-game comments during the event this weekend and last, others often experience the same.]

2) Pizza & Non-Pizza

Realistically, we need more food in these posts.

Thus, I present you two items. First, pizza night with the kids. This is nothing special, we typically do it every Friday night. Everyone makes their own pizzas, and then they go on a generic pizza stone in the oven.

2020-07-10 18.57.54-1

No, not a pizza oven. Just a stone for exactly 3 minutes. We’ve had a pizza stone forever. Someday…a pizza oven.

The next night though, we kicked it up slightly. I made two different dishes. First, this burrata dish, which sits atop prosciutto and then has a snap pea, regular pea, mint leaves, and then a microplaned bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano atop it.

2020-07-11 21.24.25-1

And then after that, I did a balsamic and rosemary marinade flank steak. Except…uhh…I forgot to take a picture of that. My bad. It was awesome.

Both came from the Mozza, by Nancy Silverton.

2020-07-12 08.17.07-1

I’ve had this book around for years (apparently 9 years according to Amazon), and it doesn’t disappoint. The burrata dish is one that takes probably 10-15 minutes total prep time, so it’s pretty quick and easy.

3) Watched Athlete A

When we lived in the US, we were a mere one mile from the movie theater. Easily walkable in fact. But after moving to Europe, we rarely go to the movie theaters (well before COVID-19). Typically that was language-driven, but sometimes also release-schedule driven. In the case of languages, while subtitles are fine, we’d prefer to watch an English movie in English. So when looking through movie listings you’d want the tiny “v.o.” next to it, which meant “version originale”, which in turn meant (in our case), the movie was shown in English as originally filmed.

Since moving to the Netherlands…well, honestly, with three kids now, we just haven’t had all that many date nights that we wanted to burn watching just a movie.

Point being, we now watch slightly more movies on Netflix instead. And this weekend was Athlete A. Here’s the trailer:

It’s one of those movies that you think you know the story, having seen the headlines over the past few years (but perhaps not really read much beyond that). But this is nuts.

I’d encourage anyone to watch it, but especially anyone involved in sports at a performance level, and also especially anyone with daughters. Absolutely bonkers and infuriating.

4) Biking to the Zoo:

With as much normalcy returning to the Netherlands as possible, especially over the last 5-6 weeks, one of those things is the Zoo. However, like many tourism-driven spots in Amsterdam these days, in order to go to the zoo you need a reservation ahead of time. No biggie, we just went online and did it last week for a Sunday morning time slot. Plus, being annual members we’ve gotta get our usage out of it!

After a week or two of mostly rain, it was finally a nice morning out for a ride across town. We ended up putting P1 and P2 in the cargo bike, and then P3 on The Girl’s bike.  The trek across town took about 20-25 minutes, through parks, protected bike lanes and dedicated cycle tracks. You can watch the short time-lapse below:

Once there we did the things you do at the zoo.

2020-07-12 09.50.41

It’s certainly different from before. And I’m not just talking about the baby elephant born two months ago there:

2020-07-12 10.34.56

No, rather, how the Zoo is structured. Effectively they route you one-way through the entire park, no going back upstream. There’s a handful of animals you can’t get to, and they’ve taken away all the kid carts. Also of note is that some exhibits where you could walk freely with the animals (namely the lemurs and wallabies) were closed to people. Presumably to protect the animals from getting COVID as well.

But none of it was a big deal. The kids had a blast as always.

Then we rode home, back across the city, stopping occasionally to check out the sights.

2020-07-12 19.41.56-1

Now, it’d be appreciated if we could have just a few more weeks of sunny weather. Not asking for beach temps, just…ya know…sun.

5) Not a DCR Open House

image

A year ago this weekend there was the first DCR Summer Open House. That included a morning bike ride followed by some BBQ and then the full open house. That was in addition to the annual winter open house we’ve always done in December for many years in both Paris and Amsterdam. Obviously, that couldn’t happen this past weekend. At least, mostly.

See, there’s one individual that’s managed to make it to *all* the DCR Open Houses but one. Yes, even the Paris ones. Harry is awesome. And he even lives here in the Netherlands. So this weekend he made his own DCR Open House ride. A mere 150KM of it! He started from somewhere down south, and then did a bit of a loop up towards Amsterdam and swung by the DCR Cave to get a photo there. Being Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t there at the time – but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.

image

So kudos to Harry. I’m pretty sure this means he can get extra credit for the one open house he missed many years ago in Paris.

Thanks for reading, and hope to see everyone at a real open house at some point when it’s all safe to do so!

]]>
33
Week in Review–July 12th, 2020 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/week-in-review-july-12th-2020.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/week-in-review-july-12th-2020.html#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2020 17:08:58 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114945 Read More Here ]]> WeekInReview22

The Week in Review is a collection of both all the goodness I’ve written during the past week around the internet, as well as a small pile of links I found interesting – generally endurance sports related. I’ve often wondered what to do with all of the coolness that people write, and while I share a lot of it on Twitter and Facebook, this is a better forum for sending it on to y’all. Most times these different streams don’t overlap, so be on the lookout at all these places for good stuff!

So with that, let’s get into the action!

Sports Tech Deals of Note:

Ok, not much left this week. Sorta a lull. But hey, if ya need a GoPro Hero 8 Black, it’s still on sale!

ProductSale PriceAmazonClever TrainingSale Notes
Garmin Vivoactive 3$129⚡ Obviously this is the previous edition, but dang, it's still a good price for a great little GPS watch. This has mostly been on sale at this price range for a while now, however, I've included it in the list merely because if you're looking for a deal then this is probably one of the best deals out there.
GoPro Hero 8 Black - $100 off!$299⚡ This is a great deal - and the lowest we've ever seen the GoPro Hero 8 down to. Of course, I don't expect a new version anytime soon (GoPro always release late Sept/early Oct). But, the Hero 8 is my go-to cam these days.

DCRAINMAKER.COM Posts in the Past Week:

Here’s all the goodness that ended up on the main page this past week:

Sunday: Week in Review–July 6th, 2020
Monday: 5 Random Things I did This Weekend
Wednesday: Garmin Fenix 6/6S Pro Solar Review: What’s new & different
Wednesday: Garmin Instinct Solar Review: What’s New & Different
Thursday: GoPro Adds Webcam Feature to Hero 8 Black: How-to guide

YouTube Videos This Past Week:

Here’s what hit the tubes over on the You of Tube, definitely don’t forget to subscribe there to get notified of videos the second they hit!

Stuff I Found Interesting Around The Interwebs:

Here’s a not-so-small smattering of all the random things that I stumbled on while doing my civic duty to find the end of the Internet (and in this case, some of these are from the past few weeks to clear out the backlog):

1) Under Armour trying to offload MyFitnessPal: Obviously, this will go for far less than what Under Armour paid for it, if it goes at all. Sure, there’s a buyer at any price. But it’s hard to imagine there’s very many mainstream buyers at any meaningful price.

2) iFixit Tears Down Oura Ring Hardware: As always, iFixit is great. And yes, I’m considering doing an Oura ring review. I’m just not a huge ring person, so that’s the main hold-up – since a proper review of something like this realistically requires wearing it for 2-3 months.

3) Ironman Athletes aiming for class action over competitor fee refunds: Maybe it’s just me, but I think offering a spot in next year free of charge is a pretty fair deal (especially given the contract language is pretty clear that a cancellation means no refund). I’m rarely a big fan of WTC’s practices, but in this case it seems like a good compromise.

4) Stryd Race Calculator: That’s pretty cool, especially the modeling part. It’s kinda like a Best Bike Split for running races, using Stryd of course.

5) Got $20 million for GoPro founder’s California ranch? If so, it can be all yours! Unclear if Karma drones are included with the barn.

6) Details on Apple’s Dance Metrics: I’m curious though, this seems like a lot of work for potentially questionable data – and ultimately unlikely to meaningfully impact calorie burn, assuming calorie burn is largely correlated to heart rate anyway.

7) Bicycle Speed Wobbles: How they start, and how to stop them. I’ll be honest, I think CyclingTips is producing even more fascinating content since COVID-19 started than any other year. Probably because race-content isn’t typically my jam, whereas these sorta science-focused bits are definite reads.

Sports Tech Device Firmware Updates This Week:

Each week I quickly highlight some of the new firmware, app, software, and website service updates that I see go out. If you’re a sports technology company and release an update – shoot me a quick note (just one-liners are perfect, or Tweet it at me is even better) and I’ll make mention of it here. If I don’t know about it, I won’t be able to post about it. Sound good?  Oh – and if you want to get a head start on things, this page is a great resource for watching Garmin and a few other firmware updates.

[The above site that I typically use as a starting point for Garmin is currently offline this week, so stay tuned as I hopefully return next week with this section. Though, off the top of my head, there’s no major firmware releases this week aside from the GoPro one I noted above…oh, and Fitbit’s just-released Smart Alarms and Dynamic GPS for the Charge 4.]

Thanks for reading!

]]>
16
GoPro Adds Webcam Feature to Hero 8 Black: How-to guide https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/gopro-adds-webcam-feature-to-hero-8-black-how-to-guide.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/gopro-adds-webcam-feature-to-hero-8-black-how-to-guide.html#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2020 18:31:02 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114921 Read More Here ]]> DSC_7024

Today GoPro has launched a beta feature for the Hero 8 Black that allows you to use it as a tethered USB webcam for apps like Zoom, Teams, Twitch, and basically any other app that can use a USB webcam (which, is basically any video conferencing app). So, if you wanted to livestream/Zoom your next Zwift session or such with friends and get the full bike in there – this is much easier.

Up until now, the GoPro hasn’t actually been capable of enumerating as a USB webcam. The only way you could get video from a GoPro to a computer live was via HDMI cable, but that’s only if you’re computer had an HDMI capture card (which, it almost certainly didn’t). And even then, up to the Hero 7 that was limited to 720p, and with the Hero 8 that port required you also buy a GoPro Media Mod.

Now, you could with a smartphone stream a GoPro live to the interwebs for apps like Facebook Live or YouTube, but not for usage within apps like Zoom or other conference apps.  In short, the solution was wasn’t ideal for today’s global situation (nor really, ideal for any point in the last decade when people just wanted it as a darn webcam).

Fear not, today changes that. You can now get that wide-angle shot you always needed to ensure you most definitely accidentally capture your roommate/partner/child in the far corner of your room doing something unsaid, on your next work conference call.

Simply press the play button below for the complete run-through!

In that video I cover install, configuration, Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, OBS, Facebook, QuickTime, and more!

The Quick and Dirty:

To begin, you’ll need a few things to get started:

A) A GoPro Hero 8 Black
B) A USB-C cable (the one that came with your GoPro is perfect)
C) A Mac

Yes, I said a Mac. As of today, the Windows beta app isn’t out yet. GoPro says it’s in development and coming shortly, which is probably why this is marked as Beta, and not as ‘Donezo’.

First, you’ll need to upgrade your GoPro. To do that, go to this page and download the Beta firmware. You’ll unzip the UPDATE folder and place it on micro-SD card (at the top level). So, when all is said and done, you’ll see the UPDATE folder sitting at the same level as the DCIM folder, like this:

Screen Shot 2020-07-09 at 7.58.25 PM

Next, put the microSD card back in the GoPro and turn it on. It’ll take about 60 seconds and show you an updater icon on the back, indicating that it’s updating the firmware:

IMG_4362

Ok, with that done, go ahead and download the GoPro Webcam app here. Again, only available for Mac today, soon for PC. It takes just a second to install:

Screen Shot 2020-07-09 at 8.00.15 PM

Finally, with all that jazz done, then turn on your GoPro and connect it to your computer. You should then see the GoPro Webcam app show the camera is connected, with a ‘Show Preview’ option.

Screen Shot 2020-07-09 at 8.01.20 PM

And on the back of your GoPro you’ll see that it’s in what is best defined as a ‘Look but don’t touch’ mode. Literally, you can’t do anything to it, it’s all locked down. You can just see the preview of yourself and the new webcam icon. There’s no changing of settings, no turning it to portrait mode, and no pressing of buttons. It’s totally toddler proof.

vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h13m52s972

(Wait, what’s that awesome GoPro door that allows you to keep the GoPro plugged in? It’s here (or EU here). I did an entire video on it here.)

Now, in webcam mode the GoPro’s resolution is 1080p (or you can select 720p), at 30FPS. It’s also in the ‘Wide setting’. GoPro says they’re working on other ‘Digital Lens’ options, which is GoPro speak for letting you change it to Linear (non-fisheye look) or perhaps Superview (ultra wide). They also said “future goals include providing options to support more digital lens options and higher resolutions”, specifically 4K being one of those goals, when I asked.

Update! There’s an Easter Egg option (secret option) to access the additional digital lenses. When you click on the GoPro icon in the upper corner, hold down the OPTION key (and keep holding it). Then you’ll get a new menu option titled ‘Effects’.

vlcsnap-2020-07-10-11h53m27s546

Here’s the three lenses side by side:

vlcsnap-2020-07-10-11h53m37s165 vlcsnap-2020-07-10-11h53m54s835 vlcsnap-2020-07-10-11h53m47s857

And then there’s the ‘Sobel’ effect, which…ummm..yeah:

vlcsnap-2020-07-10-11h53m59s228

Oh, and there’s the preferences option for toggling between 1080p and 720p:

Screen Shot 2020-07-09 at 8.03.27 PM

You can also flip the image – useful if there’s writing or such on the wall behind you. You can see here the difference in tapping the flip button:

vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h24m29s761 vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h24m32s629

Also, note that the red light will blink the entire time the GoPro is connected and being utilized by the GoPro Webcam app. Just as a reminder that it could be leveraged by other apps:

DSC_7027

Meanwhile, go ahead and crack open your favorite workplace web conferencing app of choice. GoPro says they’ve confirmed compatibility with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google meet, Discord, BlueJeans, Webex, Skype, Facebook Rooms, Facebook Messenger, and Slack via Google Chrome.

You’ll now see the GoPro as a webcam you can choose from the list. This will capture video, but not audio. I suspect for most people you’ll want to still use your headphones or whatever for audio. In fact, I did an hour conference call today with it in Microsoft Teams, and the folks on the other end said it looked ‘Good’.

vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h14m44s438

And it works in Zoom:

vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h09m36s607

And it works in Skype:

vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h10m02s778

And it works in OBS:

vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h10m35s785

And even Quicktime to straight-up capture video:

vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h11m03s146

Oh – wait, TrainerRoad too!

