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Category: cycling

Berlin Cycling Again

The past few days I’ve been travelling around Europe – through Amsterdam and Berlin. I decided to do the same cycle tour as I’d previously done when I was in Berlin two years ago. I’d done it before but I did enjoy it, and whilst the sights I would see again would be the same, I would have a different tour guide and therefore the tour would be slightly different. Eileen had also never seen the sights, so doing it with her would give us the chance to see things together.

At the same time, we purchased tickets to do one of the other tours that the Fat Tire Bike company do, around the palaces of Potsdam.

Berlin City Tour

The ride around Berlin City was cold – I’d learned from my previous trip and had brought some gloves (getting a pair of these from Decathlon in The Hague earlier in the holiday), though the firm now offer some fancy gardening gloves for those that hadn’t come prepared. Mind, we hadn’t quite considered that it would be snowing in Berlin when we arrived, but the temperatures today were about 5℃ so it was still chilly.

I didn’t get to many pictures this time around, mainly due to only taking my iPhone and the gloves not being able to operate the camera on the iPhone with them on. I did manage to get a few different photos however.

Brandenberg Tor

The route covered the main buildings in Berlin that you’d probably want to see whilst there as a tourist and some of the lesser known sights, all the while you get to hear some of the history of the city from your guide.

Berlin Siegessäule

It’s an interesting tour, and as expected, the tour guide gave slightly different facts and figures so even though I did it two years ago, the ride felt different (and there was a slight difference in the routes we took as well, so I guess it kind of was!)

Reichstag

Potsdam Tour

I wasn’t to aware of Potsdam, other than when I went through it on the train to Magdeburg that I saw it had some pretty fancy looking palaces and that I later discovered that it featured the Bridge of Spies, the Glienicker Brücke (Glienicke Bridge), where spies were transferred between the states of East and West Germany.

Yet, cycling around the palace gardens was an inviting tour and getting to see the bridge itself would be good, especially as Id recently watched Bridge of Spies.

The day itself was colder than the first tour and it was forecast rain – something that materialised just as we started the tour! Thankfully, it was a passing shower and it held off for the duration of the tour, only raining (briefly) when we were near the station and the end of the ride.

The ride took us around the palaces of the Prussian kings and the Kaiser. There were some impressive looking buildings there!

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We stopped for lunch in a traditional German restaurant – run by a German brewery (Augustiner-Brau) which turned out to be nicely placed on the tour that we could warm up after the mornings ride! Gloves and hats were a must – there was no snow, unlike the Wednesday when we arrived in Berlin but it was still cold!
What I didnt realise at the time, was that Potsdam was the location where the Allies met to split up Germany after the war in the Potsdam Conference. The tour included a quick tour of the Cecilienhof Palace but we flew round it pretty quickly (as it wasn’t that busy but you also weren’t allowed to take photos without an additional photo ticket!)

Cecilienhof Palace

After the lunch and the stop at Cecilienhof Palace, we moved on to the Bridge of Spies.

Glienicker Brücke

Overall, the ride was good and the rain held off. It was a bit longer than the Berlin one and the group was much smaller – I found that this was much better for speaking to the other members of the group, espeically at lunch where we were able to all sit together on the same table at lunch and therefore we were able to chat to each other. The ride was about the right length and was well organised by the guides. Id happily do another ride with them in a different country as they do have a few shops around the place.

Rack Bag Purchase

Rack Bag

A few weeks back, I looked into how I was going to carry around my spare inner tubes and pump on my cyclocross bike, especially after I’ve ended up with two punctures on the cyclocross bike! Part of that was to move the Carradice saddlebag I used on my commuter onto the Verenti and to find another solution for the Dawes.

In the end, I settled for a rack bag, as I thought that with the rack on there, it made sense to have a bag that didn’t leave the rack.

I’d been trying to decide on a bag when I ended up spur of the moment getting one from Evans Cycles whilst I was in there one time – an Evans own brand, FWE Rack Pack. I had been considering either the Carradice Super C Rackbag or the Carradura Rackbag but I think being able to see and feel the bag before purchasing it (and an easy return if it didn’t fit) meant that I went with the Evans one.

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Fitting it to the Dawes was simple – it just attaches via velcro. Put the straps around the underside of the rack and thread it through the D rings and back under and it’s secure. Movement forward and back shouldn’t be an issue on my rack as the straps are near the supports so should be OK in regards to movement.

One of the major downsides I’ve found though is that I can’t use my panniers at the same time. This is because the attachment points for the panniers line up exactly where the velcro mounting strips for the rack bag and therefore they are prevented from attaching.

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This isn’t the end of the world it would seem – as the sides of the bag are able to fold out and allow you to fill them as panniers as well.

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However, there are some occasions where this wont be sufficient! My work laptop is to large for the bag and clearly doesn’t fit – it’s not a huge laptop either (a Dell E6440 – 14″ laptop) but it does mean that I’m limited as to when I can use it!

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Having cycled to work with this bag instead of my panniers, it made a big difference in terms of noise – cycling with this was silent! Usually there is a degree of rattling from where the panniers attach to the rack but with this one, there was none of that. Space wise, it’s smaller than my usual pannier setup, so I’ve got to be more careful with what I take with me. I can fit a change of clothes, towel and my puncture repair kit, but other than that, I can’t carry much more so I’m not sure where I could pack in a packed lunch!

New Bike Parts

I’ve picked up some new bike bits over the Christmas period that I’ve finally got sorted and fixed to my bike.

