DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Thu, 19 Jan 2017 05:19:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.7 An Update on the Mio SLICE: How to get your slice of PAI https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/an-update-on-the-mio-slice-how-to-get-your-slice-of-pai.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/an-update-on-the-mio-slice-how-to-get-your-slice-of-pai.html#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 14:19:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=69612 Read More Here ]]> DSC00255

When Ray asked what readers wanted to see from CES this year, several of you commented about the Mio SLICE and the current status of its availability.  I had the chance to sit down with the folks at Mio and talk through where they are with SLICE and what the next few months look like.


You may remember that Randy covered the announcement of the SLICE last year at CES as well as the beginning of their pivot away from a 10,000 step goal for activity tracking.

The 30-second version of that story is that 10,000 steps simply isn’t a satisfactory metric for all people.  A balanced activity profile will include strength training, cardio, and some amount of stretching/yoga, and an activity tracker counting steps is only likely to capture part of that story.  For example, if you are into paddle sports and spent 90 minutes in a kayak, the resulting step count is likely to be lower than you would expect for your activity output.  That is simply the truth of counting steps (as anyone who has ridden 5 hours on a bike knows, only to have their watch beep upon saving the activity to ‘Move’ that hour).

Now let’s be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with steps, Mio is just taking a slightly different approach in their aim to track a more holistic look at activity through heart rate.  Enter the Personal Activity Intelligence, or PAI (pronounced PIE).  Mio is pulling from the Hunt study and combining the work done there with their own algorithm to associate a given cardiac output (heart rate) over time with a score they call PAI.  This is where it can get a bit ‘interesting’.

Rather than a daily PAI goal, they monitor a rolling 7-day value.  Mio has set the target at 100 PAI (it sounds a bit arbitrary, but it’s a round number, and who doesn’t like round numbers?).  They then take your information (age, gender, resting and max heart rate) and use that to measure the quality and intensity of your cardio workout.  Kayaking for 90 minutes will likely result in more PAI than a walk after dinner (unless your walk turns into more of a Forrest Gump style cross country journey).

The other piece of the puzzle is not all PAI is created equal.  If you aren’t in the best of shape now (as calculated by the correlation of age/gender/max and min HR) you can earn PAI easier than someone who is in marathon shape.  In that same vein, if you are a committed cross fitter, you might be surprised by the lack of PAI earned for a workout, especially as you get faster at the workouts. Mio is squarely targeting activity tracking by heart rate here and PAI is simply their method of quantifying ‘active minutes’.  If you’ve had a few good days in a row and are well over your 100 PAI mark, today may be the day for Yoga or something less intense than interval training.


So with all of that said, is the product finally – a year later) – shipping?

Yes. Or, mostly.

The Mio SLICE is available for purchase now, but only exclusively through Brookstone as the official launch partner (For those outside the US: They sell gizmos and gadgets you never knew you needed until you spend an hour in their store watching metallic balls bounce magically in the air).

There have been some reports that supply has been limited but Mio expects to have plenty of inventory when they begin selling the device on their website and through other distribution channels.  For those of you who don’t live near a Brookstone, they anticipate having units available elsewhere starting in February (I imagine the exclusivity deal runs out January 31).

Most notably, this is timed nicely as Mio is continuing development for the platform and will be releasing updates over the coming weeks to continue ensuring that the product meets their standard for quality and accuracy.  Said differently: They’re still working out some kinks – but they expect those to be sorted by February.

DSC_9600 DSC_9601

Given Ray is off to Australia for a few weeks, it won’t be until after then that he’s going to dive into it.  But, as you can see by the two pics above – he does indeed now have a unit, and it even made it to the famed unboxing table.  He is planning on spending some time with the SLICE when he gets back and will have more to say around accuracy, PAI, and the general pivot away from a pure steps metric.  Stay tuned for that sometime in February!

Catch all the CES 2017 posts here in one handy to read page.  And fear not – there’s still a bit more to drag out of the CES product pile that somehow nobody else talked about yet.  So stay tuned!

Tour Down Under 2017: A look at the Satalyst Racer Tracking System https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/satalyst-tracking-system.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/satalyst-tracking-system.html#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 09:14:49 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=69993 Read More Here ]]> DSC_1035

Of the 19 men’s teams at the Tour Down Under this year, one stands apart from the rest.  No, not because they’ve got superstars on the team.  Nor because they’re riding the most expensive bikes in the field.  In fact – they’ve got neither of those attributes.  They’re effectively the lowest team on the totem pole this year and the team with the least number of sponsors – let alone big time sponsors.

But UniSA-Australia does have one thing none of the other teams have at this race: Live tracking of all the riders, including power, heart rate, and speed data.  They’ve got it not just in the team cars for coaching staff, but also live online for all the world to see.

I had a chance to sit down with the folks behind the system, as well as the team themselves to get a better understanding of what they’re doing and how it all works.  Keep in mind that Team UniSA is the local wild card team, effectively a slot given to a team within the country that’s not a full WorldTour team (à la Team Sky or similar).  This is a great opportunity for local riders and local communities to be seen on the world stage.

The On-Bike Hardware:

Team UniSA didn’t create their own system for the Tour Down Under, but rather is working in a partnership with Satalyst, an Australian company specializing in live tracking and streaming of data.  The system allows them to stream GPS position data alongside performance data (such as heart rate, power, cadence, speed) from the rider to a backend cloud service.  Once there, it’s distributed to numerous endpoints – including a web browser near you.

The Satalyst System isn’t new to cycling racing, though, their hopes are to make it more prevalent within not just cycling but also other events (of any tracking type).  They were at the Tour Down Under last year, though this year they’re expanding the ways that people can access the data.  Previously it was mostly limited to broadcast TV overlay data.  Whereas this year the data is fed to multiple groups (more on that in a bit).

First up though, we’ll start at the rider.  It’s here that each pro rider is given a cell phone to carry in their back pocket.  In this case the riders are all using Samsung S4, S5, and S7 phones (of varying models).  Each phone is assigned a given rider, and to keep things straight they’ve put the riders ANT+ ID information on the back of the phone on a sticker.


At the start of each stage, the rider verifies that their ANT+ device ID’s match what’s on their Garmin Edge units, as well as verify that it matches the bike devices.  This triple-check ensures that in the event of any mechanical related swaps – everything is still good to go.  And not just good for the tracking system, but for the rider themselves on their own head unit.


When it comes to app config – it’s pretty straightforward and basic.  It’s simply an Android app that’s saving the sensor config and forwarding on the sensor and GPS data.  As such, the company says they’re seeing about 6-8 hours of battery life with tracking on.  Thus more than enough for any given tour stage.


This is a good time to mention the reason the company is using the Samsung Android phones is that they support ANT+.  With cycling sensors overwhelmingly still ANT+ only (primarily power meters), support for ANT+ natively is a basic requirement.  Certainly newer power meters are more commonly dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart capable, but even in the men’s pro ranks, the vast majority of teams are still using ANT+ only units at this point still (Team Sky with Stages, 4iiii’s with Quick-Step Floors and BORA-hansgrohe, and Dimension Data with ROTOR 2INPower are the only exceptions).


After that phone is double-checked, it then goes into a plastic baggie and is tossed into the rider’s pocket.  Of course, many of the Samsung phones are pretty water resilient, but most would agree that for day in and out pounding in harsh conditions that a few-cent plastic bag is a good safeguard.


