Cinelli never had as firm a hold on the buying fate of cyclists as Garmin does. Generally speaking, when I’m on the road, riders either use computers, or they don’t. And if they are using a computer, then the only real question is which model of Garmin they are using. On rare occasions, very rare occasions, I’ll see an SRM. In case I haven’t mentioned it lately, I live in a place that is a bit of a bubble.
Not everyone I know can afford a Garmin unit and I also know people who don’t even want one. But there’s a middle space between having a computer that costs upward of $500 and having no data at all. Honestly, I think having no data is a bad idea unless you always ride the same route at the same speed. Anyone willing to engage that—and I’ve seen those riders—is beyond my comprehension. I want to see places, try new roads and it is in my interest to know how long I’ve been away.
GPS has bestowed a great many handy features on us, no matter what you may think of Strava. I do like being able to view a map of my ride, post-spin. I’ve been known to take in roads I’ve found only by accident and recreating those accidents is easier when you have help. Like a map.
So what to do if you don’t want to purchase a Garmin unit, but want some sort of computer and might even like a few of those functions provided by GPS. Hell, you might even want to go nuts on Strava. As it turns out, a Garmin unit is not a requirement.
I’ve been using two different computer substitutes from Wahoo, the RFLKT+ and the PROTKT. The latter is a case for your iPhone that mounts to your handlebar. The former is a computer display that links to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
The predecessor to the PROTKT was big enough that it looked like I’d mounted an iPad to my bike. Putting the phone in was a slow process, slow enough to be as dissatisfying as lukewarm soup. The PROTKT is much smaller, about the size of an Otter Box and the top opens easily to slip the phone inside. It seems reasonably waterproof, though I’ve been unwilling to submit my own phone to any serious tests. The case detaches from the handlebar mount with slight downward pressure and a 45-degree turn.
The case allows you to see your iPhone while running the Wahoo Fitness app, or others such as Strava or MapMyRide. More interestingly, if you’re headed some place for which directions might be handy, running Google Maps on your iPhone and getting directions that way is infinitely easier than trying to upload a route to your Garmin, and even if you succeed in doing that, Google Maps is still easier to follow.
The PROTKT goes for $49.99; apps, of course, are
I’ll admit that mounting my phone to my handlebar remains not my favorite way to see data on my ride. I do think the PROTKT protects my phone from most anything that might happen short of getting run over.
I’ve been having a running conversation with MapMyRide CEO Robin Thurston about GPS, bike computers and mobile app development. He’s strongly of the opinion that all you really need is your phone. I remain in favor of a separate unit for reading data as I ride. I’m not going to claim a phone is more safe in my back pocket, but I can boast that you can get plenty of information in a much smaller package.
Which is where the RFLKT+ comes into the story. It’s smaller than a Garmin 500 and can displays a suite of information; there’s current speed, trip distance, elapsed time, heart rate, lap number and more. The one number I’d really like that it doesn’t give is time of day. Anyone riding on a hall pass finds that one to be useful, right? How long until I need to be home?
As I mentioned before, the RFLKT+ gets its info via a Bluetooth signal from your smartphone. It’s really just a screen. It can draw info from the Wahoo Fitness app or it can draw it from another app like Strava. Initially, I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped to be. There was a lag between acceleration and readout. You could be flying and see a gradual ascent in speed that didn’t reflect your actual velocity. I almost didn’t review this product because I thought its data collection was sub-par. So I tried the Strava app and quickly realized that the problem wasn’t with the Wahoo RFLKT+ or the Wahoo Fitness app. It’s just the limitation of the phone.
The RFLKT+ offers most of the data that you’d get with any bike computer, but in its favor, the readouts are larger than you’d get with most bike computers, a feature my aging eyes appreciate. Here’s a quick rundown of the data fields—Screen 1: speed, mileage, cadence, heart rate; screen 2: speed—current, average and max; screen 3: heart rate—current, average and max; screen 4: lap #, lap time, lap distance; screen 5: time of day, phone battery charge (%).
The RFLKT+ goes for $129.99. The TICKR Bluetooth heart rate chest strap is 59.99 and is arguably the most comfortable chest strap I’ve worn. The BLUE SC speed sensor and cadence kit is another $59.99, and offers a few impressive features. First, you don’t need your phone with you to be able to do a ride. It’ll store a ride and sync it later. Also, it improves the accuracy of the computer as it reads speed so acceleration is more real-time. Also, the RFLKT+ can attach to your bike by three different mounts depending on your taste. All of them are simple t use.
This brings me back to the Wahoo Fitness app. It’s free and for data collection via phone, I prefer it to Strava or Map My Ride. The app features five screens. The first is a basic computer presentation: cadence, heart rate, speed, workout time and distance. Swipe to the right once and you enter a screen that allows you to access your iTunes library. Sweep to the right once more and you enter a map that shows your location. Swipe to the left once from the main screen and you get secondary functions for lap time, heart rate, speed and lap distance. Swipe once more to the right and you get altitude, gradient, total ascent and temperature. It’s easy to operate and will export to many other apps and even email.
To tell you the PROTKT or the RFLKT+ are equivalent to a Garmin unit would be a lie, but for a smartphone owner who wishes to avoid investing in another $500+ accessory, these gizmos will allow you to use the Wahoo Fitness app and press your phone into service. With the addition of a couple of accessories, it begin to approach the functionality of a Garmin for half the cost.