Brooks Saddle

The first part I got hold of was a new saddle. I wasn’t after one, but this came up for a price that was entirely reasonable so I decided to snap it up.

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I’d been considering getting a Brooks Cambium saddle for the Verenti for a while – it was either that or a Charge Spoon. I’ve a Cambium on my Brompton since they were released and I released that I wasn’t going to get on with a Charge Spoon on my Brompton. If I was going to get one for the Verenti, I wanted it to be a black one to match the colour scheme, but this one was going for a song compared to brand new so I thought I’d let the colour scheme suffer for a bit.

The Spoon is what I’ve got on my Dawes and it’s the same saddle I’ve had for quite a while. I think I’ve moved it from my first bike I bought from when I got my first bike after years off the bike back in 2011. It’s been extremely comfortable, with the exception of my Brompton. I’ve used it on road and off road and it’s performed excellently in each type. Now that I see that they offer a camo version of the Spoon, I might have to reconsider my Brooks purchase….

Spoon-GrnCamo

Alpkit Fuel Pod

Alpkit are an outdoor equipment designer and retailer. I’ve purchased a few items them recently and I’ve been incredibly impressed with the price and quality of the items they have.

For my Dawes, I have a Carradice Super C Audax Saddlebag that I carry around my puncture repair kit and assorted other items I may take out on a ride (though I’m beginning to think that a rack bag might be a better option for the Dawes). I’ve nothing that’s similar on the Verenti, so I decided to get myself an Alpkit Fuel Pod.

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This will let me hold my keys and/or phone to hand in case I need it for whatever reason.

However, since putting this on, I’ve done a ride with the bag on and I’ve come to the conclucsion that I wont get on with it – at least not on this bike. It was geting in the way slightly when I would have to get off the saddle to get up hills.

Final Product

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I’ve a few extra bits that I’ve purchased that have yet to make it onto the bike as well – I’ve got some mudgaurds that need fitting and I’ve new pedals (platforms, as I’m moving away from the cleats). They’ll be fitted when I have the time to do so.

Sunday Ride – A few photos and a puncture!

I managed to get out this morning for a short ride on my cyclocross bike – it’s been a while since I’ve ridden it as I’m using my Dawes touring bike for commuting and I haven’t had the chance to get out at the weekend for a while due to cadet activities.

So whilst the weather was good this morning, I managed to get out and about before the rain that was forecast for the afternoon. Whilst I didn’t manage to avoid the rain completely, it was a mainly dry ride and I’m glad I managed to get out.

As I said, took Atlas out for a spin. I’ve recently purchased a few items for it that are covered in a separate blog post and I was looking to try them out.

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I also decided that I wanted to get out and about on some unpaved routes as well to put the cyclo-cross part of the bike to the test. Whilst it did mean some road riding as well, I was able to get back on some trails that I haven’t ridden for a good while – not since I had my mountain bike and lived closer to them.

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The ride was cut slighty short by the fact that I got a puncture – oddly, not whilst I was doing the off road section of the ride but later, during the road section when I was starting to head back home anyhow! It meant that I had to cut my ride slightly short as I then ended up taking the faster route back home to avoid any further issues.

Changing the tube at the side of the ride, I found a slither of glass inside the tube that had caused the puncture – I can’t be certain whether this was what had caused the earlier puncture but I hadn’t fully removed the cause or not. However, the wet roads actually helped me find the cause – the bubbling water on the tyre as the air escaped betrayed the punctures position!

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Repairing the puncture, I headed home. Of all the cyclists that went past, only one slowed and asked if I was OK. In general, I’ve had better help in the past. I mean, if there’s a group of cyclists, I wouldn’t stop to offer a hand unless they looked like they really needed it, but I’m surprised that more people didn’t ask if a single cyclist was OK. It turns out that it wasn’t that much of an issue sorting the puncture so I wasn’t to bad.

However, I’ll keep an eye on the tyres. That’s two in less than four months – that’s two more than I’ve had in the past 12 months on my previous bikes! It may mean I have to look into some thicker, more puncture proof tyres!

In terms of how everything performed…

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no longer a huge fan of being clipped in. That might be different if I was just doing road riding or was off road on a proper mountain bike, but I wasn’t to keen on it on this one. Not being able to put my foot down if I wanted to in a hurry wasn’t good. Also, it requires some more playing to get my foot position right I think without it aching. I think flats would be the best replacement.

  • The bar bag isn’t in a good location, especially when hill climbing. I’d wanted it there for somewhere I could store my keys/wallet/phone but I think I’ll be replacing it. It might be better on a longer frame bike or one where I won’t be standing on the pedals to climb hills much. I’ve recently purchased a rack bag for my Dawes, so I’m looking at removing the saddlebag and placing it on this one instead.

  • I’m going to have to have to get used to riding off road again! And hills!

Overall, it was a good ride and I enjoyed it (even with the puncture). I’ve got a few things to change before I’m 100% happy with the ride (such as changing the pedals and changing the luggage options). Hopefully, I’ll be able to get out on the bike a bit more as the weather begins (slowly) to start improving.

2017-01-29-Ride

Eddington Number

Eddington Number

I’m a keen user of Veloviewer as it provides some excellent methods of viewing my Strava data in a way that Strava can or does not provide, whilst adding on additional statistics.

I like it enough that I pay for the premium version (£10 a year) and I feel tha this is money well spent. Whilst I’ve said before that cycling isn’t all about the numbers, I do find myself as an engineer enjoying looking at the figures as well!