Now interestingly – the cyclists aren’t the only ones equipped with this system.  In fact, at the Tour Down Under they’ve equipped a number of the race motos and official vehicles as well.  That’s because some of these motors and vehicles are assigned to static positions like staying with the lead rider.  This allows broadcasters and others to get live information about the exact position of the lead rider (even if that rider isn’t part of UniSA).  Smart thinking, ehh?


With the phones on the riders, and the app running the background, it’s time to start tracking.

The Cloud & Web Platform:


The phone is merely the starting point for the data.  Once the phone collects the ANT+ data streams, it adds in the GPS location.  From there it’s transmitted over regular cellular networks to Satalyst’s backend web platform at two-second intervals.  Now of course, since it’s transmitted over cellular it is limited to cellular service coverage.  So if you’ve got a bad cell spot, there’s no data being transmitted.  And the company doesn’t backfill data to the cloud either during this missing spots (though, it does record the data on the phone itself for later retrieval if need be).

The backend platform is using Microsoft Windows Azure services from a cloud computing standpoint.  For those geeks in the house, they’re currently leveraging Azure Event Hubs for the data ingest, an Azure service which is typically used for large scale telemetry ingest applications (like, millions of events per second).  A large-scale example of this could be utility providers that want to consolidate tens or hundreds of thousands of homes’ electricity data in real-time.

In this case, cycling data from about half-dozen riders is a wee bit overkill, but it shows how it could scale if they did a Gran Fondo type event with 10,000 riders using apps on their phones.  They’ll soon be migrating from Azure Event Hubs to Azure IoT Hub.  Once the data is within Azure, they’re using Azure HDInsight and Storm clusters, ultimately funneling the data over to SQL Server for storage.  Again, using this combination of products are definitely overkill for this application of 7 riders – but it’s also a well-architected system from a ‘by the book’ standpoint for a longer term solution.  And it’s usually better to architect for scale than be fumbling or down due to lack of design thought.

All of that tech is in the name of getting it to a place where actual people can see the rider data.  And for that there are four different audiences consuming the data this year:

A) Broadcast TV stations to overlay data during race
B) UCI/Race Officials in vehicles and elsewhere on course
C) The team itself (UniSA in this case)
D) Everyone else on earth via tracking website

In the case of broadcast TV, you can see what that looks like on TV (hopefully on a TV near you).  Given I’ve been outside around town during the race itself, I haven’t watched it on TV.  But here’s one stage you can likely sift through and find it (and if that disappears, simply search YouTube for ‘Tour Down Under 2017’, followed by Stage 1, 2, 3, etc…).   For UCI/Race officials, the data is most useful for knowing where both riders and motos are on the course.  Remember earlier that I said it showed various race officials as well.  You can actually see those on the tracking site on the right-hand side:

2017-01-18 13.32.22

The platform knows to ‘count-down’ versus ‘count-up’ when it comes to distance.  This helps reduce/eliminate GPS accuracy issues, because it’s using a known course and auto-calculates distance from current position along that route to the finish.  And that’s important to note – the stages for each day are pre-programmed into the backend web platform, so that it can lock riders onto a given course/route and determine distances to finishes as well as sprints/etc…

2017-01-18 13.32.40

On the site (via either mobile or desktop), you can select a given rider and then toggle to display their stats.  These stats include heart rate, speed, elevation, and power.  As soon as you enable it for a given rider, the data will begin to populate for that rider, showing the last five minutes of data.  Though disappointingly you can’t look back at various points within the race for a given rider (if you arrive an hour into it).

2017-01-18 13.33.12

Also, I found that the site didn’t seem to want to render rider stats well on desktop for me (either Chrome or Internet Explorer), but I’m going to assume that’s a me thing.  It worked just fine on iPad and iPhone for me, which is where these screenshots are from.  Further, I didn’t seem to get some of the timing data to populate at the bottom of the site either.

Still, the overall platform is cool.  The low barrier to entry from a rider cost standpoint is appealing, as is the relative simplicity of the data displayed.  It was certainly easy enough to see the data in real-time, and in a broadcast scenario likely looked great as well.

The Future of Cycling Live Telemetry:


So where is this all heading?  And aren’t there other companies already doing this?

It’s complicated.

Back a number of years ago I first covered a very similar solution that was used during the Tour de France.  More or less, the core pieces of it are the same as this solution.  Phones talking to a backend via cellular service, handing off data to broadcasters and users.  The only problem?  UCI rules got in the way.

For a few years UCI clamped down on progress, at least until about two years ago when they realized that was a stupid way to encourage fan involvement.  Since then we’ve seen other efforts – like Dimension Data’s work last year, and a few other one-off’s here and there.  More or less all of these operate in similar fashion.  Some with cell-phone app devices, and others with smaller dedicated devices on the bikes.

And all of those solutions were targeted at the event provider, not so much an individual consumer.  That’s where Quarq is somewhat straddling the line with their Quarq Race Intelligence (QRI), and Quarq Qollector system.  I wrote about QRI before, but basically, it’s what you see in Ironman events and such – tracking the pros.  It’s a dedicated device with cellular capabilities suited to swim/bike/run.  The company pre-creates courses and riders snap to it, but it’s all targeted at the event provider.

Which is different in spirit than Quarq’s Qollector devices that you can buy as an end consumer.  Sure, it’s the exact same device.  But with a consumer Qollector you own the device and can ‘participate’ in various races.  Whereas with QRI, it’s a business to business transaction with a race organizer, and the athletes are provided units to borrow for the day (usually pros).

Finally – it’s really important to understand these are fundamentally different applications than things like Garmin Live Tracking, Strava Beacon, and various ‘Find My Friend’ apps.  All of those are geared for one rider scenarios.  They aren’t really designed to handle overseeing multiple riders in the same view, nor for race organizers to tap into them.  And more importantly – they aren’t designed around an event/course/route in mind.  Rather, it’s just a random snapshot of you going somewhere.  Context is lost.

There are ultimately opportunities for all of these though in the tracking world.  And the tracking world is still very young.  With endurance sports, boredom is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for fan interaction.  When athletes ‘disappear’ for hours at a time, people lose interest.  By finding a way to bring live telemetry data to the masses, it increases the likelihood that you’ll stay engaged (be it in your living room watching a TV, or on the side of the road waiting for a racer).

Companies like Quarq will find their place in scenarios where dedicated devices make more sense (i.e. pro level), whereas Satalyst and others leveraging existing cell-phones will likely gravitate to events with large numbers of riders that want a lower cost solution.

With that – thanks for reading!

Side note: If you want to watch the team data live, you can do so at this link.  That’ll work anywhere in the world.  Any data you see on TV at the Tour Down Under is overlaid from this system (other races use varying systems).  The racing continues through Sunday, and the teams are racing each day between roughly 11:00AM and 3:30PM Adelaide time, which falls in the US EST time zone from 6-10PM, roughly.  You can hit up the exact schedule here.

Tour Down Under 2017: Sports Tech Gear Of the Pro Men https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/tour-down-under-2017-sports-tech-gear-of-the-pro-men.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/tour-down-under-2017-sports-tech-gear-of-the-pro-men.html#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2017 04:57:09 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=69963 Read More Here ]]> DSC_0316

After the women’s debut on Saturday, it was time for the men to make their entrance on Sunday at the People’s Choice criterium.  This would be the first men’s race of the Tour Down Under, though it’s technically a separate event from the rest of the 6-stage tour.  Like an appetizer dish that somehow doesn’t count against your tab.

It’s also the first opportunity to take inventory of the gear of the pro men.  Like with the ladies, I’m mainly focused on sports tech goodness, more than bike frames and wheels and such.  Those areas are just a bit outside my focus.  However, I’ve included whole-bike pics in virtually all team sections, so it makes it pretty easy to identify those parts.

