Review: Sports Tracker Mobile Phone App

A month ago, the folks from Sports Tracker contacted us to see if we’d like to try out the beta version of their new app for Android-based phones. Their app was available for iPhones previously, and seemed to make most users happy, so this one got our interest.

A little preamble, though: I am very new to the world of smartphones…until April of this year, my existing cellphone didn’t even take photographs! My wife and I took the plunge and bought matching HTC Evo Shift 4G phones on the Sprint Network, and I entered the realm of apps and mobile computing with glee. The Sports Tracker app is the first sports-based tool I’ve used; and I realize now that there are many others on the market to choose from. For the purposes of this review, I ran the Sports Tracker beta on Android 2.2, and downloaded the “final” production version once I upgraded to Android 2.3.3.

The start screen looks like this:
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It gives you “at a glance” information on your current status and last workout. Along the bottom of the screen is a tab bar to select your workout diary, settings and friends lists, among others. This bar repeats on a couple of the available screens within the app.

Once you’ve selecte “start new workout” , you are presented with this screen:
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This is the screen you will see during the course of your ride. More basic ride parameters are presented, including elapsed time, distance, and current/average speeds. There is also a map of your current position and the route. If you notice at the top of the screen, there is an orange button with a lock icon; this locks the screen from inadvertent presses in theory, but I had some issues with that. I’ll discuss that in a bit. One of the features in the setup of the Sports Tracker app is the ability to choose an “autopause” speed of 3MPH or 1MPH…if your speed drops below the preset autopause, the timer stops. This is a boon for folks riding in areas with lots of stop signs and lights; I don’t current have those problems as I am blessed with an extensive paved trail network mere yards from my house.

Once your ride is completed, you are presented with this screen:
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This screen gives a ride summary, including a map of the full ride. If you’ll notice the tab bar on the bottom, it has changed from the initial screens shown above. The tabs at the bottom of this screen give the user the ability to take a more detailed look at the ride, including lap “splits”:
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and a chart showing speed and altitude changes on a graph:
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I haven’t really been able to make heads or tails of the lap splits; I can’t figure out how they’re calculated or what they’re really showing me. The speed/altitude graph is pretty handy, though, and gives the user control to break it down over each piece of the ride (using the slider bar just below the graph).

Another feature is the ability to track heart rate using the phone’s Bluetooth and an appropriate Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor. I didn’t have access to one, but I understand that Polar makes a reasonably-priced transmitter that is reported to interface nicely with the Sports Tracker app.

As you may have noticed from the ride summary screen, the user has the ability to share his or her workout with Facebook, Twitter, and the Sports Tracker community online…or simply keep it to themselves. I share mine with Sports Tracker and with my friends on Facebook, and have had periodic issues with that, as well.

The last screen I’d like to show you is the “diary”, where the user can compare rides against each other:
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The Sports Tracker account one creates to use and share these workouts also gives one access to the online tools on Sports Tracker’s website. The web-based version has a number of comparison tools not available on the phone, and some are pretty handy for tracking season-long progress or to gauge changes in fitness.

Let’s talk about some of the glitches I’ve experienced: as I mentioned earlier, the screen lock button only sometimes locks the screen…I’ve returned from a ride and pulled my phone out of my pocket to discover that the app shut off midway due to an inadvertent screen press. Also, sharing my workouts has been hit-or-miss — sometimes the phone synchs nicely with Facebook; other times I’ve had to go to my Sports Tracker account online to share a ride. The phone always synchs properly with the Sports Tracker setup online, though. Finally, a couple times I’ve used the app, one summary is shown on the screen when the ride is completed…and when I look at my diary later on via phone or computer, the numbers are a little different (different total distance or avg. speed). This can be frustrating — luckily, I double check the numbers with a bike-mounted computer. And, the Sports Tracker online site allows a user to edit the details of any given ride, so I was able to plug in the correct numbers.