Eddington Number

Veloviewer is able to calculate and display a cyclists Eddington Number.

The Eddington number in the context of cycling is defined as the maximum number E such that the cyclist has cycled E miles on E days. For example, an Eddington number of 70 would imply that the cyclist has cycled at least 70 miles in a day on 70 occasions.

The Eddington number has units – so it can be measured in either miles, km, or whatever distance you measure your cycling (or running, walking or any other distance sport – any can have an Eddington number). And your Eddington number in one distance is not directly compatible with the other distance. For example, Veloviewer shows the Eddington in miles and in km. My overall values are 36 miles and 51 km – this means that I’ve cycled at least 36 miles in a day on 36 days and 51 km on at least 51 days. Converting the miles into kilometers shows 57.6, whereas my Eddington number is actually less! So the Eddington number is entirely different for the different measurement values.

Veloviewer have a nice blog post trying to explain it here.

Personal Eddington Numbers

Looking at Veloviewer, as I’ve said, I’ve got an overall Eddington score of the following:

36 ml and 51 km

Looking at 2016 however, the results are a bit lower…

29 ml and 42 km

And the graph could indicate why this is the case:

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though in miles, the drop off after 29 is more noticable

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The majority of my cyclcing last year was commuting – this is obviously a fairly set distance! I can’t move my house any further away from work (though I could Cycle a different route and therefore, distance). These commutes are clearly seen in the graphs, with a sharp decline after 29 miles!

Why am I discussing this?

Well it would be nice this year to increase my Eddington number above last years distances. That means 30 days of 30 miles or more, or 42 days of 42km or more so it gives me some ideas to aim for. I’m not sure I’d manage to make it much higher, but it’ll be worth a shot. It provides an incentive to get out at the weekend on the bike as well. I’ve applied for a place on Ride London this year again so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get my place on that and then my training rides would certainly help me to increase my Eddington number I expect!

Annual Summary 2016

Yearly Summary

This year has been a roller-coaster year to be honest, full of ups and downs.

January started with a new job on the outskirts of London – potentially meaning that I could get out on my bike a lot more cycling to work. However, I seem to have spent the majority of the time on my bike commuting to and from work and the social rides and just rides at the weekend have been missing. Part of this can potentially be attributed to doing a lot more with my air cadet unit, though some of it could be down to laziness at weekends.

Perhaps the other reason has been that I’d dug out my running shoes this year again. I’ve run 244Km this year, slightly under my PB of 246Km in 2012. Running had become part of my training routine again as I was trying to join the Royal Air Force and cycling unfortunately isn’t part of the training or entrance fitness test! However, I’ve enjoyed running again and it’s been good to see progress. I’ll look into trying to break the 300Km mark next year, though I won’t be joining the RAF as they have declined my application due to medical grounds. Whilst disappointing, I’m looking to run some of the local races again next year (such as the Welwyn 10K).

Whilst I say I’ve not done as much cycling, I’ve still managed to do my second best year in terms of distance – last year was a PB with 3,741Km total of running, walking and cycling and this year is 2,721Km.

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However, my climbing this year has been pretty pitiful.

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The main part of this has been that the route I take to work is fairly flat – going via an old railway line, so the path is fairly flat. Without the weekend rides to make up the elevation, my elevation has been fairly flat line – like my bike rides! 😉

New Toys

So I’ve had new toys this year, with the purchase of my Verenti Substance Sora from Wiggle in the later half of the year.

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The delay in getting it (thanks to some issues with my cycle to work voucher) has meant that I haven’t ridden it quite as much as I could have done (and then it managed to get a puncture only on it’s second ride out). However, I look forward to using this more next year.

Aims

Overall, the year hasn’t been to bad for activities and I look forward to 2017. It looks like that 2017 will be different and unique challenges to the table – for example, I’m looking at more hiking and walking expeditions this coming year, with the potential for getting registered on the Mountain Leader scheme and to become a Duke of Edinburgh assessor/supervisor. Obviously, this could make that cadets takes more priority over cycling again but I’ll see what happens. I don’t intend to stop cycling to work either!

However, that shouldn’t stop me setting myself some aims for the new year – just to keep things interesting.

  • I’d like to cycle to work at least 100 times in a year. Considering that I can’t really cycle to work on Tuesdays or Thursdays due to evening commitments with my cadet unit, this reduces the number of days I have available to cycle. However, I believe this should be doable.

  • I’d like to hit 3,0000Km of cycling and 300Km of running this coming year, with some more hiking etc thrown in for good measure.

  • Elevation wise, I’d like to see myself exceed this year. This means getting out at weekends or evenings during the summer and aiming for some actual inclines!

  • Perhaps a sportive or organised ride this year would prove to be a good distraction and training aim. I had wanted to do the London Revolution but I’m not sure I’ll do that this year, though I have my eye on the London to Bath route and I’d love to do the Devon Coast to Coast ride. That might include some of those hills I’m looking for as well!

  • Lastly, I’ve seen a club on Strava and I’ve seen a Road.cc post about it before about riding all the roads in the local area. I’m looking at doing this for Welwyn Garden City and then perhaps spreading out to nearby areas as well as I know there are areas of Welwyn I’ve never even visited since I moved here in 2014 and I know that I’ve rarely (never via bike at least) gone to old Welwyn either so I think it’s high time that I changed this. I’ll look into marking all rides I do this on Strava with the hashtag #RER (Ride Every Road) so then I can use the excellent Strava Multiple Ride Mapper tool to track this and keep a copy of the final results.