 

Frankly, it’ll work in basically every app – because it’s just a standard Webcam. The same technology that’s been around since the days of AOL or something. Standards are cool, huh?

Going Forward:

vlcsnap-2020-07-09-20h12m33s321

Of course, COVID-19 has been hard on almost every company (unless you make masks, or have an indoor trainer app). But for GoPro, it’s meant that not only are people not buying GoPro’s, but they’re also likely not even using the ones they have. And certainly almost nobody is thinking about getting one.

Still, in these sorts of firmware updates that get people back into using the camera if they can’t otherwise. And in turn, might get them thinking about GoPro for the eventual point in time where they might consider going out and buying an action cam.

Meanwhile, for streamers, this is an awesome option – especially for wider angle establishing type shots. This skips having to buy an expensive camera, then an HDMI capture solution, then dealing with all the nuance of setting it up. This is basically an easy button. Of which, I’m a fan of.

In using it for a conference call today – it was actually kinda nice having the much wider shot. I didn’t feel like I was up in everyone’s face. They said they liked it too.

So with that – go forth and update your firmware! Thanks for reading!

]]>
45
Garmin Fenix 6/6S Pro Solar Review: What’s new & different https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/garmin-fenix-6-6s-pro-solar-review-whats-new-different.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/garmin-fenix-6-6s-pro-solar-review-whats-new-different.html#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2020 11:34:32 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114844 Read More Here ]]> DSC_6867

Today Garmin has extended the solar option on the Fenix 6 series to include the Fenix 6S Pro and Fenix 6 Pro units, completing the family that started last year with the Fenix 6X Pro Solar. Now all three Pro units offer a solar-equipped option. In addition, Garmin also announced a new Garmin Instinct Solar lineup too. Beyond adding in solar panel tech, the watches also get some new features such as Indoor Climbing and Bouldering, as well as a new surfing integration with Surfline sessions.

Now, for this review, I’m truncating it to focus on the aspects that are new or different. While I’ve been using these units for about a month now, the reality is that almost no aspects of them are different than the existing Fenix 6 Pro series…except the solar panel pieces. In addition to the new software bits that have largely been available in beta on the existing Fenix 6 series watches for the past month (such as the new sleep tracking and heart rate broadcasting bits).

Point being, while I could re-write an entire review talking about basics like step tracking and how to configure sport data pages, or how to sync to Spotify – I’ve already done that. And nothing has changed in those areas. That’s all the same. And in using these watches on my wrist 24×7 since then – I can confirm no differences between a non-Solar Fenix 6 Pro and a Solar Fenix 6 Pro in those areas. In fact, even the GPS & HR accuracy aspects haven’t really changed – but I love some accuracy charts – so you’ll get those down below for fun.

With that, let’s dive into it!

What’s new:

DSC_7014

Now, there’s actually more to the Fenix 6 Pro Solar units than just a touch bit of solar panel. There’s also some new software features. But fear not, these non-solar specific features are also being added to all Fenix 6 series units. But, to recap everything that’s new there’s:

– Added under-glass solar panel to Fenix 6S Pro & Fenix 6 Pro
– Added around the edge solar panel to Fenix 6S Pro & Fenix 6 Pro
– Added Indoor Climb activity profile: Tracks indoor climbing metrics (more on this in a second)
– Added Bouldering activity profile (indoors): Similar to the Indoor climb profile, but for Bouldering.
– Added new Surfing activity profile with Surfline Sessions to create videos with data overlays

Oh –and just in case you missed it above: Yes, all those new software features are coming to the Fenix 6 series in the next firmware update. Speaking of the other Fenix 6 units, here’s a family photo of the Fenix 6S Pro Solar (left), Fenix 6 Pro Solar (middle), and Fenix 6X Pro Solar (right). You’re seeing some slight reflections off the ceiling skylight thingy. There’s no lights turned on in the studio for this photo, and the photo isn’t edited in any way. Straight off the camera card.

Doing a quick lap around through each of the new non-solar aspects (since the entire next section is solar focused), first up is mountain bike Grit and Flow. For those that put on their Garmin Edge cap, you’ll remember they came out last spring with the Edge 530 and Edge 830. The Edge 1030 got them in a firmware update, then the Edge 1030 Plus and even Edge 130 Plus a few weeks back. Also, they’ve been added in to the Fenix 6 betas and firmware in the last version – but I figured I’d cover them here too.

On the watch, you’ll select the mountain bike profile (it’s not enabled by default, so you’ll want to add it from the sports menu). Then, you’ll need to go and add these fields to your data fields. That’s kinda weird, since on a Garmin Edge device it adds these automatically. In any case, you’ll find them under the ‘Other’ bucket:

DSC_6950

There’s Grit, Lap Grit, Flow, and Lap Flow. Here’s what they look like added to a single page:

DSC_6953

Then, go out and ride. I haven’t had any good mountain bike chances as of late. But, here’s what the data will look like after the fact:

image

Note however, that there’s a slight difference to the Garmin Edge units – notably that they don’t include jump counting in the Fenix metrics. I suspect that’s because with your hands potentially flapping around that’d dork up the accelerometer/gyro data (whereas an Edge is mounted to your bike – and ideally not flapping its wings mid-flight).

Next, there’s the new Indoor Climbing and Bouldering profiles.

In case you’re wondering what the difference is, essentially Indoor Climbing you use ropes to get to the top, whereas Bouldering typically tops out at lower heights (max 3-4 meters), so you’d do it without ropes. You can read this to understand the nuances.

Indoor Climbing Activity Profile:

When you first begin an Indoor Climb workout, it’ll ask whether you’d like to track the route stats. Again, this is all indoors, so it’s not using GPS. When you choose yes, you’ll then select which grading system to use.

DSC_6955

In total there’s YDS, UIAA, French, British Adj., British Tech, Ewbank, Brazilian, and Saxon. You can change this mid-activity as well within the Climbing Profile settings.

Once you’ve selected a grading system, you’ll then select the difficulty:

DSC_6956

At this point the watch is ready to begin (after you press start). It’ll track time, total ascent, and heart rate on one screen (plus showing you the difficulty at the top).

DSC_6963

There’s also then a page for Last Route:

DSC_6964

As well as a page for Total Routes:

DSC_6965

Once you’ve completed the route you’ll hit the lap key to mark it as complete. After which it’ll ask if you’ve had any falls. From there it’ll go into a rest screen and wait for your next climb to begin (when you hit the lap marker). In that sense, it’s kinda like the indoor pool swimming with sets.

Afterwards on Garmin Connect, it’ll show you a breakdown of the details. And of course it’ll sync that off to 3rd party apps/platforms like Strava/etc…though, those don’t support all these metrics, so ultimately it’ll be pretty limited in what you see on 3rd party sites.

Bouldering Activity Profile:

Next, the Bouldering activity profile is pretty similar to that of the Indoor climbing one.

DSC_6966

First you’ll select the grading system, in this case it supports V-Scale, Font, and Dankyu:

DSC_6967

Next, you’ll select the difficulty of the problem you’re about to climb. The exact min/max levels it supports will vary based on which grading system you’re using:

DSC_6968

Once ready to climb it’ll show you the problem difficulty at the top, the time, and your heart rate:

 

After you’ve finished climbing the route you’ll press the lap key just like with indoor climbing. This will then give you three options: Mark route as completed, mark as attempted, or discard the whole chicken. Like with indoor climbing you can see both the last route and total route data:

DSC_6970 DSC_6971

I’m not exactly a climber, however, DesFit did get the chance to try this part out – so if that’s your cup of tea, hit up his video on it.

That said, ironically, by pure coincidence I stumbled upon a brand new facility that just opened up a mere 3-minute pedal from me. So far I’ve just been a stalker and looked through the windows – but maybe I’ll give it a poke.

Surfing profile with Surfline integration:

Finally, there’s the new surfing profile data metrics with Surfline integration. You may have seen the surfing metrics added as part of the more recent Garmin Fenix 6 betas, in fact, they were actually looking for people to beta test it (which, by the looks of it was pretty limited in finding people).

In any case, the way it works is that you’ll first open the surf activity profile, and then it’ll track the waves surfed, maximum speed reached, and distance travelled within the profile.

DSC_6977 DSC_6974

What’s really interesting here though is Garmin is integrating with Surfline for data overlays with video integration. Surfline is a surfing site that you can look up tons of data about nearby spots. Wave conditions and such. However, in addition to that, they’ve got some 400 cameras pointed at waves that are recording to the cloud. Currently they have an Apple Watch app that allows you to record your sessions on the watch, and then later on the site will find the exact video clips of you by cross-referencing the timestamps and GPS data.

image

So, with the Fenix integration that’s all supposed to work in the same manner. However, there’s no Surfline cameras anywhere near me (or even remotely near me). The nearest appears to be on the other side of the English channel. But…at least it looks pretty there:

image

In any case, I’m definitely the wrong person to test this bit out. But it does show Garmin’s ever-expanding sport profiles, and specifically having actual data for those profiles. While some runners or cyclists may be like ‘That’s a useless feature…to me’, the thing Garmin has figured out that most other companies haven’t is that one person’s useless feature is another person’s most important feature.

There’s currently surf watches in the market already, so clearly there’s demand there. From Garmin’s perspective it’s relatively trivial to take an existing piece of hardware and add a few extra metrics. Whereas the lift for a new company to create a new smartwatch in 2020 is almost impossibly hard to get enough demand to make it work.

In any case, if you’ve got a Fenix 6 series watch, you can test this feature out today via the beta. Or, simply wait for it to hit production probably any day now.

Solar & Battery Details:

DSC_6870

When it comes to the Solar aspects added to the Fenix 6 & 6S, they’re basically identical to that of the Fenix 6X Solar that was launched last summer. Whereas if you looked at the new Garmin Instinct Solar units, those have a different panel arrangement than the Fenix series.

Now, as you may remember from my review last year, Garmin often sees the ‘X’ variant of the Fenix as a place to trial out new technologies before introducing them elsewhere. Last year, that was solar with the Fenix 6X Solar, whereas this year that’s being added to multiple units. The solar pieces all come from an acquisition of technologies from French company SunPartner Technologies. Garmin actually quietly made that acquisition back when the company filed for insolvency, a long time before they announced it in the Fenix 6X Solar last year.

On all of the solar-enabled Fenix 6 units you’ll notice a very thin 1mm wide strip just on the inside of the bezel. This is the first of two solar pieces.

image

This thin strip has 100% photovoltaic levels, meaning, it’s receiving 100% of the sun’s goodness and turning that into solar power. It’s also clearly visible in bright light, though you’d just assume it was a bezel design element. Inside without bright light, this strip almost disappears and blends into the bezel.

DSC_6987

However, there’s a second solar panel you can’t see – despite being the entire display face. Under the display is another solar panel that has a 10% photovoltaic level. This panel is of course far larger than that of the thin bezel strip, but is also getting 10% of the sun’s rays, due to the display blocking much of it. Importantly though, both panels are fully under a single sheet of Gorilla Glass (specifically Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with DX Coating). Meaning, you won’t accidentally scratch the bezel solar panel anymore than you’d normally scratch your watch face.

DSC_6993

Speaking of that watch face, you’ll notice that there’s a little sun atop the default watch face. That sun is actually showing you the current intensity level. Around the edge of the little sun are 10 pieces, each indicating 10% of full intensity. So if you look at the below picture you’ll see the sun is coming in at 0% intensity as I’m in the shade:

DSC_6994

Next, another photo out in some broken clouds conditions and you can see it’s at about 70%:

2020-07-07 16.27.00

And here’s another at 100% intensity, with all lines lit up as well as the sun itself:

2020-07-07 11.36.28

You can also see this in the Widget Glances too:

DSC_6867

And then a plot over the last 6 hours of activity as well:

DSC_6869

In addition, you can look back at any day of history you want to via Garmin Connect Mobile:

2020-07-07 17.51.07 2020-07-07 17.51.21

The goal of the solar here isn’t to fully power the watch, under GPS or otherwise. Instead, it’s to provide incremental battery life (more on my testing on this in a second). Garmin notes this in their super-detailed battery life chart. Note specifically the assumption of 3 hours per day of solar light at a pretty high intensity (full sun basically). That goes both ways though. If you’re mid-summer and spending the day at the beach (or work outside), then you’ll way overachieve here. Versus if it’s mid-winter and you’re indoors…then not so much.

image

*Assumes all-day wear with 3 hours per day in 50,000 lux conditions
**Assumes use in 50,000 lux conditions

Wait, so what’s 50,000 lux you ask? It’s a pretty sunny day, though, not living in Arizona in summer kinda sunny. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

image

Now Garmin doesn’t ever show lux levels in the solar widgets. Instead, they show a relative intensity in terms of solar power. On a pure sunny day here in July in the Netherlands, I easily can get the full sun widget to illuminate. But, I can also do that too even on a high light overcast day (meaning, a super high thin cloud layer). Even with a handful of clouds meandering around.

2020-07-07 16.26.48

Meanwhile, for a portion of my hike when it was raining I was getting anywhere between 20-50% solar intensity levels, depending on the specific cloud passing by. Point is, it’s not as drastic as you’d think.

Here’s the basic main takeaways though:

A) If you’re spending 3+ hours outdoors (non-workout mode) you might be able to pull off something close to battery neutral in a pared down configuration (not much notifications/etc…).
B) While outdoors on longer hikes in significant sun, solar will definitely extend your battery life, potentially a lot. Or potentially not at all.

In order to test this, I went out for a longer hike/walk thing yesterday. For this test I compared a Fenix 6 Pro with a Fenix 6 Pro Solar, identically configured with every possible setting I could find. The theory was to wander for about 3 hours in the sun in reasonably wide open areas (dunes mostly), but of course, the weather dorked with my plans, so it starts off sunny and then eventually got a bit rainy.

Here’s the battery burn charts for the meander:

image

As you can see, it’s basically impossible to tell the difference between the two Fenix units, even after 3 hours. I’m sure brighter sun would have helped the Fenix, though in looking at some other 1-2 hour activities it hasn’t varied a ton either. The nuance between the burn rates at that point is really challenging.

