Josh King lives in Seattle, where he commutes by bike every day, rain or shine. He switched to full-time single speed commuting in 2010. You can read his thoughts on going gearless at www.singlespeedseattle.com
While “serious” cyclists have long depended on bike computers to track their training and keep things on pace while riding, some of us who spend more time tooling around town than on a paceline have also embraced these little devices. Tracking miles traveled, speed, pace, etc "“ it’s a data geek’s dream.
But bike computers have their issues. They must be wired up, a poor match for the rigors of daily riding in the city. And they’re underpowered, hard to read and seem to be set to randomly lose your data and settings every so often.
So I tried out the Wahoo Fitness Bike Pack (MSRP $150), which seeks to solve most of these bike computer weaknesses. Using wireless sensors, the Wahoo device allows you to use your iPhone as a bike computer — removing the weak link cables and leveraging far greater computing power (and cloud storage for data and settings).
The Bike Pack consists of a waterproof case for the iPhone that features a handlebar mount and an integrated wireless receiver, along with a wireless speed and cadence sensor. The case works with any ANT+ wireless bike sensor, so riders can add additional sensors (like heart rate monitors) if so inclined.
Installing the Wahoo cadence/speed sensor is a piece of cake — but only once you’ve gotten frustrated at the single page of oblique directions and hit YouTube to find this video demonstrating the install.
Seriously, the current instructions are useless. Wahoo either needs to point to the video or at least add a rudimentary diagram to the instructions showing how the crank arm and spoke magnets align with the sensors.
Anyway, with the install out of the way it’s time for fun part: choosing apps to track and gather your data. Because you’re using the power of your iPhone, you can choose from any number of configurations, whether it’s tracking cadence in big blinking numbers while you ride or navigating a map view. Many of the apps also let you set up an online account to store ride data, or even post your rides to friends or the world at large. I tried out several, but gravitated back to the Wahoo native app and the free Mapmyride.com app. The Wahoo app seemed better than most at immediately “recognizing” the wireless sensors when I started to ride, and gathered most of the data I wanted.
Interestingly, most of these apps will also track distance and speed via GPS "“ meaning you could just download the apps and skip the expensive hardware if those are the only data points that matter to you. However, GPS is still a bit of crude tool. While it’s fine for distance, it’s not so good for speed. According to the satellites, I’m regularly hitting a top speed in excess of 400 MPH on my fixed-gear. Smokin’!
A final note on the case: It’s a tight fit, and seems hardy and water-resistant. But it’s a little bit more of a chore than I would like to get my phone in and out of it twice a day (while you could use the phone in the case all the time, you wouldn’t want to).
If you’re willing to sacrifice the heads-up display in your commuting cockpit, you could go with the Wahoo Key (a simple plug-in receiver) and stow the phone in your pocket or bag while the data streams in. At about $120 for the sensor and receiver, it’s a slightly cheaper option that still delivers access to ride data. Either way, the Wahoo wireless setup is a nifty bit of engineering for anyone who wants to dive deep into the data while leaving bike computer cables behind.