Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Sat, 28 Mar 2020 17:23:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.13 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/images/2017/03/dcrainmaker-dc-logo-square-40x40.png Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com 32 32 SRAM AXS Website Finally Exits Beta: But what is it? https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/sram-axs-website-finally-exits-beta-but-what-is-it.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/sram-axs-website-finally-exits-beta-but-what-is-it.html#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2020 14:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=110484 Read More Here ]]> DSC_3263

At first glance, what you’re about to read may appear that SRAM is trying to replace Strava, TrainingPeaks, or some other platform you use today. But in reality, they’re trying to sit adjacent to it. Thus, in order to minimize confusion, I figured I’d start with what Jim Meyer, founder of Quarq and SRAM’s category manager for digital integration had to say on how it fits. It helps explain what this is, and isn’t. He gave the following comparisons at the start of a tech deep-dive on the platform, about how they (and most people) view the different platform goals:

Strava: This is about you and your friends
TrainingPeaks: This is about you and your training, your training plan, or your coach/coaching
SRAM AXS Web: This is about helping someone understand them and their bike

He went onto say that “We want to play as perfectly nicely with Strava as we can”, citing the same for TrainingPeaks. They don’t see this as overlap, but rather trying to fill a gap that exists for people to understand what their bike is doing on these rides – and what their bike needs.

So with that – what the heck is it?

SRAM AXS Web is essentially a platform that includes both a website and an app that gets data both directly and indirectly from SRAM, Quarq, and (eventually) ShockWiz components. That actually includes non-AXS things too. In fact, I own *no* AXS labeled hardware. I’ve got regular 1st gen SRAM eTAP with a regular Quarq DZero. Yet everything you see in this post works just fine with that.

That data includes everything from the number of shifts you take each ride to the optimal gearing, as well as reminders to charge your eTAP batteries. It even includes tire pressure data, all pulled together and cohesively overlaid.

The platform has been in beta since last fall, but as of today SRAM is removing the beta label, and discussing some of their plans for the future. Of note is that the company says some 50,000 people used it during the arc of the beta, with a few thousand uploading regularly.

How it all works:

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The entire platform has essentially three pieces as part of it, you mostly only need to use two of them, and once you set up the activity sync, you’ll never see it again. These pieces are as follows:

1) The SRAM AXS Website: This is where you can dive into all the stats
2) The SRAM AXS App: You can double-check the same stats as online, but also update firmware on AXS/DZero/PowerTap gear
3) Garmin Connect Sync: This is just like Strava or TrainingPeaks sync, and sends your completed ride files to SRAM AXS

At this moment, many of you just yelled ‘What about Wahoo?!?’. Fear not, that’s coming. SRAM says Wahoo was in the middle of a backend connectivity/API conversion, and thus wanted to finish that before onboarding SRAM to the newer backend connectivity platform. Once it’s done though, everything you see here will work the same whether it’s from Garmin or Wahoo. The data that sits in the files is stored in the same manner, whether it be from a Garmin or Wahoo GPS device. See, the magic of companies supporting standards!

Ok, now it doesn’t really matter whether you start with the smartphone app or the website. First up will be creating a bike. Again, you can do this on the smartphone or website. The advantage to doing this initially on the smartphone though is that if you have AXS components, you’ve probably already done this. If not and have Quarq components (DZero or TyreWiz), then this too will also take care of it for you via simple Bluetooth Smart pairing:

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In my case, I have a Quarq DZero power meter and TyreWiz on my bike that are both pairable. But I also have SRAM eTAP. However, mine is the original non-AXS variant, so you can’t pair that with Bluetooth Smart to my phone. As such, I can’t add it here. Fear not, we’ll still get data from it in a second. But first, it’s probably worthwhile to edit the bike a bit more on the drivetrain side. For example, over on the website I can do that:

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It’s there that I can go into a giant list of chainrings and cassettes and define what’s configured on my bike:

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And this also includes custom things too:

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Once that’s done, we’ll want to hookup Garmin Connect. Again, down the road you’ll be able to hook-up Wahoo too, and maybe others (more on that in a moment).

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The reason we *need* to hook-up Garmin Connect is that’s how the data gets to AXS. The app by itself doesn’t record any rides. Again, it’s not Strava or MapMyRide or something. Its only goal in life is analyzing data. Instead, it’s your existing Garmin (and eventually Wahoo) device that captures all that data and sends it to SRAM.

Once that’s done, you’ll get your rides sent over to SRAM AXS Web automatically, just like you do for Strava, TrainingPeaks, and countless other sites today. Now, when I first open up the website, you’ll see your feed, which is basically just your rides. However, they do have filtering at the top for other activities. Not because SRAM intends on going in that direction, but because this removes incorrectly recorded things or runs or such from your feed easily (or makes them findable easily too).

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As you can see above, I’ve been doing a bunch of inside rides lately. So instead, I’ll filter to rides with some distance on it:

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So, once we click on a ride in the feed we’ll get a huge long singular page with all sorts of stats. I’ll chunk it up to make it digestible.

The first part is some basics. The left side shows my start/stop times, but also each black line is when I stopped (in this case, to take photos for a product review). The right side is stats as you’d expect. Note this is all changeable from Metric/KM to Statute/Miles. There’s also a map too.

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Next is where we get into the good stuff. It’s kinda like Di2Stats.com, except not quite as geeky. I can toggle between time or distance for the gear usage. Also, love the fact that I did this entire ride in the big ring. Welcome to the Netherlands!

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I can then go to the right, and see another set of stats, this time power in gear, both as wattage (left) as well as energy (right). And then again to get a gear ratio chart. This, of course, is pulling in my power meter data.

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Next, in my case is my tire pressure sensor data from TyreWiz. Now, you can see some of the data is a bit funky here. It’s a pattern I’ve seen on a bunch of rides recently. It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with SRAM AXS Web, but rather the Garmin Connect IQ data field that collects the data dropping out occasionally.

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Finally, down below there’s a boatload of power, cadence, and heart rate data tabs for the entire ride. Elevation too. Basically, all the things you’d expect from any normal training platform.

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Note that all of this stuff is accessible from the smartphone app too, it’s just faster for me to get more easily sized screenshots on the website from a desktop computer.

So at this point, you’re probably like: Fine, that’s fun geekery – but how’s it useful for most people day to day?

And that’s a variable answer. The most simplistic answer is probably just low-battery reminders. See when your GPS bike computer captures the workout/ride, it’s also capturing the battery level of your eTAP/AXS batteries. Sure, your Garmin/Wahoo/whatever undoubtedly reminded you mid-ride that your batteries were low. But if you’re like me, you forgot about that 7 seconds later.

It’s not till you start your next ride that you’re like: “Ahww fudge, I forgot to charge, next time!”. And then you repeat that process for another week or two until you can’t shift anymore mid-ride. I mean, just speaking on behalf of a fictitious friend of course.

So the SRAM AXS App arguably has one overt purpose in life right now (aside from firmware updates and settings tweaks), which is to remind you to charge your batteries. It does this by reading the file sent to it from Garmin, and then at the same time you get your Strava notification of an uploaded ride, you’ll get a SRAM AXS App notification of your battery level. This is useful because it’s generally after you’ve gotten off the bike, probably even home, where you can grab the batteries then and stick them on the charger:

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Also, it’s got some neat little stats too about your ride. Sorta a quick summary for power meter geeks. But ultimately, they see the battery smartphone notification as a simple ‘Hey, we got your ride, and your bike’s all good!’.

Ok, but now what?

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I know, I hear ya. Sure, that’s useful – but not life-changing. And SRAM largely seems to agree.

In talking with them, they see themselves as being on Step 2 of 10 in terms of where they want to take this platform. Their ideal roadmap is that they want to be that riding buddy that’s more skilled than you. In other words, that friendly dude or dudette you ride with that’s like “Hey buddy, you should be shifting more often for this ride, I’m seeing you in the wrong gear a lot.” or “Hey girl, that’s the wrong gearing for this type of terrain/ride, consider getting a different chainring/cassette setup”.

And that gets into the future of what they want. Right now, it’s largely just a pile of data. Their goal is to start trending the data and providing recommendations based on everything they know about shifting or tire pressure (and eventually with ShockWiz too). While certainly there’s probably an element that might drive people to purchase a different cassette or chainring from SRAM, it sounds their goals are largely centered around trying to help people optimize their rides.

Which gets to why they built this entire thing versus just using a platform like Strava or TrainingPeaks. They said that over time it was tough to convince those types of platforms to keep up and be on the bleeding edge of sensor tech like this, or to provide these sorts of recommendations. And certainly, that’s true. There’s no gear shifting data in Strava, despite your Garmin/Wahoo/etc device recording and sending it to them (and has been for years). Strava has all that data in those billions of activities, they’ve just never exposed it.

The same is true for TrainingPeaks and others. Those companies have other priorities that might not align with a SRAM product launch. If SRAM launches a new product and NEEDS it to support their sensors, they might not be able to accommodate that. In fact, SRAM says some 20-30 different product teams at SRAM are already using data from SRAM AXS Web to test upcoming products and theories. It allows product teams to gather data not just from themselves, but also beta testers and pro teams.

The company says they expect to see pro team integration increase, and right now are starting to work on the mountain bike side of the equation, primarily around course recons and gearing. But they could easily see demand from pro cycling to be able to quickly manage an entire team of bikes and ensure all the components are not only working correctly (e.g. batteries), but also look for ways to optimize gearing on individual riders within the team.

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Now – the one piece missing here (beyond Wahoo) is ironically indoor providers. Many of us are spending more time than we’d like indoors riding our bikes right now. However, a lot of people don’t dual-record with their Garmin/Wahoo device. As such, it could be mid-Zwift race when their eTAP battery dies. The challenge is that none of the indoor training apps pair to the shifting systems of bikes (despite being an open standard). SRAM says they’d love to get to the point of having the Zwift/TrainerRoad/etc’s of the world pairing to the shifting system, if only to be able to send over the battery state/status.

That way you don’t get that surprise mid indoor race, or the day you take your bike outside and realize the batteries have been dead for weeks because you use the same gearing in ERG mode on TrainerRoad and never shift.

Finally, for lack of anywhere else to stick this tech tidbit – the platform is built wholly within SRAM, but rides atop much of the work that Quarq did for Qollector years ago around file ingest and data handling.

Wrap Up:

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This is cool stuff, and it’s good to see companies both spending time and resources on not just the software platforms around their hardware – but also the beta testing process. This thing has been out there since last fall, complete with a site dedicated to the top feature requests, which SRAM has said is basically how they decide what to add next (save things they need for upcoming product launches/etc). And sure enough, I’ve seen some of those items checked off the list and marked as complete.

At this point, by SRAM’s own admission, they’ve only completed baby-steps in probably most consumers’ minds here. Behind the scenes, getting to this piece is pretty substantial, and lays the groundwork for where they envision the platform going in terms of being your trusted riding buddy that can give you life-lesson type recommendations on getting more from your bike hardware. But today, it’s not there yet. On the flip-side, the battery alerts by themselves are worth the price (free) of admission. Plus of course, once you’ve got the app you can update not just SRAM/Quarq products, but also now the PowerTap products too – which is pretty cool, especially for Android users (where there wasn’t a good option before the Quarq acquisition of PowerTap, which was almost exactly a year ago).

I’m looking forward to seeing where this tech ends up down the road. And perhaps we’ll start to see interest from other training platforms in this area as well. If SRAM and other companies can make better informed athletes without data overload, that’s a good thing. It’s threading the needle through that route that can sometimes be tricky.

With that – thanks for reading!

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Tacx Handlebar Tablet Holder Accessory In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/tacx-handlebar-tablet-holder-accessory.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/tacx-handlebar-tablet-holder-accessory.html#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2020 21:34:40 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=110242 Read More Here ]]> DSC_3175

You know when you start a review 3-4 years ago, and then realize you never quite finished it? Oh, that’s just me? Well, here ya go – all it took was a worldwide pandemic for me to finish it.

As I’ll explain later, this is one of those things I actually have used for years on and off, but just sorta forgot to ever write a proper post on it. The $39 Tacx handlebar tablet holder does exactly what its name implies: It allows you to mount a tablet to your handlebars. Obviously, mostly for indoor usage. But fear not, I’m ‘that guy’ who’s willing to try it outdoors. More on that later.

Of course, if you’ve got a big screen TV pain cave setup and a proper trainer desk (or music stand) to put lots of accessories on, then this probably isn’t needed. But some of us also have smaller indoor training setups that need to have the tablet to run our favorite training apps close by. And for that, this is by far the best solution I’ve found. It’s definitely a lot better than a stack of leftover Amazon boxes.

Now, this is definitely one you’re gonna wanna watch the video. Don’t worry, I kept it exciting. Namely, I tested to see what happened when I took the whole setup outdoors…off-road.

With that, let’s dive into all the details.

What’s in the box:

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So somewhere in my vast 40+ terabytes of network attached file storage I’ve got the unboxing photos from years ago. Possibly even edited too. But alas, I can’t find it at the moment. Probably because I called the folder something like ‘To Sort’ (which, is what I call almost every folder). And probably because I never got around to sorting it.

Also, somewhere in those last few years I lost some of the small parts. I have no idea what happened to those in the move from Paris to Amsterdam. Sorry.

So, I went out and bought another one, mostly so I can unbox it. And mostly so it’ll be more compatible with the rest of my bikes. So, fresh off the DHL truck (and heavily sanitized) is the unboxing shots. In case you’re wondering, nothing that I can see has changed in all these years. Which is probably a testament that it ‘just works’.

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Inside on top is the main tablet piece, separated from handlebar attachment piece:

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Below the cardboard piece you’ll find the spring-loaded handlebar bit that attaches to your handlebars. And then a bag of adapters for different handlebars sizes. Plus, a manual.

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Here’s a closer look at the bracket bit:

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And then the handlebar bit:

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And finally, the adapters and small parts:

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Oh – and yes, the manual too:

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There we go, now let’s attach it to your bike.

Setup & Bike Compatibility:

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Officially, it supports only 26-35mm round handlebars. Unofficially, depending on how creative you want to get, and how much sketch you’re willing to put up with, you can get away with more.

First though, we’ll need to connect the handlebar clamp piece to the tablet mount piece. You’ll slide the top tablet bit into the bottom handlebar piece by slightly pulling it apart a tiny bit, and then slide the bolt and nut into it. Quick and easy:

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Next, we’ll stick in the small rubber bits that helps lock the tablet in a bit better into the arms. There’s four of these in there:

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After that, we’ll go ahead and put in the inserts of our choice there. There are three of them for differing bar sizes.

In my case, I found I used the thinnest set of inserts for my road bike, as using the middle or thickest ones wouldn’t work with the little bar that goes under the stem (more on that in a second):

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And…we’re done with assembly. It probably took you under a minute start to finish.