This year we’ve got a few little new tidbits in the mix – including a totally unseen before bike computer. Heck, there’s still nothing about it on the manufacturer’s website, and only a single line in a generic press release.  But more on that down below!

A Brief Note On Sponsorships:

It’s important to remember that in almost every case below, the power meter brands are sponsoring either teams or individual athletes.  Same goes for shifting technologies.  About the only exception are head units, though even some of those are sponsored (i.e. via SRM or Pioneer deals for power meters, head units come along).

Given the very nature of sponsorship is showing off one’s brand for payment (or free equipment), it shouldn’t be assumed that any product is inherently ‘better’ because a WorldTour team is riding it.  Instead, it’s just there because they were paid to ride it.  You’ll see power meter brands change year after year with the wind (or the payment as it may be).  You’ll also see cases where a brand may be sponsoring a team, but the team isn’t actually riding the commercially available product.  For example – Team Sky largely rides a dual left/right Stages setup (and has done so for years), a product that is not available for purchase to consumers (nor has any timetable been stated for if they’ll ever make it available).

The point being – look at these products as “Oh, that’s interesting”, more than “Oh, I should immediately go out and buy this product because X rider is on it.” Make sense?  Good.

The Teams:


We’ll get right into things.  Note that as with the women’s teams, there are occasions where not all riders will be on the same exact config, especially in power meters and bike computers.  Bike frames, of course, are almost always identical due to team sponsorships, but bike computers aren’t often covered by team sponsorships.

Also, in some cases (such as FDJ), there are prototype products in use, in which case only a single rider or two may be using that – and in some cases only for just a day or two.  Meaning that while this list may be valid for Day 1 of the Tour Down Under, there are numerous examples where a team might sneak in a prototype product on just a single rider on Day 3 or Day 5.  That’s often the case in the Tour de France where you’ll see companies trial prototype products in the last week or so of the race, partially to re-ignite media interest, and partially because it may not impact the standings any longer.

Note that teams are simply listed in the order (and spelling/capitalization) of the official media program.


DSC_0185 DSC_0190

Power Meters: SRM
Head units: SRM (mostly PC8, but not all)
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting

Notable: This was the only team that I saw an action cam on for this race day.  Usually though, teams will alternate riders having action cams on, on differing days.  Also, I could see how some teams probably wouldn’t have bothered for the People’s Choice crit, given the low-light at dusk would likely have produced less than ideal videos.

BORA – hansgrohe:


Power Meters: 4iiii Precision (dual left/right)
Head units: Garmin Edge series
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting


DSC_0346 DSC_0349

Power Meters: SRM
Head units: SRM PC8
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting


DSC_0430 DSC_0416

Power Meters: Pioneer
Head units: Giant NeosTrack
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting

So the Giant head unit is definitely new.  Or, sorta new at least.  Finding any mention of it is virtually impossible, save for a single line in a team press release a few weeks ago.  Upon asking the Giant folks at the Tour Down Under exhibition, they simply smiled and said more information will be out later this year.


The team’s sponsorship press release had noted:

“Team Sunweb riders are using Giant’s next-generation computer, which offers both navigation and training functions. Compatible with all training accessories, including power meters, heartrate straps, speed/cadence sensors, and smart trainers, it offers everything a pro racer needs. And its Shimano Di2 function shows real-time gearing ratios and combinations as well as battery levels. The latest NeosTrack GPS computer will be commercially available later this year.”

However, it doesn’t appear we’ll need to wait that long.  As by every appearance, the unit looks simply to be a rebranded Bryton 530 bike computer.  You can see the external shell is identical, as are the buttons and even the button labels are virtually the same.  We occasionally see teams make or re-brand versions for the pro team itself, to minimize sponsorship conflicts.  But given the note in the press release about an actual product vs just a team re-brand, it looks like we’ll see something, probably launched at Eurobike or Interbike.  With Giant’s massive global distribution (the biggest in the bike biz), this move could work well for Bryton.



Power Meters: Stages power (single-leg  and dual leg variant)
Head units: Garmin Edge 820
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting

We continue to see Stages test out dual leg variants on some Team Sky bikes.  The right drive-side pods do seem a bit more polished than in years past, making them even more difficult to spot.  I was only able to get a barely functional shot of one while one of the mechanics worked on the bike during the rest day.  Even though, it’s super hard to pick out these days.

DSC_0908 DSC_0911

Finally, it’s notable that none of the riders were using the Wahoo ELEMNT, and all were using Garmin Edge 820’s.  That’s because the sponsorship deal only includes the Wahoo KICKR, and not head units (or even heart rate straps this year).  As the team was using the Garmin HRM straps that came bundled with the Garmin Edge 820 bundles.  Just goes to show you how fickle and exacting that Pro team sponsorships can be.


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Power Meters: ROTOR 2INPower
Head units: Garmin Edge series, one person using Pioneer head unit.
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting


DSC_0382 DSC_0387

Power Meters: SRM
Head units: SRM PC8
Shifting: Campagnolo EPS Electronic Shifting



Power Meters: SRM
Head units: Garmin Edge Series
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting


DSC_0421 DSC_0423

Power Meters: SRM
Head units: SRM PC8
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting


Funny tidbit: While grabbing the above shots on Bahrain Merida, pro rider Janez Brajkovic shouted out to take the shots on his bike instead.  Turns out he’s an avid DCR reader (and definite sports tech geek).  He was using the Mio Fuse as his (optical) heart rate sensor, which broadcasts to his SRM head unit.  He’s found it very accurate compared to a chest strap, which matches what I found as well.  Mio’s Philips powered sensor and Valencell are among the best out there in the optical game.



Power Meters: SRM
Head units: SRM PC8
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting


DSC_0311 DSC_0312

Power Meters: Power2Max
Head units: Garmin Edge 820
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting



Power Meters: Quarq
Head units: Garmin Edge Series (mostly Edge 520)
Shifting: SRAM RED eTAP Wireless Electronic Shifting

FDJ Cycling Team:

DSC_0402 DSC_0395

Power Meters: SRM, except 2 riders on prototype Shimano power meters
Head units: Garmin Edge 1000 & SRM
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting

There were a few interesting tidbits here.  First of course is the continued use of prototype Shimano power meters.  Since FDJ is sponsored by Shimano, that sponsorship is overriding the previous SRM sponsorship.  At the Tour de France last year we saw two riders also riding the prototype Shimano power meter, so I was somewhat expecting to see more riding it here.  Shimano has been targeting a Spring 2017 release timeframe for that unit, but it’s simply too early to tell if they are close or not.  The unit is looking much more refined than it has been in the past though.


Second, I found it interesting that a handful of the riders were equipped with SRM power meters, but no head unit to capture that data.  Meaning, it wasn’t just a case of the head unit not being installed at the time of the photo, but rather there was no mount whatsoever on the bike.  My guess is they were tossing it in the jersey pocket for such a short race, but I wondered if that was more indicative of a coaching style thing than a rider preference (given multiple rider-specific bikes were lacking them).  I’ll be curious to see the rest of the week if the head units make an appearance for the longer stages.