In talking with Garmin about battery burn rates recorded to files, in general you’ll get more concrete results with longer activities than shorter ones. Also, because of the frequency in which the battery value is updated, a few seconds one way or the other when we’re talking 0.08% difference can result in a big swing (since it’s only recorded at whole numbers).  That’s fair, and is pretty common for any battery technology that if you really want to get a good idea of the battery burn rates that you need to measure longer periods of time.

And if we look at a longer hike I did last summer with the Fenix 6X Solar and Fenix 6 non-solar side by side, you can see the impact of the battery burn rate once I hit the sun coming out of the tree line. When I’m below the tree-line in the trees (up till about 1hr 30mins), you can see battery burn rate is about equal, but once I clear the tree-line (around 1hr 30 marker), and am back into the sun, battery life burn on the 6X Solar slows. Pretty cool. Note that in that case we want to ignore the slope of the non-Solar unit, since it has a smaller battery, but instead note the significant difference between those once out in the sun.

image

By the way, those battery charts are with the DCR Analyzer. We plot battery life for devices that support writing it to the files, including Garmin, Wahoo, and Stages.

Now, it’s important to note that this won’t actually power up the watch any from dead, at least not in any meaningful way. Last summer I tried this when I left a Fenix 6X Solar atop an RV out in a field for 12 hours. It was totally dead when I placed it out there – 0% battery. When I returned after a day of strong bluebird sky sun without a single cloud, it was still powered off. However, upon powering it back on it found itself 4% battery.

It’s also at this juncture that I realized I apparently never edited the video that I shot for it. Huh.

Similarly, today in the morning, while it was nice and sunny without clouds, I stuck a watch on a tree branch with no branches above it. This time it was powered on, with full sun. When I returned about 65 minutes later, the battery hadn’t increased at all – still 16%.

2020-07-07 11.36.28 2020-07-07 12.41.07

Of course, that’s likely not long enough – especially when balanced out by notifications coming in (but no GPS on). Certainly you can get a small increase in battery life from a number of hours outside as Garmin indicates. People have seen it. But my point here is expect it to be somewhat minimal.

Compare this with something like the Casio GBD-H1000 GPS, which can easily power up from dead to not dead using just solar panel in a relatively short amount of time (couple hours at most), and actually get sustainable solar power from the panels. Not enough to last forever doing GPS activities, but certainly plenty to meaningfully help when hanging outside on a sunny day not recording.

Of course, that’s a different beast of a watch, and the more I use it, the more I realize there’s really not much real-world overlap with either the Fenix 6 or Instinct. After all, it only has a single sport mode: Outdoor run, and no method to set any other mode. Plus, it’s clear that Casio isn’t trying to hide the solar panels, rather it becomes part of the aesthetic.

DSC_7000

Whereas Garmin seems to aim to make it such that you’d never notice the panels if you didn’t explicitly know they were there, and where they were. Different strokes for different folks. But, at the same time, I’m hoping we’ll see more gains from Garmin in the future.

They did note that the Fenix 6/6S/6X Solar and Instinct Solar would all be considered from the same solar panel technology “generation”.

GPS Accuracy:

DSC_7001

There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Instinct activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

First up we’ll start with something relatively easy, my 10-mile hike yesterday. The goal of this was mostly to stay in open-air areas to get more solar power. Still, there was a wooded section the last mile or so. Here’s that data set. This set included a Polar Grit X, Garmin Instinct, Instinct Solar, Fenix 6 Pro, and Fenix 6 Pro Solar.

image_thumb[9]

For the first couple kilometers, all the units were basically identical. Again, there’s basically nothing out here to obstruct the GPS view:

image_thumb[13]

Then, I got to the beach area. Along the waterfront there are actually tall apartment/hotel buildings that I came relatively close too. But there was no meaningful impact to GPS accuracy on any of the units:

image_thumb[15]

Then it was off into the dunes for a bit. And again, all super boring here:

image_thumb[17]

As I got into the trees, I started seeing a tiny bit of variation between the units. But we’re basically talking 2-3 meters difference offset from the path. And it varied which units were most accurate. In general the two Instinct units seemed nearest the track most times. All units were configured with the same GPS+GLONASS.

image_thumb[24] image_thumb[25]

However, I do want to briefly note that with about 100m to go, the Instinct Solar restarted randomly. It didn’t lose any GPS track data, and allowed me to resume. But it oddly added nearly about a mile (~1.5km) to the summary distance with no reason. It also added 15 minutes. Neither of these make any sense, and Garmin is looking into it. It didn’t impact the GPS track, but just the total value shown on the unit and in Garmin Connect.

image_thumb[27]

So ultimately, while GPS accuracy was pretty good, the restart gave me extra credit for no reason.

Next, we’ve got a more city-focused run, including going through some buildings. For this one I had with me an Instinct Solar, Casio GBD-1000, Polar Grit X, Fenix 6 Pro Solar, and Forerunner 935. Here’s that data set:

image_thumb[29]

The Casio oddly had GPS lock, showed GPS, started with GPS lock…but then decided against recording the first mile or so of GPS data to the file. I’m not sure why it was upset. You see it start mid-way through the run, above, in the middle of a pond.

In any event, zooming into the park portion first (which is mostly under tree cover this time of year), you’ll see that the Instinct Solar and Grit X were probably closest to the path on the southern side (but was a bit more wobbly on the northern side straightaway). The Fenix 6 Pro Solar was pretty darn smooth on both sides. The Casio seemed a bit drunk on the turns, but was mostly fine for the straightaways.

image_thumb[31]

Next, are some buildings. This included running down a street with 5-6 story buildings on both sides (shown at left below). The Garmin/Polar units nailed this, spot on. The Casio…went shopping. Also, for those curious – the Casio was on my right wrist, and the Instinct Solar on my left wrist. The other units were all on the handlebar of the running stroller.

image_thumb[33]

Also of note above is that I went through the Rijksmuseum, and most of the watches were pretty good at that. It’s probably 100-125m long of no GPS signal under a massive building. The Instinct Solar slightly cut the corner towards the end, but otherwise it was reasonably clean.

This next section I ran twice, so it looks a bit crowded, but it’s good to see how similar each unit was since I ran in the same spot each time. You see the Casio and FR935 are more variable, whereas the Fenix 6 Pro Solar, Polar Grit X, and Instinct Solar tended to be less variable.

image_thumb[35]

Finally, for summary stats, you can see those below. Note that the Casio doesn’t write the summary data to a file…because it actually doesn’t write any files. Instead, you have to download a file from Strava, and that file doesn’t include the summary data properly written (because Casio doesn’t send it).

image_thumb[37]

I’ve done piles more workouts with the Fenix 6 Pro Solar since early June. In fact, almost every workout you see on Strava since then has been with the Fenix 6 Pro Solar. Rides, runs, hikes, stand-up paddleboarding both in the forest and city – all that unit. For example, here’s a paddle with it around Amsterdam. You’ll see one spot where the two lines separate on the northwestern edge. In that case, it’s because I had my board atop my wrist as I was portaging across a non-connecting canal. Whereas the Fenix 6 Pro (non-Solar) could see the sky, so the track there is more accurate. But that’s pretty reasonable.

image

In any case, I just don’t see any meaningful difference between the Solar variant of the Fenix 6 Pro and the non-Solar variant. Which is to say that, for most people in most situations, GPS accuracy will be just fine. Like with other watches, you’ll still see variations. Given all Garmin/Suunto/Polar/COROS units are using the same GPS chipset series from Sony, the accuracy tends to be pretty similar.

Wrap-Up:

DSC_7002

After releasing the Fenix 6X Solar last summer, demand exceeded supply. And perhaps more challenging for Garmin, supply didn’t meet expectations. The company struggled through a fair chunk of Fall 2019 with yield related to the solar panel technologies. After all, it was their first watch incorporating the tech, and they needed to sort out the manufacturing side of things. But now, nearly a year later they’ve clearly done that. Supply is ample for the Fenix 6X Solar, and since then they’ve rolled out a Quatix edition watch with Solar, and now nearly a dozen Instinct Solar variants and a wide swath of Fenix 6S Pro and 6 Pro solar variants. Clearly, they’ve found their groove on this solar thing.

However, with the Fenix 6/6S/6X Pro Solar editions specifically, it’s hard to really see the benefit of solar in day to day situations. Sure, on bright sunny summer days with 8-10 hours of strong sunlight outdoor time you’ll definitely see a benefit. But, for the rest of the year, you probably won’t benefit much. And that’s somewhat to do with the fact that the Garmin Fenix series mostly tries to hide the solar panel. Compare that to the new Instinct Solar which uses vastly more solar panel within the display to get nearly a 30% bump in GPS on-time, and an ‘Unlimited Power’ type mode in a battery-saving watch mode. I’d really like to see Garmin push the boundaries a bit more with the Fenix series.

Still – if you want the solar tech in a 6 or 6S form factor – it’s here now, and ready to roll. And, for everyone else that already has a Fenix 6 series, then you’ll benefit from all the new surf/sleep/climbing/bouldering features. So, seems to be win-win for now.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? 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.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, 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 $99, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Fenix 6S Pro Solar (select drop-down for bundles)
Fenix 6 Pro Solar (select drop-down for variants/colors)

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pick up the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too!

Fenix 6S Pro Solar (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)
Fenix 6 Pro Solar (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin watches. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Garmin Cadence Sensor V2This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest StrapThis is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM StrapsWhile optical HR works on some newer Garmin watches, if you're looking for higher levels of accuracy, the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM are the best Garmin-compatible options out there to fill the gap.
Garmin Puck ChargerSeriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
Garmin Speed Sensor V2This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

Or, anything else you pick up 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.

]]>
139
Garmin Instinct Solar Review: What’s New & Different https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/garmin-instinct-solar-review-whats-new-different.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/garmin-instinct-solar-review-whats-new-different.html#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2020 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114737 Read More Here ]]> DSC_6857

Today Garmin announced the Instinct Solar lineup. At first glance, this might just look like an existing Instinct with a solar panel slapped atop it. But in reality, this Instinct is totally different on the inside. Also, it’s the first watch Garmin has ever made that offers the theoretical promise of ‘Unlimited’ battery. Albeit, it’s a promise you’ll never leverage unless you’re trapped like Tom Hanks on an island with a volleyball. But hey, it’s there.

The Garmin Instinct series is essentially a Fenix lite. It’s got most of the core sport/navigation/hiking focused features, but at roughly 1/3rd the price tag. It lacks things like color maps, music, or advanced sensor support. But you can do everything from an openwater swim, to pairing speed/cadence cycling sensors, to LiveTracking (with connected phone).

Internally the new Instinct’s got not just solar charging but an entirely different power management architecture that gets vastly more battery life, largely helped by the switch to the Sony GPS chipsets we saw in other Garmin watches in 2019. Additionally, it swaps out for the newer Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor, adding in PulseOX. Again, that too helps battery life. And finally, there’s the entire solar panel thing, which comes in two parts and thus provides substantially more power reserves than its Fenix counterpart.

Or, you can just hit play below and get all the details in one tidy video:

Note that like my Fenix 6 Solar Review I posted, I focused explicitly on the changed aspects, which include the solar pieces, power management pieces, and GPS/HR components. Beyond those elements, everything else is identical in the watch to the original Instinct. I don’t have the Surf or Tactical versions, which have a handful of extra aspects, so I can’t review those features.

That said, I probably will append this review with some of the ‘Basics’ sections over the following days, to conform more to my normal reviews. I haven’t seen any issues in those aspects while using the watch, else I’d cover them here.

With that, let’s dive into it!

What’s new:

DSC_6923

As I mostly spoiled in the intro section, the Instinct Solar is substantially changed under the covers, with some of those features being visible. Again, at first glance you’re like ‘Shrug, looks like an Instinct’. And that was my impression initially too. And then the deeper I dug, it’s like ‘Woah, this is entirely different if I care about long battery activities’.

Here, let’s bulletize the main differences:

– Added solar charging tech to watch (more on that later)
– Added newer optical HR sensor suite
– Added PulseOx and Swimming Heart Rate
– Added power management/customization options
– Added Expedition Mode, up to 68 days GPS battery life
– Added Power Saver mode
– Changed GPS chipset to Sony
– Significantly increased GPS battery life from 16 hours to ‘Up to 38 hours’ with solar

Note that I asked about adding any of these features to the existing Instinct, and all depend on the newer hardware bits. For example, the power management components depend on both the Sony GPS chipset and a different underlying power management architecture. Same goes for expedition mode and battery saver mode. And the PulseOx and Swimming HR tracking all depend on the newer Garmin Elevate optical HR sensor (which is why we also only see it on other Garmin watches with that same HR sensors).

In addition to the basics on the baseline Instinct Solar model, there’s two additional models – Surf and Tactical. Technically there’s also ‘Camo’, but that’s just a different color variant of the baseline model and doesn’t have the Tactical features. For the Surf and Tactical features there’s these new features:

Surf Solar Edition: Added Tide Data showing ocean conditions
Surf Solar Edition: Added Surf Activity, which records waves surfed, distance traveled, and maximum speed reached
Surf Solar Edition: Added integration with Surfline, including Surfline Sessions for video overlays
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Night Vision Compatibility (was in previous Instinct Tactical Edition)
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes ‘Stealth Mode’, which disables wireless connectivity and disables storing/sharing of GPS data
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Dual-Position Format, which shows both UTM and MGRS on the same screen
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Jumpmaster mode for jumping out of perfectly good airplanes

In essence, none of the Tactical Solar features are new – but the solar panel is new to Tactical. The Surf edition is fully new.

So, all in the units are priced as such:

Garmin Instinct (non-Solar): $299
Garmin Instinct Solar: $399
Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical: $449
Garmin Instinct Solar Camo: $449
Garmin Instinct Solar Surf: $449

Out of curiosity, I asked why the Camo was $50 more, despite having no additional features. Garmin says the cost is due to the added cost of the hydrographic application. I do think it’s slightly odd that the Instinct Tactical isn’t offered in the Camo colors. But hey, I’m not the one who has to decide which 11 colors make the cut. Speaking of which, here’s a Garmin image showing all the colors:

The top line is the base units, the bottom left two are the Camo units, the bottom middle two are the Tactical ones, and the bottom right two are the Surf ones. Oh, and all these are available immediately, from today.

With that – let’s talk Solar details specifically.