Summary

I’ve continued to track all my rides on Strava and I’ve now gone back to Garmin to also track data (with two Garmin devices, data goes into Strava through the Garmin Connect app, thanks to it’s auto linking). This way I’ll have two copies of my data online, though I also keep all the files from the devices as well so I have the originals – either by downloading from Strava in the earlier part of the year, before getting them from the device or from Garmin Connect. I’ve done this since 2012 so I’ve a few years of data now.

Once again, I’ve renewed my subscription to Veloviewer. I found the service excellent for looking at Strava tracks in more details and specifically I like the mapping feature where I can view all my rides on a global map. My Veloviewer infographic for 2016 can be seen below.

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Looking at the aims for the new year, Veloviewer will continue to provide excellent value for money for the £10 it has cost me for a year of service.

So onwards and upwards and here’s to 2017! Happy New Year all.

Proviz Backpack Review

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that winter is slowly but surely coming – it’s getting darker both in the morning cycling to work and in the evening cycling home.

However, it’s not yet cold enough that I can wear my Proviz jacket – not the Nightrider I reviewed back in 2014, but the REFLECT360+ that I purchased in 2015. The newer jacket still suffers from some of the same issues as the original one that I tried – I overheat very quickly within the Proviz jackets it seems.

Yet, I put up with the boil in the bag effect for the commute for one reason – visibility. The bright reflective jacket is fantastic for being seen. I can say that when I’ve seen other LBC members wearing the standard, non fully reflective Proviz jackets that I’ve been impressed. Though as the weather isn’t yet at the point where I can comfortably wear the jacket (sweaty as I might get), I’ve had to look at alternative solutions for being seen.

One such change in commuting habits has been the purchase of a Lezyne Macro Drive Duo head light. This headlight will be covered in a separate review but works really well. The other major changes has been the purchase of a Proviz REFLECT360 backpack.

Proviz RFLECT360

The first reason I looked at going back to a backpack was that with my touring bike, I’d moved to commuting with panniers. Likewise, when I used my Brompton, I used to normally use my T bag. Having a backpack on just makes your back sweaty and I find panniers more comfortable. However, I felt that with my panniers, I was carrying to much into work each day (often taking two panniers for a change of clothes, towel and packed lunch). I also felt that it effected the bike handling if I only took a single pannier and there are locations on my commute where the panniers make it difficult to navigate thanks to narrow openings. Also, not all my bikes are capable of mounting panniers (yet perhaps).

The second reason was when I cycled home in the dark one night after a late cadet night, I was cycling home with my 5.11 Tactical Rush 24 backpack on and realised that I probably wasn’t very visible to cars coming up behind me. With the 5.11 bag, I had been able to attach a light to the MOLLE straps but I still didn’t really consider that to be sufficient and wearing the bag would negate the effect of wearing the Proviz jacket anyhow, at least for the majority of the jacket and people driving up behind me (the arms and shoulders are still just about visible).

So I decided to move to the Proviz backpack.

Impressions

When the bag arrived, I was fairly impressed. The bag is still as reflective as the jackets and therefore allows the user to be extremely visible.

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This photo shows the reflection of the bag – not to bad for a photo taken under my desk with minimal light! I’d like to thing that it’ll show up more with headlights on the backpack.

Proviz state that the bag has a 30L capacity and it is pretty roomy. The 5.11 tactical bag I have is bigger and the Patagonia Black Hole 25L bag this sort of replaces is slightly smaller, so the 30L claim seems to be accurate. I’ve comfortably been able to fit in a change of clothes and assorted other items that I need to take into work each day.

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The bag contains a light loop at the base, so I can still attach my Lezyne rear light meaning I don’t have to worry about moving between bikes (if I use the same bag).

The bag is formed of a single large compartment and a small pocket accessed on the front of the bag. Inside the main compartment, there is a degree of separation – there are mesh pockets sewn into the front of the bag. These are fairly roomy, but would be of more use for storing easy to hand items like wallets or similar. I don’t recommend the front pocket on the front for anything, based on the fact that the pocket is pretty deep but the zip is pretty small! So even with medium size hands, trying to get anything out can be a real pain. There is a small section at the bag, designed for laptops, though this isn’t that padded and doesn’t fit the monster laptop that work issued me (only a 15″ Dell, but it’s about 5cm thick!) so it might not be ideal for those that have to carry laptops daily.

Strap wise, the item fits nicely – one thing I’ve noticed over other bags is the adjustable height chest strap which is a step up other backpacks I’ve used.

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The waist strap (designed to stop the back moving on your back) is quite good and even features some of the reflective material on the strap, so people coming towards you will also get some of the reflective nature of the bag (like the shoulder straps).

I can’t really comment on it’s waterproofing ability but having lost a Kindle to water seeping into my Patagonia Black Hole bag, I now store all my cycling gear and anything else I don’t want to get wet within dry bags for my commutes. It looks like it would hold off for a bit but the zips aren’t waterproof.

Conclusions

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the purchase. I got mine direct from Proviz for a shade under £70 (they do a 10% discount for signing up to the email list). It’s perhaps a pricey backpack (in comparison to other backpacks I’ve purchased) but it is well made and at the end of the day, I’m paying for the reflective nature of the bag, rather than the bag itself. I could use the bag covers they sell but experience has shown me that I’ll not always use the cover, so having the bag as it is fine.

