Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gadget Review: Runtastic Speed and Cadence Bike Sensor with Bluetooth Smart Technology

Rating: Skip this.

Let me start with some background. I am currently training for a bike race and I have been researching bike computers and sensors because mine was no longer sufficient. I was rather ecstatic when I was offered this item to try out. This, I thought, would be great, as a companion to the Runtastic Heart Rate Monitor I wear (which is a great item and for which I have zero complaints). I was already using the Runtastic apps, this would be

SETTING UP. This item comes with three separate components, the magnet that attaches to the spoke in your wheel (for speed), the sensor itself (which attaches to the frame) and the cadence sensor (attaches to your pedal. The speed sensor is as easy as loosening a screw, attaching it to the spoke of the wheel and ta-da! Most bike computers work just like this. The Bluetooth sensor attaches with a specifically design rubber band (is a bit fancier than a rubber band) and plastic ties (which I do not use). The cadence sensor attaches to your pedal. You have to actually remove your pedal, insert it in the metal part and attach the pedal again. You need a pedal wrench or a good long wrench for this. It took me kicking the wrench with my foot to get it to loosen up. Let me note that the instructions and pictures included with this device are utterly useless. I watched a video from Runtastic about set up and that was just too short and too fast. I could not notice the specific alignment in any video, picture or diagram.

BLUETOOTH PAIRING. The pairing was a complete and utter nightmare that took hours of work, tinkering and imagination. I tried for over an hour to pair the device with the app and nothing happened. I moved the device a bit and nothing. I gave up and took a picture of the positioning of the device on my bike. I went to the support forums and for 2 days tried to solve the problem. Runtastic was unable to help with that (they pointed me to the video, useless). I then tried the suggestions offered and took more pictures and posted them in the forum. After a few days of trying, it was thanks to the comments in two reviews here (by C. Stephans and James Marianas) that I was able to pair this up.

THE SOLUTION. The solution was to remove the sensors and wave them in from of the main device for pairing. Basically, the pedal and the frame are too far from the device. Alignment wasn't the issue, it was how far they are allowed to go. This is something that I think Runtastic should fix. I have to tilt this device so it angles toward its sensors (which has made me kick it with the pedal) in order to get any time of reading. You need to have this product extremely close for it to work. I have a Giant Escape. It is a pretty run of the mill bike. It is too easy to dislodge this with a kick of your pedal. Another negative for this.

ONCE PAIRED AND THE NIGHTMARE OVER. Once this is pair, you get a ton of info that helps your keep track of your progress and train better.  If you can get it to work, this is a 4+ app.

PAIRING WITH OTHER APPS. The Runtastic sensor successfully paired with MapMyFitness, the app I use to track my exercise. I am still trying the Runtastic app but I have been using MapMyFItness for a while and would rather keep that.

OVERALL. The installation and pairing process is to laborious for this to be worth it. The pairing relies on the sensor staying at a specific angle and, come one! this is a bike that goes on the road, over grass, down hill, up hill, over rocks, this thing is not going to stay at the 75 degree angle I set. A product that is designed to go on a bicycle cannot be so sensitive as to alignment and distance as to be ineffective by the tiniest motion change or vibration.  I consider this a flaw in design or technology. They need to fix this by increasing the sensor receiving distance/range to more than a few millimeters. I was extremely frustrated by this entire process. The support department tried to be helpful, but this does not quite alleviate the frustration and work I had to put into this. Although this is a great product, the constant unsyncing, hardship of setting up and pairing, makes this a pass.

NOTE:  What worked for me was waiving the sensors over the Bluetooth Receiver and then angling the Receiver to a 75 degree position so that it was closer to the appropriate sensor.

- Close all apps
- Turn off Bluetooth
- Turn on Bluetooth
- Start the Runtastic Road Bike or Mountain Bike app
- Go to the Sensors -> Bluetooth Smart
--Unpair all Sensors
--BT Enable off then on
- Wave the speed sensor in your had over the Bluetooth Receiver to gauge the furthest distance you can set it up
- Attach the speed sensor to the spokes
- Angle the Bluetooth receiver so that it is VERY near the speed sensor and the cadence sensor. (the L shape goes near the speed sensor and the top one near the pedal sensor).
- Crank my pedals until the speed and cadence icons turn green (this may take a minute or two)

UPDATE 5/31/2013: Well...according to the sensor, I did a 86.9 miles per hour bike ride. WOW. Never mind that the distance traveled was less than a mile, and I was going slowly....but apparently I am the FLASH! This inaccurate reading is kicking off another half star from the product.

UPDATE 6/13/2013: I was riding a 50k and there were some issues. First, I must have kicked the Bluetooth sensor at some point (that is not a hard thing to accomplish, as it is loosely held by a rubber band of sorts and it shifts a lot whilst you ride. There were absolutely no cadence stats recorded. This issue has knocked another 1/2 star from the sensor, to 2.5. At this point, there are just too many issues with this sensor and they overwhelm the usability of this device. It is just not reliable and it presents a hazard when riding, as the Bluetooth sensor can interfere with you spokes and cause an accident.

The main issues are:
The Bluetooth sensor shifts during rides, especially bumpy ones (no mountain biking with this) and they interfere with you spokes (i.e. critical issue affecting the wheels).
It is very difficult to align and pair.
It becomes easily unpaired, and you have to restart the whole pairing process again. A pain!

I would consider this basically a Beta product. There are many issues that need to be worked out in terms of design, usability, connectivity and ease of use. I would not recommend this in its current form. The app is great (but so is MapMyFitness).

UPDATE 8/30/2013: Well, I finally kicked this product to 1 star. The performance of this device is spotty at best. It often fails to record the cadence and speed on my bike. It basically has to rely on GPS feedback to calculate speed as it just can't pick up the data by itself. I adjust it before I start riding and then, through extended use, it stops syncing up and getting the feedback. This is now a useless product that is attached to my bike. I will leave it one only because it is a pain to remove the speed sensor. Please, look elsewhere and at other options for a similar device. I would love to see Runtastic take all these issues into consideration, go back to the drawing board and make a better product. Their heart monitor is great. But the bike sensor just isn't.

I recommend this product though:

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