Solar & Battery Details:

DSC_6852

When it comes to the solar aspects added to the Instinct Solar, they’re technologically the same as we see on the Fenix 6 series. However, they’re quite a bit different in terms of the size of the implementation. The Instinct has vastly more solar panel surface (relative to screen size) than the Fenix 6 series, and also vastly more solar panel power as a result. For example, on the Fenix 6 series you get about a 10% bump in total power life in most GPS sport modes (way more in Expedition/Battery Saver Mode). Whereas on the Instinct Solar you more than double (200%) your daily watch life, and increase by 30% your GPS sport modes.

Part of that is because the Instinct simply has a less power-hungry screen that does less. There’s no colors, no animations, or really anything else. It’s also smaller. But the other part is that when it comes to that panel, it simply covers more surface area.

Now, as you may remember the solar pieces all comes from an acquisition of technologies from French company SunPartner Technologies. Garmin actually quietly made that acquisition back when the company filed for insolvency, a long time before they announced it in the Fenix 6X Solar last year.

On all Garmin Solar watches the solar panel is basically divided up into two pieces:

A) Visible solar panels (usually on the edging of the display), this has 100% photovoltaic level
B) Solar panels under the display/screen, these have a 10% photovoltaic level

So, the more visible panel contributes substantially more than the one under the display. However, on watches like the Fenix 6 series, there’s far greater surface area under the display than the thin 1mm strip around the edge.

But, on the Instinct Solar, Garmin has added much more solar panel. You can see the slight difference in reflection, which is around much of the interior edge of the display. Everything in red there:

image

This area above has 100% photovoltaic levels, meaning, it’s receiving 100% of the sun’s goodness and turning that into solar power. It’s also clearly visible in bright light, though you’d just assume it was a bezel design element. Inside without bright light (like outside), this strip almost disappears and blends into the bezel.

DSC_6848

However, there’s a second solar panel you can’t see – despite being the entire display face. Under the display is another solar panel that has a 10% photovoltaic level. This panel is of course larger than that of the visible edge pieces, but is also getting 10% of the sun’s rays, due to the display blocking much of it. Importantly though, both panels are below the top glass– so it’s not like you feel the solar areas or can scratch it.

When it comes to seeing solar levels, on the default watch face there’s a sun icon, and next to it the last 6 hours of solar intensity levels.

2020-07-07 17.04.00

If you press down once, you’ll move to the next widget, which shows the same intensity graph, but also shows a sun in the upper right corner. That sun is actually showing you the current intensity level. Around the edge of the little sun etched into the glass are 10 markers (indicating 10 pieces), each indicating 10% of full intensity. So if you look at the below picture you’ll see the sun is coming in at 50% intensity:

2020-07-07 17.04.07

And here’s another at 100% intensity, with all lines lit up as well as the sun itself lit up:

DSC_6853

There isn’t a way to see this directly in a data field mid-activity, however, it’s simply one button away. Just press the lower right button (set), and it’ll take you from sport mode back to the widgets, and you can check the solar levels live.

In addition, you can look back at any day of history you want to via Garmin Connect Mobile:

2020-07-07 17.50.00 2020-07-07 17.49.43

The goal of the solar here isn’t to fully power the watch, under GPS or otherwise. Instead, it’s to provide incremental battery life (more on my testing on this in a second). Garmin notes this in their super-detailed battery life chart. Note specifically the assumption of 3 hours per day of solar light at a pretty high intensity (full sun basically). That goes both ways though. If you’re mid-summer and spending the day at the beach (or work outside), then you’ll way overachieve here. Versus if it’s mid-winter and you’re indoors…then not so much.

image

*Assumes all-day wear with 3 hours per day in 50,000 lux conditions
**Assumes use in 50,000 lux conditions

Wait, so what’s 50,000 lux you ask? It’s a pretty sunny day, though, not living in Arizona in summer kinda sunny. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

image_thumb[2]

Now Garmin doesn’t ever show lux levels in the solar widgets. Instead, they show a relative intensity in terms of solar power. On a pure sunny day here in July in the Netherlands, I easily can get the full sun widget to illuminate. But, I can also do that too even on a high light overcast day (meaning, a super high thin cloud layer). Even with a handful of clouds meandering around.

But wait a second, let’s go back – there was a line-item for ‘Battery Saver’ mode being ‘Unlimited’. What the heck is that?

Well, that comes from the new Power Manager functionality. This was introduced on the Fenix 6 last year, and allows you to basically customize, à la carte style, the different Instinct features you want to get a desired number of hours of battery life. So if you’re half-way through and a hike and realized you forgot to fully charge your watch, you can tweak the battery profiles to get enough juice to make it back.

To access this go into Settings > Power Manager:

DSC_6930

Within this there’s two options. First is ‘Battery Saver’, the other is ‘Power Modes’. We’ll come back to Battery Saver in a second.

DSC_6931

So we’ll select Power Modes and you’ve got a few different default ones. For example, the ‘Max Battery’ option is basically the older-named UltraTrac which reduces the GPS tracking points to roughly every 1-2 minutes (fine for hiking slowly with few switchbacks, sucky for running in the city). It also turns off the optical HR sensor and phone communications. Up in the corner you’ll see how many hours you’ll get based on your current battery level:

DSC_6932

Then there’s jacket mode. That’s when the watch is outside your jacket (like in the winter). You’ll see that shuts off the optical HR sensor (but you can still pair to a chest sensor). But retains Bluetooth phone connectivity.

And then you can freestyle it with your own battery settings, first by giving it a name:

DSC_6934 DSC_6935

Then you’ve got all the settings to change: GPS, Phone, Wrist Heart Rate, Pulse Ox, Breadcrumb Map, Display, Backlight, and Accessories (sensors):

DSC_6939 DSC_6938

Each of these that you toggle on/off will result in different total battery life estimates. In the case of GPS that also means changing things like GPS+GLONASS, GPS+Galileo and UltraTrac.

It’s super powerful if you really need the battery juice.

But lastly, we need to go back to the nuclear option: Battery Saver.

This is the one that gets us the supposed “Unlimited” battery life. In this mode the watch will show you time and date, as well as track steps and distance walked. However, it’ll disable phone and sensor connectivity, as well as PulseOx and the optical HR sensor. It does still however track Solar Intensity.

DSC_6940

In this mode, without any solar juice, you’re going to get about 60 days of battery life. But, once you add in the required 3 hours per day of sunlight, then Garmin says you can go forever. Of course, if you get more than 3 hours of sunlight per day, then you get Forever Plus. Which is basically what the year 2020 feels like.

Now, in order to try to demonstrate some of the Instinct Solar aspects compared to the regular Instinct, I went out for a longer meander yesterday.

For this test I compared an Instinct Solar with a regular Instinct, as well as Fenix 6 Pro Solar with non-Solar.  All identically configured with every possible setting I could find. The theory was to wander for about 3 hours in the sun in reasonably wide open areas (dunes mostly), but of course, the weather dorked with my plans, so it starts off sunny and then eventually got a bit rainy.

Here’s the battery burn charts for the meander:

image

Now, there’s a dramatic difference between the Instinct and Instinct Solar. However, the vast majority of that has nothing to do with Solar. Rather, it’s simply the reality of the lower battery burn profile of the Instinct Solar’s updated internals. Even without Solar power it’s going to burn 50% as much power. Then we layer the Solar pieces on for what’s effectively a 30% bump in juice. And ironically, those numbers get super close up above – 3.75%/hour for the Instinct Solar, compared to 8.62%/hour for the regular Instinct.

Note that both units had a course loaded and were following said course. Both also had phone connectivity enabled.

In talking with Garmin about battery burn rates recorded to files, that in general you’ll get more concrete results with longer activities than shorter ones. Also, because of the frequency in which the battery value is updated, a few seconds one way or the other when we’re talking 0.08% difference can result in a big swing (since it’s only recorded at whole numbers).  That’s fair, and is pretty common for any battery technology that if you really want to get a good idea of the battery burn rates that you need to measure longer periods of time.

By the way, those battery charts are with the DCR Analyzer. We plot battery life for devices that support writing it to the files, including Garmin, Wahoo, and Stages.

2020-07-07 17.04.56

Finally, note that the Instinct Solar and Fenix 6/6S/6X Solar would all be considered from the same solar panel technology “generation”. Of course, as noted earlier, the Instinct Solar simply has a greater surface area of 100% paneling, plus also having a lower baseline battery requirement for powering its monochrome display.

GPS Accuracy:

DSC_6943

There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Instinct activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

First up we’ll start with something relatively easy, my 10-mile hike yesterday. The goal of this was mostly to stay in open-air areas to get more solar power. Still, there was a wooded section the last mile or so. Here’s that data set. This set included a Polar Grit X, Garmin Instinct, Instinct Solar, Fenix 6 Pro, and Fenix 6 Pro Solar.

image

For the first couple of kilometers, all the units were basically identical. Again, there’s basically nothing out here to obstruct the GPS view:

image

Then, I got to the beach area. Along the waterfront there are actually tall apartment/hotel buildings that I came relatively close too. But there was no meaningful impact to GPS accuracy on any of the units:

image

Then it was off into the dunes for a bit. And again, all super boring here:

image

As I got into the trees, I started seeing a tiny bit of variation between the units. But we’re basically talking 2-3 meters difference offset from the path. And it varied which units were most accurate. In general the two Instinct units seemed nearest the track most times. All units were configured with the same GPS+GLONASS.

image image

However, I do want to briefly note that with about 100m to go, the Instinct Solar restarted randomly. It didn’t lose any GPS track data, and allowed me to resume. But it oddly added nearly about a mile (~1.5km) to the summary distance with no reason. It also added 15 minutes. Neither of these make any sense, and Garmin is looking into it. It didn’t impact the GPS track, but just the total value shown on the unit and  in Garmin Connect.

[Update: Garmin dug into the restart, and found it was caused when the Instinct ran out of space. Which was in turn caused by logging on there in case of a crash. Once I deleted the file the Instinct is now happy.]

image

So ultimately, while GPS accuracy was pretty good, the restart gave me extra credit for no reason.

Next, we’ve got a more city-focused run, including going through some buildings. For this one I had with me an Instinct Solar, Casio GBD-H1000, Polar Grit X, Fenix 6 Pro Solar, and Forerunner 935. Here’s that data set:

image

The Casio oddly had GPS lock, showed GPS, started with GPS lock…but then decided against recording the first mile or so of GPS data to the file. I’m not sure why it was upset. You see it start mid-way through the run, above, in the middle of a pond.

In any event, zooming into the park portion first (which is mostly under tree cover this time of year), you’ll see that the Instinct Solar and Grit X were probably closest to the path on the southern side (but was a bit more wobbly on the northern side straightaway). The Fenix 6 Pro Solar was pretty darn smooth on both sides. The Casio seemed a bit drunk on the turns, but was mostly fine for the straightaways.

image

Next, are some buildings. This included running down a street with 5-6 story buildings on both sides (shown at left below). The Garmin/Polar units nailed this, spot on. The Casio…went shopping. Also, for those curious – the Casio was on my right wrist, and the Instinct Solar on my left wrist. The other units were all on the handlebar of the running stroller.

image

Also of note above is that I went through the Rijksmuseum, and most of the watches were pretty good at that. It’s probably 100-125m long of no GPS signal under a massive building. The Instinct Solar slightly cut the corner towards the end, but otherwise it was reasonably clean.

This next section I ran twice, so it looks a bit crowded, but it’s good to see how similar each unit was since I ran in the same spot each time. You see the Casio and FR935 are more variable, whereas the Fenix 6 Pro Solar, Polar Grit X, and Instinct Solar tended to be less variable.

image

Finally, for summary stats, you can see those below. Note that the Casio doesn’t write the summary data to a file…because it actually doesn’t write any files. Instead, you have to download a file from Strava, and that file doesn’t include the summary data properly written (because Casio doesn’t send it).

image

In addition to specific comparisons against other units, I’ve used the Instinct Solar quite a bit for just random rides sans-comparisons. Still, in this case I can easily see whether or not a track is accurate simply by knowing exactly which path I’m on:

image

And even under things like gigantic train station ceiling overhangs – or going below half a dozen rail lines, it has no issues nailing a perfect track:

image

In the case of the Instinct Solar, I’ve actually seen a slight increase in accuracy compared to my original Instinct. I was using that quite a bit in April & May for comparisons, and it struggled more than I liked in scenarios where other watches didn’t. It was on an older GPS chipset which while it did well in general, I didn’t see that as much recently. Whereas the Instinct Solar will likely for most people in most situations GPS accuracy will be just fine. Like with other watches, you’ll still see variations. Given all Garmin/Suunto/Polar/COROS units are using the same GPS chipset series from Sony, the accuracy tends to be pretty similar.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections 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.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:

DSC_7017

Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy, as the Instinct Solar includes the newer optical HR sensor found in Garmin’s Fenix 6 series, Forerunner 245/945, and other watches.

When looking at HR accuracy, this roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR.  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

2020-07-08 15.28.25

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 steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides – and even running up and down a mountain.

Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Polar H9 and the Wahoo TICKR X) as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist or bicep (lately the Whoop band, Polar OH1 Plus, as well as the Mio Pod). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

First up is a run from this past weekend, a relatively tame 10KM loop. Some minor increases in effort here and there, but theoretically a fairly easy workout to deal with heart-rate-wise. Here’s that data set:

image_thumb[1]

There’s a lot going on there sensor-wise, but basically I’m comparing the Instinct Solar to a Polar OH1 Plus, a Garmin HRM-DUAL chest strap, and to the Casio GBD-H1000. In the case of the Casio, its performance may be *slightly* impacted by having to push the stroller (I used my right wrist for this run, the same as the Casio), though realistically it didn’t massively impact it.

Looking at the start, we see a bit of a delay on the Garmin Instinct Solar in terms of reaching my actual HR level. Not substantial – about 35 seconds during that warm-up phase. This isn’t super unusual, especially since I had been standing in the cold windy rain for 5-7 minutes waiting for the Casio to find GPS signal. Of course, despite starting the Casio after GPS-lock and it saying it was started, it waited another mile before it started recording data. So we don’t have any HR or GPS data the first mile for it.

image_thumb[3]

You can see above at the 2:35 & 5:00 minute markers the Instinct Solar & Polar OH1 Plus being slightly delayed to catch shifts in HR intensity compared to the HRM-DUAL. In this scenario it’s easy to see that optical HR lag, though that’s not always the case.