To get it on your bike you’re just going to open the clamp up by pressing it, and then sliding it over the handlebars:

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Then you’ll add this little piece under it, which serves as a secondary lock as well as minimizes the weight:

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And…we’re done. Again.

Oh, in case you were wondering, here’s how looks on a mountain bike:

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You’ll simply use whatever inserts work best for your bike. Of course, this won’t work well on triathlon bikes, or any bike with aero-style handlebars that are flat. I mean, at least not without making a trip to Sketchville:

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Nor will it work on any bikes that just simply have some sort of totally funky front-end near the stem.

Using it:

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What’s funny here is that despite using this on and off for years, you probably haven’t seen too many photos of it in posts. The reason is that I tend to do most daytime riding down at the DCR Cave. It’s here that I usually use a dual-screen Apple TV setup, as well as a KICKR Desk to hold any iPads or other tablet-like things (such as Haribo). It’s also where I tend to take 99% of photos for the site here.

However, like most people here, I ride an indoor trainer at night or on the weekends at home. And at home my setup is usually stuffed into the corner of the baby’s room, or out in a shed-like thing we have. No big screen TV’s, no Apple TV’s, no swank. It’s not pretty, and usually the lighting is horrendous – with only Instagram filters salvaging it. But it’s there that I primarily ride with the Tacx tablet holder on an older bike.

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But, to preserve your eyeballs from witnessing numerous photos of that situation, I re-shot everything in the pretty color-balanced light of the DCR Cave today. Don’t ever say I don’t love ya.

Once attached to your bike, you’ll simply slide the tablet in. In my case I’m exclusively using iPads. Not iPad Pros or anything else, just regular iPads. For that, it works just great.

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Obviously, the fit is pretty easy to figure out. The min/max dimensions are as follows:

Min/Max Width: 182mm-267mm
Min/Max Height: 112-197mm
Max Thickness: 13mm

Looking at these specs, it does not appear an iPad Pro would fit it, as it has a width of 305mm, and thus would be too wide. Then again, I’m not sure I’d want to put an expensive iPad Pro that close anyway. Which, gets to the next point – it might get a bit sweaty. Not overly so, but like a CSI episode, you’ll probably find some splatter post-ride.

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That’s usually fine for your device, just wipe it off. Then sanitize it twelve times…just to be sure.

You can orient the tablet part in numerous ways, either more upwards or more flat. It’s up to you, and probably depends on where you prefer to look. Obviously, some people prefer looking up to a big-screen TV. But if you’re like me – you may simply not have that kind of space in your mini-Cave.

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Oh, and it fits a water bottle in there too, which is kinda handy. Nothing better than placing water next to electronics:

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I’ve had exactly zero issues with sprinting with it. It never goes anywhere. I don’t frankly see how it would go anywhere, assuming you’ve installed it correctly (which is silly simple). The spring bracket that connects onto the bike has incredible force (there’s no way my toddlers could open it up). And the tablet nuts perform as tight a lock on the tablet as any iPad case would. Seriously, it’s not going to come out.

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It might wobble a little bit during an out of the saddle sprint, after all, despite being mostly hard plastic there’s still some give there. But nothing that’s a big deal. Plus, most people aren’t doing out of the saddle sprints every 5 minutes. Hopefully. You can see some sprint action in the video up above.

Just to demonstrate how this definitely isn’t going to fall off, I went riding outdoors with it…on trails. Now, I wouldn’t really recommend this. So, in support of me nearly killing my iPad and the tablet holder, be sure to hit up the links at the bottom or on the sidebar – even if it’s just to try and buy more toilet paper via Amazon.

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If you want to see the video of that, feel free to hit it up at the top. And with that, I’m not sure what else to tell you. It’s solidly in my ‘just works’ category. I like things that both ‘just work’, and are easy to use, and last year’s, and don’t cost too much (in comparison to $1,200 trainer platforms anyway).

Wrap-Up:

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It’s nice to see a product that’s both affordable, and does what it says it’s supposed to do. For $39/39EUR, it’s relatively inexpensive in the world of indoor training gadgets. It works with my iPad just fine, and as I showed, it’s very clearly not going to come off anytime soon, no matter where you might bring it. Even if that locale is against the box’s instructions.

About the only two things I could complain about are compatibility and lack of Haribo holding capacity. On compatibility, there will undoubtedly be some bikes this isn’t compatible with. For example, it doesn’t work well at all with my tri bike. And if you’ve got a fancier bike with an aero handlebar, it’s probably not gonna work well there either. Though, I did use it on my tri bike for a while a few years ago. It just wasn’t ideal, and definitely Sketchville. But as you’ve probably surmised by now, I’m totally good with my bike setups sometimes being passport holders of Sketchville. However, there’s still no viable place to easily store Haribo on it. So points lost there.

Ultimately, either you want a tablet holder or you don’t. This is a good one. I’ve also tested, though never quite finished, the review on the Sea Sucker tablet mount. And that one I actually took down the Champs-Élysées cobbles. For realz. Twice. At full speed. In traffic. No joke. Maybe I’ll send that video out to DCR Supporters as a thank-you. Actually, I definitely will – I just found all the footage. It’s hilarious. But it’s also crazy way more expensive. And for normal indoors use, I prefer the Tacx one logistically speaking as I can pop it on and off in 2 seconds, whereas that one takes an Allen key.

With that – hope ya found this review interesting…or at least entertaining. 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.

Tacx Tablet Holder – $39USD/Clever Training
Tacx Tablet Holder – $39USD/Amazon

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Tacx Tablet Holder 32GB/35EUR (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

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.

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Stages Dash L50 & M50 GPS Bike Computer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/stages-dash-l50-m50-bike-gps-computer-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/stages-dash-l50-m50-bike-gps-computer-review.html#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2020 16:09:52 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=110160 Read More Here ]]> DSC_3106

It’s been nearly a year since the Stages Dash L50 & M50 started shipping, back in June 2019, which was almost a year after they were announced at Eurobike 2018.  To say both the product and this review have been on a long road would be an understatement. During that timeframe the Dash has received numerous updates, including features like Varia cycling radar support and an improved app. The remainder of the numerous updates have been largely on fit and finish, more so than dramatic new features.

More than that though, the Stages Dash L50 and M50 are the company’s first color display bike computers. They are not however the first bike computer the company ever made. That honor went to the original black and white Stages Dash (which has since received upgraded internals and become the Stages Dash L10). The ‘L’ designator indicates a larger size, while ‘M’ means a medium size. The 10 or 50 portion of the name is simply the series identifier. Thus the L50 and M50 are of the same series in two formats.

When it comes to structured workouts, Stages has largely dominated that front. Renewed interest from Garmin and Wahoo may be challenging them – but the deeper you dig into the Stages Dash ecosystem the more you realize how deep it really goes. Inversely, this is Stages’ first go of mapping and navigation, so in this review I explain where the product is, and isn’t. Priced at $249 for the Dash M50 and $299 for the L50, they’re at a similar price-point to the Wahoo BOLT (just reduced to $229) and Garmin Edge 530 ($299). But how equal are all these units?

That, I set to find out.

Stages sent over a pile of Dash media loaner units to test. Including an even greater number of mounts. My dog now has a mount on it. Once I’ve wrapped up this review here I’ll put everything back in a hermetically sealed shipping container and send it all back to them. If you found this review useful, hit up the links at the end to support the site.

Unboxing:

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The parts in the boxes between the Stages Dash L50 and M50 are identical. Thus, we’ll just unbox one of them for now – the M50 it is:

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Inside you’ll find the out-front mount, the Stages Dash itself, a manual that’s made of some crazy water-resistant paper, plus a tether and a micro-USB charging/sync cable:

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here’s a closer look at the mount as well as the tether and charging cable. Don’t worry, more mount shots coming up later.

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And a closer look at the Stages Dash M50:

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Ok, there ya go on the unboxing – pretty straightforward. For a quick size and weight comparison, here’s how it shapes up against the Wahoo BOLT and Edge 530:

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And weights (BOLT – 61g, Edge 530 – 79g, Stages M50 – 97g, Stages L50 – 129g):

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Got all that? Good. Let’s start using it.

The Basics:

The first thing you may or may not realize about all the Stages Dash units is that they can actually be mounted one of two ways: Landscape or portrait. That’s because on the underside of the units they’ve got two different mounting positions, seen where the gap exists on each unit:

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Here’s an example of both orientations. Once you mount it a given way, you can go into the settings and choose a ride profile that switches everything to the correct orientation (which I didn’t do for the secondary photo to the right):

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The Stages mounts are all metal, and there’s a boatload of them for tons of different scenarios/bikes/configurations. I’ll give Stages credit that they realized (albeit a few years ago), that mount compatibility is the semi-secret key to anyone having success in this market. That also extends to things like GoPro camera & Di2 junction box mounting spots as well.

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However, all that compatibility aside, I will note that the mount still remains one of the more annoying aspects of the Stages Dash lineup to me. No matter how many mounts I use on numerous bikes and numerous Stages Dash units, getting it to click right can be cumbersome and non-reassuring. And I don’t feel like I’m alone in that complaint, judging from other’s opinions. The main reason Stages has gone with an all-metal mount design is to decrease the dependency on the tabs seen in Garmin/Wahoo/everyone’s mounts. However, to be honest, I just don’t hear any sign of widespread issues here with real-world users for the last 11+ years. It’s just not an issue. I’d strongly recommend Stages re-think the mount on any future products.

Nonetheless, once you get the mount and bike computer mounted, you’ll power it on via the side buttons. These turn on the display (it’s not a touchscreen). Navigation through the screen is done using the buttons along the bottom (or side, depending on how you have it oriented):

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Which, unfortunately, gets me right to my second point (fear not, after this is smooth sailing), the buttons suck. They’re hard to press, often require double presses that are hard to know if they triggered or not. I suspect part of that is amplified by the general slowness of the unit, so you aren’t sure whether something pressed and have to press it again. Having/leaving the ‘beep’ on helps, since you’ll hear the sharp beep tone on each button press.

The menu system is pretty easy to navigate. From the main menu, you’ve got four simple options. Note that the menus are *IDENTICAL* for both the Stages M50 and L50. Everything is identical except size. So I’ll use them interchangeably here.

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The four core options do the following:

– Start ride: Yup, it starts the ride
– Portrait Preset: This is actually the name of the specific preset I’m in, it’ll show whatever you’ve named that preset. Think of this like your ride profile, which contains things like data field layouts and other settings
– Ride History: You can relive the glory days of…erm…yesterday.
– Main Menu: This could alternately be titled ‘Settings’, but it’s more than that, it’s where you can do things like choose a course, or a workout, and also view ride history.

We’ll first talk settings, and then back into actually riding with it. I’ve got separate sections for courses (navigating) and structured workouts.

As I mentioned above, the ‘Ride Profile’ is where you group all your settings for the unit. You can have multiple ride profiles. So for example, one for road riding, one for mountain biking, another for races, etc… For those coming from the Garmin realm, this is akin to ‘Activity Profiles’. Starting with the most obvious thing to configure, data pages and screens, that can be done in one of three places:

A) The Dash unit itself
B) The Stages Sync smartphone companion app
C) The Stages Link website

This is unique and a major selling point for Stages compared to Garmin (device only), or Wahoo (phone only). It’s essentially the holy grail of customization and tweaking. And that concept extends straight into how you configure your data pages. I’ll show it here via the web interface since it’s a bit simpler to take screenshots of:

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Each of your up to 9 pages can have upwards of 10 fields (Stages M50) or 16 fields (Stages L50) on them. Seriously, you can go crazy. Or not. You can also just have less fields and bigger data fields – especially on the Stages L50 with the larger screen.

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And here’s the same for the M50:

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Ultimately, especially on the L50, you can get pretty creative with field layouts. I’d say that in general the ‘easiest’ place to configure these fields is on the website, with the least easy on the unit itself. The smartphone is in the middle. It’s not that doing it on the unit is hard, it’s just that the categorization process of how the menus are on the unit makes it a bit slower to do. But you do whatever makes you happy – you’ve got the choice here.

Here’s a pile of data screen examples I created. First for the Dash M50:

And now the Dash L50:

In addition to data pages, you’ve got a pile of ride profile specific settings, which are the same for both units:

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Essentially these bucket into display/power related options, recording options, and orientation. As noted above, both Dashes can be oriented in either portrait or landscape. And with that, you’d configure a given ride profile in one of those two orientations (since the data fields will look different in each configuration).

Meanwhile, there’s a pile of settings that are across all ride profiles. These include phone connectivity settings (pairing, smartphone notifications), workout settings (how individual steps are processed) , map/course settings (orientations, trail lines, POI’s, etc…), and device settings (notably language/units/time formats). I’ll dive into the workout/course navigation settings in those respective sections.

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As for pairing with your phone, you’ll actually have done that as part of the initial setup. It uses a simple QR code you scan with your phone and 5 seconds later you’re done – pretty much the same as many devices these days. I mean, except Garmin. They’re still using this process for pairing your Edge device.

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The device will display smartphone notifications mid-ride (or, if you forgot to turn it off, mid-backpack), that works just fine. In fact, it assumes that all text messages coming in are happy, and puts a little smiley face next to everything my wife sends me:

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Later on, this same smartphone connection is used to upload rides via Bluetooth Smart to the Stages app/platform, and other 3rd party sites like Strava (more on that in a moment).

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Next, we’ve got sensor pairing. The Stages Dash allows sensors to be paired only to a specific ride profile, or, in the more common sensor pooling concept to all profiles. In general, I’d recommend you just pair to all profiles, so that later on you aren’t confused as to why a sensor didn’t connect for a ride.

Pairing sensors is done via the sensor menu, and you’ll pair ANT+ sensors and Bluetooth Smart sensors individually. This has its pros and cons. It’s great for power users, but perhaps a little confusing for regular users. In every scenario I can think of, for outdoor cycling specifically, you should always pair ANT+ over Bluetooth Smart.

(Geekery explanation corner: The ANT+ power meter profile is far more mature/stable than the Bluetooth Smart one, specifically around data consistency. For radar, there is no Bluetooth Smart radar profile, so you wouldn’t see them there. For speed/cadence sensors, only Garmin sensors support multiple Bluetooth Smart channels versus unlimited ANT+ connections. So again, using ANT+ makes sense to not block other apps/devices you might use. For heart rate straps, some newer straps from Polar and Garmin support dual-BLE connections, but most don’t. So yes, just choose ANT+ every time unless you’re pairing the rare BLE-only device.)

