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A Guide to
Bicycle Technology

 
 
Thanks to the latest in cycling technology and accessories, it’s never been easier to get geeky with your riding. The right gadgets make it simple to track your rides, develop training plans, and keep on the right track in unknown territory. Advances in technology now means it’s easier than ever to keep up to date with what, where and how you’re riding.

While some people might want to escape the modern world on their bicycles, there are many who want to use the latest in technology to enhance their rides. Cycle computers have been around for a long time, displaying basic data including speed, distance and time – these days, functions such as cadence can be added.

If you want to get more detailed, the next step is a GPS device – these offer all the functions of a cycle computer, but with added functionality such as altitude and, of course, the all important mapping. GPS units can make make getting lost a thing of the past.

For those who want to train, technology is moving in two directions – heart rate monitoring and power meters.

Heart rate monitors do what they say on the tin - display your heart rate. They enable you to train within specific heart rate zones and are also useful for calculating calorie use, making them great for those looking to loose some weight. Power meters will give you a read out of how much power you are producing either at the wheel, pedals or crank. For the more serious riders, adding a power meter to your heart rate monitor will provide the ultimate in mid, and post-ride analysis.
 

Cycle Computers

 
That little kid inside of us loves to know just how fast we’ve been and how far we’ve gone and the humble cycle computer provides that information in an easy to use, and often cheap package.
 
The modern cycle computer has been around since the early 80s, and has gone through the same developments that many cycling products have in that time – becoming lighter, smaller, more efficient and packed with new features. Speed and time are the most sought after, but the average computer generally has 10 to 15 features, including lap times, average speed comparisons and maximum speed measurements.

Some simpler ones still exist, like the Cateye Velo 7 but more and more computers are also able to display data from extra sensors, such as cadence and heart rate – like the VDO M6 wireless. Some will take the empirical data they’ve measured and calculate other values, such as calories burnt or CO2 saved – estimates for sure, but some may find use for this information.

Computers come in either wired or wireless variants. Wired units tend to be cheaper, and save for routing the cable, can be easier to set up – they also only require one battery. Wireless computers are great for a clutter free set-up, but the sensor is generally larger and they require two sets of batteries.
 
 

GPS Devices

 
When it comes to technology and the ability to get geeky with your riding, virtually nothing beats a GPS device for drilling down into your ride data.

GPS devices serve two functions – navigation and training. Many people now use GPSs in their cars to help them navigate from A to B, and over the past 5 years or so, more and more are taking a GPS with them on their bikes; turn by turn navigation is great for cutting map-reading faff on a bike.
 
Aside from helping you plot a route, GPSs are also great training aids – it’s no wonder that virtually every pro out there uses them. With detailed data recording, a GPS can give you a full run down of all your rides’ vital statistics. Want to know how many vertical meters you’ve climbed? No problem. Want to see where your route took you and where you were fastest? Easy.

Most GPS units will link up with other sensors that are either included or can be bought separately, to measure and record other data – e.g. heart rate or your cadence. Some will also link up to a power meter, and with all this data at your fingertips, you can vastly improve the effectiveness of your training.

GPSs can be pricey, but they pack in a lot of technology. The units are generally split between those which provide navigation and training data through a touch sensitive screen, such as the Garmin Edge 1000, and smaller units, which can be used in multi-sport scenarios, like the Polar RC3 GPS watch . The smaller units may only offer the most basic of navigation aids, but still pick up vast amounts of data which help with real-time and post-ride analysis.
 
 

Heart Rate Monitors

 
A heart rate monitor will keep you informed of how your hard your heart is working. Heart rate monitors are one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your training on a bicycle because training isn’t just about how hard you can go and for how long, but also about training at different intensities for different amounts of time.

Many heart rate monitors can be used across various sports, and it’s no wonder that the watch-based models are popular. When on the bike, you can wear them as a watch or attach them to your handlebars to make them easier to monitor. The Polar RC3 GPS is a watch heart rate monitor which comes with a bar mount.

The other option is to get a heart rate strap that will transmit your heart rate to a compatible device. The Suunto ANT Comfort heart rate belt transmits data via ANT+ to a compatible device – if you’ve already got a GPS unit, it’s a cheap and easy way to improve your training! Once you’ve got a heart rate monitor, it becomes easy to calculate calorie burn, which is ideal for those looking to shift the odd pound or two.
 
 

Power Meters

 
Want thighs like Cavs or the climbing ability of Quintana? These days, professional riders are training with power meters to give accurate data on the power they’re producing, whether that be averaged over time or at a specific point during a sprint. Training with power meters is becoming increasingly popular with non-pros as well, and as such, while still expensive, the prices of power meters are falling.
 
There are three types of power meter – the pedal based Garmin Vector, or crank based like the Stages power meters or hub based like the Cycleops PowerTap system.

Power meters generally calculate power through the use of strain gauges. A strain gauge is a circuit that is sensitive to resistance, which undergoes alterations to its shape when a force (i.e. pedalling) is applied to it. Changes in the shape of a strain gauge will affect its resistance, and a power meter translates the changes in physical shape and altering resistance into a measurement of energy – usually Watts.

Some power meters will come with a head unit, but some just need to be paired up to a GPS device – most will use either ANT+ or WiFi data transmission, which most modern GPS devices will also support.
 
For more information on power meters, have a look at our blog entry on training with power.
 
 

Cameras

 
Using an action camera is a great way to share your riding exploits with friends, whether via YouTube or on social media such as Facebook. There are many options out there to suit all needs and wallets, but our guide will help you select the best camera for you.
 
You first need to consider the sort of functions you'll need. If you just want to share videos on Facebook or to use on a commute in case of an accident or incident, you probably don't need to spend a huge amount of money to get something that's up to the job. If you want to get creative, then it's worth investing a little bit more to access higher quality video with a larger number of functions that will allow you to really make the most of the footage you shoot.

Video quality is generally described by both resolution and frame rate. In the simplest terms, resolution describes the picture quality of the video. A resolution of 680p is good enough for a small web video, while a higher resolution of 1080p (also known as High Definition or HD) will still look good even when viewed on a widescreen TV. Some newer cameras, such as the very popular GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition can output video with a 4K resolution, which is as high as cinema quality cameras. Frame rate is obviously the number of frames the camera shoots per second. A higher number will allow you to play back the footage in slow motion without it becoming jerky.
   
Memory is another consideration. Most cameras like GoPros and the Garmin Virb Elite use external memory cards, which allow you to opt for a higher capacity cards for more recording time or to change them when full without having to upload to a computer.

Some more modern units also allow you to use a smartphone app or remote to operate them, which tends to reduce battery life, but allow greater flexibility such as being able to frame the shot before you start shooting. Many models also have built in screens, which allow you to view your footage without using a computer.

Most cameras have multiple mounts included for either helmet, frame or bar mounting to your bike. GoPro's chest mount harness allows you to fit the camera on a harness to your chest, which makes for much more involving video, especially off-road.
 
Click here for a three way shootout between the GoPro, Veho Muvi and Contour cameras, or check out our review of the Garmin Virb.
 
 

 
 
 
This story was last updated on 25/08/2014

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