Power Meters: Power2Max
Head units: Garmin Edge (blend of units, mostly 510/520 series)
Shifting: Campagnolo EPS Electronic Shifting



Power Meters: 4iiii Precision (dual left/right)
Head units: Mostly Edge 520
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting


DSC_0378 DSC_0376

Power Meters: Pioneer
Head units: Pioneer
Shifting: Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting


DSC_0319 DSC_0319

Power Meters: Power2Max
Head units: Garmin Edge Series (mostly Edge 520)
Shifting: Campagnolo EPS Electronic Shifting



Power Meters: Some SRM, but also some bikes with none at all.
Head units: SRM PC8, even when no power meter is used
Shifting: Shimano Di2 electronic shifting


DSC_0335 DSC_0343

Power Meters: Everything. One Quarq, one SRM, some Verve Infocrank
Head units: Mostly Garmin Edge series.
Shifting: Mixed. Mostly Shimano, a blend of both electronic (Di2) and mechanical.

Of note here though is that this appears to be the only team doing a streaming data solution for all their riders.  They’ve paired up with Satalyst, and are streaming all rider data live to a website (including sensor data).  I’ll have more on that piece tomorrow – so hang tight!



For the most part, these units will stand as the power meters of record on these teams for the remainder of the season.  Sometimes you might see some minor fluctuations around the April-May timeframe, if new models come out (i.e. in the past ROTOR introduced new models then, and pro teams moved over to them by June-ish).  But otherwise, this should be considered final for the 2017 season.  The only other exception to this would be I’d expect that those with complete Shimano sponsorships will shift over to Shimano power meters by the grand tours (late spring).

Though the details of those agreements aren’t usually known (or heck, in some cases, decided).  So we probably won’t know till we see it on a bike.

With that – thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for more Tour Down Under goodness!  And if you missed the women’s tech round-up, be sure to catch that here.

Tour Down Under 2017: Sports Tech Gear Of the Pro Women https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/tour-down-under-2017-sports-tech-gear-of-the-pro-women.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/tour-down-under-2017-sports-tech-gear-of-the-pro-women.html#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 12:26:29 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=69879 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9827

There are many great aspects of the Santos Tour Down Under, from the fan-inclusive activities, to the stage structure.  Non-locals may not realize for example that the teams all actually stay in one city (Adelaide) throughout the entire race, and each stage simply starts/ends in nearby towns.  Thus eliminating a nightly hotel shuffle to a new town.

However, more important than all of that is that there’s a legit women’s stage race held as part of the event.  This isn’t some half-hearted one-day affair to appease women (*cough*, you know what race I’m looking at), but rather a complete 4 stage event.  Sure, it’s not the same as the men’s 6 stage event (+ one-off single day race), but it’s a good start.  In the case of the Tour Down Under, the women actually start off the festivities with a 106.5KM stage on Saturday, prior to the men on Sunday.  Thus, they’d be the first to race and the first I’ll be covering from a tech perspective.

I headed up this morning to the mountains to check out the start of the women’s race, and most notably take an inventory of the women’s sports tech gear – focusing mainly on power meters, shifting, and bike computers.  Though, I’ve included photos of all the bikes – so you can pretty easily look at other componentry as well.

A Brief Notable:


Now, as you’ll see – the women aren’t exactly working from the same decked out team buses as the men.  In fact, not a single team had a single large team bus.  At least not in the definition of what you think of as a pro cycling team bus.  Rather, most were simply rented mini-vans from AVIS and Budget.  They’d slap on a team logo and call it done.  This isn’t much different from what I’ve seen at La Course over the past few years, where teams just repurpose small rented RV’s.

Which isn’t a knock on the teams, but rather, that’s the reality of sponsorship money in women’s cycling today.  For the hundreds of registered media at the Tour Down Under, I saw precisely three other credentialed media at the start of the women’s race.  I’m sure there may have been a few I didn’t spot – but this still puts it into perspective.  There were no other men’s events going on within hours of this starting timeframe.

DSC_9834 DSC_9848

But the buses are in many ways indicative of what I saw when it comes to equipment.  Sure, all teams were standardized on a single bike frame.  But that’s pretty much where it ended on bike components.  Only the most well funded of teams – Canyon/SRAM and United Health Care – had all the other componentry matching.  The remainder of the teams were clearly assembling things as best they could to make it work.


Compare this to the men’s field and you’d find every last detail attended to.  As I returned from the women’s race today I saw the bike’s of the well-funded men’s Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team, sitting at a café outside my hotel.  I couldn’t help but be struck that not only were all of their bikes perfectly matching, but even their SRM PC8 head units were in matching gold.  Contrast that to only a single team on the women’s side – United Healthcare – had matching bike computers and mounts (Pioneer).  Every other team was largely a diverse collection of Garmin head units, spanning back 8 years ago (Edge 500) to last summer (Edge 520).

Also, it’ll be interesting to compare the three product categories (power meters, head units, shifting) to tomorrow at the men’s race.  If last year’s setups are any indication, you’ll largely see almost everyone on electronic shifting on the men’s side, vs just a handful on the women’s side.

(Note that I’ll cover more of the spectator/fan portion in tomorrow’s women’s race, which is a bit easier to get around than today’s course out in the mountains since I wasn’t on a moto.)

The Teams:


I’m going to run through each of the teams present, and the sports tech gear they had.  Note that in most cases there was some variance between bikes when it came to power meters & head units.  I attempted to count up as best as possible which teams had which things, but sometimes a rider would be out on the roads warming up, checking-in, or such.  So it’s possible a few out of the 102 riders may have slipped by.



Power Meters: SRM on all bikes
Head units: Garmin Edge (blend of units)
Shifting: Shimano Di2 and Mechanical

CyLance Pro Cycling:


Power Meters: SRM on all bikes
Head unit: SRM PC8
Shifting: Mechanical

Drops Cycling:


DSC_9731 DSC_9732

Power Meters: None
Head Units: All Garmin, except one with SRM PC8 but no SRM power meter
Shifting: Mechanical:
Random Tidbit: All bikes were outfitted with Bontrager’s dual ANT+/BLE Duotrap speed/cadence sensor spots, though, the sensors themselves aren’t installed.

United Healthcare Pro Cycling:


DSC_9738 DSC_9741

Power Meters: Pioneer Dual Left/Right
Head Units: Pioneer, with K-Edge Aluminum mount
Shifting: Mechanical
Random Tidbit: All bikes were outfitted with K-Edge’s chain catcher

New Zealand National Team:


Power Meters: One Quarq, One Rotor, handful of SRM
Head units: Blend of Garmin Edge & SRM
Shifting: Shimano Di2 and Shimano Mechanical

Ale Cipollini:


Power Meters: Whole team on Power2Max
Head Units: Blend of Garmin Edge 510 & 520
Shifting: Mechanical

Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling:


Power Meters: None
Head Units: Garmin Edge series (mixed)
Shifting: Campagnolo EPS



Power Meters: Handful of Quarq, a few SRM
Head Units: Garmin Edge series (mixed)
Shifting: Shimano Di2 and Shimano mechanical
Random Tidbit: This was one of the few teams on trainers, and it was quite the variety of trainers.

Canyon SRAM Racing:


DSC_9769 DSC_9803

Power Meters: Quarq
Head Units: Garmin Edge series (mixed)
Shifting: SRAM RED eTAP
Random Tidbit: This is the only team with everyone on electronic shifting and everyone having a power meter.  Of course, it helps that your headlining sponsor makes both of those (SRAM).



Power Meters: At least some Power2Max, but only found limited riders
Head Units: Garmin Edge series (mixed)
Shifting: Shimano Di2 and Shimano mechanical

NSWIS Sydney Uni:


Power Meters: Blend of Verve Infocrank, Pioneer, Power2Max, and SRM units
Head Units: Garmin Edge series (mixed)
Shifting: Shimano Di2 and Shimano mechanical

Mercedes Adelaide Blackchrome:

Power Meter: None
Head Units: Garmin Edge series (mixed)
Shifting: Shimano Di2

Note: The following teams I couldn’t seem to find ahead of the race, so I’ll fill in data for them at tomorrow’s race: Sho-Air Twenty20, Hagens Berman Supermint, Maaslandster Veris, Holden.



