Time for a new cycle computer

Well, it looks like my Polar CS100 cycling computer will need to be replaced soon.  I’ve been using it for 2 years now (or is that 3?) on 3 different bikes.  I’ve used it to monitor my speed, cadence and heart rate.  While it has been a good unit for the most part, there are a couple of issues that have cropped up.

It first started when I moved the system from one bike to another.  While fully functional on one bike, I could never get the cadence readings to work after the transfer.  I tried several things – moving the sensor as close to the head unit as possible for example – but it would just never work again.  I can’t really explain why moving it would cause it to fail, but it did.  Then the heart rate functionality started to work only about 50% of the time.  I went through the usual gyrations of getting the sensor points wet where they contacted my skin and that helped for awhile.  However, it is now at a point where the heart rate monitor pretty much never works.  And the final straw – the speed sensor is failing more and more often.  I’ve watched my speed drop from 17 to 5 when I accelerate hard (clearly not right) and gone on rides I know are just over 30 miles, only to find my final ride distance at about 20 miles as reported by the computer.

I’m reluctant to try buying new sensors when the problem is very likely the head unit.  And buying a new head unit is, well, the whole thing.  Time to consider all of my options.

I definitely know that, in the interest of future usage, it makes sense to get something that is ANT+ compatible.  Most devices are moving in this direction, and there is a whole compliment of cadence, speed, heart rate and power sensors that could be hooked up to a reasonably capable head unit.  Given that the ANT+ protocol was actually originally developed for the medical industry, there is also the intriguing possibility that I may someday be able to use a cycling computer head unit to help manage my diabetes on the bike.

Conceptual drawing of Vector spindle sensor and battery pack attached to crank.

So what to get?  Well, I’m probably not going to spring for the power meter just yet.  But, I would be wise to consider which one I may get to ensure interoperability down the road.  And one really intriguing possibility is the MetriGear Vector.  At the time of this writing the Vector is not yet generally available, but is scheduled for release sometime this year.  The Vector is different from other sensors on the market in that the actual power measurements are taken at the pedals, with sensors embedded in both pedal spindles.  One of the most obvious benefits of this over, say, a single power meter integrated into the rear hub is that you can track the power output of both legs individually. It also allows for increased flexibility in application.  A power meter in the rear hub is a difficult thing to move between wheels (lacing spokes is time consuming, and still appears to be something like voodoo to me.)  It is not uncommon to have different wheelsets for different applications – training wheels, racing wheels, wheels specific for rides with a lot of climbing.  Since swapping out hubs is not practical, that means a new power meter for each new wheel.  Not a cheap proposition.

Pedals, on the other hand, are quick and easy to swap.  Initial reports seemed to indicate that MultiGear would initially roll out with support for Speedplay Zero only.  However, information posted to their website seems to hint that this relationship may not be entirely set in stone:

On a separate yet significant note, you may notice that we are now showing Vector integrated into spindles (and no pedal bodies) on our web site. Vector will still include a set of pedals, but we are currently re-evaluating the pedal platform Vector will use to make its market entry. We’re in the process of evaluating several options, and will continue to do so in parallel with our development and test phases. We understand that there will be a lot of questions on this critical decision, so we will be more specific as soon as we have something definitive to share.

That still leaves the question of exactly which head unit to get.  To be honest, I still have no idea.

Garmin seems to be to cycling computers what QTip is to cotton swabs these days.  But I don’t want to just jump on that bandwagon too quickly.  For one thing, I’m quite happy using Google Maps and CardioTrainer on my Droid smartphone for my mapping and tracking needs, so all of the GIS functionality offered by the Garmin units are not necessarily worth the added cost at this point.  Cateye and CycleOps are other names that come up alot, but to be honest the options are pretty numerous.

So – what are your thoughts out there?  For those of you using an ANT+ capable cycling computer, what are you using?  Why did you chose it?

On a separate yet significant note, you may notice that we are now showing Vector integrated into spindles (and no pedal bodies) on our web site. Vector will still include a set of pedals, but we are currently re-evaluating the pedal platform Vector will use to make its market entry. We’re in the process of evaluating several options, and will continue to do so in parallel with our development and test phases. We understand that there will be a lot of questions on this critical decision, so we will be more specific as soon as we have something definitive to share.