A brief word about battery life: the Evo 4G phone I have has a surprisingly weak battery…even with the 4G feature turned off (4G is not yet available in my city…ugh), a 2-hour ride with Sports Tracker running drinks up about half of the charge. Since the GPS is running constantly, this may account for some of the energy drain. Obviously, your mileage may vary in terms of battery life depending on your phone and your phone’s features.

I love being able to see the maps I “generate” as I ride, and I love to be able to share my rides with my friends (and also take a look at THEIR rides…a couple of my Facebook homies are using the app). I do wish there were some other features included with the app; namely, some settable alarms…things like an avg. speed warning, a countdown timer, heart rate alarms, or alarms that alert the user to a new personal best. I’ve read some reviews of other Android- and iPhone-based sports apps, and many of the others on the market include such alarms. In practice, though, I’m not entirely sure how often I’d use such a thing — I like to keep my average speed up, but I’m not out to set any records and I’m not training for anything.

The glitches I experienced were annoying, to be sure. I expect that Sports Tracker will offer updates in the future and debug things based on user input. Let’s put it this way: when it works the way it is supposed to, it’s a lot of fun and of great use… but when it bugs out on me, that’s a bit of a pain. Since the app is free (at least on the Android Market), it’s probably worth a try. I mean, what do you have to lose?

Finally, for an excellently-written and thorough review of the iPhone-based version, please visit our friend Andy over at London Cyclist.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Double Team in Chicago!

We will double team Chicago on bikes like Miss Piggy and Kermit!!! (OK, really I don't have any pics of the Bike Commuters ladies together yet, so we can pretend for now.)

DOUBLE TEAM: You read it right Bike Commuters!  Elizabeth and I will be meeting up for a/some ride/s this weekend!  What you say? Are Honolulu and Chicago neighbor cities?  Hardly… BUT, I will be attending a conference in Chicago from Thursday through Sunday of this weekend.   Therefore, Bike Commuters will DOUBLE TEAM in Chicago for awesome bike bloggy-ness.  We may even meet up for a ride with Dottie from Let’s Go Ride a Bike… in which case, we would consider that a bike triple team.  We’re working on a loaner bike situation for meeself (anyone out there have a spare bike size 47cm or 49cm?) or I may rent a bike nearby my hotel at Millenium Park from www.bikechicago.com.  Maybe I should bring those pants that look like pants for extreme heat testing!

Rent a Bike instead of a car for business travel... Hmm, Segway OR Trek!? That's like Cuttlefish w/asparagus OR Vanilla Paste.

This will be the first time I will be “business” traveling with bike in mind… I’ve visited friends and done the bike/public transit combo in Seattle and California, but never for work!  Bring it on hot and humid Chicago: I’m ready for that sweaty back.  Does witch hazel come in a 3 oz. travel container!?

FACT: Elizabeth is officially the only cycle lady I know in all of the Middle West.  (Chicago is the Midwest right?  Being a California Native, I hadn’t driven further than Tahoe for most of my life, I used to think everything between California and New York was the Midwest… only to be corrected by an ex-boyfriend from Montana in college.)  Looking forward to taking the heat: Elizabeth + Mir.I.Am = ultimate Bike Commuters blog time weekend!!!!

We will not be creepin' around Chicago like this player! Is PeeWee a bike commuter?

Redline Urbis-Test in Progress

We received the new Redline Urbis about a month ago and since then we’ve been putting it through its paces.
Redline Urbis
Redline Bicycles has the Urbis listed under their commuter bike section. Since I don’t want to beat a dead Sarah Jessica Parker, we’ll just say that the Urbis is a fixed gear BICYCLE that has a flip-flop hub that one can use to commute with. Rather than having one person testing this bicycle, I’ve solicited the help of 4 men in 4 different age groups to test out the bike and to get their opinions.

Redline Urbis

The age groups:

15 year old High school student/ hipster from Irvine. Ca.
26 year old Sales professional from Costa Mesa, Ca. (Team Racer for MtnBikeRiders.com)
34 year old Blogger (That’s me!) from Fullerton, Ca. (Team Racer for MtnBikeRiders.com)
42 year old Warranty Manager from Costa Mesa, Ca. (Team Racer for MtnBikeRiders.com)

All four of us have been given two weeks to ride the bike as much as we can. In the end, we’ll be posting our collective reviews for everyone to see.