I think what struck me the most is just how many of the riders don’t have power meters.  In most cases, where a team has multiple power meters listed above, not all riders actually have power meters.  Rather, some go sans-power.  And even in cases where a team has (for example) mostly SRM, it’s never the exact same model.  Instead, it’s clearly a blend of units from various years.  Like a greatest hits collection.

Given how little it would cost various power meter companies to simply gift units to these teams, it’s surprising we don’t see more of that.  For example, the ‘cost’ to a company like PowerTap or Power2Max to outfit 10 riders each with a chainring or spider power meter is pretty trivial.  Sure, these teams are also often looking for cash sponsorship to offset other expenses such as travel.  But at the same time, given how many coaches (yes, even Pro coaches) are increasingly reliant on power data to coach far-flung athletes, I’ve gotta believe any pro team is going to take power meters for free (over not having any power data).

Not to mention the benefit to a power meter company to be able to add a UCI Pro Team to their sponsored athlete roster for what is a relatively low expense.  They’d be able to more easily fill e-mail marketing newsletters with photos of their gear in far-flung locales, rather than just another stock photo somewhere.  Or said differently: Exactly what some brands do on the men’s side.

And of course – we do see some power meter brands making those bets.  For example SRAM and Pioneer completely outfit their teams with units in a cohesive manner.  And in the case of Pioneer, at every event – such as Interbike, Eurobike, and even CES two weeks ago – they’ve had women pro riders in the booths on bikes demonstrating the product.  Yes, even if that booth happened to be in the middle of the car stereo section.  It’s about making an effort to highlight women’s cycling– and they make that effort…every…single time.


With that – thanks for reading!

Oh – and stay tuned for more Tour Down Under tech goodness!

First Look: Suunto’s new Movesense advanced sensor platform https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/first-look-suuntos-new-movesense-advanced-sensor-platform.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/first-look-suuntos-new-movesense-advanced-sensor-platform.html#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 07:45:02 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=69788 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9386

This past week at CES, Suunto introduced not one but two different products.  Of course, it’s the Spartan Wrist HR watch that got most of the attention, complete with distracting green lights.  But it was the almost not even mentioned Movesense announcement that might be more interesting longer term.

Much like Polar’s heart rate strap announcement, the Suunto strap at first appeared to be just another strap.  But like Polar, once you peeled back the onion layers, it became apparent it was far more than just another strap. I got a bit of hands-on time with the unit and sat down to chat with the team behind it.  Let’s dive into it.

What it is?


It’s easy to mistake the small pod: Isn’t that just a translucent Suunto pod with a blinky light?

And while yes, it is somewhat see-through, and yes, it’s the same size and round cookie-like shape of past pods, it’s totally different inside.  Here’s the list of new goodness stuffed inside the Oreo:

– Accelerometer (common in new straps these days)
– Gyroscope (not common)
– Magnetic orientation (aka a compass, not common)
– Temperature sensor (unheard of in a HR strap)
– Storage for recording data (common in new higher end straps)
– ‘Medical grade’ ECG chip (debatable)
– Pin awareness (unheard of in a HR strap)
– Magic fairy dust

What’s that magic fairy dust you ask?  I’ll come back to that in a second.

As is probably apparent by the list of technology above (further details in their site’s PDF), the purpose of this strap is to act as far more than a heart rate sensor (which it still does).  Rather instead, to act as a data collector sensor.  One that may not even be worn as a chest strap at all.  In fact, Suunto really doesn’t see this as a heart rate sensor play.  The play here is focused on capturing sensor data and making it available to 3rd parties.

Of course, that 3rd party piece requires some form of API or SDK (Application Programming Interface/Software Development Kit), which Suunto surprisingly delivers upon here.  Suunto is already shipping what they call the ‘Dev Kit’ version of this unit, allowing developers (or just hobbyist tinkerers) to dive into leveraging the sensors.  They actually introduced this last month at an event for developers in Finland, where the team says they were flooded with interest.


Within the Movesense platform, companies (or individuals) can write programs that run within the strap to record data to the pod, most notably sensor and movement data – but even data from connected devices on the back of the pods connectors.  From there the companies can offload that data into their own applications (via Bluetooth Smart), or down the road be able to leverage the Suunto Movescount platform to store and visualize that data.

So what about that Magic Fairy Dust?  Well, that integrates with the pin awareness I mentioned earlier.  Specifically, the pod itself can communicate to accessories via the connectors on the back of the pod.  Now obviously it does this to connect to something like a HR strap, but it can also be leveraged into other wearable clothing applications.  Or heck, even something like a pair of skis that can measure flex.  But the real piece of Magic Fairy Dust is that Suunto is allowing folks to implement DRM-style validation checks.  Meaning, a company could actually restrict their specific Movesense pod to only work on their own equipment/products.  DRM (Digital Rights Management) is of course the much-hated software mechanisms that music and movie entertainment companies leverage to make it difficult to copy music/videos (even for legitimate purposes, like backup).

Though, Suunto argues that’s really not their purpose here – and they themselves don’t really have any plans for leveraging that piece of the technology.  Instead, it’s just showing the capabilities of the platform and what might appeal to various 3rd party entities.  Portions of that technology can also be leveraged for giving a sensor awareness of what it’s connected to.  For example, is the pod attached to a chest strap, or a bike seat?


And that’s key to understand.  Suunto is largely positioning this today as a B2B play, focused on offering the platform to smaller companies, such as startups, that would have to spend significant sums of money to create a basic sensor platform like this. And that’s certainly true.  This is effectively a Raspberry Pi-esque fitness sensor platform that’s hardened for the outdoors/sports.  Suunto knows how to do that hardening, and has manufacturing capabilities that far exceed what virtually any startup has access to.

Companies can re-brand these pods however they’d like, and purchase them in bulk – even 10,000 units if they’d like to.  Alternatively, they can also work with Suunto to purchase smaller quantities.

In fact, all there is today are dev kits.  Suunto isn’t yet making a full-on consumer version of the pod, though they expect to see that happen eventually.  They’ll likely follow in the footsteps of Garmin, Wahoo, and Polar – and simply wrap it up as their next-gen HR strap.  Suunto says that once they do, it’ll be priced basically the same as their existing straps today, which float between $50 to $100USD.

An Example Case Study:

Sure, Suunto has two different case studies on their site, demonstrating 3rd party companies already using the platform.  And that’s cool and all.  But sometimes I find the hobbyist-style case studies are easier to grasp, and quite frankly more fun.

Ironically enough, this example comes from one of the lead product managers, who took to outfitting his kid’s hockey team with sensors.  This in turn allowed him to collect a crap-ton of data, which he actually uses being the coach of the team.  It’s both geeky cool and perhaps a tiny bit over the top.  But again, in a geeky-cool kinda way.  Here’s the sensors, which were attached to the should pads on each kid:


From there I got to see an impressive 428-page PowerPoint slide deck on the astounding amount of data collected for each kid (ok, it was only like 231 pages).  For example everything from how much playing time each kid got on the ice, to the effort each kid was putting out.  This then allowed him as a coach to ensure that the players were getting even time on the ice (still young enough for that), as well as not overexerting players.


He was even able to start creating metrics showing fatigue levels of the different players concurrently by mapping sensor data within different practice sessions.  That then allowed him to better understand how players fatigued in games.