Polar M400 Review

I bought the Polar M400 sports watch not long after getting my Polar V650. I’d decided that the Polar ecosystem was quite good, and was something that I might want to focus on a bit more. The training features of the Polar Flow site seemed to be good. However, I wasn’t able to import data from other services, such as Garmin and even work arounds wouldn’t allow me to upload my own data to the service and make use of the training load graph.

Polar Flow Training Load

So I made the decsion to get myself a Polar watch and replace my Garmin Vivoactive.

Polar Watches

Polar have a smaller range of watches and activity trackers than Garmin do – perhaps a more focussed market. There seemed to be only a couple of competitors that would match the Vivoactive – the M400, M600 or the V800. Anything less than this doesn’t include the in-built GPS and therefore was just an activity tracker, rather than a GPS smart watch.

The V800 was more than I was willing to pay and the only perks I could see are that it has multi sport functions, allowing you to do a run, swim and a cycle (or other sports) within a single activity and track them individually. As I’m not a triathlete, the number of times I would need this is low and the larger price tag meant that I wasn’t keen on the idea.

The M600 looks good, but again was pricier than the M400 option. It also differed from the others in that it is an Android Wear device. It’s not something that I’ve used before but that wouldn’t normally put me off. However, I’ve come to realise that choosing a device based on my phone is probably a bad move – I seem to change phones pretty often! Be that iPhone to Android, or vice versa. Whilst Android Wear devices are supposed to work with iPhone, the app for it isn’t very highly rated and I didn’t want to spend the money and not get the full benefit.

So that left the M400, which in fairness, looked like the price was right and would work regardless of the phone that I was using. I ended up getting this one.

In Use

The Polar M400 is similar to any sports watch. The thing that struck me straight away was the thickness of it – it seemed to be almost double the size of the Vivoactive. Polar put it at 11.5mm, slightly less than double the 8mm of the Vivoactive. It was however, as wide.

The case is housed in a fairly inflexible rubber band. I’ll come to this later.

Setup was done via Bluetooth and via the Polar Flow app on the phone (Android/iPhone) and enabled me to get up and running quickly. It could also be done using the Polar Flow sync app for Windows and Mac but the Bluetooth option seems to be more convenient.

One of the perks of this over the Vivoactive is the sheer range of sports that you can use on the phone. The image below shows the sports profiles I set up on the watch on the left and the right shows just a fraction of the different profiles you can put on the watch!

Sports Choices on the M400

I don’t think that there is much that isn’t covered with that list 1! Adding them to the watch is easy enough as selecting them and the next time you sync the watch, the profiles are downloaded. As you can see, I never needed the 20 that the device could hold.

Just like the Polar V650, you can only access the GPS tracks and workouts via the Polar Flow web service – if this goes down for whatever reason, you’re left with an expensive paper weight, something I wasn’t to impressed with when I found out. Yes, Polar has third party integration, but this only works from the website.

Integration

Polar has third party integration on it’s website, where you can send your data to three other services:

  1. Facebook
  2. Strava
  3. TrainingPeaks

I don’t want to send my workouts to Facebook and I don’t have TrainingPeaks but the Strava integration works well with the data syncing between the two services almost instantly – in fact, I’d often get a notification on my phone saying my ride/run/activity was ready on Strava before the watch had even finished syncing with Polar.

The Device

I soon came to dislike the actual device itself for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the notifications didn’t really work. As a sports watch, it’s not bad at all and works really nicely. However, the smart watch features of it (such as notifications) didn’t seem to work properly so in the end I just turned that feature off completely.

Secondly, the default watch face cannot be changed. Not normally an issue I guess, though I’m not American, so the month then day date display drives me mad.

Watch face

It’s almost like Polar didn’t expect this to be sold outside of the US. And I can’t seem to find a setting to change this anywhere.

Thirdly, the band is horrible. It’s a thick plastic strap that whilst is robust, is a real pain to put the watch on and off. There’s a guide loop that is supposed to stop the excess watch strap flapping about whilst the watch on but trying to get the watch strap under and past this is a real test of patience, as it contains a little nodule to stop this loop moving. In reality, it stops you when you’re try to move the strap to put it on and off!

Fourth, it features a fitness test. For this, you’re supposed to lie down and the heart rate monitor will help do a fitness test. What isn’t stated anywhere that I could find is that this only works with a Polar heart rate monitor. So if you’re using a Wahoo fitness monitor like I was, then this wont work (did I not mention that the Polar devices only work with Bluetooh straps? Tough luck if you’ve been in the Garmin ecosystem and own ANT+ gear!)

Lastly, when it came to syncing, this took forever. The Vivoactive used to sync as soon as an activity was finished and would often be uploaded to Garmin (and then Strava) before I had taken all my running gear off. The M400 has to manually sync to upload the information but it just seems to take forever. I know the addition of heart rate data increases the file size (this can be seen in my TCX file size exports from the Polar website, compared to exercises where I haven’t worn the HRM), but this can’t explain the longer delay as it doesn’t increase the file size that much. I believe this is because it uploads and downloads all the data on the Polar sync service as it contains a diary function, allowing you to view all your workouts on the device itself. I would have prefered faster syncing (or more frequent automatic syncing) than for it to take as long as it does.

Yet, there were a number of good points. The device worked perfectly with the Wahoo heart rate monitor (minus the fitness test) and performed excellently whilst out and about for exercise. Whilst the syncing seemed to take forever, once the data was on the Polar website, the data is pretty good. I’d like to see the training load functions on other sites – I know Sports Tracks offers it, but for the $59 a year service.