Redline Urbis

Here’s the spec sheet:

Frame Redline Full Chromoly, Double Butted Main Tubes,120mm Spacing
Fork Redline Full Chromoly, Disc Tabs
Headset Threadless 28.6mm
Frt Der
Rear Der
Shifter
Crank Redline Alloy 36T
BB Set ISIS, Hollow Chromoly Axle
Cogs 16T Single Fixed
Pedal Poly Carbonate Platform W Chromoly Axle & Straps
Rim Allloy 36H Deep V
Hub RL Nutted Disc Frt, Alloy Nutted Fixed – Free rear
Spoke 14 Guage Stainless
Tire Kenda 700 X 35 Reflector Side Wall
Bar Redline Alloy JR Cruiser 550 mm x 90mm
Stem Redline Alloy Forged
Saddle Redline Pivotal
Seat Post Redline Alloy Pivotal 27.2 x 320mm
Brakes Tektro Alloy Disc
Brake Lever Tektro Alloy 2 Finger
Price: $549

Redline Urbis

Review: Ergon HC1 Gloves

As part of my duties as a member of the Ergon USA 2011 Commuter Team, I get to try out some brand-spanking-new products from the Ergon lineup. A few weeks ago, Ergon sent me a pair of their new HC1 gloves from their “Performance Comfort” series of products.

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Here’s a bit about the gloves directly from Ergon USA’s website:

The new Ergon HC1 is a short fingered glove, especially designed for use with the Performance Comfort series of grips. The glove features flexible yet robust mesh material for ventilation of the back of the hand. The thinly padded palm and fingers allows for increased feel and the benefits of Ergon grips not to be restricted. The ball of the hand has a slight increase in cushioning material for better pressure relief of this sensitive area.

The gloves retail for $35.95 and are available from Ergon’s online storefront.

As mentioned, they are made primarily of a lightly-padded mesh material on the top and a leather palm. The thumb area is made of a suede-like microfiber material. The mesh tops are not unlike the material used to make modern running shoes…and the mesh does a pretty good job at ventilating the hands, even in the heat.

Despite Ergon’s description, I can detect no padding whatsoever in the palms. Some portions of the palms have doubled material for durability, but as far as I can tell, that’s it. As they are designed as a system to be used with Ergon’s ergonomic grips (such as the GP1 BioKork grips, reviewed here), padding really isn’t needed. With those grips, the HC1 gloves are supremely comfortable. I often ride drop-bar road bikes for recreational and commuting purposes, though, and although I experienced no hand discomfort on rides up to about 30 miles, some people with more sensitive hands may want a bit more padding to protect delicate nerves.

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Unlike a lot of other gloves on the market, there are no “grippy” parts (silicone strips and the like) on the gloves, save for tiny strips at the tips of the fingers. The gloves are slightly scalloped here, creating little “tabs” at the ends of the fingers. Those tabs and silicone strips are there presumably to aid removal. That’s rather handy, too, as these gloves are a bit snug. Word to the wise: if you look at Ergon’s sizing chart and are right at the cusp between sizes, go for the next larger size. Ergon makes sizes to fit a lot of hands, from extra-small all the way through XXL.

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The gloves stay on with a simple hook-and-loop wrist closure. The strap is slim and unobstrusive, something I greatly prefer in a cycling glove as I move my hands around a lot. I do NOT like to get hung up on bulky straps. You can see in the picture just above how narrow and simple the strap is.