Of course, not everything in the above kids’ hockey data app is validated as part of some fancy scientific study.  Instead, it’s allowing someone to easily collect data in a sports situation that would otherwise be difficult.  This is just one example of how to use the data.  Or, I suppose, an example of what happens when you give someone kinda like me too many gizmos and gadgets.  Still, you get the point on how the tech could be used.

The long game:


So what’s the long game here?

Well, in some ways it’s Suunto acting like an incubator.  And that’s not a bad thing.  Sure, this takes away a couple of resources from other Suunto projects (literally, it’s just a few people), but it likely benefits both consumers and Suunto themselves in other ways not immediately obvious.

First up, the benefit to consumers (you) is that Suunto is becoming more exposed to the fitness/wearables startup space.  They are also being “forced” to interface to 3rd party companies more regularly, and understand the benefits of doing so.  I’ve often criticized that both Suunto and Polar have become too insular in their products/platforms.  My hope here is that this trickles down/back/up/whatever into other Suunto platforms/products.  For example, maybe we’ll see them make Movescount (web site) more open than it is today.  And in doing so, that’d benefit consumers.

Next, we’ve got the benefit to Suunto themselves.  They’ve been pitching the Movesense strap design for a while as the next generation strap/pod.  And there has indeed been some pickup of that – we’ve seen a handful of other companies adopt it.  But that’s all been for straight heart rate data.  This time, they’re pushing into being the go-to for a quick and simple sensor platform.  And I think they’ll have more success in this area, since it’s a more unique offering than just another heart rate strap.  It can’t be overstated how much time/money this would save a startup that just needs sensor data, but doesn’t want to get into the business of manufacturing said devices.  CES this year was full of companies trying to do things with sensors that would love to cut out the manufacturing aspect of it if possible.

For example, look at the Pioneer bicycle sensor system outlined this past fall.  While the Suunto pod doesn’t have strain gauges in it, it does meet the requirements for everything else Pioneer is doing. In many ways, this would be a perfect solution for those pods not needing strain gauges.  The Suunto platform is designed to allow interoperability between multiple sensors (i.e. having a sensor on a shoe, another on a helmet, and another on the chest).  Sure, Pioneer would want ANT+, but Suunto is using the Nordic nRF52832 chip, which is capable of ANT+ just fine, should Suunto enable it.  Of course, Pioneer likely has no plans to switch – instead, this is me just giving some simple examples of how it could work with even mainstream companies.

Of course, whether or not Suunto’s platform succeeds remains to be seen.  But the ‘cost’ to Suunto is relatively minimal, and I think the long term gain of them acting more like a startup than a watch company is good for consumers and Suunto themselves.  Plus, as Suunto itself has seen over the past year – if you only focus on one thing/product, and don’t focus on the future, then as a tech company it doesn’t tend to turn out well.  I think they’ve learned a lot from the Spartan series situation, and this looks to be an application of those learnings elsewhere in the company.

Catch all the CES 2017 posts here in one handy to read page.  And fear not – there’s still tons more to come from (the massive backlog of) CES!

First Look: TomTom’s Newly Overhauled Sports App https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/tomtoms-overhauled-sports-app.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/tomtoms-overhauled-sports-app.html#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 12:00:43 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=69760 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9668

As with most things in the tech realm – announcements from companies at CES usually fall into one of two camps: software or hardware.  This year we saw many software focused announcements in the fitness/sports technology space.  I suspect in part because so many companies instead shifted hardware product announcements earlier, to the fall, thus enabling units to be sold for the holidays, as well as putting them in position for future spring hardware announcements (fall/spring releases).

For example, we saw TomTom and Fitbit both make software-only fitness announcements at CES.  And both of those companies released new products within a few days of each other this past September.  I’ll likely cover Fitbit’s software changes (which I’ve spent some hands-on time with) in a separate post.

But this post is all about TomTom’s announcement – which was focused on a much-needed app refresh.

The New TomTom Sports App:

One of the most important things new companies in the space seem to struggle to understand is just how important apps are to the success of devices today.  If a person has a crappy app experience, they’re far more likely to get frustrated with the device and either stop using it – or simply return it.

TomTom has in many ways ‘gotten away’ with having a subpar app experience over the past few years because their prices in the budget category were significantly lower than others.  For example, the almost always on-sale Runner is usually found for sub-$100.  It’s a fantastic device at that price point, and offers far more than any other GPS on the market anywhere near that price.

But previous to now the app essentially rendered pages from the internet within the app.  Basically, it was a glorified browser.  Geeks like myself cringe at these types of apps, because they are rarely very smart and rarely very functional.  They’re susceptible to connectivity issues, and tend to be exceedingly slow.  In general though, they just usually suck.

But TomTom is changing things up with their new Sports app.  This app is completely new from the ground up, and is available on Android and iOS.  Specifically Android version 4.4 and higher, and iOS 8 or higher.  They’ve got a gigantic list of specifically compatible Android phones, though it seems to cover most of them.

You can see below the old and new app icons side by side (‘Sports’ is new app, ‘MySports’ is old app), along with the new and old apps side by side (center is new app, right is old app):

2017-01-12 03.46.05 2017-01-12 03.50.36 2017-01-12 03.50.56

This app though isn’t just simply rebranding, it’s actually offering new stuff.  It’s got new metrics, and new trending pieces.  I’ve been using it for almost two weeks now, and so I’ve got a bit of time to get the hang of it.  Thus here’s a bit of a run-through of how they work,

First up is the dashboard/timeline, which shows your current steps, as well as the most recent run.  This is somewhat similar to the previous app, but only for that upper portion.  Now your most recent run is shown very similar to how you’d see it in Strava, with a small map of it.  You can tap on that workout to get more detail.

2017-01-12 03.50.36 2017-01-12 03.56.02

Note that the one downside of the TomTom units is that they don’t sync workouts in the background via BLE.  Rather, you have to force it each time manually, which is sorta cumbersome and a bit behind how most other fitness wearables work these days.

In any case, within a workout you’ll see the summary page, which gives summary information like distance and time.  Followed by the stats page, which graphs each of the key metrics like elevation, pace, and heart rate.  Plus it includes zone distribution at the bottom.

2017-01-12 03.56.07 2017-01-12 03.56.10

Meanwhile, the splits tab shows not just your splits and per-lap ascent and heart rate, but also your best lap.  I can tap any given lap to see that segment displayed on the map, along with more detail down below for the pace and elevation of that lap.

2017-01-12 03.56.14 2017-01-12 03.56.17

Heading back to the main dashboard timeline, you’ll see various stats about how your workout compared to the previous one.  In today’s case it was both faster and shorter.  Personally, I’d like to see these averaged over more workouts to be useful.

Following that we have resting heart rate data for the day, along with the next workout behind it.  In this timeline you’ll keep scrolling down to find further workouts and further resting heart rate data points.  You can both dismiss the resting heart item, or click on it for more information about it:

2017-01-12 03.56.53 2017-01-12 03.58.02 2017-01-12 03.59.01

Next, if we shift gears to the ‘activities’ tab, you’ll see a list of all my activities, as well as the ability to filter these by activity type.  Like before, clicking on a given activity takes me to detail about that workout.  Speaking of which, I can then either share or delete that directly from the workout page.

2017-01-12 03.59.31 2017-01-12 04.02.07

Sharing allows me to select a photo (or take a new one), and then add data overlays to it.  It’s pretty cool, and reminds me a bit of what Nike and a few others have done.  I’ve never understood why other companies haven’t followed them in this space, as it’s such an easy marketing thing for a given device/company.  These pictures can then be shared out to social platforms or your camera roll (i.e. to then share to Instagram).