One massive perk I consider for the Polar ecosystem was it’s definition of activity, rather than steps as a daily metric.

Monthly Diary View

If you look at the image above, under each activity within the calendar is a blue bar – this marks the activity goal percentage for the day. Garmin and Fitbit consider steps to the goals for a day – this might not be the case if you work out in a gym using weights, or in my case, cycle to and from work. In this instance, Garmin doesn’t count the cycling as having any benefit on your day, whereas in reality, obviously cycling for two hours a day will have a benefit. Polar recognise this and counts all logged activities towards the goal for the day. I believe Garmin now have a measure of intensity minutes but how this compares, I’d need to check.

This means that if you’re looking for a more well rounded activity tracker that looks at all the activities you do, then the Polar may well be the better option.

Activity Report

The activity reporting page shows the effects of the combined activities. In the image, you can clearly see that I’ve not been wearing the watch all the time… Whilst the activity tracking is the main goal, the watch still does indeed track steps for those that want to track the steps as well as track the activity for the day.

Another plus is that the charging is done via a micro USB, so my phone charger would be capable of charging it – one less thing to take whilst travelling.

Customising the screens that are displayed whilst you’re using the watch for an activity is extremely easy and can be done on the website or via the app and this makes things much quicker than actually doing it on the watch (at least, that’s what I’ve found).

One thing that the M400 had that the Vivoactive did not have was the ability to set timers for running. I found that I had to turn this on at the start of a run though and couldn’t set this going part way through. I wanted to set a timer for an interval session – setting the timer for 60 seconds of walking and 10 seconds of sprinting. I was able to do this, but I had to start the timer at the start of the sessions, and therefore ignore the timer whilst I did my warm up.

Conclusions

Whilst I wanted to like the Polar M400, I’ve found that I’ve not really been able to. The device is quite large and causes issues when wearing bags or even items of clothing with sleeves and I’ve never been comfortable with the strap. The strap lets the watch down immensely in my option and I can’t see if it’s possible to change it either, based on how the strap is installed. It’s replaceable, but it doesn’t look like a standard watch strap would fit which is a bit of a shame.

The smart watch functions, one of the reasons I bought it, are pretty poor in comparison to the Vivoactive. However, looking back, the M400 is much older than the Vivoactive – being released in December 2014.

Whilst it is an excellent sports training watch and activity tracker, I found it to be a bit bulky for me to wear daily and found it to be a bit of a pain to wear with that wrist band. I’ve therefore found that I’ve only really used it when I’m actually doing sports, making the activity tracking aspect of it pretty useless.

In general, I’d say that it’s a good product with some minor niggles that specifically prevent me from getting maximum use out of it. It has been said that it’s a good watch by others (and it is also cheaper than most other GPS enabled watches) but for me, I don’t think it’s quite right for me.

New Bike

This weekend finally saw me get the chance to ride my new bike.

I’d made use of the Cycle to Work offer that my firm offer through Cyclescheme. The offer allows me to save money on the purchase of a new bike through tax savings – I’ve never really been hugely convinced that the deal saves me money (though I’m assured that it does), but it is a method of getting a new bike with interest free credit for 12 months.

I suppose I didn’t really need a new bike, but I’d been looking at getting a new one – I had set my heart on getting a new Brompton. I’d planned it out and everything. It was going to be British Racing Green and it was going to be exactly the same as my current Brompton.

After a bit of thought, I realised how stupid that was! I was essentially going to replace a perfectly good Brompton because I wanted one in a different colour… Common sense won out in the end and I didn’t get the new Brompton!

New Bike

However, I did end getting a new bike (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about one if I hadn’t!)

I was looking around at various bikes and wasn’t going to get one until I browsed Wiggle and had been talking with a friend. He’d purchased a Wiggle own brand bike the year before on the scheme and was very impressed.

I gave it a ride and must admit, I was impressed. When I saw this years version, I ended up being converted! British Racing Green… I couldn’t say no!

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Getting the bike

Long winded story but I eventually got the bike after some administrative delays on behalf of the Cycle Scheme and the finance department and then IT issues at Wiggle. However, the bike arrived and I was able to get out on it eventually after replacing the pedals.

I even managed to make use of the work stand that I purchased a year or two ago and haven’t really used up until now. That seemed to work perfectly fine.

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With the work stand, I was able to put together the new bike and put the pedals – with the cyclocross bike, I decided to go back to using cleats, so I installed the cleats and purchased a set of Giro Rumble shoes.

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First Ride and Naming

So once the pedals were on, I had to wait until the next day before taking it out for a ride – tantamount to torture!

However, I managed to get out on the bike the next day – it was a nice day and was ideal cycling weather as it was sunny, but not to warm.

At this point, I hadn’t named my bike – those that follow me on Strava or my blog must know that my bikes all have names. Most of them are named after Norse Gods – currently I have Odin, my Dawes Touring bike and Loki, my Brompton.

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Not named after a Norse god (that I know of!) is Scarlet, my Pashley Parabike. This was names Scarlet after the bike that I rode in Berlin for my tour of Berlin and I fell in love with it.

So what was I to name this one? I’d been thinking about it but couldn’t decide.

That was until I was out riding and the name came to me.

So I present to you, Atlas.

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An odd name perhaps, though, it is in keeping with the mythology theme, as a Greek titan responsible for holding up the world.