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The Stages Dash M50 & L50 support the following sensor types:

A) ANT+/BLE Speed-only, ANT+/BLE Speed/Cadence Combo, ANT+/BLE Cadence-only
B) ANT+/BLE power meters: Note, no addition cycling dynamics metrics though
C) ANT+ FE-C (but non-controllable): Control firmware update slated for mid-April.
D) ANT+/BLE Heart Rate
E) ANT+ Radar: Such as Garmin’s Varia Radar

Ok with all that set, let me show you how it works for a simple non-workout/non-course ride. To begin, you’ll go back to the main dashboard and ensure the upper edge shows that it has GPS lock (little arrow icon), as well as icons for any sensors you have paired (like HR, power, etc…). As always, riding before any GPS device has GPS lock only makes that process taker longer.

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Once that’s done, tap the side little arrow button at the button to start the ride recording. You’ll now see the data screens that you configured. To change to other screens, press the up/down button:

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And to create a manual lap marker, press the lap button in the lower left corner. One of the main Stages Dash L50/M50 features is the colored power zone gauge. This large display box shows your exact power level according to the color-coded power levels you’ve defined within the Stages app (either automatically or manually).

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This same colorful power gauge will also be repurposed during workouts to show you target zones and how well you’re working to achieve those zones.

Mid-ride you can access various settings by long-holding the circle button, which shows a mini-menu that at the top includes the most common features like backlight or power meter zero offset. Or, you can take a screenshot here too.

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As you go down the list further though you can access the ability to edit that specific data page right from the unit mid-ride, as well as change the power settings (to save battery), or even turn the unit off altogether.

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It should be noted that the Stages Dash L50 and M50 both support the Varia Radar to detect cars approaching from behind. They launched this functionality late last year, and I wrote an entire piece on it at the time.

Hit up that post for more details on how it all works.

Finally, when you’re done with your ride, you’ll quickly tap that circle button again to bring up the ride menu, which is where you can save/end/delete the ride, or even go back and access the larger menu system (such as to change the course or structured workout):

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After you’ve saved a ride, it’ll give you some top-line stats, as well as the ability to dive into more detailed stats and summaries, including maximal values for power and heart rate:

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It’s at this point that the unit will sync your ride via Stages Dash to 3rd party platforms including Strava, TrainingPeaks, and plenty more. See all those details in the ‘Platforms & Sync’ section later in the review. All you really need to know is it works exactly like you’d expect, a few seconds later your ride is over on Strava or wherever else. Also, the .FIT file is available locally as a USB mass storage device in case that’s more your thing.

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Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention battery life. It’s one of the marque marketing features of the Stages Dash – coming in at a claimed 24hrs of riding time (or 12hrs with maps/courses). On paper anyway.

In reality, it’s hard to judge clearly. For example, if I go out for a ride, battery life seems fine/acceptable after a few hour ride. No major drops, enough that I don’t really have to think about it.  And the display does indeed handle itself in a rather bright way the entire time. Visibility is *never* an issue on the Stages Dash L50 or M50. This baby is bright as a over-tweaked flat-screen TV in Best Buy. And atop the screen (upper left) is a small light sensor, so it automagically adjusts in real-time to your lighting conditions:

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The only challenge is what happens after a ride. That’s because the Stages Dash doesn’t automatically turn off if it’s connected to your phone for notifications. Instead, you have to manually power it off. If you don’t, it’ll die a slow death until it runs out of battery (albeit, probably a day later). Then you’ll turn it on the next morning and find this:

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This challenge is only doubled-down on by the fact that it charges incredibly slow, and half that yet again if you charge it while powered on. Stages did note though that my unit is an older one from last summer, and that new units double the charging speed. Further, Stages is saying though that they’re working on a fix to ensure the Dash follows the configured automatic shut-down time (which is 20 minutes if not in a ride/activity).

Ok, with that we’ve wrapped up all the basics of a simple ride. But in many ways, you don’t buy the Stages Dash product for a simple ride (I mean, you could, it’ll work just fine for that). You probably bought it for more advanced uses. So I’ve split those two use cases up below.

Structured Workouts:

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Before Garmin and Wahoo showed recent renewed interest in structured workouts, the original Stages Dash unit was leading the charge. While the on-unit bits were more impressive than Garmin or Wahoo at the time, it was really more the backend website piece that drove the combo-dish. The thing is, under the covers the Stages Link site is really Today’s Plan. If you’re not familiar with Today’s Plan, they’re a training log and analysis site. A well regarded one too – used by a few WorldTour pro cycling teams among many others. Roughly like TrainingPeaks.

That’s mostly great for Stages users, because the depth of Today’s Plan as a website is something that neither Garmin or Wahoo deliver within their native offerings. Instead, if you want to go as deep as Stages, you’d have to use 3rd party sites on Garmin/Wahoo, including TrainingPeaks…and ironically also Today’s Plan. But, does the early Stages lead mean they’re still a leader here? Let’s dig in a bit.

First, I’m going to create a workout. However, you can easily take one of hundreds of workouts they have already pre-categorized and filterable:

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But in my case, I’m a rebel, so I’m going to create my own outdoor workout and indoor workout. First up is choosing to create one from scratch or using a template. In my case, I’m going to actually duplicate one as a baseline, and then tweak it. So I’m going to take the outdoor one I created, and make it a shorter indoor one (basically slicing off the much longer warm-up I had to get me to farm roads). The process for a new workout is identical.

You’ll see up top I can specify some general details, then down below is where we get into the nitty-gritty.

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You’ll see each step listed. Note at the top the ‘Sample Thresholds’. The workouts are fundamentally based on power zones that you’ve defined in your profile. Meaning, that’s how they’ll be executed out on the road on your Stages Dash. However, for the workout builder bits, you’ll want to ensure that the ‘Sample thresholds’ option is correct, else previewing it will use a default 200w threshold.

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First, I’m going to tweak my warm-up from the longer 35-minutes easy to a shorter 10-minutes. I just do that by changing the time.

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Next, I’ll tweak/set my main intervals. Notice above/below it shows my estimated power zone range. For the warm-up, I’ve got a much larger range. Whereas below, I’ve reduced that range by using decimals for the power zones (e.g. 4.7 to 5.0).

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I’ve also set the duration at 5 minutes and the number of reps at 4, and the recovery (rest) period at 2 minutes each.  You can see how this looks in the workout builder, once I added a few sprints in there too for fun. You’ll also notice it shows the zones down below using the sample value of 285w.

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And, if we scroll back up top, it’ll automatically be calculating the duration and TScore (load):

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With that set, we’ll go and drag it onto the calendar. We can also just save/highlight it too, which means it’ll always be on the Dash, no matter the day. You can set the day/time/priority when dragging onto your calendar.

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In fact, you can also add a course atop it too. But, we won’t cause too much drama in this section.

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However, where things start to get pretty impressive is the ability for Stages to utilize these pre-planned workouts on your calendar to predict training load. Again, this is something that isn’t found in the baseline offerings from Garmin or Wahoo.

You can see this pre-ride if you click on the interval before you do it, showing you the dotted line of that activity, and what’s planned on your calendar. Which then will ideally match what happens post-ride:

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But, to show you the power of this (similar to other training lot platforms), I can add forward-looking workouts to the calendar. So what if I put this workout on the calendar for the next few weeks, twice a week – plus the longer 90min variant once a week (I know, not optimally designed, but just to illustrate a point).

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As you can see the dotted line showing me the next working (since that’s what I clicked on), and then forward-looking from there with the workouts that are planned on the calendar (all sub-100 in T-Score).

In any case, let’s start riding. Because the way structured workouts enumerates itself is both the same indoors and outdoors, I’m going to show you the functionality indoors. It works identically outdoors. But it’s a heck of a lot easier for me to take photos indoors than outdoors. Don’t worry, I’ve got some shots from doing some out on the road too.

Now, on the Dash we need to add the planned workout. So from the unit we’ll choose ‘Main Menu’, and then ‘Select a workout’:

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This allows us to choose what’s on our calendar, or one of our favorited ones. If for some reason you didn’t open your smartphone app to sync (or sync via USB cable), now would be the time to do so.

Once the workout is started and loaded, what you see will depend on what fields you’ve configured. In my case, I set it up such that I could see the entire workout (known as the workout graph), and then various data fields related to both the current interval and the workout as a whole. For example, the workout graph data field (the pretty one below) will show you the entire workout at the start of each interval/section, for what seems about 20 seconds.

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After that, it goes into a more zoomed in view of what appears to be about the next ~20 mins worth (or maybe it’s just the next three chunks, either way). What you’ll notice above/below though is the coloring around each square, indicating whether or not I’m above or below. In the photo above, I’m below the lap bar for that particular interval (the cool-down, as it were), whereas in the photo below I’m on-point for the target power for that interval.

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I like that view, as it makes it easy to see what’s coming up near-term, as well as the occasional refresher on long term.

The way the Stages Dash works (in conjunction with Stages Link) is that you have three options for how it iterates through an interval:

A) Automatically
B) Manual
C) Half and half (my lingo)

In the automatic variant, it’ll automatically go forward through the workout and you’re just along the ride. I’d consider that the norm for how most people assume it’d work. For the manual variant, you’ll manually step into each workout step that’s a work interval. So if you’ve got 5 minutes of hard work, it’ll actually wait at the end of the rest interval, before you press lap to start the work interval. However, upon completion of that 5 minutes of hard work, it’ll instantly go into the rest/recovery interval.

However, for the half and half intervals, you can basically have certain parts of the workout wait until you are ready. For example, doing a longer warm-up, and then you can start the inside section (caller inners) that starts the legit part of your workout. Or, just a different part. You can get pretty crazy here with how you iterate through things.

You can manually skip forward to the next section at any time by pressing the lap button, or pause the workout straight-up by pausing the ride. There isn’t however any way to go back to a previous workout section to re-do it (such as getting hit by a stoplight 30-seconds into an interval).

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As you complete each interval you’ll get a lap summary message in the lower right corner of details of the previous interval. Or, in the case of this photo, my rest/recovery section’s averages:

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The system works well, both indoors and outdoors. At present it’s not yet controlling a smart trainer, but can read data from it. It sounds like the control is coming any day now, as they’re depending on that functionality for their Stages Bike and integration there. I did a workout yesterday indoors no issues (as seen in photos above). And have done them outside too.

I did run into some weird workout bug while running a beta firmware version, but I haven’t seen that bug repeat in the latest beta or production firmware (I’m running one unit on each). The beta firmware I’ve been using is the production firmware as of today.

Now, it doesn’t really end here. From an on-device workout standpoint, I think that these days the Wahoo/Stages/Garmin experiences are all pretty much the same for 95% of people. Meaning that there are 5% of people that do ‘unique’ things where one solution might be better than the other. Perhaps I’ll take some of this quiet time to finally compare the three side by side in a structured workout.

However, where there’s a clear winner is not just what happens before the workout, but also after the workout. Let’s take yesterday’s intervals. That then sync’s back to Stages Link. It’s here that I see the intervals as normal:

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But look closer, and you can see that it’s lined up what I was supposed to do for each interval with the actual interval. Even more, it shows my ‘compliance’ score. Obviously, I wasn’t too hot there. But damn, I nailed that warm-up!

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But what’s fascinating about the compliance score is that it’s not just a ‘did you hit the zone’, because clearly, I did hit all of the main interval zones (but undercut the final short sprints). You can see my average wattage for each of those is spot-on. So why the low compliance score? Well, because I was wobbly AF. I was over and undershooting quite a bit. I was doing this on an indoor smart trainer, but without it being in ERG mode. So it was…special.

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Still, that’s super cool. And you can dive further and further down these rabbit holes within Stages Link all day long. Realistically I’m not sure at what point such a review becomes more of a ‘Stages Link/Today’s Plan’ review more than a Stages Dash review. You can see my slightly older vintage Today’s Plan post here. But let’s be clear: This concept doesn’t exist in any form on Garmin or Wahoo, at least without not including some element of 3rd party program (which, would invariably be back on Today’s Plan).

Now, for those that don’t have any desire/intent on using Stages Link for analysis, then the value prop does fade away a bit. If you’re invested deep into the TrainingPeaks platform, then all the structured workout bits work just fine – just not in an automated sync fashion. Meaning, you can’t push a TrainingPeaks workout to the Stages Dash automatically, it has to be done manually by exporting the file and manually opening it up on your computer.

Still, I get the feeling from talking to the Stages folks that they might exist almost entirely to nail the structured workout bits. I think it’s been clear through every iteration of the Stages Dash lineup that their ‘nailed it’ feature is the entire structured workout experience. And by and large within that ecosystem, they win there.

Navigation & Mapping:

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The Stages Dash has navigation and mapping. Mostly. Like many units on the market the definition of what ‘navigation’ is varies a bit. When it comes to bike computers, you’ve basically got a handful of core tiers, and a lot of grey area between them. Just to set the stage a bit, here’s roughly how I’d define things.

Tier 0: No navigation, no courses, no breadcrumb trail, no maps, no nothing
Tier 1A: Can load courses, and display those as a breadcrumb trail without any mapping data
Tier 1B: Can’t load courses, but might display some sort of maps
Tier 2: Can load courses with breadcrumb routing only atop actual maps, but have to have courses pre-defined
Tier 3A: Courses + pre-defined turn by turn navigation atop maps
Tier 3B: Courses + pre-defined turn by turn atop maps, but may require a phone to do routing (pre or during)
Tier 4: Courses as well as on the fly navigation to saved waypoints, with underlying maps (no phone/connectivity needed)
Tier 5: Courses as well as on the fly navigation to any address/point you can imagine, with underlying maps (no phone/connectivity needed)

Note, I made up these tiers at this moment. I reserve the right to change the naming and definitions in 5 minutes. Still, the concept hasn’t changed in the last 5-7 years. Roughly speaking, here’s where the market sits on these:

Tier 5: Garmin Edge 830/1030, Hammerhead Karoo, Sigma ROX 12
Tier 4: Garmin Edge 530, Wahoo ROAM
Tier 3: Wahoo BOLT/ELEMNT (depending on source), Stages Dash L50/M50
Tier 2: Wahoo BOLT/ELEMNT (depending on route source)
Tier 1: Edge 130
Tier 0: A $10 bike computer

Ok, got all that? Good. Note, there’s more nuance to these levels. For example on which companies provide free maps and which don’t, or which services are or aren’t supported. Or how easy it is to get courses onto devices, etc… And perhaps super importantly: Whether or not it can re-route onto new roads when you get lost. But at the core, everything mostly boils down to those tiers. They are what they are, they have been what they have been, and they aren’t terribly debatable. Something like Lezyne’s Mega-C/XL falls into a blend of Tier 1A + Tier 3B. It’s messy. Hence why I’m not going to try and boil the ocean here.