2017-01-12 04.02.53 2017-01-12 04.04.09 2017-01-12 04.04.15

Next up is the Trends tab.  It starts off showing various step trends, but then as you scroll down you get to other sports, for example running.  Here’s where we see a bit more of that idea of averaging across multiple days.

2017-01-12 04.05.49 2017-01-12 04.06.22

And further down you’ll get stats about sleep, resting heart rate, and weight.  I can tap these individual sections to get more detail as well as trending data.

2017-01-12 04.06.38 2017-01-12 04.07.38 2017-01-12 04.07.10

Finally, we’ve got the ‘Manage’ tab, which should basically be called the Settings tab.  It’s where you’ll setup everything from the watch, to 3rd party apps like Strava and TrainingPeaks, as well as your profile information.  The 3rd party apps page though is the only place where it pops you out to a web browser.

2017-01-12 04.08.34 2017-01-12 04.09.05

Within the profile section you can change things like age, heart rate zones, and display preferences:

2017-01-12 04.11.08 2017-01-12 04.11.11

The one key new item to note here though is the ‘Goals’ section, which allows you to create goals based on the number of workouts in a given sport, as well as active time or distance.  You can also set weight goals as well (though this is mostly targeted at the new body composition band).

2017-01-12 04.09.40 2017-01-12 04.09.44 2017-01-12 04.09.54

Of course – if we go back to the very beginning you’ll remember how one of the key advantages of native apps over web-page rendered apps is around the connectivity pieces.  In this case, I’m able to do the vast majority of tasks in the app with no connectivity at all, as seen below in airplane mode (top of the screenshots):

2017-01-12 04.12.27 2017-01-12 04.12.37 2017-01-12 04.12.31

With that, overall I’m impressed with this effort from TomTom.  They’ve done a good job over the past few months in not only getting firming updates out with bug fixes and new items (finally – including older watches), but now this much-needed app refresh.  The beta version I tried isn’t perfect of course, and has a few minor bugs they’re cleaning up.  But none of them are show-stoppers, and all just little user interface quirks.  All should easily be solved by the end of the month when the app releases to the public.

Of course, one probably needs to calibrate app functionality expectations relative to the TomTom device lineup.  By that I mean that TomTom’s devices are designed to be easier to use and less complex (or feature-deep) than a high-end Garmin, Suunto, or Polar device. As such, their app doesn’t need some of the additional details/functions that those apps provide.  Yet at the same time, this app is a giant leap forward for the company.

I’m really hoping we’ll see this kind of development continue.  For example, there’s no ability to create a route in the app to send to TomTom’s latest Spark 3/Adventurer units – which would set it apart from the competition.  Heck, even Garmin, Suunto, and Polar all lack that seemingly basic functionality.

Still, this much-needed app refresh hits the spot.  Well done.

Catch all the CES 2017 posts here in one handy to read page.  And fear not – there’s still tons more to come from (the massive backlog of) CES!

Hello Australia: I have arrived. Here’s what’s on tap! https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/hello-australia-i-have-arrived-heres-whats-on-tap.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/hello-australia-i-have-arrived-heres-whats-on-tap.html#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 07:32:47 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=69692 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9673

Well then, that was most definitely one of the more roundabout ways to get to Australia – but I have arrived!  Well, we finally arrived.  Upon leaving CES in Las Vegas, I picked up The Girl and The Little One in Paris.  And then after a total of three consecutive redeye flights and over 16,000 miles of flying, we landed in sunny Adelaide earlier this morning.  Heck, I even got in an early morning run upon dropping off the suitcases at the hotel.  It’s at that point The Baby finally decided to sleep.  Apparently that wasn’t in the cards the previous 24 hours.  She was rather displeased with our choice of destinations.

The bright side is that’s finally given me a chance to write this post.

Adelaide & The Tour Down Under


Of course – you may be wondering what I’m on the other side of the earth for.  Sure, the weather is far better this time of year in Australia than in Paris.  But that’s not the main reason (though, it is a major reason).

Instead – the big event is the Tour Down Under.  This popular pro cycling race kicks off over the weekend, and is often a good place to dig into the latest sports technology as pro teams first publically adopt it for the season ahead.  It’s an ideal spot to see who’s using what (or sometimes more interestingly: What they aren’t using off the sponsored products list).  Oh, and did I mention the weather is better?

Plus, you may see a product announcement or two here…

So I’ll be looking at the tech side of things at the Tour Down Under, plus some of the usual goodness of the race itself.  I’ll not so much be covering the racing aspect of the race – but rather more of the atmosphere of the race.  Similar to my Tour de France posts over the past few years.  More about the spectacle of the race, the fans, and the experience.  There’s plenty of other places to get the breakaway by breakaway race coverage.

Of course, being that I’ve never been to the TDU before – I might miss a few things (tips welcomed!).  On the flip side, since I’ve never been before, it’ll all be ‘new’ to me.  Thus I get to experience it for the first time, versus the Tour de France being a bit old hat for me.

(Tidbit: The above picture I took a few hours ago at a nearby café.  Some interesting thoughts on the backstory of that rider in the replies to this Twitter post. Fascinating the detail people have picked apart on that picture.)

But wait, there’s more!


Now given we flew a crapton of miles to get here, there’s no good reason to leave so quickly.  Thus, we’re staying a while.  Like, till next month.

First up will be Sydney later next week, followed by heading up north to Hamilton Island the week after.  Then it’s back down to Melbourne for a few days at the end of the month.  We had looked into also getting back to Western Australia (see our last trip there), though, it was throwing a bit of a loop into the airline reward seat thingy.  So sadly, not this time.

Still, we’ve got a solid itinerary, and all three of us are already enjoying the sun (Me, The Girl, and The Peanut).  Unfortunately, Lucy couldn’t join us due to restrictions on bringing dogs in the country.  So she’s livin’ it up back home with a friend.

Swim, bike, run:


More than anything else, I’m looking forward to getting in some swims, runs, and rides while I’m here.  Running is easy, and in places like Hamilton Island – it’s likely pretty self-explanatory.  While I’ve run a bit in Sydney before, I’m always up for suggestions that are easy from Sydney city center (-ish) to get to.  Same goes for Melbourne.

Plus, I’ve got tons of gizmos and gadgets to test – including plenty of new goods brought back from CES! My suitcase was exactly 1 pound under the 70-pound limit!

I’m hoping to ride here in Adelaide (brought my helmet/shoes/pedals/clothes), though adding a bike to the checked airline luggage mix was too much.  Been looking at a few bike rental spots – but paying $100-$125 a day for a road bike is crazy, especially when you’re talking a week of bike rental.  So if anyone has any suggestions for road bike rental companies in Adelaide that don’t cost more than just buying a new bike, I’m all ears!

As for joining up on runs/rides – I’m definitely game! Especially in Adelaide (for next 7 days) and Melbourne (last four days of the month).  Sydney might be tight since we’re only staying 2-3 days.  Though – if there are any Hamilton Island readers out there…drop me a note too!

With that – I’m back to pumping out CES posts for the next few days, before turning to both Tour Down Under posts as well as all sorts of other goodness I’ve been writing over the past few weeks.  It’ll be a rare case of me actually planning and writing posts more than one day in advance.  Plus, if the interwebs function, keep your eyes peeled to the blog/Twitter, as we may do another Ask DCR Facebook Live session!  Except this time The Girl will join in!

Thanks for reading!  And hope to see some of you around!

