Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, November 2, 2015

Product Review Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor

Preamble Rant:
Like partners in crime along with the manufacturers of wiz bang technical gizmos we have set off down a path that has no return.  We now have the ability to track not only our distance and time, but our speed at every given point of the ride, the grade of the road, the elevation, our heart rate, power output and calories burned.  Not that long ago we didn’t have all of this available.  Now that we have become accustomed to having all of this data the accuracy of that data counts.  

When the technology was first available to the general public we could overlook the erroneous readings.  Riding at a steady pace and seeing your indicated speed jump up and down on your GPS device may have been okay five years ago but not today.  Seeing a false reading from a heart rate of two hundred and sixty beats per minute when you were going downhill was common.  You learned to apply a jaded eye so you could filter the data. This wasn’t a big deal because the data was data; we didn’t know how to use it yet.

Worse than the false high reading was wearing a HRM while doing zone five intervals and getting a bogus HR indication of one hundred eighteen beats per minute. You turn yourself inside out during a workout and your HRM lies to your Garmin head unit and it looks like you were licking stamps when your quads were on the verge of spontaneously combusting. What is the point of gathering all this data if the data is wrong? 

Early on the data was a novelty and provided more entertainment than true training information. With the explosion of data tracking technology we also got a wave of tools to analyze that data and turn it into real useful information. Our vocabulary grew to include Functional Threshold Power, Heart Rate Zones and Power Zones and Total Stress Scores and the like.  Once you start feeding your data to these monsters any false data is spit back in your face. 

Many of us had come to accept that the Garmin heart rate monitors (or at least the straps) would die well before the battery needed to be replaced.  These shortcomings were just what the landscape looked like and we accepted it because it seemed that such was the price we had to pay to get the “generally” accurate big data from our training.   “I buy a new strap every six months” a friend commented without a hint of dissatisfaction.

When my latest Garmin HRM went over to the dark side and followed the repeated pattern of going from 3% false readings to 80% false readings I wondered if there was a viable alternative.   I had tried the hack job suggested by Cycling Tech Zen-Master DC Rainmaker of modifying a Polar strap and using it with a Garmin chest unit.  That combo worked much longer than what I had come to think of as the disposable “premium” straps from Garmin. After a year of battle even this configuration had met its demise.

I heard about the Wahoo Fitness TICKR and it sounded promising.  I did some research and decided to give it a try.

This is where I would normally describe how it looks and feels and all that.  It is a HRM and if you have one this one will be pretty much just like it.  A few more bells and whistles but those aren’t what set this apart.

First off, at sixty bucks the TICKR is cheaper than the Garmin Premium HRM.  There are other models from Wahoo with more features that are more expensive, but this one does everything I need and more.

Second it works with ANT+ and Bluetooth. This seems like a nice to have until you realize not only could you record a ride on STRAVA using your smartphone even if you left your Garmin head unit at home.  This also means you can record your heart rate on a run using the strap and your smartphone.  

Anyone who has either fired up their Garmin only to find the battery is dead or who has discovered the low battery warning on their Garmin head unit really means “I’m shutting down in five more minutes – You’re screwed” will appreciate that with this HRM you can still record the rest of your ride using your smartphone.

The feature that seals the deal is that the HRM data is 100% accurate.  No more skewed graph because of a false high or fifteen minutes of zero reading.  If you’re going to bother to track your data you might as well use it and you can’t really use it when it is wrong.  Simply put if it isn’t accurate then it is bad data.  Bad data is worse than no data.

Matching the TICKR to your Garmin and various Smartphone Apps is as easy as pie. Once you’ve done this put it on and go.  In addition to my Garmin I’ve paired it to the STRAVA app on my phone as well as an app called MotionX-GPS.  If I am wearing the HRM and I turn on any of these apps they find the unit and record my heart rate with no recurring action required on my part. Slick!

The two compelling reasons to get this are if your current HRM dies or if you need something that is both ANT+ (like Garmin) and Bluetooth (like your phone) compatible.  If you can tick either of these boxes this is clearly your best option.

Five of five Evos

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