So, here’s what the Stages Dash M50/L50 can and can’t do:

– Can show maps for any region on the planet that you can download for free
– Can navigate with turn by turn instructions (e.g. ‘Turn left on Maple Street’)
– Can show points of interest in nearby areas
– Can show features like water, forests, roads, bridges, tunnels, etc…
– Cannot re-reroute onto new roads, it’ll simply tell you you’re off course
– Cannot choose a waypoint on the device itself to route to, must build course/route first and send to device
– Cannot choose a random address on the device itself to route to, must build course/route first and send to device.

With all that in mind, there’s three main ways to get routes onto the device:

A) Simply create them using Link app/site and send to Stages Dash
B) Link up your Strava account, and have it push favorited courses to Stages Link, and then onwards to Stages Dash
C) Manually import a route file (.TCX/.GPX/.FIT)

And continuing our list format, the following services can push routes to Stages Link:

– Strava (Routes)
– Veloviewer (some routes)
– GPSises (aka Alltrails)
– Stages Link itself for creation

And finally, one minor caveat – at present here in March 2020, the route creation feature is considered a ‘Premium’ function of Stages Link. However, going into April, they’re getting rid of the paid version and users will have everything that was part of Premium expect for the training plan generator. Stages says that if you’re a Stages user and simply want Premium, to contact support and they’ll add it to your account immediately for free (versus waiting till April). I’ve seen that manifest itself in the comments section already – so good to see!

Starting with what I typically do first, it’s actually Strava routes. I tend to build all my routes there, since that’s easiest for me to use across virtually any device I use. These show up in the Stages Link app automatically once I’ve paired my Strava account to Stages Link.

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You can tap on one to tell it so favorite and push to your device. You can’t however preview it from the Stages Link smartphone app, which is kinda sorta a bummer. So I can’t zoom in and see details about there. However, I can do that from the Stages Link website:

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Either way, the net of either of those scenarios is that the route ends up on your Stages Dash. However, you can also manually create a route wholly within Stages Link with no other 3rd party services. This works basically just like you’d expect. You tap-tap-tap your way around, and it’ll create the route.

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You can also add points of interest/markers too:

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Like with workouts, you can drag a route to a given day on the calendar, and it’ll ensure the course is loaded onto your device in time for that ride by syncing that route to your device. Next, on your device, crack open the menu and go into course, and then it’s here that you’ll select the course to follow:

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Now, start riding (after pressing to start the course). You’ll see your mapping page, as well as the breadcrumb trail atop that page.

Assuming the default page configuration, you’ll also have a page that lists the turns. In some cases, enough mapping data will be present to give you specific street/path names. Whereas in other cases it’ll just say to turn left or right (or go straight, etc…). Maps are pre-loaded for certain countries, and you can easily download maps for free for anywhere on earth with Stages Link too.

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Here’s an example of the cue sheet, where you can see certain turns have names, while others don’t. This isn’t terribly different than what you see on Garmin, Wahoo, or others – with mapping data sometimes a bit variable depending on the area.

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As you approach a turn, you’ll get a turn banner atop any data page you’re on. So you needn’t stay in the map or directions page each time.

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And if you go off course? It’ll notify you. Albeit, it seems a little wobbly on that. For example, in order to get the below photo, I purposefully made a turn off-course. At about 50-meters (~150ft) off-course it notified me I was doing bad things, which is fine. Except, it then thought the solution was some 1050ft feet away (320m). Obviously that part isn’t quite correct, but perhaps it was just practicing safe social distancing.

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In terms of re-routing, it doesn’t have that. And that goes back to all those tiers I talked about at the beginning. For more advanced units out there, it’d give you step by step instructions to get back on-course (such as the case might be with either one-way streets, or not realizing you missed the turn). The Stages Dash L50/M50 doesn’t do that, at least not today. From the conversations at launch some 9 months ago, it sounds like that was potentially viable with the hardware they have, but I’d point out that’s a huge lift for any company. Re-routing bicycle instructions is really, really, really hard (way harder than cars, since bikes can use both roads and non-car routes).

Finally, you can zoom in and move the map around as you see fit as well on both units by long-holding the circle button until the arrows pop-up:

In any event, if super deep navigation isn’t a big deal to you, then the Stages Dash M50 or L50 will probably fit the bill. Whereas if you were sans-phone and trying to navigate your way across Europe or elsewhere, the Stages Dash probably isn’t the best solution for those needs. For me personally, when I do routing, I rarely tend to go off-course (90% of the time), so it really comes down to that 10% of the time where I might need to shortcut a route and just need a ‘get me home the fastest possible way’, that wouldn’t be available here.

Platforms & Sync:

Just a quick note on syncing between different platforms. Obviously, as you’ve seen by now, the Stages Dash device is heavily tied to the Stages Dash app and backend platform (which, are free in the context of this review). Up until now-ish, that meant there were two tiers: Premium and free.

Premium got you things like more detailed ride analysis, training plans, and the course/route builder. However, starting in April the company is removing the differentiation for all but the training plan features. Meaning, you’ll get the full experience (which is what you see here in this post) for free. Said another way, you’re getting the full Today’s Plan experience…for free. Which is huge. Until April, Stages says that users can simply hit up Stages support and they’ll upgrade their accounts for free immediately.

But, how well does the Stages Dash play with other companies/ecosystems? After all, by aligning themselves to Today’s Plan, it’d be roughly equivalent to Wahoo saying their entire backend was built on TrainingPeaks (it isn’t, just an imaginary example). Well, for the most part we see pretty extensive 3rd party compatibility.

If you dive into your account settings, you can see all the platforms. First up is the list of platforms that Stages can accept data from. This is largely on account of Stages Link being Today’s Plan. So as such, you can actually link your Garmin, Polar, or Suunto accounts here. Wahoo too (except you do that on the Wahoo side). This makes it by far the easiest platform to migrate to, since you can sync data into it ahead of time.

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Next, are the things that Stages Link pushes too (primarily, sends a copy of your finished ride). Plus Strava courses:

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And finally, are the applications that have access:

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In my testing, I found that the sync from my Stages Dash units outbound to Strava was immediate. Assuming I had the smartphone app (Stages Link) running somewhere in the background, once I finished the ride and saved it, within about 30-45 seconds I’d get the notification that Strava had received it. Super quick. Obviously, a longer ride will take slightly longer to transfer the initial file from the Stages Dash to your phone, but we’re only talking a handful of extra seconds.

Note that the Stages Dash doesn’t have WiFi, so all uploads need to happen either using Bluetooth Smart with the Stages Link app (Android/iOS), or via the Stages Sync app on your desktop computer (Mac/PC). I did both variants, and had no issues either way.

GPS Accuracy:

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There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A bike computer 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, for watches, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. And for bike computers, I keep them all roughly spaced on my handlebars. For some of the tests I’m using a combination of GPS bike computers as well as GPS watches to judge GPS accuracy.

As is usually the case, I’m largely just using my day to day training as my test ‘venue’, which mostly means the areas around Amsterdam (where I live). However, I have used the Stages Dash in other cities/locales, including in Mallorca (Spain), and within the Alps. However, both of those more elevation-oriented locations were back a number of months ago (last year) on much older firmware). So for these tests I’m just sticking to more recent data points. Though, I’ll spoil the ending and say I saw no issues with GPS accuracy back then either.

Realistically, it’s rare to see GPS bike computers screw up these days road-riding. It happens, but when it does it’s usually quite minor. Still, I’ll analyzer a number of sets here. While I just got a mountain bike last week, I haven’t had a chance to put it through its paces with the Stages Dash yet. So, road-riding it is here.

In any case, here’s a look at a ride a few weeks ago with the Stages Dash L50, compared against the Garmin Edge 830, Wahoo BOLT, and Apple Watch Series 5. Here’s that data set:

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I started the ride, and then realized about 30 seconds later that my back tire was flat AF (a slow leak I’ve been meaning to fix for months). So, I took a quick detour into a local bike shop to grab the pump they place at the front door. However, what’s more important is the rest of what you see below is spot-on by everywhere, past pretty tall buildings (the tallest ones in Amsterdam), as well as under some overpass things too. All good!

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Next, we’ve got my crossing my highway/river overpass. What’s notable here is all of the units are nice and crispy, with the little squiggle switch-backs pretty solid (the one to the left includes going under the exit ramps. Of course, that doesn’t include the Apple Watch – which trail-blazed across all the turns because…Apple Watch.

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And from that point onwards, it’s frankly pretty boring. All the units largely stay on the road the entire time, save a few seconds here or there where one unit might dip a couple of meters to my side into the canal for a short bit and back. A slight offset. You can see the Stages Dash L50 do it once here (to briefly tourist at a castle):

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And then you can see the Garmin Edge 830 do it once here:

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But we’re really only talking just a couple cases of that, most of the time, they all looked identical (and boring):

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So, let’s move to another boring ride. I mean, the ride was nice – just the GPS tracks are boring. This one of both the Stages Dash L50 and M50, as well as the Garmin Edge 830, Suunto 7, and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro. Mind you, the Stages M50 was chillin’ in my back pocket for some of this ride snuggling with my phone, yet still laid down perfect GPS tracks. Here’s that airport-loop data set:

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Like I said, the tracks are boringly perfect:

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More boring:

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Two hours of perfectly boring tracks. But wait, what’s this excitement?!?!

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Oh, that’s right. It’s me, getting distracted by riding under a Boeing 747:

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I’m not sure I can really give anyone a hard time for that situation. Nor the fact that after I left the 747, I immediately enter a tunnel – which dorks up things briefly (though, barely). But I always opt to ride under 747’s when I can:

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Later in the ride on a bike path, I did see a bit of separation, primarily from the Suunto 7, but it was very small, and only lasted a few hundred meters.

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In any case, let’s call that ride done and…boring.

Here’s another route, slightly different from the first one:

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The only excitement we got on this ride was right at the beginning, when the Edge 830 apparently forgot it’s supposed to do the ‘GPS Thing’. It remembered about 300 meters down the road.

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After that, pure boring:

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Ok – so, just in case it wasn’t obvious: Zero issues with GPS accuracy on this unit (a trend I saw all the way back to last summer). Seriously, I’ve been riding with these things on and off since then.

Also, for lack of anywhere else to put it, I did test/look at where there were any recording differences between a Stages Dash unit and a Garmin or Wahoo one, with respect to power meters or heart rate sensors specifically. In those cases, I paired up a given power meter (Quarq on one test, Favero Assioma on another) as well as heart rate sensors (Polar H9 and Garmin HRM-DUAL) and looked to see if there were any differences between the recordings (beyond normal 1-2 second minor differences due to recording transmission/reception timing issues). They were not different at the recorded data level:

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However, I will note that I see a weird quirk in the final summary screen of the Stages Dash units, where it reports a higher than actual power value for my “instant” power (I can’t produce that power, I’ve seen many hundred watts higher). This value isn’t shown anywhere else in the platform or files. Stages says they’re looking into it.

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But what’s key is that aside from showing that only on the Stages Dash L50/M50 ride summary screen, I see it displayed/recorded nowhere else. So, all’s good in that sense.

Finally, for elevation comparisons – I’d love to have some. But, the highest thing I can go over around these parts is a highway overpass (seriously).

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Within that context, all of the units I tested for these rides tracked change in elevation very closely, however they were separated by about 5m in actual elevation. On a ride anywhere else in the world you’d never notice this. But when the *entire scale* of my graph is 20 meters (the highway overpass is shown at the 10 min and 1:06 marker), it makes a mountain out of a mole hill.

(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.)

Product Comparison:

I’ve added the Stages Dash L50 & M50 into the product comparison calculator so you can see how it compares to other units on the market. To keep things simple for below, I’ve compared it against the Edge 530 and Wahoo BOLT – primarily since those are in the same ballpark price-wise. Of course, there are plenty more units in the product comparison calculator (like the Edge 830 or Wahoo ROAM), so you can make your own charts here as well. In the meantime, here’s how things line-up below:

Function/FeatureStages Dash M50Stages Dash L50Wahoo ELEMNT BOLTGarmin Edge 530
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated March 17th, 2020 @ 1:16 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$249$299$229$299
Product Announcement DateJuly 2018July 2018Mar 14th, 2017Apr 24th, 2019
Actual Availability/Shipping DateJune 2019June 2019Mar 14th, 2017Early May 2019
Data TransferUSB & Bluetooth SmartUSB & Bluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart, WiFi, USBUSB, Bluetooth Smart, WiFi
Battery Life (GPS)242415 hours20 Hours (40 in battery Saver Mode)
Recording Interval1-second & All data packets (even faster)1-second & All data packets (even faster)1-second1-Second or Smart
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerNoNoYesYes
Quick Satellite ReceptionGreatGreatYesYEs
AlertsAudio/VisualAudio/VisualAUDIO/VISUAL + LED'sAudio/Visual
Ability to download custom apps to unit/deviceNoNoNoYes

Also, it’s worth noting somewhere that while I didn’t include the Stages L10 in this review, it’s a beast of a unit capability-wise. Essentially it has everything you see in this review except the mapping and color bits. I dive into those specs here. Most notably, it’s only $149. So if you don’t care about color mapping, then you should seriously consider that unit.

Summary:

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The Stages Dash M50 and L50 definitely represent a leap above Stages’ first Dash unit – there’s no question there. And for the size of the company, they’re able to put through a surprising number of features, and with significant depth. The unsung hero of the Stages Dash lineup is actually the deeper integration with Stages Link, and the premium features they include there that other platforms like Garmin and Wahoo simply don’t have. If you’re an athlete training for something with specificity, then there’s no beating the included Stages Link platform for the value. Especially if you often do structured workouts.

Ironically, it’s this secret weapon that I think may be hurting Stages in the larger picture. See, much of the product’s depth is unseen – like the greatest oceanic canyons. As such, when you look at features compared to a Garmin or Wahoo unit, things like lack of Strava Segments, lack of live tracking, lack of on-device waypoint routing, and so on, get all the attention. It doesn’t help that the Dash L50 and M50 aren’t as sexy looking as a ‘Stealth BOLT’ or an Edge 530. It’s hard to explain to someone how sexy T-Scores, CTL, ATL, and inner-outer structured workouts work in a bike shop or a 30-second elevator pitch.

Said differently – the Stages Dash M50 or L50 are both incredibly solid computers for the money that are ideally suited to those with structured training with a power meter or smart trainer. They provide as a whole platform far more depth than Garmin or Wahoo can in the planning and performance metrics category. However, for someone that just wants to go out and ride, some of the value prop is lost. That said, I’m interested to see now that Stages has largely stabilized their development efforts, how they can turn that ship a bit into new features that have broader appeal to be able to eat into Garmin or Wahoo’s sales.

With that – thanks for reading!

Wanna Save 10%? Or found this review useful? Read on!

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 an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items).  You can pick up the Stages Dash units from Clever Training. Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout.  By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $79, you get free US shipping as well.