Still, don’t let the scale trick your mind too much – for the vast majority of this run the difference was a mere 0-2BPM between the units. Basically nothing.

The most substantial moment came at the 13-minute marker when I stopped to take a photo. You’ll see here that the chest strap and Polar OH1 Plus very quickly saw that stop in effort. But the Instinct and Casio were delayed about 30-40 seconds. Which in the realm of intervals, is a long time however.

image_thumb[5]

After that moment, they both resumed fairly quickly, matching the chest strap and OH1 Plus.

The remainder of the run is mostly pretty boring, with all units being within 1BPM, except the Casio, which stayed high the entire time. While one might attribute that to pushing the stroller, I kinda doubt it. It’s exceptionally rare for an optical HR sensor to “read high” consistently for an entire run. And by exceptionally rare, I mean – it doesn’t happen. That’s not how optical HR sensors fail. Which makes me believe something else is at work there. More on that in my full in-depth review next week.

image_thumb[7]

Ok, moving to a different workout, this one far more painful – an indoor FTP RAMP test I did yesterday. For this one, it’s all about intensity, though, measured building intensity. Albeit, all the intensity. Here’s that data set:

image_thumb[9]

As you can see, the Instinct got off to another wobbly start for the first minute or two. One could argue that it was because I was preparing things on my bike during that minute or two using my wrists, but honestly, that seems like a bit of a push. After all, it didn’t impact the Fenix 6 Pro Solar on the other wrist.

In any case, for the most part things stabilize by all parties around the 5-minute marker, and were pretty stable until the 15-minute marker.

image_thumb[11]

At that point, the intensity of the FTP test started to settle in, and with it, things got hairy. But not for the Instinct, it tracked no issues here. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Whoop strap. It totally lost the plot numerous times, as it often does with high-intensity exercise:

image_thumb[13]

Then for the remainder, the Whoop strap led the way on the cool-down (probably not in the correct way, but hey, I can’t really argue with ending the workout as quickly as possible). There’s was no meaningful difference when it came to the Instinct and all the other sensors:

image_thumb[15]

Finally, let’s add in another indoor workout – this time a 90-minute long trainer ride. The Instinct Solar started the adventure about 5 minutes late, my fault, not its. Here’s the full data set:

image_thumb[17]

At a high level above, things look fairly similar, but let’s zoom in on some random chunks:

image_thumb[19]

What you see is a bit of a ‘blocky’ look to it. That’s what happens when you forget to turn off Smart Recording and it records supposedly ‘Smartly’. In reality, it’s not smart. And even more so indoors, because there’s no other data to use to trigger a new recording point. So as such, you get way more time between recording points. Thankfully the Instinct offers a 1-second recording mode, but it’s not set for default. And in this case I didn’t remember to change it till later.

In any event, most of those blocks appear to be caused by the recording rate and spiking. However, the one at 41 minutes is a bit odd. While the others meant the HR was off by 2-3BPM, this one was off by 10BPM:

image_thumb[21]

It lasted about 15-20 seconds, for no apparent reason. I’m not sure if perhaps I had changed the video on the TV at that point using the remote, and that action triggered it, or what. It’s not ideal, but over the course of a 90-minute workout, it’s unlikely that one dip for a dozen or so seconds is going to matter to most people.

Ok, so what’s the deal on the optical HR bits? Overall it’s basically the same as the FR945, Fenix 6, and other watches I’ve tested with this same sensor. It’s clearly different than the original Instinct, both in terms of physical hardware and accuracy. I’ve got an interval workout scheduled tomorrow, so I’ll throw that into the mix as well after I suffer through it.

Wrap-Up:

DSC_6944

In some ways Garmin probably could have tried to pass off the Instinct Solar as an Instinct 2. After all, it’s got entirely new internals, 2-3x the battery life, a far more capable heart rate sensor, and even new surf stuffs. But that might have been a tough push, given that it lacks substantial other new unique software features that say explain ‘Second Edition’. Still, it is a big upgrade. And interestingly, it’s probably an upgrade targeted directly at Casio with the GBD-H1000.

At least in some circles. Ultimately, if you’re a Casio person you’re probably still gonna buy a Casio. But, if you’re on the fence for a Casio-ish looking watch, then you’re considering the Instinct. With pricing pretty similar, Garmin basically makes the case that ‘If you care about sports, there’s no competition’. And here’s the thing: It’s kinda true. While the Casio has a bigger display and arguably better solar power capabilities, I’d argue practically those won’t matter for most with the Instinct Solar’s increased battery life. Plus, as I’ll detail in a full Casio GBD-H1000 review next week – the sport aspects of the Casio are incredibly limited. It has massive potential, but as of today it’s simply a very clear ‘Gen 1’ watch with respect to sports/fitness.

Which isn’t to say the Instinct Solar is perfect. After all, mine rebooted on a workout yesterday. It’s plausible that had to do with some debug software on there, but it’s also plausible it wasn’t the cause [Garmin has since confirmed it was debug logging that caused the crash]. No data was lost though. And of course there’s the reality that the look of the Instinct certainly isn’t for everyone. Just like it wasn’t with the original Instinct. Still – tons of people do like it (more than I ever expected).

So, if you were considering an original Instinct, I’d argue this is probably a pretty strong alternative. Though, whether it’s worth some $200 more is a much more challenging question (since the Instinct seems oft on sale for $199). But hey, at least you’ve got options now, right?

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? 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.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, 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 $99, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Garmin Instinct Solar (select drop-down for colors/models)
Garmin Instinct Solar Surf (select drop-down for colors/models)
Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical (select drop-down for colors/models)

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pick up the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too!

Garmin Instinct Solar (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin watches. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Garmin Cadence Sensor V2This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest StrapThis is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM StrapsWhile optical HR works on some newer Garmin watches, if you're looking for higher levels of accuracy, the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM are the best Garmin-compatible options out there to fill the gap.
Garmin Puck ChargerSeriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
Garmin Speed Sensor V2This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

Or, anything else you pick up 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.

]]>
103
5 Random Things I did This Weekend https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-105.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-105.html#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2020 08:35:20 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114654 Read More Here ]]> As we usher in July (already?), here’s what I was up to this past weekend. Overall, for the most part here in the greater Amsterdam region, unless you were planning on partaking in some event, things are mostly back to normal, minus various social distancing measures that are easy to work within.  That includes the weather, which is consistently inconsistent, as always.

1) Zwift L’Etape du Tour de France Failures

2020-07-03 17.25.47

On Friday evening I brought home my road bike and another trainer. I usually use a Tacx NEO 2 (not 2T) at home, but I wanted to get some more mileage on the Flux 2.1 instead.

I kicked off Saturday morning attempting to participate in the Zwift L’Etape du Tour, for Stage 1. My first failed attempt at 9AM I’d chalk up to mostly my fault, as I got on my bike around 8:57AM, and by the time the app finished thinking about life, the group had already gone off. Though, I’d question why on earth Zwift can’t just start me directly in the event starting pen, versus first starting me in another place on the world/map and then transporting me (which, is what ultimately pushed me over the edge).

So, I tried again at 11AM – this time getting there about 8 minutes early. I got off to a successful start:

2020-07-04 11.01.15

I was using an iPad atop a suitcase in our shed/garage thingy at home, along with a Tacx Flux 2.1.

2020-07-04 12.05.11

Was riding for about 25 or so minutes when a notification came in that didn’t go away, so I tried to swipe it away…which totally failed and I ended up opening the notification app instead. Going back to Zwift basically froze Zwift in place. It’d do something for a second or two, and then hang.

This is me, showing it frozen, with 0 watts.

2020-07-04 11.25.32

Mind you, this is pretty normal for Zwift on an iPad in events. I’ve seen this numerous times over the years.

So, after waiting a few minutes just in case, I killed the app and re-opened, at which point it asked if I wanted to resume my activity. Great!

2020-07-04 11.28.17-1

Except, no.

It resumed me on the map in regular Watopia, not the event.

Then, it asked me if I’d like to re-join the event.

Woot!

Except, no.

It then skipped me ahead a few miles towards the front of the pack.

2020-07-04 11.30.42

Why? Why on earth would, in an event like this, you ever skip me ahead? I don’t want the ‘free distance’. With 5,000 other people, there would still be people behind me. Or, if you really wanted to put me back towards the front, why not ask that first? Or just ask if I wanted to resume where I left off?

And here’s the thing – no part of this is about processing power or lack thereof of the iPad. The iPad didn’t freeze due to too many people. No, it hung because for whatever reason Zwift can’t properly resume when it loses focus on iOS. And, let’s pretend that’s OK. Why, after restarting the app, can’t it simply start me back where I left off? I’d have been OK with Zwift if it did that.

Sigh. I ended up finishing, but still have a giant gap in that stage. And I certainly don’t care to attempt a 3rd go at that stage.

2020-07-04 12.01.26

Oh, and I’m definitely not alone. And that’s only the handful of people that even knew to complain there.

So, here’s my proposal to Zwift management: Stop using swanky $5,000 Alienware PC’s to ride your events. Seriously, just stop. Start using normal (non-Pro) iPad’s and see how it works. Try it out on large scale events. This hasn’t changed in years, it’s still just as bad. Fix lack of background access to sensors. Fix lack of resumption during events.

2) Celebrating Cake

After my L’Etape failures, I ate cake.

The first four days of July each include a separate day of note in our family:

A) Canada Day
B) US Independence Day
C) Our anniversary
D) Peanut #1’s birthday

Thus, everything got rolled together into cake on Saturday. Obviously, that cake was for her 4th birthday…or at least, that’s what she thought. I mean, most Canadian’s and American’s celebrate those holidays with a mermaid cake – don’t you?

2020-07-04 13.44.39-1

The Girl made the mermaid cake, because that’s what The Peanut wanted for her birthday. It was chocolate with a crushed Oreo icing – just like what used to be served back at the Cupcakery.  Mmm…Oreos!

3) Running in The Rain

Sunday morning I went out for a run with Peanut #3. I’m reasonably sure this was her first run (she’s 8 months old). Going into the run, I knew the weather wasn’t exactly going to be all sunshine and butterflies, but I didn’t really care. In fact, sometimes rainy runs are more fun (in the summer).

So, got her in a snowsuit and called it done:

2020-07-05 09.06.34

Then, off I went. First through Vondelpark, then to the Rijksmuseum (then through it), and then looped back around for another circuit in the park. All in, about 10KM in length.

2020-07-05 09.21.48

I had put a few watches on my wrist, and a few watches on the stroller. As usual, the ones on the stroller were mostly just collecting additional HR sensor data (one from a chest strap, another from a Polar OH1 Plus on an armband). Also, some GPS reference data.

2020-07-05 09.32.52

The wind was howling a bit too, with sideways rain as well.  But, all in – a nice run in the rain. Empty streets around the museum, and just runners on the paths in the park (with some socially distanced groups doing activities off on the grass).

4) Some Tour de France Virtual Watching

2020-07-05 15.10.27

Later on Sunday I briefly watched a bit of both the men’s and women’s races for what was Stage 2 of the Virtual Tour de France. I had also watched a bit on Saturday too.

2020-07-05 15.12.14

I’ll probably actually watch the full stages over the course of the week in the background while I do other stuff, but honestly didn’t really have four hours of weekend time to spare with the usual circus that is home with three Peanuts.

Though, I think the biggest impediment to me ‘getting into it’, isn’t the virtual aspect, nor the graphics, nor even it being only an hour long. Rather, it’s the concept that a given rider can’t actually win the entire series. That’s due to the restriction that a specific rider can only ride three times during the entire series (or four times for the women), it kinda takes away from the spirit of someone being able to ‘win’.

I mean, I get it’s supposed to be a team something or other – but…well…nobody is racing outside at this point, and nobody is ‘saving’ themselves for any other big event right now (certainly not one nearly two months away, if the real TdF actually happens). Again – I appreciate the distraction, I just wish it felt like more was actually on the line. I’ll note of course that’s fully likely an ASO or Velon driven restriction, and not one dictated by Zwift.

5) Goats, Cheese, and Bikes

I wouldn’t exactly call the weather these past few days amazing.

But, after basically four months of sun – it’s hard to complain too much (another few weeks though…and then I’ll change my mind).

So, we finally got a couple hours of sun late Sunday afternoon and took advantage of it for a ride through the forest (Bos) to the goat farm.

2020-07-05 17.50.09

We’ve been here before of course, though it’s been a while.

2020-07-05 17.59.13

They’ve got roaming goats the kids can pet and baby goats that can be fed small bottles of milk.

2020-07-05 18.06.38

Previously to enter the grounds it was free, but with the lack of visitors due to COVID19, they’ve instituted a 2EUR/person fee. That’s totally fair by itself.

2020-07-05 18.11.46

But what makes it an amazing deal is the 2EUR/person fee is actually just a voucher to the café/cheese store. In other words, it’s just a totally valid excuse to buy fresh cheese from the farm.

2020-07-05 18.24.32

So obviously, we did that:

2020-07-05 22.18.39-1

It’s entirely plausible that we bought too much cheese. Maybe.

With that – thanks for reading and have a good week ahead!

]]>
37
Week in Review–July 6th, 2020 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/week-in-review-july-6th-2020.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/week-in-review-july-6th-2020.html#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2020 07:03:59 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114610 Read More Here ]]> WeekInReview22

The Week in Review is a collection of both all the goodness I’ve written during the past week around the internet, as well as a small pile of links I found interesting – generally endurance sports related. I’ve often wondered what to do with all of the coolness that people write, and while I share a lot of it on Twitter and Facebook, this is a better forum for sending it on to y’all. Most times these different streams don’t overlap, so be on the lookout at all these places for good stuff!

So with that, let’s get into the action!

Sports Tech Deals of Note:

Here’s a smattering of current sports tech deals. The Apple Watch Series 5 one is probably one of the most solid ones.

ProductSale PriceAmazonClever TrainingSale Notes
Garmin Vivoactive 3$129⚡ Obviously this is the previous edition, but dang, it's still a good price for a great little GPS watch. This has mostly been on sale at this price range for a while now, however, I've included it in the list merely because if you're looking for a deal then this is probably one of the best deals out there.
GoPro Hero 8 Black - $100 off!$299⚡ This is a great deal - and the lowest we've ever seen the GoPro Hero 8 down to. Of course, I don't expect a new version anytime soon (GoPro always release late Sept/early Oct). But, the Hero 8 is my go-to cam these days.

