ANT+ in my Pants

We’ve had occasion to play with a few nifty gizmos as of late.

Item One: a PowerTap G3 Wheelset. This is PowerTap’s latest, lightest hub (the G3) laced to a Velocity A23 rim. The whole shebang weighs 1850g, making it significantly lighter than my old, wired PowerTaps.

For 2012 PowerTap (finally?) ditched wired power meters and narrowed their line of hubs down to two, the Pro and the G3. The Pro has been around for a while, but is now a few grams more svelte and substantially more attractive dressed in stealthy black. The G3 is new, light and has field-serviceable electronics. A semi-important fact: the Pro transmits data via ANT+ and PT’s usual 2.4 GHz frequency while the G3 only transmits data via ANT+. This means that you can’t use the traditional little yellow computer with the G3. Which brings us to…

Item Two: Garmin Edge 500.

Yeah,  yeah, yeah, yeah. This little wonder has been out quite a while now, so I’m a little late to the party. You can read all kinds of internet reviews but I’ll add just a couple of things relevant to what I want, which is PowerTap integration. On the one hand, this is a very amazing little device. It synched right up with the new wheel. The menu system seems intuitive. It’s not too big. It can display an absolute blizzard of information. I was happy to see that the PowerTap hub transmits enough information (power, speed, cadence) to make the Garmin speed/cadence sensor unnecessary. Lemme say it a different way: If you’re pairing an Edge 500 with a PowerTap, get the cheapest Edge package you can. You don’t need the extras unless, I guess, you want to use it with an alternate wheel set.

On the other hand, the Edge 500 is a little bit complicated and requires a non-zero amount of time for proper setup. Once I (very easily) got the Edge to recognize the PT, I thought my life was good. Then I used the computer in a room full of people, which caused the Edge to whine, “There are a lot of heart rate monitors around me and I don’t know which one to pick!” Lots of beeping ensued. While not a heartbreaking situation, it did reinforce the need for a thorough setup and pairing of relevant accessories. To that end, the printed documentation included with the Edge is very, very light. A full and comprehensive user manual is available on a CD included with the Edge. That’s nice, but it would have been nicer still for a $250+ computer to come with a nice printed manual to study.

Item Three: Garmin FR60 Heart Rate Monitor.

I haven’t personally used a heart rate monitor in a few years, but I felt like we should offer something nice in the shop. A good friend and fellow nerd suggested that we carry the Garmin FR60, so we do.

Recently a nice guy came into the shop and said, “I want a cycling computer that measures from the rear wheel and offers heart rate information.” He left his bike and we set upon a solution. Frankly, I cannot believe how easy it was. We took an FR60 and paired it to a Garmin speed/cadence sensor. Blammo! Everything he wanted. Plus, he can also pair the FR60 to a foot pod and measure his running speed. Like the Edge, the menu system on the FR60 is easy to navigate — more intuitive than the Polar and Suunto watches I’ve worn in the past. Also like the Edge, the included documentation was insufficient for the task at hand, so we resorted to downloading the full manual from the internet.

I got to thinking that I should have purchased an FR60 to work with the PowerTap instead of the Edge. Alas, the FR60 doesn’t have power capability. Darn.

Big Finish  I noticed the rise of GPS-enabled cell phones and thought that I should short Garmin stock. I’ve also been watching the ANT+ protocol with interest, noticing that Garmin’s leadership role. Having had a chance to play with a few devices, I’m impressed all the way ’round. It’s hard not to appreciate that one can buy a PowerTap hub, a Garmin computer, a Wahoo Fitness heart rate strap and Timex foot pod and have all of these devices work and play well with each other. Such has been the ANT+ promise from the start, but it looks like the reality is here. Who benefits? You.

I remember purchasing a *very* expensive Polar watch a few years ago to get bike, heart rate and running data in one instrument. Later I had a fairly expensive Suunto system that did the same stuff. It looks to me like those days of proprietary transmission protocols and accessories are over, and I think you’d have to have a pretty compelling reason to not build your electronic system around ANT+.

I’ll report back when I have more time on the devices.