Stages Dash L10
Stages Dash M50
Stages Dash L50

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 Dash L10
Stages Dash M50
Stages Dash L50

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (all colors shown after clicking through to the left) or accessories (though, no discount on Amazon).  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!

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Elite Sterzo Steering/Riser Block Accessory In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/elites-sterzo-steering-riser-block-accessory-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/elites-sterzo-steering-riser-block-accessory-in-depth-review.html#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2020 10:53:20 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=109940 Read More Here ]]> DSC_2894

Last year at Eurobike we saw Elite announce two then-unnamed steering accessories. One of them contained electronics in it to connect to apps, while the other was purely mechanical in nature. Externally they looked identical. Both allow the front end of your bike to ‘steer’ more readily, useful in apps like Zwift with their currently available mountain bike course (which requires steering using a phone). But both are also just handy to give the front end of your bike a bit more ‘float’, with subtle movements as you pedal along.

While the two units are virtually identical from a hardware standpoint, the connected Sterzo version also has sensors inside to detect and then broadcast the exact steering details to 3rd party apps. Whereas the non-Smart version (just named Sterzo) would require you have your phone mounted to your handlebars to transmit that data to apps via ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart. Neither version requires an Elite trainer. You can use any trainer on earth with either version.

This review is about the base Sterzo version, as the connected version isn’t shipping yet. Hopefully that’ll change soon, pending getting app support. Since this review is about something with movement, it’s probably useful to hit the play button below. I cover both road bike and mountain bike scenarios.

Note that Elite sent over a media loaner of the Sterzo to poke at. Once I’m done with it here, I’ll ship it back to them in an empty pizza box. If you found this review useful, feel free to hit up the links at the end to support the site.

Unboxing:

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The Sterzo comes in a fashionable cardboard box with the product name and purpose sprinkled on each side, complete with illustrations trying to explain to you that this thing pivots.

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Crack it open and you’ll be disappointed there’s not a slice of pizza inside. Instead you’ve got the Sterzo.

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As you remove it from the box, I suspect your first impression will be surprise at the weight. It’s heavier than you probably anticipated – about twice as heavy as my ThinkPad laptop.

If you flip it over, you’ll see a battery compartment there. That’s not for you. That’s for the Sterzo Smart version that has added electronics in it that you don’t have with the baseline Sterzo. Elite does this to reduce costs of molding, parts, etc.. Makes total sense from a scaling standpoint.

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However, if you were to open up that battery compartment, you’ll find that there’s no contact points for batteries, wires, or anything else. It’s literally an empty plastic shell:

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Also in the box is some paper stuff. Two pieces of paper to be exact. A one-page manual, and a one-page warranty thingy.

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And that’s the sum total of the box. Again, no pizza.

Setup & Configuration:

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I like having numerous defined ‘sections’ in my reviews. Makes it easy to use that sidebar section skip-ahead feature. But what I like more is having sections that take 30-40 seconds to write. This is one of those sections.

Take the pizza wedge, and place it on the ground. The only thing you need to do here is ensure that it’s facing the correct direction. The manual covers this. In fact, that’s the only thing the manual covers.

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Still, as one who managed to shoot a boatload of b-roll and photos with it placed incorrectly one day while swapping it between bikes, I really wish they’d put a little arrow or something on it, indicating forward. I mean yes, the manual does state this. But at exactly one page in length, that’s a probably big ask for someone to actually read the manual.

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From an alignment standpoint, said manual above also specifies how the bike should be aligned, but as one might expect you’ll center your wheel to the center of the Sterzo:

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And of course, ensure that your front wheel/handlebars are centered to your frame.

Our extensive setup section is now complete.

Oh, wait.

One thing that I want to be super clear: There is *NO* dependency on the trainer you ride. You can ride any trainer you want, from any brand you want. However, it will not work with the Wahoo CLIMB, since that removes your front wheel. Nor will it work with any of the indoor smart bikes, but those all have steering buttons for Zwift to enable some day anyway.

Riding with it:

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You know what’s even more rare than a setup section that takes 30 seconds to write? Me riding a mountain bike indoors. In fact, in a weird twist of appropriate fate – my newly purchased mountain bike made its maiden voyage indoors with the Sterzo, which, is why everything looks so pretty and clean. My bikes are never that clean.

But, I didn’t just limit it to mountain bikes, I got some road bike action too – because realistically longer term this tech is likely to be used by more road bikes in Zwift than mountain bikes (heck, even today that’s probably true). And in fact, I think in some ways, for now, using it in a non-steering scenario is probably more practical. It essentially gives your front wheel this very slight feeling of float. Like a miniature InsideRide KICKR E-Flex Motion accessory. You can see this in the video within the multiple views (above), here’s a screenshot of how I have the video during the riding:

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This float thankfully doesn’t get crazy when you sprint. it just gives your bike’s front end a bit more movement, which feels a bit more normal than something locked in. I actually liked it more than I would have thought.

In any event, today in Zwift the only course that has legit steering/veering/anything is the mountain bike route (that you can ride just fine with a road bike). Still, we’re start with the mountain bike first.  For those not familiar with Steering in Zwift when it came out last August, the short version is that it’s an experimental feature of sorts that you can access after a short 2.2mi/3.7km ride starting from the ‘Muir and The Mountain’ route on Watopia. Once on the trail, it takes me about 10 minutes to ride. You can repeat the near-loop, by doing a short 1-minute downhill on-road section from the finish back to the start.

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Generally it’ll take you about 7-10 minutes to get to the turn-off point, where you’ll be offered the ability to route onto the MTB course:

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You’ll need the companion app open and on your handlebars. It *has* to be mounted on your handlebars. You can’t just hand-hold it, as it won’t be able to detect what’s turning or not. In my case I use a Quadlock mount (or full review here), but there are plenty of other mounts out there.

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Also, funny aside here – while shooting the video, I didn’t want the usual KICKR Desk in the shot because it was blocking the view of the Sterzo. Thus, I was short a place to stick my Apple TV remove. Oddly, I decided to use a spare Garmin quarter-turn rubber mount, and slipped it under it. This worked astoundingly well:

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I mean, ignoring the fact that it got covered in sweat and will probably die sooner than it should. But honestly, that remote deserves to die. It’s horrible. Alternatively, I realized a few hours later I could ‘clean-up’ this solution slightly by using one of the KOM Cycling adapter mounts. I bought a pile of these for attaching to my Skydio 2 Beacon Remote, but most people put them on the back of phone cases so you can have the Zwift companion app (or TrainerRoad) running on your phone on your handlebars.

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After you turn-off the road you’ll travel a short distance on the trail. It’s here that Zwift ensures you’re good to go and that you know what you’re doing. It’s like waiting in the starting gate of a time trial. Also, you can also adjust the steering sensitivity, however it will remember your last configuration.

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Your desired sensitivity setting will vary based on a bunch of factors, one of them likely being your skill level. But also how much resistance you want it to take to turn. For example, by default at 50% sensitivity, I find it’s just too sensitive with the Sterzo and my mountain bike. Tiny little movements dramatically change my course direction such that it doesn’t feel like riding outdoors.

Versus going to about 30-40% or so feels ‘normal-ish’, and is what I prefer for my mountain bike and this particular mountain bike course. I suspect over time as Zwift enables other routes with steering/veering/movement (especially road routes), that sensitivity will be more nuanced.

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One of the main benefits of the Sterzo over no-zo, is that the Sterzo ‘re-centers’ each time you let go of the handlebars (or release pressure). This is handy, and helps it somehow feel more realistic (even though in the real-world, a bike doesn’t explicitly re-center). See, in that platform are actually small rollers, you can see them if you tilt it on edge:

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And then somewhere in there is a giant-ass spring. Seriously, if I place it on a table and rotate it out to the sides, it snaps back increda-quick:

That said, I have found that in both mountain and road riding, if I snap my handlebars all the way to the side, typically speaking the Sterzo won’t rotate back to center perfectly. There’s virtually zero reason to ever do this, because if one looks at it from a sensitivity standpoint (Zwift or real-world), this would have you in the ditch instantly.  Most of the movements are pretty small.

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Note that I had zero issues with my 29” wheels staying in the Sterzo track. They never once left/departed/exited the track (or the building).

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So, what about my road bike? After all – a lot of you (probably 90% of you) will probably be using this for a road bike. The feeling/situation there is actually even better than the mountain bike. And this is likely for a few reasons. First off, the wheel simply fits better:

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Second, the front-end of a typical road bike is much lighter, and can be pushed around more easily. There’s very little weight/resistance in the front fork of a proper road bike, making it a little bit cleaner of a snap back:

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I’d say in general Zwift sensitivity-wise I kept it at 50% for the road bike, and 30-40% for the mountain bike. Part of it too though is me switching back and forth between the two bikes makes it more difficult for my brain to get used to the higher sensitivity. With the mountain bike, the handlebars are further apart, so the same hand steering movements there has an increased angle of change on the Sterzo (and thus Zwift) because your leverage is greater.

But what was honestly nicest on the road bike was just using it as I mentioned before as a front wheel block – it gave just a bit of springiness and a bit of flex to your front end. Not too much that it was wobbly about (I personally can’t stand having no front wheel block).

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In fact, the feeling isn’t terribly unlike that of the long-popular Kinetic Turntable Riser Ring wheel block. I couldn’t immediately find mine. It’s somewhere in the Cave, but with 328 jars of Nutella stocked up in case Coronavirus gets bad here, moving them around is tricky. Once I do locate it, I’ll have to compare the two in more detail with Zwift steering specifically for that element.

Of course, the Kinetic solution is $39, whereas this is $69/39EUR/34GBP. But again, slightly different use cases. If you’re just using it as a generic riser block, the Kinetic solution probably makes more sense. Whereas if you’re looking for steering-type supportability and snap back rotation, then the Elite solution may make more sense.

Either way, I’ve got no complaints about the Elite Sterzo – it works great, save perhaps taking a white-out marker and drawing a giant arrow with the word ‘Forward’ on the inside bottom of the groove. Hmm…off to order a white-out marker now.

Wrap-Up:

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The Elite Sterzo seems to have nailed what it set out to do: Make a simple front riser block that serves double-duty as a better steering plate than what most folks could whip up at home. In some ways, I think the unit may actually be slightly ahead of its time. I suspect some will (probably rightly so) look at this as a $69USD accessory that seems a bit expensive in early 2020 (though, at 39EUR/34GBP it’s well priced). However, I have a feeling that by later in the year if Zwift or other apps end up enabling more steering/veering/control scenarios, then having plates like these will seem more normal.

Of course, this steering plate doesn’t have smarts in it. That’s fine as long as you’ve got a phone mounted to your handlebars. At some point down the road we’ll see Elite release their connected version of this same design, as they announced at Eurobike last year. But that’s still dependent on an app releasing support for it. Elite’s Sterzo page notes that the Sterzo Smart has both dual ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart support with it for apps to leverage. However, we don’t know when apps will do so, or if that’s a near-term thing or a long-term thing. Or whether Zwift will support other steering plates (for example, JetBlack’s also Eurobike-announced plate).

But we do know that steering/veering/etc is set to expand. Zwift CEO Eric Min noted late last year in a Zwift community ride that it’s a technology area they see as ‘when’, not ‘if’. So assuming you keep hardware for at least a couple years, you might end up wishing you got a connected version down the road, depending on how much more expensive that’ll be (we don’t know).

Still, if that doesn’t bother you, this unit pretty much works exactly as advertised. Though, I do wish there was a slice of pizza in there.

With that, thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just want to save 10%? 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. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pick up the Sterzo through Clever Training using the links below. By doing so, 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, if your order ends up more than $79, you get free US shipping as well.

Elite Sterzo (US – Clever Training – Save 10% with DCR10BTF)

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.

Elite Sterzo [link coming shortly!] (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

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.

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GoPro Hero 8 Black Charging Door Accessory: Video Review Posted https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/gopro-hero-8-black-charging-door-accessory-video-review-posted.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/gopro-hero-8-black-charging-door-accessory-video-review-posted.html#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2020 19:43:34 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=109873 Read More Here ]]> DSC_2796

This is a super quick post just to for the handful of you that are into action cam stuffs but may not also subscribe to the DC Rainmaker YouTube channel. Wait, you don’t?

For this particular piece of gear, I don’t plan a secondary textual review, because, well, it’s a 3cm piece of metal that has a hole in it. And, try as I might, this type of content simply does a heck of a lot better on YouTube. Thus, press the play button below for the sub-5 minute video (really, when was the last time I posted a sub-5 minute anything?!?):

Here’s the quick and dirty though…because, I just can’t leave a post with only one paragraph!

The battery door costs between $15-$20 depending on how much Amazon likes you on any given day. I’ve also seen it rarely cheaper too. It’s available in both the US and Europe, and probably elsewhere with enough Google-Kung-Fu.

The battery door replaces that of the GoPro one, and is made out of aluminum. It’s got a single hole at the bottom for you to stick your grubby hands through USB-C cable through to charge your GoPro. The door completely ‘locks’ once snapped in, just like the GoPro one. It comes in a box with zero instructions and merely just a piece of bubble-wrap around it:

DSC_2119

However, given there’s a giant hole in the side of it, the GoPro is *NOT WATERPROOF* with this port installed. Which, is probably fine for most people, since you’re likely looking to just use it to charge your GoPro, or provide long-term power to it. So you were already set up for a non-watery situation given the electrical cord anyway. I’ve been using it for a bit more than a month now, including in light rain, sweaty situations, and strong snow. No issues.

DSC_2807

From a build quality standpoint, this isn’t top-notch. It’s got some imperfections. The door bumps out perhaps 0.5mm beyond the GoPro at the upper edge. No biggie, but again, it’s not perfect. Also, I don’t anticipate it’ll last me a full year. But then again, I use my GoPro’s waaaaay more than the average bear (usually at least 1-3 times a day for shots/etc). So the door gets more usage than normal (SD card access, swapping batteries, etc…).

DSC_2808

My best guess is that it’ll last me till summer, so about 4-6 months all-in. For a normal user, I’d imagine it’ll last the life of your GoPro.

DSC_2775

Anyway, hit up the video above for the quick and dirty. Or, you can use either of the links below to help support the site:

US Link: https://amzn.to/33fZ4O5 (offers ‘Global Delivery’)

EU Link: https://amzn.to/38EIEQE

Oh – and, just in case it wasn’t obvious, I bought this thing myself. I have no idea who or what Ulanzi is, and they don’t know who I am. I simply have a disturbing addiction with charging accessories, and this is just the next in the always moving conga line of things I’ve bought.

With that – thanks for reading!