DCRAINMAKER.COM Posts in the Past Week:

Here’s all the goodness that ended up on the main page this past week:

Sunday: DCR Video: Riding Zwift on the Actual Champs-Élysées
Tuesday: Garmin Acquires Firstbeat Analytics: A Quick Analysis of the Winners and Losers
Tuesday: Polar’s Unite Fitness Watch: Hands-on Details and First Run
Friday: Stages Bike (SB20) In-Depth Review

YouTube Videos This Past Week:

Here’s what hit the tubes over on the You of Tube, definitely don’t forget to subscribe there to get notified of videos the second they hit!

Stuff I Found Interesting Around The Interwebs:

Here’s a not-so-small smattering of all the random things that I stumbled on while doing my civic duty to find the end of the Internet (and in this case, some of these are from the past few weeks to clear out the backlog):

1) The Banned Vanmoof Ad: The ad was OK, but of course, the real magic was having it manage to get banned in France – and just drawing attention to the situation.

2) Google acquisition of Fitbit getting closer scrutiny from EU: It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, Fitbit launches this fall. Given the company is still operating independently of Google, it puts them in a tough spot – unless they simply decided to go towards Wear OS anyway for new devices per their previously announced plan with Google.

3) Apple sleep tracking planned for over five years: While a good headline, I’m sure someone had it on a notepad somewhere to add sleep tracking. Ya know, given it’s been on every other competitive wearable company for 5-6 years. Plus, they did buy a sleep tracking company a few years later. That said, I completely agree on the REM sleep aspects of the interview.

4) Peloton rolls out Roku streaming app: It’s a super smart strategy to be as device agnostic as possible on the platform side (for those without bikes). They also rolled out Apple TV support back a bit ago this fall. Still, these apps lack significant amounts of workout target type metrics that the bike does have.

5) Lululemon buys Mirror for half a billion dollars: Well then.

6) Google Glass Part 2? Google buys North, a company focused on smart glasses. Ultimately, this product category won’t catch on in sports until GPS is integrated, battery life is 6-8 hours, do *everything* a watch or bike computer does, and the entire package looks like normal glasses. It’s this last line item and 2nd to last item that’s currently failing. (via Patrick)

7) Older Apple Patent around Cyclist Wind Resistance Shows up in News Cycle: However, this first came around 3-4 years ago when the patent was first applied for, but the patent hasn’t actually been issued yet best I can tell. Which, makes sense…cause it’s pretty much exactly what the PowerPod/iBike from Velocomp has been doing for probably a decade prior to Apple’s patent.

Sports Tech Device Firmware Updates This Week:

Each week I quickly highlight some of the new firmware, app, software, and website service updates that I see go out. If you’re a sports technology company and release an update – shoot me a quick note (just one-liners are perfect, or Tweet it at me is even better) and I’ll make mention of it here. If I don’t know about it, I won’t be able to post about it. Sound good?  Oh – and if you want to get a head start on things, this page is a great resource for watching Garmin and a few other firmware updates.

Garmin Instinct Beta Firmware Update: Compass bug fix

Garmin Fenix 6 Series/MARQ BETA Firmware Update: Bug fixes

Polar Grit X Firmware Update: Some bug fixes, some tweaks to existing features

Suunto 7 Firmware/Software Update: Adds better integration to Google Fit, improved GPS accuracy, other tweaks

Wahoo ELEMNT/BOLT/ROAM Firmware Update: ‘Stability Improvements’

Thanks for reading!

 

]]>
7
Stages Bike (SB20) In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/stages-bike-sb20-smart-bike-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/stages-bike-sb20-smart-bike-in-depth-review.html#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2020 08:18:56 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114415 Read More Here ]]> DSC_6503

The Stages Bike becomes what I’d argue is the ‘final’ competitor to land in the indoor smart bike space for probably some time. Last summer we saw Wahoo, Tacx, and Stages all launch their first smart bike offerings at Eurobike, albeit on varied timelines. That’s in addition to Wattbike already having theirs in the market at the time and just launching their updated V2 variant last week.

The Stages Bike is in many ways like those others, but also in many ways not. Each company has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Stages core strength is they’ve built more bikes than any other company in this segment. Sure, you might know them as a power meter company, but the rest of the world knows them as an indoor bike company, both with their own lineup of bikes, but also for numerous high profile brands too.

The Stages Bike’s origins are clearly from their commercial gym lineup – but it also pulls from the company’s power meter heritage too. Each Stages SB20 bike has a dual-sided power meter built into the crank arms. Unlike all the other bikes on the market, Stages is actually measuring power, not just doing the math on it. Though practically speaking, all the other bikes have been pretty darn accurate – so that hasn’t really been a true issue.

In any case, the main difference between the new Stages Bike (SB20) and all of Stage’s other bikes is that this one is a smart controllable bike that works with apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and The Sufferfest. So when the terrain goes up, the bike, in turn, mimics that.

With that, I’ve had one now in the DCR Cave for almost two months and have been putting it through its paces with workouts 3-5 times a week. I’ve pedaled a lot on this bike. So much so that I even made a full review video on it. You can just tap play below:

Otherwise, you can continue on to piles of text.

Note that Stages sent over this media loaner unit to try out. Once I’m done with it, I’ll figure out how to get it back down the Dutch staircase and back into the semi-truck that dropped it off – so it can find its home back at Stages. Or maybe I’ll just stick it on a passing canal boat and hope for the best. Either way, if you found this review useful you can hit up the links at the bottom.

With that – let’s get digging into it!

Unboxing & Setup:

DSC_4973

For each company’s smart bike that I’ve unboxed, I’ve seen slightly different tacks taken with their box design. For example, with the Tacx NEO Bike Smart, it was all about a super-optimized and small box. For the Wattbike Atom, it was the idea that you could take the lid off the box and the bike was basically ready to go. With Stages? It was clearly: “This bike box is ready for war – we’re gonna pack this thing to fall out the back of an airplane and still survive!”

Which, might not be a bad plan. Until stairs are involved.

The stated shipping weight of the Stages bike and box is a hefty 160 pounds (72.5kg). In a non-COVID19 world, Stages had planned so-called ‘white-glove’ delivery, just like a Peloton bike. These days that’s not currently allowed, so they drop it at your door and you’ve gotta man or woman-up and make it work. Just like I did:

However, if going upstairs/downstairs you’re best to de-box it on the main level, as that’ll dramatically reduce the weight by having individual components to move. Obviously, in my case I didn’t do that and made my life more challenging. It’s how I generally roll.

Flip open the side of the box, and everything is somehow magically packed inside:

DSC_4975

Five minutes later of unboxing, it’ll look like this:

DSC_4982

And here’s a closer up gallery of those parts:

Roughly speaking this boils down to the following:

A) Bike frame
B) Bike feet/stabilizers
C) Handlebars
D) Front tablet holder
E) Nine million pieces of packaging
F) Power cord
G) A bunch of hex wrenches

No part of the installation is difficult, nor even hard to do solo. If you managed to get the box/parts where you wanted to by yourself, then that’s the hardest part. Most of it is simply time-consuming removing enough packaging to supply an Amazon warehouse for a few days. Better safe than sorry?

First up is getting the feet on the bike to get the bike all stabilized before attaching everything else:

DSC_4990 DSC_4992

Next, you’ll slide the main front post/assembly onto the bike.

DSC_5023

This includes threading the wiring down the tube, but that’s mostly already done for you. You just attach it at the end.

DSC_5025

Then you’ve got the choice of attaching the tablet holder or not. In my case I added it, but you can skip it (especially if you plan to add triathlon/TT bars later). Or, if you’ve already got a big screen or something.

DSC_5027

Even though I have a big screen, I’ve found it perfect for TrainerRoad workouts. I use the big screen to watch what I’m gonna watch, while using the tablet holder to hold my iPad with TrainerRoad.

Next, we’ll need to install pedals on there. The bear-claw style cranks means you can choose from four crank arm lengths: 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm, 175mm.

image

You can choose whether or not to use a washer with your pedals depending on the pedal. In this case I went with a pedal with them to get just enough clearance for the pods. If using a hex wrench through the back of the pedal, it’s a bit tight – but you can make it work:

Next, you’ll need to remove the small battery tag off the battery compartment:

image

The Stages Bike technically has three power meters on it: One per crank arm, and then a secondary reference one at the flywheel. The ones on each crank arm are basically like those from a Stages power meter that you’d install on your bike. Except in this case they control the entire casting/specs of the crank, so it’s even more accurate. But otherwise you can pair to that power meter just like a normal power meter. Kinda neat.

And finally, don’t forget to plug it in:

DSC_6603

You will need to remember to adjust in the Stages app afterwards the crank length to get correct power, don’t worry, it’ll walk you through that.

2020-07-01 12.12.35 2020-07-01 12.08.03 2020-07-01 12.08.12

And with that, we’ve got the bike ready to set up. Do double-check and ensure you’ve got the latest firmware, but we’ll talk about the app in a minute anyway.

The Basics:

DSC_6561

For this section, I’ll cover some of the basics of the hardware, before we get into setup of rider fit as well as things like gearing and shifting, plus app connectivity. All of which are detailed in separate sections. There’s a tiny bit of overlap from this section to others, but I think this is laying the foundation for later geekery.

Like all these bikes, it’ll require power to fully take advantage of all its features – namely resistance control and broadcasting of data. Though interestingly, the Stages Bike can actually still broadcast your power with just its little battery-powered crank arms, even when not plugged in. It’s a nifty party trick.

Here’s a closer look at the power brick specs:

DSC_6600

Now as I just alluded to, that doesn’t actually power the entire bike. It powers the ‘smart bike’ side of it, but the actual power broadcasting for the non-bike part comes from the crank arms. So those are the battery caps we removed the packing tape from back in the unboxing. Realistically that’ll last you at least a year – unless you’re putting in crazy hours on it weekly. It’s one CR2032 per crank arm.

However, the plug does power other aspects. For example, it’s what allows the bike to be smart controllable, increasing or decreasing resistance. Also, it’s what powers the shifting, as well as the two 2AMP USB ports at the front of the bike:

DSC_6606

I like these ports. Like the Tacx Bike, they’re in a good spot and have reliably powered all my things without issue. No problems keeping my iPad fully charged while also using it for Zwift or YouTube.

DSC_6612

Speaking of which, let’s take a look at this entire front console setup. As you remember from before, I selected to install the included tablet holder. You don’t have to, but it’s super well built and I’ve found good uses for it. With TrainerRoad, I run it on an iPad there, and then use my big screen TV for watching movies or whatever. And then with Zwift, I actually started using it with the same iPad turned vertically to run the companion app. Thus leaving my phone to run the Stages shifting app:

DSC_6473

The tablet holder is spring-loaded and easily fit my iPad both vertically or horizontally. Additionally, it has an inset piece to also hold just a smaller phone:

DSC_6618

DSC_6617 DSC_6616

The phone meanwhile has its own little throne, below the tablet holder (and still there if you don’t install the tablet holder). This has a rubberized non-slip surface that keeps it in place, and a gap in the bottom so a charging cable can go to your phone.

DSC_6620 DSC_6621

You can also stash a remote control there too, but honestly, without any edges you’ll eventually just bonk it off. For those, I ended up using either a trainer desk (like the Wahoo KICKR Desk or this generic one I’ve actually been using lately), or also just the spare water bottle holder for most rides. The bike has two of them:

DSC_6619

Notably absent at this point is any sort of display to see your shifting.  We’ll get into that later – but it’s a bummer.

Next, there’s auxiliary ports on the stem of the bike. These are used for connecting additional shifters you can place wherever you want. For example, you could actually wire up some time trial bars if you wanted to, to make a TT/triathlon bike. Unlike Wahoo/Tacx/others, Stages is already shipping these (and in fact, a set is on the way to me in the next few days – I’ll update the review once installed. There’s three ports on each side, two of which are open on each side.

DSC_6623

Stages says the ports can also be used for any other magical idea down the road too, just like the Aux ports we saw on the KICKR Bike. I can only assume it’ll be for a nacho cheese dispenser.

I’ll dive deeply into shifting later, but essentially on each side of the handlebars there’s buttons on the interior that can be customized. There’s also one brake per side. While these don’t function in apps today, they will stop the bike’s flywheel just like on a real bike:

DSC_6624 DSC_6626

Speaking of that flywheel, it’s a beast. The biggest beast in fact – coming in at a whopping 50 pounds (22.7kg) The KICKR bike flywheel is a mere 5.9KG and the WattBike Atom’s is 9.3kg. The Tacx NEO Bike however can ‘simulate’ 125KG, but that’s sorta a different situation.

DSC_6498

However, despite being beastly, it doesn’t make much noise. In fact, I’d argue it’s the quietest smart bike out there. The closest would be the Tacx NEO Bike Smart, which is I think very slightly louder. But we’re talking basically the sound of a microwave. The Wahoo Bike is louder than both, and the Wattbike Atom V1 louder than all those.

*You can listen to the audio within the video at the top of the page at the 13:00 marker*

Now, that said, I did start running into odd sounds about two weeks ago with the Stages Bike, whereby it started creating a slight thunking sound from somewhere inside the flywheel. Stages believes the flywheel bearings might be bad, and has offered to swap out the flywheel. GPLAMA thinks I should just replace it with a big wheel of Gouda cheese from the cheese shop around the corner. However, I checked into that, and that’d actually cost a sizable portion of the Stages Bike cost. Not a cheap option.

In any case, the sound actually went away this past week. So…ok. Either way, Stages customer service is pretty well known as being super responsive, so I’m not super worried about it at this point.

DSC_6627

In terms of road-like feel of that flywheel, it’s pretty good. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s a massive difference to the Wahoo KICKR Bike or Tacx NEO Bike. All of them feel pretty good. And in the case of both of those units, they can forward-drive the flywheel while descending in apps like Zwift. The Stages Bike doesn’t have that, and it’s something I kinda have come to enjoy.

