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Turn Your Bike Into a Moveable Fitness Centre

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

It used to be that your bike was all you needed to keep fit. If you wanted to use it as part of a systematic training program, you might have added a watch and/or a milometer to track your progress. But that was before the Internet and the so-called Digital Revolution enabled anyone passionate about the two-wheeler and fitness to follow a training agenda as detailed and precisely measured as one designed for professional athletes.

The best things in life are free, they say, and the popular Strava app, for iOS and Android, definitely belongs to that category. It uses your phone or GPS watch sensors to track your ride while measuring speed, distance, pedalling cadence, power and heart rate. In addition, it includes features that make you part of a global cycling community by using heat maps to display the most popular routes cycled in the world. It also enables riders to display their times for popular climbs or trails, effectively creating a leaderboard of times against which you can measure your cycling strength.

The best things in life are free.

If that’s not enough, you can upgrade to Strava Summit for a monthly fee of £2.50 (2.87 euro) for one of three special packages. The Training Pack includes customised workouts and enables you to set training goals as well as compete with cyclists in your age and weight category. The Analysis Pack collects and analyses data from GPS devices, heart rate monitors and power meters to provide granular performance analytics, enabling you to monitor your fitness over time. There is also a Safety Pack that provides your location to others while you are on a workout. An added bonus is that the Strava is compatible with a large number of devices, including cycling computers such as the Polar M460 and the Garmin Edge 1030. The packs are also available for an annual fee and can be bundled.

The Polar M460 cycling computer tracks your speed, distance, altitude and gradient with GPS and barometer and hooks up with the Strava Live Segments feature to provide real-time data on your performance after you finish riding the segment. The M460 can also be connected to Bluetooth Smart power meters and to a Polar heart rate sensor if you want more detailed performance data. Its battery provides up to 16 hours of training on a single charge. Its £199.50 price tag makes it an affordable option for those who want a reliable device, but without some of the professional bells and whistles.

The Polar M460 cycling computer seems like an affordable option.

You will have to shell out about £500 for the truly professional Garmin Edge 1030, which uses Strava for route and lap racing and connects to all the necessary sensors, such as heart rate monitors, cadence sensors and power meters. It also offers an updated map that includes turn-by-turn navigation and navigation alerts that notify you of upcoming sharp turns as well as a round-trip routing that will suggest a route for you or give you a choice of up to 3 routes.

The Best Bike Split feature lets you see how changes in weight, power and drag affect your goal race time while a training status feature automatically evaluates your recent exercise history and performance indicators to let you know if you’re training productively, peaking or overreaching. An anaerobic training effect metric shows you how your training is improving your ability to push the limits, and another metric tracks your exercise volume from the last seven days and compares it to the optimal range for your fitness and recent training history. The thing does everything but ride the bike for you. But that’s not all it does.

The Garmin offers almost everything you could ever need. © Martin Roman

The Edge 1030 also has a smartphone connection so you can see all your notifications, and offers a rider-to-rider messaging feature that enables you to send pre-written messages to other riders in your group using Garmin and, when hooked up with your phone, lets you find the other riders, or vice versa, in case you get separated. The battery offers up to 20 hours of power on a charge, and up to twice as much if you get the Garmin Charge integrated battery pack. Like the M460, it is easily mounted on the handlebar.

If money is no object when it comes to cycling and your health, then you can spend up to £1,000 for the Verve InfoCrank power meter, which is used by British Cycling, so it must be worth the spend. It offers a very clear way to see how much power you are using on each leg, so you can adapt your riding style and iron out imbalances to become a more efficient rider.

British Cycling chooses InfoCrank because of its undeniable accuracy and durability.

The InfoCrank is easy to connect to a broad range of cycling computers, via ANT+, and it provides such metrics as cadence, pedal smoothness and torque effectiveness while offering an amazing 500 hours on inexpensive SR44 silver oxide batteries. The measurements are extremely accurate, +/- 1%, which means you can trust the results. The device adds only some 690 grams to the weight of your bike, so you will hardly know it’s there.

It’s still early days in the way cyclists can optimise their bikes to turn them into moveable fitness centres. Devices will become smaller, more powerful and, probably, less expensive – and it doesn’t take much imagination to foresee a day when you’ll be able to buy a bike pre-equipped with most of the features now offered by these cutting-edge add-ons.