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Frothed Up: Bike apps reviews

Published October 22, 2012
The Froth cockpit

BOULDER, CO (BRAIN) — BicycleRetailer.com is going to publish a series of reviews of bike-related mobile apps in the coming days. We’re starting with my look today at BikeBrain, an iOS app that turns your smart phone into an elaborate version of a cycling computer, with at least one feature I haven’t encountered elsewhere.

The number of bike-related apps is growing faster than we can review them, so any help is appreciated. If you have a favorite app you’d like to recommend, or a different experience on one that we review, please leave a note in the comments section below the articles or contact me via email (sfrothingham@bicycleretailer.com).

Before we jump into the reviews, it may be useful for you to know a bit about this reviewer’s riding habits, equipment and philosophies:

  • I dig gadgets. Cheap or free gadgets are even better.

A bike computer (a CatEye about the size of my fist, as I recall) was one of the first accessories I bought when I got into cycling in the early 1980s. The bike gadgets I’ve owned since would fill a pannier or two. They include many computers, wired and wireless, a wired chest heart monitor strap that plugged into a CatEye handlebar computer, in place of the cadence sensor, a surprising number of wireless heart monitors, two power meters, at least three GPS-enabled computers and now, a smart phone.

What’s fun about the current situation is that most cycling apps are free or have nominal cost. Installing the latest and greatest app takes a click or two on a touch screen, instead of shop time spent aligning magnets, tiny Philips screws and zip ties. And when I tire of one, I touch the Delete button instead of filling a drawer in my garage.

The phone stays in my jersey pocket, gathering data. After the ride I can geek out over the stats.

So a thriving cycle computer business is being replaced by an “app economy” where it’s sometimes not clear if and how the app developers hope to recoup their costs. In each app review we’ll make note of the developer’s apparent monetization plan.

  • I also dig gadget-free rides.

While I enjoy tracking my progress (or lack thereof) and playing with gadgets, I also like focusing on the scenery, my companions, the sound of my own breathing and the hum of nice tires on pavement or gravel.

I also like the look of a light, clean bike with no gadgets on the handlebars or wires dangling around the frame. Which is why I’ve never mounted my phone on the handlebars for outdoor riding. When I use a cycling app, the phone stays in my jersey pocket gathering data. After the ride I can geek out over the stats and upload it to Strava for trash-talking at the office.

 I did use a Minoura accessory to put my phone on the handlebars last winter in an attempt to make indoor training tolerable.

  • Here’s what I use:

I have a Saris/CyclOps PowerTap power meter hub on my road and mountain bikes, although I sometimes opt to install wheels without power measurement. I generally have a Garmin Edge 500 on my handlebars. The Garmin connects with the PowerTap to show power and cadence, and when I’m not using a power meter the Garmin performs regular bike computer functions. I generally upload ride files from the Garmin to Strava.com (I’ll review the Strava mobile app soon as part of this series).

I have an iPhone 4 and an Apple laptop. GPS apps use a lot of battery power, so I often use a Mophie battery on my iPhone for weekend rides, so I can ride as long as I want without fear of running down my battery.

  • Here’s what I think: 

In light of the strident views expressed in the comments under a recent article about Strava, it might be useful for me to share my views here (although I hope this won’t dissuade anyone from sharing their opinions): 

The bicycle is simultaneously one of the simplest machines on earth and one of the most disruptive technologies in history. Like the wheels it’s built on, the bike is such a central part of world culture that its existence looks to have resulted from evolution rather than invention. On the other hand, the bike is a killer app. 

Bike riders are similarly complicated and contradictory. Some are built to quantify, some are social animals, some crave competition and some choose to ride alone, and thank god for that in some cases. Some live a digital existence while others are decidedly analog. For some, cycling apps add to the experience, and for others, they would detract. I am a bit of all of the above.

Topics associated with this article: Mobile bike apps

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