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6
Wahoo’s New ‘Stealth’-Black BOLT, Price Drop, Plus Adds E-Bike Support, ANGi GPS connectivity https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/wahoo-bolt-black-stealth-support-connectivity.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/wahoo-bolt-black-stealth-support-connectivity.html#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2020 12:00:42 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=109829 Read More Here ]]> DSC_2693

Today Wahoo announced a new color edition of their popular Wahoo BOLT GPS bike computer, called ‘Stealth’, which is black. No, this isn’t a successor of the existing Wahoo BOLT, just simply a new colored case. It’s a pattern Wahoo has actually done almost every spring since announcement. Two years ago there was the red and yellow variants. Then last year was the blue and pink variants. And this year, orange is the new black. Err…wait, black is the new black.

However, it’s not all form over function. The company is also releasing ANT+ LEV support, which in English means e-bike support for those bikes that support the ANT+ LEV standard. So things like the Specialized Turbo Levo, and some Giant e-bikes. Oh, and that’s going to all other ELEMNT/BOLT/ROAM computers too.

Finally, while technically not having anything to do with this launch, last week Specialized quietly pushed out an update that now offloads the GPS tasks from the phone to Wahoo, thus saving battery life on your phone. Here, let’s dive into all the details.

The Stealth BOLT:

This is frankly a pretty straightforward section. Mostly, you just wanna see pictures of the new BOLT, which, is totally understandable. Here ya go, some pictures of the box:

DSC_2697

And then, some pictures of the box opened. Like a bad striptease:

DSC_2699 DSC_2702

Also, the box notes this:

DSC_2700

I’d note this.

Next, pictures of the unit next to the box:

DSC_2713 DSC_2710

In my hands:

DSC_2704 DSC_2703

And finally, on my actual bike:

2020-03-10 09.30.38-1 2020-03-10 09.30.53-1

Speaking of which, this isn’t just all photos. I actually went for a ride with it yesterday. Yup, out into the glorious sun, warmth, and still weather of the Netherlands. Oh, wait. It was sorta cold, windy, and definitely not sunny.

2020-03-09 16.40.15

In any event, GPS tracks and all that worked exactly as expected. No issues there, it matched perfectly with the Stages Dash L50, Garmin Edge 830, and Apple Watch Series 5. All the same.

image

Again – it’s the same as any other BOLT, just stealthy black. Or something like that.

Finally, as part of this, the new retail price of the BOLT is $229USD. It doesn’t matter which color you have. And, the units are in-stock today as well.

E-Bike Support:

2020-03-03 18.18.53

As part of today’s announcement, the Wahoo BOLT now supports the ANT+ LEV standard, which is what some e-bike companies use to transmit data over ANT+ to cycling head units. Data includes remaining battery, e-bike power mode (e.g. eco, sport, turbo, etc…), charge count, and miles. All of this data is now displayed on the Wahoo BOLT, as well as the Wahoo ELEMNT and ROAM (via firmware update today).

At present, the Specialized Turbo Levo supports this, as well as “select Giant e-Bike models”, with ‘select’ being the key part here. Ironically enough, we just bought a new Giant e-Bike last week, though, despite all of my poking and prodding, it doesn’t seem to pair up to the BOLT (or the Giant E-Bike app, or a Garmin that supports e-Bikes).

[According to Giant’s site, this model actually should support/work just fine, though clearly I’m either not doing something right following Giant’s near non-existent instructions for it, or Giant’s site is wrong. In one spot it says “all 2019 e-bikes support the RideControl app”, yet in another it says you need the RideControl One. Either way, no pretty photos for you.]

Still, despite not having pretty photos of my own, Wahoo has included some screenshots of what it does look like if you have the right bike paired up to it:

LEV_GiantHistory LEV_GiantWorkout LEV_Spesh - Workout page

And here’s what it looks like within the sensor menu:

LEV_SpeshSensorDetail LEV_GiantSensorDetail

I’ll be honest, I’m sure there’s a market here – but I’m just not sure how big a market it really is for this specific feature in a Wahoo GPS head unit. In other words, high performance GPS bike computers (versus more simplistic bike computers).

[Just to be clear: Obviously e-bikes are popular, we just bought one last week, and we already have another e-cargo bike. No debating that.]

The reason I say that is that Garmin has had ANT+ LEV (E-Bike) integration in their head units for years. Like, more years than I can possibly count. And you know how many people have asked me about it in post comments or YouTube videos? Approximately zero.

Actually, I think it’s literally zero.

Ever.

I literally have googled more questions myself trying to get this to work, then ever asked of me. Maybe most people just give up, like me.

Some people have asked about the Specialized Turbo Levo, mostly cause I did a post (and video) about it when it came out. But almost all those questions (years ago) were about the then CIQ app, or the crazy cost of the bike.

Still, I’m sure it’s valuable for someone. I just wonder what other features might have been more valuable for everyone.

Specialized ANGi Update:

Finally, a quick note that Specialized and Wahoo have tightened their ANGi integrations a bit more in the last week. As you may remember, ANGi is the Specialized helmet sensor that detects a crash and notifies your peeps. Also, the app integration does live tracking and ride alerts and stuffs. I talk about all that in my previous post.  However, the past week has brought some notable updates.

First up, is that last week Specialized released the Android app for ANGi that supports the Wahoo integrations. Previously, it did not. So, if you’re an Android dude or dudette, and also a Specialized ANGi dude or dudette, you’re in luck.

And then more interestingly – last week on iOS they introduced GPS offloading from the Specialized ANGi app to the Wahoo BOLT/ROAM/ELEMNT. As you may remember, the ANGi app was basically doing double-duty on GPS. The app itself was pulling from the GPS on your phone (thus burning battery), while also connected to the Wahoo GPS bike computer for notices. That meant that you basically had two things doing GPS with no tangible benefit. Now however, with the latest version of the iOS app, the Specialized ANGi app will utilize GPS from Wahoo (since it has to do it anyway). This will save your phone a boatload of battery life.

Specialized says that their Android app will be updated this month to do the same.

With that – go forth and be Stealth on your e-bike and red ANGi helmet. Nobody will see ya coming!

Thanks for reading!

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24
Saris MP1 Nfinity Motion Platform In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/saris-mp1-nfinity-motion-platform-rocker-plate-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/03/saris-mp1-nfinity-motion-platform-rocker-plate-review.html#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2020 18:55:13 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=109725 Read More Here ]]> DSC_2644

It’s been a year and a half since we got our first glimpses of the now named Saris MP1 platform. Back then, Saris was called CycleOps, and the platform didn’t even have a name. It was just dubbed “The Thing” (for real). But here we are in early 2020 and ‘The Thing’ is now shipping and finds itself in people’s training caves around the world.

The MP1 (an acronym for Motion Platform 1) is designed as a new take on rocker plates. The concept of adding motion to indoor training is hardly new. Kinetic has been doing it for years with their Rock and Roll series of trainer products (and more recently their R1 trainer). Atop that there’s a vibrant community of enthusiasts and smaller companies that have made home-built platforms and beyond to varying degrees of success.

Still, there’s little question that the MP1 is different than the rest – perhaps namely, its forward and back movement. Or, maybe its $1,199 price tag. Or that it came from one of the major trainer companies.

No matter the case, I’m here to figure out how well it works and whether or not it’s worth it. If you want to dive right into the video, simply press play below. It’s useful in this review due to how much of the product is about movement.

Finally, note that Saris did send over a media loaner for me to poke at. Once I wrap up this review I’ll let them figure out the fun logistics of getting it back to them. If you found this review useful, hit up the links at the end of the post. With that, onwards!

Unboxing:

Before we can unbox this beast, we need to start with getting this beast to the right place – since it was accidentally delivered to my home, and not the DCR Cave. So for that, I loaded up the platform into the cargo bike on a nice windy morning in Amsterdam, strapped The Peanut #2 to the back, and set out for a ride across town.

2019-12-21 11.47.47

Oh, and because (just because), I decided to add another sail to the bike, this in the form of a table that also went to the wrong place. See, now we’re set:

2019-12-21 11.49.45

The only caveat with this setup is that I didn’t fully think through the rotation radius of the handlebars, so…umm…I couldn’t exactly turn left very quickly. I was like a large cruise ship trying to make right turns. Thankfully, I only have three right turns to make on my route.

2019-12-21 11.59.02

Still, got it down to the DCR Cave in one piece, and P2 had a fun time too.

2019-12-21 11.56.56

With that, it was time to get it unboxed. Technically the unit came in a shell box (that you see above), and then inside of that was the prettier Saris MP1 box that you see below:

DSC_2469

You’ll place it on the floor and then open it up to unbox it. If you place it in what you think will be the most logical manner, you’ll find that it’s actually upside-down. Thus, apparently the correct side of the box is the other side.

DSC_2471 DSC_2472

Next, remove some of the stuffs around the platform. The platform itself comes fully assembled. The only things you’ll add are the straps and wheel braces. So your job here is just getting the platform freed of the box.

DSC_2474

While it’s somewhat heavy, it’s not as bad as you’d think actually. The platform weighs 62lbs/28kg by itself (which, actually isn’t that much more than most 20-23KG trainers).

Next, remove some of the accessory bits. This is ultimately what you’re left with:

DSC_2476

You’ve got two paper things, a cleaning cloth, two straps, two riser blocks, and one wheel block. Easy peasy!

See, that was simple, wasn’t it?

Assembly & Compatibility:

The first thing to know is that yes, it’s likely compatible with your non-Saris/CycleOps trainer. In fact, Saris has an entire website dedicated to letting you not only look-up compatibility, but also the optimal placement for that trainer on the MP1.

image

With that FAQ question out of the way, let’s talk about the basics (don’t worry, we’ll get back to compatibility later).

The back half of the platform has four main channels in it, plus two front wheel channels and two rear channels near the back of the platform. These channels are where you’ll attach two straps to keep your trainer on the platform. Depending on the exact trainer, you’ll use some combination of the inner and outer channels.

For example, take the Saris H3 trainer. For this unit you’ll use the inner ride-side channel, with the outer left-side channel:

DSC_2632

The reason being that the general goal of the platform is to keep your bike on the centerline. Whereas different trainers distribute the weight in different places, albeit, usually to the left of the bike.

The straps attach by a funky little mechanism that slides into the rail at one end, and then has these little notches the entire length of the rail:

DSC_2627 DSC_2629

Once you find the right spot, you’ll tighten the bolt part, and then use the Velcro on the trainer:

DSC_2631DSC_2628

In any event, the front wheel is somewhat similar in implementation. They’ve included a wheel-block that keeps your front wheel from wobbling about. Technically speaking this isn’t 100% required, but it can feel a bit weird during sprints without it (I tried, for fun). I’d recommend using it.

DSC_2635

Just be sure when doing the straps that the metal bits are positioned on the side of your wheels, and not right at the center/peak of your wheels (which would be bad rubbage).

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With that, you’re done and ready to roll…err…rock..err…rock and roll. Oh wait – one more thing. There’s two riser plates. These are for the front wheel, and allow you to increase the stack height of the wheel. Some people do this because they’ve got a smaller wheel on a taller trainer so this positions the bike level, and other people do it to simulate climbing.DSC_2479 DSC_2687

I didn’t need/want either, but you do you.

Now – let’s say you’re adventurous, and want to do another trainer. No problem, you can do so. As noted, the Saris site has guidelines for plenty of popular trainers.

image

So, for fun, here’s what a Wahoo KICKR looks like:

DSC_2665 DSC_2663

Then a Tacx NEO 2T:

DSC_2651 DSC_2648

Then the Elite Suito:

DSC_2660 DSC_2658

And finally, the Kinetic R1 trainer:

vlcsnap-2020-03-06-18h47m36s642

There wasn’t actually a guide for the Kinetic R1. I just freestyled it. Which, is roughly what it’s like when you combine a rocking trainer with a rock and roll plate. I’d strongly recommend against it, fwiw. I tried riding it. It was oddly actually ok feeling while sprinting (not great, but passable), but was totally wonky just riding steadily. Obviously, having two platforms double-move is bad-bad. But I had to try it for science.

Oh, wait, one more bit of sketch: The Wahoo KICKR + a Wahoo CLIMB:

DSC_2672

Yes, this wasn’t ideal. I had to roll my own strap combo by re-using the front block system and sticking the two ends together. The challenge here is that the KICKR CLIMB actually pivots on the base. So the straps have to have enough give to allow that pivot, which means it’s just loosey-goosey in certain positions. Plus, the alignment means the CLIMB sits a bit funky on the front metal channels.

DSC_2667 DSC_2668

Somewhat interestingly, the first Saris/CycleOps prototype platform actually did work better with the KICKR CLIMB, because there was no narrow front end. When they narrowed it out (for logical reasons, namely to make it more usable indoors), it reduced the room for the CLIMB. Anyway, no biggie. Technically speaking I suspect someone could come up with a better mount for it, then you’d be mostly ok again.

In any event, what about an indoor bike you say? No problem. Here’s the Wahoo KICKR Bike:

DSC_2496

But, I should probably mention that on Saris’s site, they don’t recommend this. Obviously, I made it my goal to ignore this advice. All of it.

image

I actually did an entire workout that way. It’s a…umm…unique experience. The motion largely felt fine, but this feels super high up, especially when the KICKR CLIMB portion goes up.

2020-02-27 21.40.39

Oh, and in case you’re curious – the max weight of the platform is 350lbs/159kg, which was technically enough for me and the KICKR Bike to bobble along safely within spec.

Meanwhile, the Tacx NEO Bike didn’t really fit, with the front end teetering over the edge:

DSC_2678 DSC_2680

Nor did the Wattbike Atom:

DSC_2682 DSC_2684

Ok, enough fun for now. Let’s get onto normal use.

How it works and usage:

DSC_2604

Before we talk the horizontal shuffle, we’re going to talk something even more exciting: Grip tape.

Yup, the platform has anti-slip grippy stuff placed in just about every area that you’d either place your feet to step, or place a trainer. All of which is in the name of minimizing a slip.

DSC_2656

And it works great in that sense. Though, I’m guessing that if you spilled a bunch of nutrition gel (or a piece of pizza upside-down), it’d probably be hell to clean versus a more wipeable surface. You’ll have to do that test on your own – my supply of cleaning and sanitizing tools is reserved for more important tasks these days.

DSC_2640

However, to spoil a bit of this review, about the only thing I’m not a fan of on this platform is the wood look. It’s just a personal preference thing, but it’s not my cup of tea for my training cave. For others, it might fit in great. Also, while the birch wood (it’s real wood) is treated to resist sweat, I can’t help but wonder how long it’ll hold up after years of abuse. It could be just perfectly fine, but I can’t test/review that one way or the other

2020-03-05 15.08.12

With the boring stuff out of the way, the platform moves in two core directions: Front/back movement, and side to side tiling.