Now, to wrap up this section I’ve got a quick little summary of things I do and don’t like about the bike from a basics standpoint. I hesitate to call this a pros and cons list, though that’s more or less what it is. I’m sticking it here in the middle of the review so people that just skip to the end without reading will miss it (and thus hopefully read the whole review to make an informed decision – nuance matters). I’ll ignore any accuracy likes/dislikes in this section and keep it more on practical things, also ignoring spec-specific things too. Basically, this is more of a practical list of likes/dislikes:

Things I really like:

– The tablet mount is nailed, it might look a bit clunky, but it’s the most stable one out there and easiest to actually use
– Double water bottle cage holder
– Dedicated rubberized spot for placing your phone, with two USB ports below
– No wires sticking out, tons of expansion ports already usable today
– Usability between riders and super quick and clean (not clunky like some bikes)
– No rubbing anywhere, easily fits me and my awesome calves
– The Dream Drive concept is cool for configurable shifting jumps

Things I really dislike:

– I’m not a fan of the Stages Bike shifter hardware, it’s hard to overstate how good the KICKR Bike shifters are in comparison
– Lack of small screen for gear indicator display is a pretty tough pill to swallow
– ERG mode stability is pretty rough (this is slated to be addressed in firmware)
– It’s not exactly the most sleek bike looks-wise, looks more like a gym bike than a home bike
– While minor, I wish the unit didn’t require batteries. I get that realistically you’ll have to change it only once a year, but still.

You’ll see the same list formatting on all my indoor bike reviews. With that, onto the details of rider setup, and then shifting

Bike & Rider Fit Setup:

DSC_6630

Ok, with everything all built, we’ll get the bike fit to you from a sizing standpoint.  Later on in the post, I talk about multi-user considerations and swapping positions. Given Stages experience in selling more indoor bikes for the gym market than probably anyone else, they’ve pretty much nailed the customization aspects of the bike from a sizing standpoint.

With the SB20, you can adjust the bike in these five ways (plus more if you include loosening the handlebars and changing the orientation there):

1) Saddle height (up/down)
2) Saddle position (forward/back/tilt)
3) Handlebar height (up/down)
4) Handlebar position (forward/back)
5) Seat tilt

In the case of the Stages Bike, you can also adjust crank length too of course, within the four parameters noted earlier. Unlike the KICKR Bike, there’s no need to adjust a step/stand-over height, since it’s designed without a top-tube (so as to maximize sizing for shorter riders).

Here’s a quick gallery of all of those measurement bits.  Like Wahoo and Tacx, Stages also only puts ruler measurements on the right side of the bike (plus the top for the saddle fore/aft). Though in Stages case those measurements are laser-etched into the frame, versus just stickers on the other bikes.

To adjust a given component you’ll either use a rotating knob (saddle/seatpost/front post), or a lever (front handlebars fore/aft). All of them work great, and are infinitely adjustable, compared to the KICKR bike which in some cases locks into certain grooves. Or in the case of the Tacx Bike where the handles stick out at odd angles.

DSC_6638 DSC_6639 DSC_6640

However, what Stages lacks compared to Wahoo is a sizing/fit guide. Unlike Wahoo’s app which will duplicate our road bike setup using your phones camera, or tell you exactly what sizes to put the bike at based on your inseam/height/etc – Stages mostly just says ‘Shrug – you figure it out’ (just as Tacx does).

Technically, Stages does have a small portion of their web user guide that talks in general about how to take measurements from your outdoor bike and convert them to your indoor bike:

image

One of the issues I saw on the Wahoo Bike, and to a lesser extent the Tacx bike, was what I dubbed the ‘thigh gap’ problem. Which was that the seat stay of those bikes were abnormally large, and thus would actually rub against certain people’s thighs (mine, and others).

However, I’m happy to say that the Stages Bike mirrors that of the Wattbike Atom and there’s no thigh-gap issue. This is because of the lack of top-tube frame design. So it’s not even an issue.  To be clear, look at the three other bikes and the top-tube:

DSC_8419

And then look at the measurements for those:

DSC_8435 DSC_8436 DSC_8437

Now the 40.40mm measurement (basically at your ankles) for the Stages Bike – but again, it’s at your ankles, so it’s a non-issue:

DSC_6641

Next, there’s the crank length. The Stages bike supports 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm, and 175mm crank arm sizing, via the bear-paw design. You simply put your pedals into whatever crank arm hole you want, and magically it’s the right crank arm length:

DSC_6642

Finally, what about triathletes or time-trialist? The Stages Bike doesn’t include any aerobars or specific aerobar kits. But it uses a standard 31.8mm handlebar, which means most aerobar clip-ons will work just fine. However, in order for most aerobars to work you’ll need to remove the tablet holder. Not a big deal, since they include a front cover plate. It’s plausible with shorty aerobars you can make them fit, but I don’t have a pair handy.

Beyond the aerobar attachment, all other TT/triathlon-type aspects would really fall more under the rest of the FIT section above. Given the flexibility here, I imagine most folks will have no issues finding their right fit here. And, Stages also already offers remote shifters that you can integrate into your aerobars – something that nobody else offers. So that’s a huge deal for triathletes. A set of those is on the way to me as we speak

Finally – what about multi-user scenarios in terms of the software settings?

Stages says that the best option there is to use their Stages Link app, installed on each person’s own smartphone, and then to connect to the bike to set the gearing customizations that you want before starting your session (actually, you can technically set them mid-way through the session too). As soon as the other person’s app connects to the bike it’ll update the settings with those from that person’s app.

2020-07-02 12.15.15 2020-07-02 12.15.33

I’d love to see apps like Zwift, FulGaz, etc, be able to send your gearing customizations straight to the bike from your account profile. That way it’s just there for whoever jumps on the bike. Still, it’s a general problem that hasn’t really been solved for the industry yet, but with Zwift looking to build their own bike – it’s something that’ll need to get solved sooner or later.

Overall though, the Stages Bike is super flexible in terms of getting everything fit to your specific needs. I had no problems with my fit setup on it.

Shifting, Braking, and Steering:

DSC_6645

When it comes to shifting on the Stages Bike, I’d put it in the ‘mostly good, but still a work in progress’ category. Meaning that it’s more flexible than the Wattbike Atom, but not anywhere near as nailed as the Wahoo KICKR Bike. Some of that will be tweaked via software, but some pieces are shortcomings in the actual shifters themselves. On the flip-side, the KICKR bike cost like $700 more.

But first, let’s step back just a little bit. The purpose of adjustability to shifting in an indoor bike may not seem obvious at first. But this bike is replacing your outdoor bike, and on that bike you’ve got a specific gearing setup you’re used to. Be it the shifters type (such as Di2), or having a different gearing combination (like a compact crankset). If you’re going to do an app or route with lots of climbing, you’ll want to replicate that compact crankset (or, change into such a crankset).

With the Stages Bike, you’re going to configure this shifting using the Stages Link app. It’s effectively your digital bike shop for what you want your stages virtual drivetrain to look like. I say ‘virtual’, because, well…it’s virtual. But also because it’s effectively infinitely customizable. Nothing physical changes on your bike. It’s just simulating different gearing.

So once you’ve got it all paired up you’ll connect to the bike. The first time you do so you’ll get the option to create your virtual bike. You can create numerous virtual bikes. So this is just your first one. Give it a name to begin, and then choose the type of gearing and buttons:

2020-07-02 12.11.31 2020-07-02 12.11.43

When it comes to gearing you’ve essentially got three core options:

Dream: With Dream Drive you can customize the number of total gearing steps, and then how many steps you want the left shifter to ‘increment’ each time you press it. The right shifter will always increment one shift up or down. Don’t worry, I’ll explain it in a second.
Road: With the road bike config, you’ve got a standard 1x and 2x configurations.
MTB: While I saw this option initially, I actually can’t get back to it specifically after the fact, I think it’s just rolled under the generic ‘Custom’ setting.

Once you’ve done that, then for the road and MTB button options you can customize the exact front chainring and rear cassette gearing. If you dive into the Road settings you’ll see options for 1x and 2x (meaning one chainring or two chainrings), and then options for 11 or 12 speed:

2020-07-02 12.12.57 2020-07-02 12.12.39

In general, I think Dream Drive is probably where the goods are. With Dream Drive, you’re effectively on a 1X type system. You’ve got a single virtual front chainring, and then up to 50 rear cogs. The key though is that your front gear shifter becomes a super-shifter. So instead of shifting just up/down once (as the rear shifter does), this can shift a customizable number of times. For example, tap the front gear shifter and it shifts by default 3 steps. But you can make that 5 steps or even 10 steps. Here, take look at the default at left (3 steps) – and then a tweaked version at right (5 steps):

2020-07-02 12.15.33 2020-07-02 12.15.40

It’s a pretty cool concept, though, like most of these bikes – does take a little bit to get used to. And, I’d argue – really re-enforces the need for a gear shifting display. Which, is why you can connect using the Stages Link app to act as that secondary display:

DSC_6488

This way you can see in real-time what you’re currently in, as well as easily switch gear mid-ride. Now note that as of today, the Stages Bike only accepts one concurrent Bluetooth Smart connection. When it first shipped, it was dual Bluetooth Smart (plus unlimited ANT+), but then they rolled back to a single Bluetooth Smart (and still unlimited ANT+) connections to sort out some issues. However, as of yesterday I tried a new beta firmware update that brings back the dual Bluetooth Smart bits. That allowed me to use my iPhone to connect to the Stages Bike while also using Apple TV to connect to it for Zwift:

DSC_6473

However, we should probably talk about the shifters themselves. Which, are basically just small buttons. On the inside of each handlebar where our thumbs go there are three buttons. Two of which are used by default on each side. The left side will increase/decrease your front chainring (virtually), or, increase/decrease big skips with Dream Drive.

DSC_6491

While the right side will increment the rear cassette (again, virtually). This will go up/down a single increment/gear shift.

DSC_6493

But all this is customizable within the app. So you can scroll down in the app and change these buttons, as well as the remote shifters that connect to them.

DSC_6646

You can assign them to do whatever you want shift-wise:

2020-07-02 12.15.46 2020-07-02 12.15.50

In addition, down below on the lower portion of the handlebars there’s two more shifter buttons on each side, sorta wedged under the tape. These are also customizable as you see fit up above.

DSC_6647

Also, as noted earlier there’s further yet aux ports for those remote shifter cables. They’ve shipped over to me, so once I have them in-hand I’ll go ahead and update this post to show how they work. There’s three per side, and you can see that one port on each side is already utilized.

DSC_6648

And yes, those are customizable too:

2020-07-02 12.16.25 2020-07-02 12.16.45

You’ll also notice there’s brakes on each side of the handlebar. These brakes don’t stop the in-game avatar in Zwift (or any other app), but will stop the flywheel when held. In fact, if you hold those brakes while trying to pedal, it’ll actually cause your Zwift dude or dudette to go faster. That’s because it spikes your power (since it requires more effort to pedal with the brakes on, just like outside).

DSC_6645

Perhaps some day we’ll get braking in Zwift. Until then, they aren’t super useful.

It’s worth noting that none of the indoor bikes today (including Stages) support the ANT+ Shifting Profile at this time. While not a big deal, it’d be cool if that data was transmitted and then recorded by apps or bike computers, just like it is on a real bike. This really shouldn’t be that hard and I’ve yet to think (or hear of) any technical blocker here. After all, most head unit companies already support it today.

And what about steering? Well, physically it’s there – but there’s nothing hooked up yet software-wise. Like other bikes on the market, the Stages Bike has extra buttons, one per side below your normal shifters. These were ostensibly put there for when Zwift wanted to enable steering/veering. To date, that hasn’t happened.

DSC_6646

Finally you may have noticed that the Stages Bike actually has splayed out bars by default. This means that the handlebars taper outwards, akin to gravel bike bars.

DSC_6649

Just a minor thing I figured I’d mention somewhere.

App Compatibility:

DSC_6577

The Stage Bike (SB2) follows all of the industry norms as you’d expect from most trainers/smart bikes these days.  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, FulGaz, Kinomap, and many more all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like.  If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user.

The Stages Bike transmits data on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart as well, allowing interactive resistance control across both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  By applying resistance control, apps can simulate climbs as well as set specific wattage targets.

To be specific, the Stages Bike supports the following protocol transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units. Read tons about it here. Stages also includes cadence and speed data here.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data as well as left/right power balance data measure independently including also torque efficiency and pedal smoothness. This does not include speed data.
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This allows apps to control the Stages Bike over Bluetooth Smart (with cadence/power/speed data)
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter with cadence

Between all these standards you can basically connect to anything and everything you’d ever want to. Be it a bike computer or watch, or an app – it’ll be supported. This is actually notable because the Wahoo KICKR Bike & Tacx Bike don’t actually do proper Bluetooth Smart FTMS. Practically speaking, it doesn’t matter a ton since most apps support their proprietary variants. What is notable though is that the Wahoo KICKR Bike *still* doesn’t support broadcasting out power via ANT+ or Bluetooth independently. That’s notable for Garmin & Polar users that want to connect to their bikes to record training load on their watches or bike computers. Whereas the Stages Bike does support that just fine (and how I recorded all of my data here).

The Stages Bike also bakes in the cadence data (like everyone else). This is handy if you’re connecting to Zwift on an Apple TV, due to Apple TV’s two concurrent Bluetooth Smart sensor limitation (plus the Apple TV remote).  While you can use the Zwift mobile companion app for additional sensors, I find that can be sometimes a bit flaky.

vlcsnap-2020-07-02-13h28m28s216

It’s these same standards that also allow you to connect via head units too. For example the Stages Dash L50/M50, Hammerhead Karoo, Wahoo units, as well as Garmin Edge series support ANT+ FE-C for trainer control, so you can re-ride outdoor rides straight from your bike head unit to your trainer. For example, for my accuracy testing section, I recorded the data on a Garmin Edge 830 & 1030 Plus, as well as the trainer apps.  From there I’m able to save the file and upload it to whatever platform I like.

In addition to baseline power and cadence, the Stages Bike also includes both left/right balance as well, which you can see on head units as well as in recorded data files.

image

Not only that, but it also transmits torque effectiveness and pedal smoothness…which, you’ll probably never use.

image

For me, in my testing, I used Zwift and TrainerRoad as my two main apps (which are the two main apps I use personally). In the case of Zwift, I used it in regular riding mode (non-workout mode, aka SIM mode), whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode. I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section.