Do you get a runny nose when you ride? I sure do…even when it is super hot out. And I sweat a lot, so I really value gloves that have a decent “wiping surface”. This, perhaps, is where the HC1 lets me down. The thumb is made of a soft, nose-friendly microfiber…very “suedey”. But the area is cut a bit narrow for my tastes, and on either side it is bordered by a woven nylon material that is much rougher to the touch. The seams connecting these two materials are scratchy, too. Wipe with caution, or your nose and lips will be sore. I’d like to see a revised seam layout for this area, a more generous wiping area, or even a different choice of material (terry rather than microfiber). This is a pretty big deal for me; while it doesn’t ruin the overall picture for me, it makes these gloves not be my first choice when I am going out for a serious/strenuous ride. I’d still choose these gloves for shorter rides or for trips not requiring much in the way of sweat or effort…you know, like my commuting trips. Gotta protect those hands on the way to the workplace!

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My overall impression of these gloves is fairly favorable — they are well-made from good materials, simple, and effective for those of us who don’t need a lot of padding (or who are already using Ergon’s excellent grips). But, they’re not for everyone…the lack of padding and the nose-wiping weakness might be a deal-breaker for some. Be careful choosing the size, watch those seams against your noses, and things might just work out.

Be sure to check out Ergon USA’s website for information on their many other products, and stay tuned for further adventures with new goodies I will hopefully get my hands on to test.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

CIRCULUS : Ridin’ in Circles

In early 2010, Portland Design Works purchased one of the most interesting installations from a Pomona College student in Southern California… CIRCULUS.

What is CIRCULUS?
Circulus is a 143 foot diameter, 45 degree banked, wooden mini-velodrome. When standing in the ‘in field’ of the track, it almost feels like you are standing in an enormous wooden salad bowl!

The track is currently housed within PDW’s Portland, Oregon warehouse – The Mothership. One if the perks of living in the fine city of Portland is I’ve had the opportunity to ride on Circulus. It is AMAZING!

This last Saturday evening, PDW & Yakima Products had an open invite for head to head racing on the track!
Flyer

wide angle

PDW’s man in the field, Kevin “MURPH” Murphy came by the shop week ago to drop off the event flyer (shown above).

There was some discussion on what bikes were to be used for the event. The main concern was rider and spectator safety. If the bikes were geared too high, riders would be able to reach the top of the track too easily and chance launching off the track and out into the spectator area. If the bikes were geared too low, proper speeds would not be reached to keep the riders on the steep, 45 degree bank.

Upon arriving to the venue on Saturday night I was delighted to see bikes that had decent gearing and were low to the ground, in the off chance that if riders had to bail or crash, the fall would not be very bad.

The rigs

Open riding for the evening began at 6:30pm and racing began promptly at 8pm. The racing was MC’d by none other than Stevil Kinevil. Being a single elimination race, it was all or nothing for the racers. This was a pursuit style race. The race began with each competitor begining at opposite sides of the track from a dead stop on the infield floor. Each racer had to be up on the 45 degree banked track within 1/2 a lap. The object of the race was to complete 4 laps before your opponent or to catch the opposing racer in 4 laps or less.
Brackets
Mens final 2
womens semi

Although adult refreshements were available from Hopworks Urban Brewery, racers were not allowed to drink them until AFTER their heat was completed, as this was a single elimination race format. If you were fortunate enough to advance, you were unfortunate enough to have to wait to enjoy a cold beer!

Having previous saddle time on Circulus, I gave it a go… Race testing the DZR District shoes.
DZR Test run

My wife raced the women’s event (yellow bike):

(Youtube video courtesy of Jonathan Maus/www.bikeportland.org)
Here is JMaus in action!
JMaus

Here is video of the men’s final:

(Youtube video courtesy of nanobikerdotcom)

Music was thumping throughout the night courtesy of the always amazing DJ Amanda Sundvor
DJ Amanda Sundvor

The racing ended for the evening with two of the haunches at PDW, Erik and Murph going…. Beak to Beak??
Erik n Murph
two chickens

A big THANKS to the fine folks at PDW – Daniel “DPow” Powell, Erik Olson & Kevin “Murph” Murphy & Yakima for putting on a fantastic, fun filled event!

A special thanks goes to Mr. Dave Roth for allowing the use of his photographs of the event. You can view the entire evening captured in pixels here at http://www.dmroth.com/cycling/circulus/index2.html