In the case of front/back movement, the platform is essentially rolling on a shallowly curved metal track. The harder you move the further you go. Here’s a nifty little animated GIF showing that movement as I rock it back and forth:

AnimatedGif

But by having the curved nature of it, it takes more effort to move it further, since your body + trainer + platform weight wants to drive the rollers back to the center point.

In many ways, this front/back movement is really the secret ingredient over most rocker plates that just tilt left/right. It means that every pedal stroke generates 3D movement – front/back as well as tilting side to side.

DSC_2617

Note though that it does not tilt front/back however (as seen in the animated GIF above). In total, the track allows you to move 24cm/9.5” forward, or 24cm/9.5” backwards from the center point.

Next is the tilting motion, which is side to side. What’s happening below is that the entire platform is actually tilting on a single piece of metal. Here are the three main positions – all the way down right, centered, and all the way down left:

DSC_2621DSC_2620DSC_2625

You can also see the little rollers on the underside of the platform as well here in the back, thus, there are actually four different rolling points on the trainer (one front, two sides, one center).

In the side to side tilting motion vector the platform tilts up to 6° at the base of the platform, which is most easily seen when I stand on one edge:

vlcsnap-2020-03-06-18h48m57s566

Out of curiosity, I then placed the level up higher – on my saddle. Would that result in any greater tilt angle (given the higher altitude)? Not really, it recorded 7° there:

vlcsnap-2020-03-06-18h49m07s834

To my satisfaction, this tilt didn’t result in any lack of stability in getting on the bike, or tipsiness while using it. In fact, I tried to tip it – and can’t. Which isn’t to say that a person with more creativeness (or balls) won’t figure out a way. But I leaned as far as I could towards the wall while on the bike and couldn’t get it to tip.

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Also, I stood on one side and pulled the bike towards me, and couldn’t get it to tip over without jerking the entire platform with me.

vlcsnap-2020-03-06-18h50m43s211

Cow-tipping aside, what does the side to side feel like for riding? Well, it’s good…as long as you’re not sprinting. See, for each pedal stroke you make you’ll get a bit of that side to side movement. It’ll feel natural at this level, because it’s not overly dramatic. That movement is good.

vlcsnap-2020-03-06-18h54m12s135

However, where things get a bit messier on the MP1 (and every other rocker plate) is sprints. In this scenario, the movements indoors on the rocker plates (and MP1) are opposite what happens outdoors. See, outdoors when you’re right foot/leg goes down, your bike/body will naturally lean to the left. But on a rocker plate by default, the opposite happens, the bike leans right – it’s hard to see it in a still shot like below, but super easy to see in the video at the start of the post.

vlcsnap-2020-03-06-18h54m37s453

As anyone in the rocker plate community or industry will quickly remind you, you can fix this by ‘learning’ how to sprint indoors on a rocker plate, which roughly involves using your arms to counterbalance. And that’s OK– to an extent.

I think it’s completely fine that the experience of sprinting indoors is different on a rocker plate than the real world. Just like racing a crit in Zwift is different in various ways than racing a crit outside. There are things you must account for inside in Zwift that you don’t account for outside. And vice versa. So, if one wants to learn how to sprint properly indoors – that’s totally cool.

However, where I have an issue is when a company/individual represents a rocker plate product as being “just like outdoors”. Which, it isn’t. That newly learned skill to sprint/climb indoors won’t translate outdoors – because your body already knows how to ride a bike outdoors (hopefully). Thankfully, Saris hasn’t actually made any claims like that here. They’ve been open about the fact that there are differences between those two.

And again – don’t misunderstand me: Go forth (if you want) and learn how to sprint on a rocker plate. I have zero issues with that. Just don’t tell other people that they “need” to learn how to do that. Got it? Good.

DSC_2587

So about now you might be asking – why bother with movement at all? Aside from a cool-factor, what does it actually do? Well, in short, it keeps your butt happy and forces your core to work more. Those micro-movements the platform provides means that your contact points (primarily your butt onto the saddle) are constantly adjusting, just like they would outside on the real road. As a result, the impact to longer trainer rides is more significant.

For ‘fun’, earlier this week I did a 2hr 10min trainer ride. Just because.

2020-03-02 10.35.24 2020-03-02 10.21.26

And upon stepping off that trainer ride, my butt was basically just like ‘shrug, no big deal’. Not because I do long trainer rides often (nope, this is by far the longest I’ve been on a trainer in a single session in years) – but I’m guessing because of some of that movement.

Did I back that up with a bunch of secondary non-platform 2hr and 10min rides? Nope – I’ve got better things to do than sit on a trainer again for 2 hours. But again, you do you.

Saris has shown studies they did with Trek on this concept (specifically the contact point hot spots and differences) at past media events where they talked about the MP1. I’m going to try and get them to publish some of those studies, as I think it’s interesting. [Update: Some of it posted here.]

Until then – I’ll just use my anecdotal evidence that I’d much rather have some slight movement for any long trainer rides than not. Which admittedly is hardly a very new or profound claim – that’s been the case for most trainers for years.

Wrap-Up:

DSC_2573

I don’t think there’s any question in my mind (or really anyone else’s) that the MP1 is a good product. It is. The subtle movement while just riding along is super nice, especially for longer workouts. But even on shorter workouts, that slight bit of movement is much appreciated. I’m going to be sad going back to more stationary situations. More specifically though, I really think the front/back movement is the secret sauce here. Having ridden a handful of other random rocker plates at trade shows/events/etc, they all accomplish some element of side to side movement.

But it’s that normally shallow front/back movement that somewhat completes the 3D aspect of this in your brain. And it’s not moving a lot. While just rolling through intervals in ERG mode, it’s only slightly rocking back and forth (forward/back) a handful of millimeters each direction. But your body notices that. Or at least, my brain does. Of course, the MP1 doesn’t realistically simulate outdoor sprints, but neither does any other rocker plate/platform either.

The primary challenge with the MP1 largely isn’t technical or product based. It’s price. It’s just too darn expensive. At $1,199 the conversation is no longer about the product, it’s about people making jokes about the price. While the same was somewhat true of the Wahoo KICKR CLIMB when it first came out (at half the price – $599), the difference with that trainer accessory is that a large percentage of people (at announcement of price) still said they wanted it. Partially because they liked riding plastic horses in grocery stores, and partially because $599 was still less than the cost of their trainer.  With the MP1, it actually costs more than the Saris H3 smart trainer you might place atop it. Or for that matter is more than the vast majority of trainers on the market (only the Tacx NEO series is more expensive, and the Wahoo KICKR is price-matched at $1,199).

So my hope is that Saris finds a way to get that price closer to the popular KICKR CLIMB ($599 or below). If they can do that, then I think they’ve got a runaway success. Otherwise, I suspect it’s going to be a hard accessory for a lot of people to get approval from their household accounting division – no matter how good it might actually be.

With that – thanks for reading (and good luck with your accounting department appointment)!

Found this review useful? Or just want to save 10%? 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. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pick up the MP1 through Clever Training using the links below. By doing so, 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 – namely in this case 10% off your order using DCR Coupon Code DCR10BTF. And, if your order ends up more than $79, you get free US shipping as well. Double-win!

Saris MP1 Motion Platform
Saris H3 Trainer
Saris TD1 Trainer Desk

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (though, no discount/points). 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!

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56
Oreka O2 Cycling Treadmill In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/02/oreka-o2-cycling-treadmill-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/02/oreka-o2-cycling-treadmill-review.html#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2020 14:40:54 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=109458 Read More Here ]]> DSC_2460

Like most ambitious new products, it’s been a few years since we first started seeing tidbits of the Oreka O2 cycling treadmill trainer. Which, is a good point: I’m not even sure what to call this thing.

Officially the company bills it as a ‘bike trainer’. But to the rest of the world it looks like a bike treadmill. There’s no running on it though. So, I’m going to keep ya on your toes and call it all sorts of things in this article. At this point, Oreka has only made one product – so it’s easy enough to even just call it The Oreka Thing.

No matter – as you’ve deduced by now, this is an interactive smart trainer of a bike treadmill. It acts more or less the same as a Wahoo KICKR would, except that it’s a giant treadmill that you place your bike on instead. You might wonder how it’s different than something like the Tacx Magnum bike-treadmill thing? Well, that costs over 10,000EUR, whereas this costs a mere 3,699EUR. You noticed that Euros denomination there, because both are only available in Europe at this time. Probably cause of the size.

Oh – and if the size of this textual review isn’t your cup of tea, just hit the play button. I promise, it’s worth the watch!

Finally, as for how I got this thing, the company shipped up a media loaner from their headquarters in Spain back this past fall, and I’ve been poking at it since then. Once I’m done here, they’ll pick it up next week and that’s it. No part of this review or any others I do is sponsored. So then, let’s talk boxes.

What’s On The Pallet & Setup:

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Your smart trainer at home came in a small microwave sized box? Aww…how adorable!

This beast comes on a full-size double-pallet. Not one of those wimpy single pallets you might make a trendy hipster couch from. Nope, duo time here. The kind of thing you move big, expensive, heavy things on.

I enlisted the help of a real-life pallet mover, plus two fake ones: GPLAMA & DesFit to get it where we wanted it:

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Mostly, I took photos and they moved things around. That’s called delegation. Later, they made me walk home. Lama rode the pallet mover home:

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In any event, after you simply remove the box top, you’re left with the parts:

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Putting it together is actually relatively straightforward. The unit comes in basically just a couple of pieces:

A) The treadmill part (pretty obvious above)
B) The safety bar (three big tubes above) + bolts
C) The cords (look like electrical cords)
D) Some skewer stuff (looks like bike trainer skewer)
E) The rope/bracket connecting your bike to trainer (pink thing on ground above)

It’s one of those jobs that you’ll look at and assume is an Ikea nightmare, but in reality only takes a few minutes. Even less time when you sucker two friends into doing it.

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Essentially, it comes down to three basic things:

A) Plugging in some cables
B) Attaching the handlebar/emergency button
C) Attaching your bike to the doohickey.

The handlebar comes in three pieces to put together. As part of that, you’re also attaching the emergency stop button to the top, and then ensuring the wire is properly run down the handlebar to the front of the Oreka platform. It can be a little finicky to do solo, but with two people it’s pretty easy.

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Then you’re connecting the emergency stop button to the inside of the front of the frame. You’ll take off the front of the frame, consider the number of things you shouldn’t touch, find the right spot, and attach it. Close it back up and pretend you didn’t see behind the curtain.

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Then, on the back of the frame you’ll attach a bracket to your bike. As part of that you’ll need to swap out the quick release skewer on your bike with this new one. I guess it’s not really a quick release skewer since it takes a hex wrench to remove.

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This one has these funky little metal pieces off the end, which hold the bracket so you don’t ride off the front of the treadmill. You’ll position it vertically first, and then rotate down, which completes the lock:

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It’s not clear one way or the other if you’re supposed to ride this quick release skewer outside, but I did just fine for hours. I figured if it works inside to hold my weight, it should hopefully work outside (like any other trainer skewer).

Once that’s done, then just attach the pink rope system to the back of the rear frame and you’re good to go. It uses a double-lock system, so it won’t go anywhere without pressing the inner button first and then sliding the pin up.

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Setup isn’t hard. It’s quite easy actually. With that, let’s dive into how it all works. Oh, wait – plug the power cable in and press the button:

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Ok, now we’re ready to roll.

How it rides:

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The Oreka platform might look like a giant treadmill, except there’s a couple of key differences. First being you can’t run on it. That’s because for the most part it’s the weight of the bike pressing down on the belt, which in turn provides forward movement. Sorta like an unpowered treadmill. Your bike though sits atop rollers under the belt. You can see these here below where your rear and front wheels sit:

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Whereas the rest of the surface is simply a hard flat material below the belt. You can step on it, but running on it won’t work (trust me, I tried). There’s no way to get the belt to move without forcing the rollers to move.

The point of all that pink rope at the back isn’t to replicate a kinky 50 Shades of Grey scene, but rather to keep your bike from flying off the front of the treadmill. Without it, you’d go off the front instantly. You’ll have constant pressure on that rope at all times (except when you don’t, more on that in a minute).

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The rope though pivots, allowing you to sway left and right, which in turn means that you can move about the treadmill/platform just like you would on rollers.

Which, is a good time as any to note that the Oreka system is very similar to riding rollers. Rollers (as well as the Oreka system) do have a distinct advantage in terms of better mimicking the side to side swaying movement of a rider outdoors (something that rocker plates and such while mimicking movement, actually invert the movement). Any saddle movement will ultimately minimize discomfort in the saddle on long rides, which is valuable.

Though, I think there’s two key differences between rollers and the Oreka system:

A) First, obviously, there’s a giant handlebar on the side which increases confidence (though, it also increases ways things can go horribly wrong)
B) The back rope system of the Oreka minimizes swing of the rear of your bike, so that almost puts into slow motion any potential crashes.

To an experienced roller rider, neither of these will matter much. To an inexperienced roller rider, this will make the transition easier. Make no mistake, you can still fall off.

And it’s partially for that reason I quickly decided to wear a helmet. In my case, the only place I could put this thing was in the concrete lower level of the DCR Cave. If I fell off of it, my head *will* hit concrete. There’s no two ways about this. So, a helmet was logical. But I didn’t wear it initially. First, let’s start riding.

To get up and going you’ll pair it up to an app of your choice. Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, whatever. I talk about that in the next section.

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Then, as you pedal you’ll feel the resistance fade away. At first, you’re providing all of the momentum of the platform. Kinda like trying to take a potato sack down a slide. But after a short bit the platform takes over, and your pedaling effectively keeps things similar to out on the road.

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Typically when I talk about ‘road-like feel’ of trainers, I’m primarily talking about acceleration and deceleration. Flywheel momentum effectively. How well does it replicate applying a surge of power, or sprinting. But also – how well does it replicate letting off power. When you surge outdoors you’ll feel that spin-up of acceleration, but also an equally realistic deceleration depending on the terrain.

However, with the Oreka, there’s a second element to consider: Does it actually *feel* like the road. In other words, does it feel like my tires are on the road?

And oddly enough, it actually gets closer than any other indoor system I’ve tried, on that count. Because your bike isn’t statically set on three rollers (like indoor rollers), you’re actually on a belt which sits atop an array of rollers that you slowly drift back and forth over. So you feel that nuance, which roughly tricks your brain into thinking it’s on old but well-maintained road.

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The second piece – acceleration/deceleration, meaning, how well do you feel the inertia? That part is considerably worse than other indoor systems I’ve tried. The main reason is that as you sprint, you strain forward on the rope, which has a little bit of elasticity in it.