Early Look: Zwift in VR! https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/zwift-in-vr.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/01/zwift-in-vr.html#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2017 09:17:28 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=69678 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9001-2

Back at Eurobike this past summer there was a lonely tent outside next to the bike trial area.  Under that tent was a single Wahoo KICKR, a flat-screen TV, a laptop, and a bicycle.  Oh, and an Oculus Rift VR headset.

You know…just the standard issue things you’d find next to any bike trainer setup.

I gave the Zwift VR setup a quick whirl at the time, though never ended up publishing anything on it.  In part because in my sleep deprived state I somehow thought a 48-second video clip and one photo of the TV would be sufficient for a post (you can see that unlisted clip here, in case you’re curious).

But this time around at CES – I was ready!  Or at least, half-awake.  So let’s dive into it.  Do note that this is totally pre-beta, and totally not released yet.  So like most of CES, it’s a preview of what might be to come.

(If you want to skip to a video overview I put together, it’s down below)

Zwift in VR:


So what is VR?  Well VR (Virtual Reality) enables you to immerse yourself in an experience.  Typically that’s computer generated worlds (like Zwift), though not 100% of the time.  How does that differ from 360°?  Well, VR is 360 (when done right), but 360 isn’t necessarily VR.

VR usually implies some level of control within that world, like playing a video game where you move around.  Whereas with 360, you’re seeing the world in 360 and can change the viewpoint, but usually won’t have control of your direction/place in that world.  For example, if you watch any of my 360° videos here (a whole playlist full!), you can control the view, but I’m controlling the direction of travel (such as on a bike or on skis).  Said differently: You’re just along for the ride.

Oh – and not to throw too many things at you, but all of these are different than augmented reality.  That’s typically overlaying data onto glasses (or similar) that are actually showing you more detail about what’s in front of you.  So if you imagined your sunglasses overlaid the names and power data of Tour de France riders floating above their heads as they rode past you, while you stood on the side of the road on Alp d’Huez.  That’s augmenting your reality, by giving you more cool stuff.  But again, different than VR.

So as I was saying, with VR, you also need some sort of additional hardware to put you in that world.  Typically that’s a headset.  In the case of Zwift, they’re leveraging the Oculus Rift headset, which is one of the most popular ones out there.


Next is that Zwift VR requires a PC at this time – and a pretty powerful one at that.  Though on the bright side you don’t need a big screen TV, since you won’t see that once you put on the headset.


And of course you’ll want a bike and a trainer.  As sitting at your dinner table in your cycling kit and headset going nowhere will get kind of boring.  In this case, it’s a Wahoo KICKR2, but that’s just a function of them being housed in the Wahoo booth at CES.  You can use any trainer you’d like, and any bike you like (even a unicycle if you can find a way to attach it to your trainer).


Finally, you’ll plop on that headset to get all VR’d up!  The headset will allow you to change your viewpoint.  Now normally in Zwift you’d change views into one of the canned options available.  But in Zwift VR you can turn your head to change your view, just like you would in real-life.


For example, if I look downwards (Froome Style) at the stem, it’ll show me the stem:


Note that the laptop is showing the two lenses within the headset.  Kinda a preview mode.  You, as the rider of course, see one cohesive picture within the headset.  But their preview for the peanut gallery watching in the booth doesn’t show that today.

I can look anywhere I’d like, even behind me. This is pretty cool if you have a large group ride around you, to be able to look around and see the positioning of those in your group.

I put together a bit of a short video explaining all this, along with a bit more demo’ing how it works and feels in real life:

All in all it works pretty well, especially on an electronically controlled trainer because the resistance is changing with the terrain, making it more realistic.  Of course, for the ultimate in realism they or someone else would want to develop a way to change the pitch on the bike and shake it accordingly.  I also saw that at Eurobike too, and was originally slated for the same Zwift VR post that never happened.  Here’s what that looks like (first 48 seconds are Zwift, last half is crazy system from HeroVR):

Note that in that demo, it was more targeted at events and such, and not really consumers.  It also wasn’t running Zwift.  But I will point out it was pretty damn cool.  Had it been in Zwift, in a mountain bike mode allowing me to go wherever I like – that would have been the pinnacle of awesome.  Now I’m just waiting for Titanium Geek or Lama to put together instructions on how to build a DIY Zwift variant.

Yes, I’m here.  I’m still waiting.

Is it done yet?

So is this the future?


Let’s be clear: This is the future of indoor cycling.

But let’s also be clear: It isn’t the future anytime soon.

Why’s that?  Well in part because of the hardware limitations.  For example – at $599 a pop, an Oculus headset isn’t cheap.  And said headset simply isn’t designed for a long and intense sweat-fest.  You’ll kill them after a ride or two.  Not to mention it’ll get hot and stuffy inside the headset.

Of course, there are cheap cardboard-style systems (and other plastic ones) that you can put your phone in and achieve a similar VR effect.  But in my experience, there’s an inverse relationship between the quality of these headsets and whether you get motion sick using it.  The more expensive, the less sickness.  The cheaper, the more sickness.

I’ve actually tried a bunch of cycling VR simulations over the years.  And without question this was the cleanest setup I’ve ridden.  And the only one I didn’t want to exit the bike immediately (I’m lucky in that I’ve almost never gotten motion sickness, even in the roughest of seas, flights, or situations).

But again – the biggest challenge is just cost.  Zwift has actually had this capability since almost the very beginning.  In fact, they sent over a photo to me, showing a very early meeting where this existed – all when the company was only a couple of people:


John Mayfield, Zwift’s founder, notes that this is really about showing where the company could go:

“Our aim with demonstrating Zwift VR was to show what is possible.  If you actually get in a group ride in VR mode it’s is unbelievable – the feeling of riding with other actual humans is overwhelming.”

He goes on to talk about some of the challenges with hardware:

“I actually added VR mode to the software back in 2013 so it’s been in there all along, but disabled.  In fact I gave Eric Min a demo of it the day we first met at my house.  The problem is that even 3 years later VR headsets are not common devices, and the gaming computers needed to power them are equally scarce – at least among cycling enthusiasts.

Lower price point and more exercise friendly VR headsets are on the horizon.  The PSVR is a good example at $399, and it has a headset that isn’t pressed up against your face.  Seems like it ticks off both of the checkboxes, aside from probably being for PlayStation 4 only.   Phones are also getting more powerful, although I see it taking a couple more years before they are really an option for full detail MMO style 3D applications in VR. The A10 in the iPhone 7 looks to be a real powerhouse….one step closer.”

So might there be something that could sneak out down the road?

“I wouldn’t rule out a quiet release of it as an Easter-egg type feature so that the Zwifters who own a headset (HTC Vive or Oculus Rift) could try it, but I can’t commit to it right now.  We are still small (literally 3 programmers plus me make the Zwift “game”) and we need to stay focused on delivering the best non-VR experience first.”

All of which makes sense.  Zwift is developing at an incredible pace, and gathering an even more incredible following.  One only need to log in any given night this winter season to see that.  So redirecting resources elsewhere probably isn’t ideal for 99.99% of users.  At the same time, being on the leading edge of tech is all about being on that edge.  It’s about pushing the limits of what’s possible, and making people re-evaluate their previous positions.

In my case, until this point my experiences with cycling in VR have all made me want to find the nearest rest stop.  But Zwift VR was different – it was the first time it was actually interesting and engaging.

Now we just need the hardware to catch-up.

With that – thanks for reading!

Catch all the CES 2017 posts here in one handy to read page.  And fear not – there’s still tons more to come from (the massive backlog of) CES!