And the name came about due to the Ayn Rand book, “Atlas Shrugged”.

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It seemed to me that the bike was able to “shrug” off anything that I threw at it on the ride – be that road, grass or gravel track (and even some Sustrans paths). It performed excellently on all of them, so the name Atlas stuck!

Ride wise, the bike performed really well and is excellent to ride. I didn’t adjust anything for this ride – I seemed to have got the bars in the right location and the seat height seemed to be ok. Future work may look at seeing if I can bring the brake levers in a bit closer to the grips and I may change the saddle in the future but for now, it seems to be pretty good.

Conclusions

Bit early to draw conclusions yet but so far, it seems to be a good purchase. I’m liking riding a drop bar bike again – I thought I wouldn’t when I bought the Dawes but actually this isn’t bad at all. I might consider some cross top brakes, as I quite like the upright riding position at times but that’ll come in the future with some further testing.

It’s good to ride a bike that’s lighter than all my other bikes – I think the lightest bike I had until this one arrived was the Brompton and that’s over 13Kg. Wiggle has this one as 11.4Kg but it feels lighter.

I’m looking forward to giving it some miles.

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Polar V650

The past few months have seen me try to increase my running at the expense of my cycling. Comparing my overall mileage for the year, I’m probably on the lowest distance to date since 2011. However, the running has improved and I’m hitting personal bests that I set whilst I was running during university. I have tried to maintain the cycling at least once a week though, cycling to work.

Recently, I had to slow the running down (I had to stop running altogether for three weeks) to recover from some shin splints. During that time, it was time for me to re-evaluate the cycling. I might not be able to cycle as often, but I needed to be able to cycle smarter – and that meant training using a heart rate monitor.

It’s been a few years since I’d worn a heart rate monitor – I used to use one when I first started cycling but it was just really for extra data whilst riding, I didn’t really use the data to assist in my training. However, with the time I’ve got, I need to start improving my fitness using all the tools at my disposal and that includes a heart rate monitor.

The issue I have is that I purchased a Garmin Touring GPS device in the past – as I went for the base model, mine doesn’t support heart rate monitoring. In general, that’s not to much of an issue, as my Vivoactive can record bike rides and will do heart rate as well, but it’s not ideal. The Vivoactive doesn’t seem to be as accurate as the handlebar mount GPS devices and it meant that I would have to keep a close eye on it’s battery whilst cycling to and from work (and other rides). So I started looking at various Garmin units to replace it – perhaps getting one without mapping, but would support ANT+ sensors, such as heart rate. The cheapest Garmin, the Garmin Edge 20 seemed to fit my bill and was relatively cheap. However, I carried on looking to see what the other options were.

Polar

I’d heard of Polar previously, but I’d not used any of their products. I can’t recall how I came across it, but in my searches for a Garmin, I came across the Polar Cycling GPS units and went looking at them in a bit more detail.

There are currently two offerings that Polar offer – the M450 and the V650. Both devices record heart rates (using a Bluetooth strap though – not ANT+ sensors here) so fitted the bill, but the V650 also included mapping. Whilst I didn’t think I needed maps anymore, it’s a nice feature to have. The reason that swung me to Polar was the fact that the devices were much cheaper than the Garmins. I picked up the V650 for £133 from Evans Cycles in a sale – this was only slightly more than the Garmin that I was initially looking at! The V650 is probably about the equivalent to the Garmin 810820 with perhaps a few less features (though more than the 510).

Polar V650

Setup and Use

To get the V650 setup, I needed to download the Polar Flow sync software, which only works on Windows and Mac – and you can’t access the file system of the GPS like you can on the Garmin, so you can’t use this device with Linux. As I’ve got a Windows machine, this would be fine (and presumably you could use a Windows virtual machine). However, it does mean that I cant use it with my laptop as this runs Mint Linux, other than to charge it up. As the Polar Flow Sync program uploads all the data to the Polar Flow website, you have to be comfortable with Polar having access to your data – this may put some people off if they would prefer to have a local copy of their training without it being put on the internet. You can however set the privacy to private, so at least no one else would be able to view it. The setting up of the device can be done on the Polar Flow website or on the device itself (it’s easier online).

The device charges and syncs with a microUSB cable – one was provided but I’ve got plenty of these lying around the house and this plugs into the back of the device, similar to the Garmin range. There is no option for a microSD card for maps – maps are downloaded via the software. The device can “only” fit a 450Km x 450Km square maps onto the device at any one time and this is done by selecting the centre of the area you want covered on the map and then using the Polar software to sync. This will then download the data from the Polar website and store on the device. I believe that this makes it easier to download and setup, you do rely on Polar having the data available and up to date (though it is based on Open Street Map data). The maps are well laid out and in use, I found it to be better displayed on the V650 than the Garmin Touring (and 800 that I used to have) – this is probably down to the base maps being used, but the Polar ones display the information I need. To upload files to follow, you need to (oddly), add them to your favourite tracks on the Polar website where you are able to upload GPX and TCX files. These are then downloaded down to the V650 when you sync.

Uploading a route to follow is considered a Favourite

The Polar website does not allow for creating a route and so you would need to create new routes elsewhere before uploading them to the Polar site. Some criticisms I’ve seen online of the device say that it’s not any good for those doing sportives as you cannot import the route files – these people have not really dug into the settings or read the support site, as this is described there (as I had to search the Polar support site to find out how to do it!) However, once you’ve uploaded it, it appears on the V650 once it’s been synced and you’re ready to go. To ride a route, you select the route within the favourites menu and then select it. This creates a new map screen that shows the route as an overlay on the map and you follow the breadcrumb trail.