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But the split second you stop pushing forward hard, it instantly snaps you back against the rear of the frame:

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The reason for this is simple: The belt speed isn’t actually that finely controlled to deal with this. And so at this point the entire electronic belt system is still maintaining speed (if not accelerating), while your momentum on the bike frame has started to decelerate. If the belt was 50-meters long, you’d never notice. But you’ve got approximately 3-6” (~8-15cm) of play here, which at 20-25MPH (upwards of 40KPH), happens instantly. Here’s a short video of it:

In essence, the moment you start sprinting or end sprinting, you feel like a dog yank back on a leash. However, for normal steady-state riding, the sensation is just fine.

One function that caught me off-guard pretty quickly into my first ride with it though was the safety system. As I mentioned above, I started my first ride without a helmet.

However, a few minutes into the ride I noticed abnormalities with the power accuracy. So, I glided to a safe dismount speed and popped off the bike, straddling on my bike while standing on the side-rails (just like any normal running treadmill) to double-check some tech stuff. Except to my surprise a rumble in the jungle occurred between my legs. The treadmill belt started to accelerate faster and faster, despite me (and Zwift) being stopped. My bike, being attached to said treadmill belt, was now meandering at high speed (I’d guess 20MPH/30KPH or so) on the belt, skipping a bit without any weight on it. You can see this moment play out the first time in the video at the top of this post (at the 5:45 marker).

After getting control of my bike by simply lifting it off the belt I pondered my situation. See, unlike the incredibly expensive Tacx Magnum, this unit doesn’t have any optical sensors along the side to detect if you’ve left the belt. Meaning, if you fall off your bike, there’s no system in place to stop the belt. If you look closely at the Tacx Magnum design, the entirety of the length of both sides of the treadmill are optical sensors to see exactly where the bike is.

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This is used both for controlling speed during accelerations, but also as a safety measure in case of a crash. Instantly.

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Further though, unlike the Magnum, you’re actually ‘tied’ to the Oreka platform via that rear skewer system. So if you crash your bike onto the platform (such as getting caught in the handlebars) and can’t reach the emergency stop button, I don’t see any positive outcomes.

After my initial surprise, I hit the emergency button and added a helmet. I then tried to repro what occurred, and found I could easily do so. Turns out, the belt will re-accelerate if you don’t come to a complete stop. I discussed this with Oreka, and this is expected.

They noted that they haven’t had any complaints from others once they were aware of how this works. And that’s true, when it comes to stopping, now that I understand how it works – that’s fine for casual stops (weird, but fine).

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However, my concern is what occurs in a crash. Being tethered to the platform as a belt accelerates below me unstoppably isn’t super ideal.

I think this problem is actually solvable via some additional safety mechanisms. While what Tacx has designed with their crazy optical sensor sharks with lasers system is enviable, I suspect even just a simple connection to a cadence sensor would resolve the issues here. After all, while outdoors if you stop pedaling then eventually the speed stops too (unless headed downhill). Since the Oreka doesn’t provide forward-drive during downhills from Zwift or other apps at present, there’s no issue with simply having the belt cut-out after perhaps 2-seconds of zero-value cadence data.

I don’t doubt there are reliability issues with that approach, but I think this piece needs re-thinking from a safety standpoint. It is notable that there is a wire that runs up into the rear of the frame. It’s not clear to me what this wire does, though the manual does loosely imply a sensor up there somewhere for something:

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Anyway, we’ve covered some of the ride feel pieces above, let’s dig a bit deeper into 3rd party app integration and compatibility.

App Compatibility:

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The Oreka platform loosely follows the app compatibility standards and industry norms as you’d expect from a high-end trainer.  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, 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.

I say loosely because while Oreka transmits these standards, it doesn’t appear as compatible with apps in real-life testing as I’d like (primarily on the Bluetooth Smart side). Don’t worry, I’ll try and explain.

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

The unit supports the following protocols and transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units (with cadence/power data). Read tons about it here.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This allows apps to control the Oreka over Bluetooth Smart (with cadence/power data)

In theory, 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.

But in practice, it was a bit rougher. Personally, I’m lazy. So I tend to use an Apple TV to run Zwift most of the time, because I don’t have to deal with setting anything up. So I started there:

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And yes, it did show up in the menus and pair just fine as a Bluetooth Smart FTMS device. Meaning, Zwift would be able to control the trainer, including things like increasing grade or resistance via Bluetooth Smart. It would also include power numbers and cadence, though at this juncture the cadence values are static (and will be removed).

The challenge though is that in my testing with Bluetooth Smart and Zwift, it would refuse to change the grade. So while it showed the power the Oreka platform, it didn’t change according to the gradient of the terrain in Zwift.

After circling back to Oreka, it sounds like there’s some issue with the implementation of the protocol, which Zwift has confirmed to them. The two companies are hashing it out.

So instead, I switched over to running Zwift on a laptop using ANT+. In that case it leveraged ANT+ FE-C for control instead of Bluetooth Smart FTMS.

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And there, it worked just fine. It controlled the incline as I approached hills, but only hills equal to or greater than 4%. Below that, no change in resistance occurred. Sure, it shows it on the screen, but it doesn’t actually change the resistance on the unit.

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In talking with Oreka about it this is a limitation they are aware of. 3% and below grades are not replicated. This doesn’t impact how fast you go in Zwift, since that’s purely a function of your power output, but it does significantly impact the realism. This is especially notable in courses with lots of rollers, because what happens is you effectively ride the first portion of a hill 0-3% as if it were flat. But then 4% hits and it’s a jolt, because you basically go from 0 to 4% instantly.

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A quick note that while the Oreka platform as an FE-C trainer could support calibration, there’s no calibration offered by the Oreka platform. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about power accuracy later.

For me, in my testing, I use 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) as well as ERG mode (workout mode). Whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode (ERG mode). I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section. So let’s switch to that.

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Like with Zwift, the Bluetooth Smart control didn’t work on TrainerRoad either. So I switched to ANT+ there (per recommendation of Oreka). You’ll see the trainer enumerated in a fairly similar manner on TrainerRoad as well:

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Also, TrainerRoad’s standard-issue tips page on using smart trainers in ERG mode. Ironically, I didn’t think about it at first, but you should actually apply the last one here too with the Oreka: Put it in a small gear up front. I’ll dive into why in the accuracy section.

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Once you’ve got things paired up in TrainerRoad, there’s little options there to tweak on the Oreka. You can now use the Oreka platform as a smart trainer whereby it’ll control the resistance of the Oreka platform automatically according to the target wattages in ERG mode:

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(It appears Oreka is still using the ‘development’ ANT manufacturer ID, as opposed to their own assigned on. Each manufacturer – from Garmin to Polar to Wahoo to Suunto has a specific ID assigned. This has no impact on anything here, just a minor thing they need to fix.)

Finally, at this point Oreka doesn’t have any consumer-facing app available for the Oreka platform. So there’s no further configuration or settings to tweak outside of the standard protocols and 3rd party apps.

Power Accuracy:

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I’m going to do you a favor. Not me a favor, but you a favor. I’ll tell you straight up it appears to struggle slightly on accuracy. Just a little, only off by hundreds of watts inaccurate.

That allows you to skip this section. A section I’ll still write mind you, but you get to skip it. Like being the teacher’s pet or something.

With that, onto accuracy.

Typically I talk about how I test power meter accuracy against multiple products. And I do here as well. I did it against a PowerTap G3 hub, a Quarq DZero Power Meter, a pair of both Garmin Vector 3 and a pair of Favero Assioma pedals. Except it became readily apparent a mere 30 seconds into my first test that the power numbers coming from the Oreka system simply weren’t even ballpark accurate. I’d be pedaling at 250w, and it’d be reading 100w. Here, let me show you:

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The purple line is the Favero Assioma power meter pedals, while the teal line down below is the Oreka platform’s power. As one might surmise, that’s a problem. Wondering if something was up, I reached out to Oreka immediately to see what I was doing wrong. Unfortunately, it’s not me.

The Oreka platform only has power estimation, and in this case – it’s not terribly ideal. Oreka says that when the unit is simulating 3% or less (flat roads), they struggle with accuracy substantially. It sounds like this largely has to do with the speed of the system, and that it struggles at higher speeds rather than lower speeds.

Instead, the company recommends using an external power meter with the Oreka platform. You might remember this is the same issue that InsideRide has with their e-motion roller system, it too has less than ideal power accuracy by itself. Both companies recommend the same: Use a power meter. Of course, we’ll get to my thoughts on that in a moment.

Since it took all of a few minutes to establish that by itself the power meter values are less than a random number generator, I connected it up to my Quarq instead. We’ll use Zwift as an example first, but then I’ll show TrainerRoad (to demonstrate two different simulation types). With Zwift, you’ll pair it as a controllable trainer, which automatically pairs it as a power meter. However, after you do that you’ll re-pair the power meter side to the power meter of your own:

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Next, it’s worth noting that currently Oreka broadcasts a cadence signal too. This produces no value, so you should actually disconnect that and use something else (probably your power meter is a good idea). Oreka says they’re working to fix/remove that.

With that setup, off I went. Now at this point it’s less about power accuracy and more about power responsiveness. In this setup I’m reliant on the software platform (Zwift or TrainerRoad in my case) to take my power meter’s input and then look at what the Oreka is saying and figure out how to translate that to a power value that’s offset correctly for the Oreka. In other words, it’s basically applying a constantly changing offset to ‘trick’ the Oreka platform into giving me the correct power.

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As such, the above is *NOT* the accuracy of the Oreka, but effectively just the accuracy of the Quarq vs the Favero. Which, is identical.

In the realm of Zwift, that workaround roughly works. It’s not perfect, it’s good enough for most use cases. Note, this doesn’t account for the lack of resistance below grades of 4% however, which I noted earlier on. That piece hasn’t changed, and is still an issue in my opinion. But it does respond just fine to sprints and other efforts largely as I’d expect. Does it feel like a high-end indoor bike? No. But is it mostly acceptable? Sure.

Oh, before I go forward note that with Zwift and TrainerRoad I had to use ANT+ FE-C for all these tests. I did not find the Bluetooth Smart control success on either one (Zwift on Apple TV, or TrainerRoad on a MacBook Pro). ANT+ via both Windows PC and MacBook Pro worked just fine.

Next, what about ERG mode? For that, I switched over to TrainerRoad. I like mixing up the platforms to see how different apps handle it. In this case I paired up the Oreka platform as an ANT+ FE-C trainer, and then paired up my Quarq as an ANT+ power meter.

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I ensured ‘auto’ was enabled on TrainerRoad, which is the default setting on their power matching functionality. Again, in this case I’m partially reliant on TrainerRoad’s technology here (meaning, how smart it is or isn’t), but also reliant on Oreka’s ability to handle what TrainerRoad throws at it.

And things got off to a rocky start. In fact, so rocky I started and reset three times thinking something was wrong. You can see the reported power at 345w, despite the target being 143w.

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What was wrong was that I was in the biggest chainring. This meant that I was at a higher speed than the Oreka platform could handle at the lower wattage of my initial warm-up (roughly 130w). To resolve that, you shift to your smaller chainring up front, and easiest gear in the back. This is actually a funny lesson that I know from testing trainers. But these days it’s usually around response time – not outright wattage floor.

The ‘wattage floor’ is the *minimum wattage* a trainer can output. For most trainers, it’s roughly in the 70-90w ballpark. Sometimes you have to tweak your gearing to get there, but rarely does any trainer I test have to tweak gearing to get to 130w.

What the changing of gearing does is typically increase responsiveness. The faster the trainer (or belt) in this case moves, the longer it takes to respond to ERG mode changes. In any case, once I shifted gears you can see things started to come back to alignment.

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So, into the workout I went. At first, things didn’t go too bad as I stepped up in wattage further into the warm-up. There was virtually no delay in the wattage bump, but you can see it’s taking a while to really stabilize after that bump.

This is a core reason why I dislike power matching technology (from any company). It’s essentially a game of high-speed threesome of the app trying to figure out what the trainer and power meter are doing. Someone is almost always left out. It’s much easier if the trainer is just accurate to begin with.

In any event, what I saw was that it would typically take about 5-15 seconds to stabilize power to the target value. This was problematic for a workout (as I did this day) that had 15-second intervals in it, assuming I simply kept my cadence/gearing/speed the same.

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And just to be super clear here – this wasn’t some case of my legs being unable to hit these intervals due to lack of strength.

Now you can see some of them were quite close. But that’s mostly because I’ve been doing this long enough to know how to ‘game’ the system. I would over accelerate (via increasing cadence) just after the start of an interval. By doing so I’d trick the threesome into thinking all was well, and I could keep the set point high enough. I did this for some intervals, but then got mentally tired of doing it towards the end.

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If you were doing an ERG mode workout with longer (multi-minute) intervals, there’s no massive issue (aside from the wattage floor) with the Oreka in power match. However, if you were doing shorter intervals (sub-30s), then I don’t think it’s viable without deciding to make a game out of it (and thus, likely impacting the goal of your actual workout, which typically involves both a power and cadence target).

Ultimately, the power accuracy here, simply isn’t here. It’s hard to accept that for a 3,800EUR device, no matter the type of device.

[Side note: I have absolutely zero plans of reviewing the Tacx Magnum offering either. I just don’t get it. It’s outside the ballpark of anyone but Sultans and research institutes, and the limited time I’ve spent on it at tradeshows I didn’t really come away impressed with the road-feel bits enough to pique my curiosity. I have no knowledge one way or the other on accuracy, since I haven’t tested it.]

Summary:

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The Oreka platform aims to fill a specific gap in the market – putting a full bike on a treadmill with the freedom slightly greater than that of rollers, but the smarts of an indoor trainer. Essentially a treadmill version of the InsideRide E-Motion rollers. At a basic level, it achieves that. I can ride my bike on it, and when connected to a 3rd party power meter on your bike, it isn’t significantly different as an experience than the aforementioned rollers. And the benefit of both rollers and the Oreka is it mimics the saddle/bike movement of a bike outdoors on the road, which can minimize discomfort on long trainer sessions (a reason why the rocker plate industry is taking off).

The challenge I have is that while I think this is a good first attempt, it’s hard to recommend it. For the price, I expect accurate power. Just like I criticized the InsideRide system that’s 1/3rd the price. When $500 trainers can give me accurate power, so should things above that. My other concern is around the minimum threshold of 4% incline in order to see resistance changes. And finally, I think a bit more work needs to be done on the safety side of it.

Still, I want to see what Oreka can come up with next. If they can find a way to harness the power they have in the platform and fine-tune the software to be more accurate and more compatible, as well as implement some additional safety metrics – I could see it being an option for some. After all, the price isn’t substantially different than some of the smart bikes coming onto the market these days. And hey, if there’s a market for 14,000EUR indoor smart bikes and $4,000 consumer running treadmills, there’s certainly one for a 3,700EUR cycling treadmill.

With that – thanks for reading!

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