Monday, January 21, 2019

Suunto Road Bike Pod Review

April 6, 2009 by · 30 Comments 

Suunto Road Bike Pod

Suunto Road Bike Pod

As some of you may know, I’m really into cycling. I think it is partially due to the tech that is inherent in the sport, but also because of the freedom you get at self-powered speeds. In order to track my progress in not only improving my fitness, but also in my distance from point A to point B, I’ve been using various technologies. My favorite to date is the Garmin EDGE 705, but it lacks one thing: A systematic approach to helping you train without external help. Polar and Suunto devices, in contrast, are focused around helping you improve your cycling, not only by logging your sessions, but also by giving you feedback as to whether you’ve over exerted yourself or should continue training. Therefore, you see many amateur racers train with Suunto and Polar devices in spite of their limited GPS functionality (they do have GPS pods for these, but whilst they generate speed and distance data on the device, they do not provide mapping).

Personally, I use both types of devices. When I train for fitness, and usually around a loop that I know, I prefer using my Polar RS400 because of the information it helps me track about my heart rate and exertion. I complement this with my Garmin for data on speed and distance. However, I recently got a Suunto T4c for training, and hopefully, because of the feature it has that the RS400 does not, this will let me combine the functionality of both my previous devices rather than having to carry both for training sessions (stay tuned for a review of the T4c in the near future). It is clear that for sportives, touring, or long distance explorations, the Garmin, however, with its enhanced GPS capabilities, mapping, routing, night visibility, rechargeable battery, and larger screen is the optimal tool to use.

The nice thing about the Suunto T4c that I recently received is that it will allow me to not only track my speed and distance during a session (with the Road Bike Pod), but will also help me keep track of the difficulty and aggregated training value of my session. I won’t go into great detail in this review about the features of the T4c, but I will update this post as soon as I complete the review of the T4c so as provide more guidance on how these two systems work together. For reference, the competing product, the Polar RS800cx BIKE, which comes with the bike mounting kit + PC pod, can cost up to 100 Pounds ($150) more.

The Suunto Road Bike Pod is effectively a magnetic speed sensor on a skewer that replaces your front hub’s skewer. The skewer and assembly is manufactured by Mavic, so I am confident it’s top spec (my rims are Open Pros, so I’m biased). The Road Bike Pod pairs with the Suunto T3, T4, and T6 line of sports watches, and will generate speed and distance information to complement your heart training data. The display of these devices can be customized to either show the heart rate in bold and the speed and distance in small or vice versa, with the accumulated, peaks, and average data being displayed at the end of your training session. No information about power or cadence is included, however, for cadence, another sensor is required, and right now Suunto doesn’t have a power meter for these watches.

The Road Bike Pod’s sensor housing is bigger than I thought it would be. Although it works and folds neatly into place once installed, it is rather thick in the horizontal direction, mostly because of the battery. However, it is well built and doesn’t feel ‘cheap’. The magnetic clip that you place on your wheel is relatively easy to put on, but on hand built wheels with many spokes, it can be a bit of challenge to find a spoke to put it on that lines up just right with the sensor. Physical installation, however, is overall very simple. You replace your original skewer, you line up the magnet, and voila, you’re done.

The hard part is the pairing of the Pod to the watch.

Pairing the Garmin 705’s cadence pod to the computer, for example, involved a simple button you hold down until it flashes as ready for being set. This makes sense, is relatively easy to do, and involves little work for the new and non-tech saavy user. The Suunto Road Bike Pod, however, is not as simple. You need to remove the battery, ‘short circuit’ the unit (it literally says that in the manual), and then hold the battery in while setting your watch to look for the pod. If it finds it, then you replace the battery cover. This is not simple. I wish there were an easier way to do this. Words like ‘short circuit’ scare me. However, you only need to do this once when you first install it, so provided you persist, it is still relatively simpler to install than other ‘wired’ options.

Once completed, though, the pod works as advertised, and at a pretty good range as well. It registered the speed of my front wheel as I took a little lap around the block and updated the data on my watch quickly enough. The Road Bike Pod solution vs the alternatives, is pretty elegant I think; with this Road Bike Pod, you don’t need to deal with all the usual stuff such as mounting something on your frame with zip ties which can snap off or slide off, although, I haven’t checked to see if I need to recalibrate it after a long distance ride (All non-GPS devices need to do this though).

A downside to the simpler front wheel install, however, is that if you regularly train on a stationary turbo trainer, you won’t be able to get speed and distance information from it. However, in all fairness, many of its competing products don’t either. For indoor training, heart rate and power are probably more important anyway.

In conclusion, I like the pod and will continue to use it, but will update this post with more feedback (should my opinion change) once I finish my complete review of the Suunto T4c in the near future, particularly on a rainy London day, where I’d like to see how the pod reacts with water pouring down.

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