Polar Flow

Before getting one, I joined the Polar Flow website – the equivalent to Garmin Connect or the Fitbit Online pages. This let me have a look around before purchasing the V650.

I didn’t get much out of it prior to getting the device, but it all made a lot more sense once I’d done my first training ride.

In terms of usability, it leaves Garmin Connect in the dust. Since Garmin moved to the multiple widget layout, I stopped using it. The layout is appalling and pretty hideous. Finding information was a lot harder than it needed to be and just in general was a pain to use. I ended up just using Strava for everything. I’d only use Garmin Connect on my mobile and that was purely for looking at stats for my watch.

Uploading a ride is all done via the Polar Flow program or via the Polar Flow app on your phone. Either way should upload your activity. On the computer, the Polar Flow website will open after the ride has uploaded.

The activity page has everything that you would need on it – graphs of heart rate, speed, distance, gradient etc. It matches the information that you would get from the same ride on Strava or Garmin. In fact, Polar has auto export to Strava (which I’ve found works almost instantly) allowing you to use it alongside Strava. All the information you might want is present. You can also export the ride for other services – normal exports apply (TCX and GPX files) but it also offers a CSV file and you can also download the three different files in a ZIP file if you want to download them but save space.

Activity Page

Download Options

One of the features that the Polar site has that I’ve not seen on another site is the Progress and the Recovery Status.

Progress

The progress page is designed to show you the progress in a specific sport – such as speed or drop in heart rate for the same ride or similar.

Progress Page

It’s an interesting page, though by default it’s fairly silly as it combines all sports on to one graph so is essentially useless – until you start messing about removing the other sports using the drop down box.

It’s supposed to show how you’ve improved. However, unlike Strava, Polar doesn’t allow you to mark rides as commutes and therefore you can’t remove rides that you might not want included. So in effect, whilst it’s an interesting page, I don’t see it being of much use.

Recovery Status

The Recovery status is an interesting page and this one would appear to be of more use than the Progress page.

Every ride, run or activity you do puts stress on the body. The Polar website tries to take all your rides etc and show how the ride has effected you and tries to show the stress your body has been under and how long it’ll be until you should do more activities – the idea being to prevent over training.

I’m not 100% sure how accurate it is – from the FAQ’s on the Polar site, it’s based on your previous data, so I’m hoping that it will improve as time goes on. I think it could prove helpful, though the best method of seeing if you’re over training I guess is to listen to your own body! Whilst that’s the case, it does prove handy to look into it. My only issue with it is that I believe it’s based on time and heart rate – so when I go to the gym and do a weights session, the next day, I can occasionally barely lift anything light but the recovery status shows that I could go out and smash a PB or similar and that’s just not the case. I guess for aerobic sports it’s probably not to bad, but it doesn’t seem great for weights.

Syncing

The V650 is supposed to be able to sync via Bluetooth to a phone. I’ve had mixed success. It’s synced a couple of times on my Samsung S7, but then occasionally it hasn’t – yet trying it with my work iPhone 5S has had it sync no trouble at all.

It seems that the most straight forward way is to use the computer and have it sync that way!

Garmin Comparisons

Comparing the V650 to the Garmin Touring, the unit itself is bigger and also has a bigger screen. I think that the V650 screen is better than the Garmin one itself. Colours seem to be easier to distinguish, useful for the graphs that the computer displays.

Garmin Touring Compared to the Polar V650

Just like the Garmin, the V650 has a number of different screens and you can change the information that each screen shows. There are limits to the number of screens that you can have and you can’t remove the maps or heart rate screen. However, part of the reason I got the device was for both of these screens so that isn’t to much of an issue. The Garmin has a compass screen which I always turned off as it was fairly pointless in my eyes.

The Garmin has better control – think of the V650 as an iPhone and the Garmin range as Android phones. You can access almost everything on the Garmin just by plugging it into the computer. This gives a lot more freedom and flexibility but at the risk of deleting important data. However, the Polar, like an iPhone, does not offer any access to the filesystem and can only be accessed via the Polar Flow app (akin to iTunes). Once the data is on the Polar Flow website though, you can export it and upload to other services as much as you like so that isn’t an issue.

Support for accessories is less widespread than for Garmin. I’ve ended up buying a small third party mount for the Brompton that would let me use the enclosed Polar mount point without the stem bolt of the Brompton getting in the way. I also found a third party mount from eBay that’s the same as the Polar out front mount. I struggled to find the Polar out front mount in the UK, though I have found a UK shop with it now it stock which I’ll consider ordering.

Overall

Overall, I’m happy with my purchase. At a basic level, the V650 gives good data whilst out riding for those that are interested in speed, distance etc. The heart rate monitoring is better than I’ve found within the Garmin range, though the only potential metric that would be good is a heart rate zone data field (there may be one, but I can’t check at the minute) which would allow easy checking of the effort you’re expending. However, the heart rate graph page shows that information well enough for me and also features two additional fields so you can change those to suit as well.

The mapping functions are fairly good. Garmin beats it in terms of navigating as it can re-direct you back to where you’ve gone wrong, but the breadcrumb trail does do the job. The route can occasionally get lost in the map though as it’s a small red line – I found that on one ride I had to look more closely at the map than I might like to spot the route, but in general it was fine.

It’s performed nicely so far and I look forward to using it more in the future.