Here’s an example of Zwift paired on an Apple TV, you can see it shows the sensors as a controllable trainer, a regular power meter, and a cadence sensor:

IMG_1705

I had no issues riding the Stages Bike in Zwift on numerous occasions – everything worked as expected, including gradient responsiveness. More on accuracy in the next section:

vlcsnap-2020-07-02-13h02m44s881

And here paired up in TrainerRoad using Bluetooth Smart on an iPad:

2020-07-01 16.51.09 2020-07-01 16.51.43

When it comes to calibration of the Stages Bike, that’s actually calibrating the two crank arm power meter sensors (just like real Stages crank arm power meters…cause they are). To do that you’ll connect to the bike via the app and then go to calibrate the bike, which asks you to place the crank arms vertically (you can use the brakes if you need to stop the crank arms from rotating).

In fact, you’ll actually see the two individual Stages power meters listed here, complete with their own firmware (which means that yes…you have to update the firmware on three different components – something I think Stages should try and sort out in the background when you update the main bike firmware).

2020-07-02 12.19.24 2020-07-02 12.19.18

Note that you can’t calibrate the bike from within apps. For example, within TrainerRoad when you go into the settings, there is no option to trigger a calibration for the Bluetooth Smart FTMS connection of the bike. That’s fine – it’s something you won’t likely have to do often in my experience (Stages already does temp compensation in their units – and that’s cross-checked with the secondary flywheel power meter sensor).

2020-07-01 16.51.43

I haven’t seen any difference in calibrating versus not calibrating on a weekly basis. To give a solid spoiler on accuracy, it’s been spot-on no matter whether I calibrate the bike or not. But wait – don’t skip the next section, there’s some important tidbits on ERG mode!

Power Accuracy Analysis:

DSC_6499

As usual, I put the bike up against a number of power meters to see how well it handled everything from resistance control accuracy, to speed of change, to any other weird quirks along the way. In the case of indoor bikes it’s a bit more tricky to have 2-3 other power meters, since you typically can’t swap out the crankset or rear hubs. So you have to rely upon other power meter pedals.

No problem, I’ve got plenty of those. I’ve had the bike set up with two main configs over the past month:

Config 1: With Favero Assioma Duo pedals
Config 2:  With Garmin Vector 3 pedals

Within this timeframe I’ve also seen multiple firmware versions, with most of the data below from either the most recent or version prior to it. Today’s ride was also made with a beta firmware version, though there’s no changes in that related to accuracy (it’s related to re-instating dual Bluetooth Smart connections).

We’re going to start this parade with today’s ride actually, a Zwift ride. This ride is on my favorite trainer and smart bike testing course: Titan’s Grove. This route on Zwift starts off on the flats, which is good for sprint testing and high-flywheel testing, then it loops up into the hills and mountains for some solid rollers. These rollers are tricky for many trainers/bikes with their constantly shifting intensities.

In any case, here’s how it compared against the Favero Assioma pedals:

image

As you can see, it’s pretty darn close. The maroon color is the pedals, with the blue as Stages bike. In general, I see slightly more variability with respect to swings of power from the Stages Bike than the Favero Assioma pedals. I’m not sure if that’s simply because Favero smooths slightly more (something I’ve shown in other reviews). In the case of a SIM mode ride in Zwift, it’s largely a non-event (more on ERG mode in a moment).

image

Even looking at sprints – for example this almost 1,000w sprint, both units peak within 1w – which is pretty darn crazy alignment at this point. Keep in mind the measurement of the Stages Bike is at the crank arms, not somewhere in the drivetrain like most of the other bikes. Said differently – that’s crazy impressive closeness as there’s virtually no power transfer loss between the pedal and crank arm.

image

In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a result so close between two units at such a high power level. Usually by the time you clear 700w or so you’ll see more divergence in the max peak-power simply due to timing and recording rates. So part of this is dumb luck, but part of this is just being damn close (physically and in accuracy).

To illustrate the dumb luck aspect, here’s another half-hearted sprint a short bit later. In this case the timing and responsiveness isn’t quite perfectly aligned. The Stages Bike sees it first, and then the Assioma about a second or so later:

image

There’s virtually no practical difference in those though from a riding standpoint.

Next, we’ll shift to another Zwift ride – this one from last week on the current production firmware. This ride was supposed to be a group ride, but apparently I mostly missed the group lead-out. So, I was in some groups and sometimes by myself – just chugging along. Here’s that data:

image

Now on the above chart, for fun, I left two different recordings of the Stages Bike. One via the Stages Bluetooth Smart FTMS connection, and one via the Stages power crank-arm connection via ANT+. Point being they mirror each other. But that’s not always the case with trainers/bikes, hence why I sometimes poke at it. For the purposes of simplicity, let’s remove the duplicate one:

image

Well, that’s pretty crispy. I mean, how much crispier do you want?

I mean, sure, you see slight divergences of a couple of watts here and there. That’s pretty much expected with any power meter comparison. This is really really really good.

image

There are however in this workout a few moments where one of the two units floats a bit. I don’t though have any way of knowing whether this was the Favero Assioma pedals floating down, or the Stages Bike floating up. There’s literally no way to know.

image

One could look at the left/right balance and take a guess. For example, on that same section above, if I look at the comparative left/right balance split, the Stages Bike on the left-side appears to rise up slightly. Is that an incorrect reading from Stages, or an incorrect lack of reading from Favero? I simply don’t know. And there’s no other way to install any other power meters on the bike at the same time to find out.

image

Whoever’s fault it was, it’s gone a couple of minutes later:

image

Oh, and just to mention cadence accuracy somewhere, I think this graph explains it all. They all look just like this:

image

Next, let’s change from some SIM mode workouts to some ERG mode workouts. This is where we see a significant change in how the Stages Bike works. And unfortunately, my least favorite part of it. There’s really two parts to this. The first piece is how stable the bike is, and how responsive the bike is. In other words, if TrainerRoad tells it to set the wattage to 300w (after being at 150w), how long does it take to get to 300w? And then, how well does it hold 300?

Well, in my case I’ve been doing a lot of TrainerRoad workouts the last month, and unequivocally the answer is: It’s not a smooth operator.

It’ll change resistance pretty quickly – basically the same as others. That’s fine. But what’s not fine is just how wobbly it is at a given level. Here’s an example of a workout I was super smooth on, and yet look at how wobbly the power output is:

IMG_1696

The output will typically be +/- 20-25w from my set-point. So if I’ve got a target power of 313w, it’ll range anywhere between ~285w and 335w. Sometimes upwards of 350w+. It’s all over the place. Here’s another workout example:

IMG_1695

Now, the total average power for that set is indeed 300w. But it’s less than ideal to be so variable, because my workout called for 300w which is a specific zone. Not spikes to 330w. Now in talking to Stages, they say part of the trouble is the gigantic Gouda cheese flywheel they have up there, which is sorta like wrestling a bull. But part of it is also software smoothing. While I typically argue against software smoothing, I think in this rare case they need to apply a little bit more so that it’s at least usable to figure out what power levels I hit.

So that first piece covers responsiveness and stability – but what about accuracy in ERG mode?

Let’s look at last Thursday’s 90-minute TrainerRoad session first:

image

Ok, so at a high level with a 5-second smoothing applied (ya kinda have to with the Stages Bike), it looks pretty similar. Let’s dig into an interval:

image

Again, we have to separate target power stability, from actual power accuracy. From an accuracy standpoint, the Stages Bike and Favero pedals are incredibly close at almost all times – usually a couple of watts apart. Every once in a while one of them floats away slightly (upwards of 5-10w on 300w), but then corrects itself. I’ve got no way to know which is the incorrect unit in those situations.

There are two dropouts on the Stages connection, and two dropouts on the Favero connection (to the Edge units). I double-checked the Stages duplicate recording I had on TrainerRoad, and there were no dropouts there. So, looks to be just a random transient connection issue to that specific bike computer.

image

Oh, and cadence too – for fun:

image

In any event, from a power accuracy standpoint, that 90-minute workout looks solidly similar.

Let’s take a look at another TrainerRoad workout. This one is a much more chillax easy week workout, where the power slowly goes up and slowly goes down. But it shows super-well the problem I have with ERG mode currently You can’t even tell/see the stated power chunks (where the blue section changes) if you look at the yellow pieces. It’s not easy to see that at a glance.

IMG_1701

Here’s the power accuracy data:

image

This is one of the ones where the power between the two actually was further apart at first glance. It’s darn-near impossible to tell based on the above chart, which just looks like a giant fuzzy mess of colors.

But, if I graph the mean-max chart, then you see it more clearly:

image

However, mind you that where those two dots are is *ONLY A 3-watt difference* – technically in-spec.

So this is an example where the averages work out, even despite the wobble. But of course, averaging is the lowest common denominator in this situation.

So ultimately, this gets us to the wrap-up here. Having done countless other sessions like this over my time period with it, everything can basically be boiled down to:

A) Power accuracy appears to be identical to the well regarded Favero Assioma power meter pedals – spot on there
B) ERG more stability in terms of maintaining the target power, needs a lot of work

At present, the ERG mode target power stability/smoothness is even more volatile than the Tacx Bike was when it launched last year (and I gave them a hard time too). It’s roughly in the same ballpark as the instability of the Wahoo KICKR Bike at launch in terms of stability.

Stages said that they’re working on the stability/smoothing aspects already (which should just be a software fix), and so hopefully we’ll see that simmer down a bit going forward.

Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections 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.)

Indoor Smart Bike Comparisons:

While I’ve previously done an Indoor Smart Bike Shootout with the Wahoo Bike, Tacx Bike, and Wattbike Atom – that did not include the Stages bike, since the Stages Bike was about 8 months late to the party. Now that it’s here I’ll probably revisit that with the Wattbike Atom V2 (which hopefully I’ll have later this week or next). Until then, you can hit up that previous post here – and then simply cross-reference it with this post. Spoiler: Nothing has changed since I published that previous post. Seriously, nothing.

In any case, here’s a blow by blow spec comparison between them – complete with some new data fields I’ve added into the trainer database to account for indoor bikes. I won’t add the new Wattbike Atom V2 to the chart until I get it in-house – though functionally speaking the only aspect that changes there is internals around the drive system/flywheel.

Function/FeatureStages Bike (SB20)Wattbike Atom V1Tacx NEO Bike SmartWahoo KICKR Bike
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated July 14th, 2020 @ 5:11 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$2899$2,599$3,199$3,499
Availability regionsGlobalUK/South Africa/Australia/Scandinavia/USAGlobalLimited Initially
Power cord requiredYesYesNoYes
Flywheel weight50lbs9.28KG/20.4lbsSimulated/Virtual 125KG13bs/5.9kgs
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill)No (but kinda)NoYesYes
Maximum wattage capability3,000w2,000w2,200w @ 40KPH2,200w @ 40KPH
Maximum simulated hill incline25%25%20% (and -15% downhill)
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerYes (actually measured independently)YesYesNo
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoNoYes
Can directionally steer trainer (left/right)Yes (with compatible apps)NoYES (WITH COMPATIBLE APPS)Yes (with compatible apps)

Oh, and before you ask why I haven’t included some products into the above – here’s the quick and dirty answers:

Peloton Bike: It’s not a ‘smart’ bike in the sense of the above, it doesn’t allow you to set a specific power level (it does tell you the current power level). But nonetheless, look for my review very shortly! It’s actually written in text, but I’m waiting on a calibration kit from Peloton to see if I can get things just a bit closer accuracy-wise.

SRM Bike: I just don’t see this as a competitor in this space. At $5,000, it’s mostly for various research purposes and is designed in that realm.

True Kinetix Bike: I’ve had this bike for a bit, then returned it while they sorted out technical issues. It’s currently only shipping mostly in the Netherlands, so that’s probably less appealing from a widespread standpoint.

VirtuPro: At present this bike isn’t compatible with any 3rd party apps, and in nearly a year since I last chatted with them, I haven’t seen any concrete evidence that’s changed.

Again, I’m more than happy to add products into the database. In general, my rule of thumb is I want hands-on time (or butts-on in this case), and I want some realistic level of clarity on delivery time frames.

Summary:

DSC_6507

The Stages Bike is a solid entrant into the smart bikes category. No, really, it’s physically very solid. It’s the tank of bikes compared to competitors. You’ll be pedaling this well into the next century. But, it’s also a good bike for working with apps today. It supports all the right protocols to work with every app or device on the market via ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart. And perhaps just as important, given its lineage with Stages existing indoor business – the physical aspects of the bike are unlikely to see as much physical teething pains as both Tacx and Wahoo saw in their bike launches during the early phases.

Almost all of the quirks or competitive shortfalls of the Stages Bike lie in software, mostly in the gear shifting realm. For example, it lacks SRAM shifting configuration, though Stages says that’ll come within the month. It also lacks some of the setup/fit software bits that Wahoo has nailed (though, I’d easily argue it has more physical flexibility in terms of actually getting the right fit for more riders). As for the lack of gear display, I can only hope that Zwift comes through and implements the gear shifting support that’s already available for the Wattbike Atom over Bluetooth Smart. Like with the Wattbike, it’d make a world of difference. Though at least with Stages you can still display it on your phone concurrently.

Ultimately, price is probably the largest factor for most when choosing a smart bike. One can’t pretend to operate in a vacuum when writing a review on that factor. But I think Stages gets pretty close to finding the right balance here for price versus competitive functionality. It’s $600 cheaper than a KICKR Bike, and to me that feels roughly about right in terms of trade-offs. I’d absolutely love to see Stages come out with a different/optional handlebar setup that feels like shifting a real bike from a levers standpoint. But, I’ve said that about all the smart bikes too. It’s a huge differentiator. Until then, their tablet/phone/power situation is easily the best out there. Super functional and stable. Love it.

If you’re looking at a Stages Bike, you won’t go wrong with hardware as it is today. Sure, the software needs to mature a tiny bit more to really sing (let’s be honest, so does everyone’s) – but I don’t think it’s a blocker for day to day usage with any apps or features. And, if there’s one bike out of all of them that I’d trust hardware-wise to be reliable, it’s this one.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? 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.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, 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.

Stages Bike (SB20)

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pick up the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too! With Wiggle, new customers get 10GBP (or equivalent in other currencies) off their first order for anything over 50GBP by using code NEWGB at check-out after clicking the links below.

Stages Bike (SB20)

Or, anything else you pick up 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.  Though, Clever Training also ships there too and you get the 10% discount.

Thanks for reading!

]]>
85