Duncan Wilcock


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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

A Better Bike Computer: My Ideal Biking App & Sensor System

I bike a fair bit around Vancouver. I'm not in to wearing spandex, and would classify myself as somewhere around the casual-commuter biker.   I don't really care about all my speed, cadence, and heart-rate stats, although that could be interesting, and I refrain from thumping the hoods of cars in anger - except maybe if I was actually hit by one.

I am however a bit of a geek - especially when it comes to my iPhone & tracking things in general. Unfortunately my many attempts at using XCode to write iPhone apps have not been very successful, and I find myself being able to conceive of what I want, but unable to implement it.  (Update:  I spoke too soon, and have now built an app that is on the app store - HeadsUp Drive)

Since I believe that ideas themselves are not worth nearly as much as good execution, I've decided to offer these ideas to the inter-tubes and hope that if anyone finds them of benefit, they let me know (duncan@wilcock.ca) - especially if this biking device & app I want to buy ever gets made - by you or anyone else.

With that pre-amble, I'm going to launch into what I'm looking for.

A Better Bike Computer

Principally, I'm looking for a better bike computer.  A hardware device that is quite simplistic.  It can look similar to the $30 one I bought from MEC.  In fact, it should cost much more than between $50 to $100, because anything that I am going to strap to my handlebars can't be worth much more than that or it becomes more & more of a problem when I wipe-out and it gets damaged, or forget to remove it when I nip into a coffee shop and it gets nicked.

So that's price.  I'll leave promotion to you, place is clearly where I live (Canada please!) and now on to product.   (Four Ps of marketing reference for all you geeky business-school types)

Interactionless Tracking

The key attribute I'm looking for is Bluetooth LE connectivity to talk to my iPhone.   For inspiration, I'm looking at Automatic - a simple device that plugs into your car,  and an app that doesn't need launching, but that tracks your driving for you whenever you start driving.   It has other features and looks like a very cool product that I would already have if it were available in Canada.

That's it in a nut.  I don't want to have my iPhone attached to my handlebars, it's too expensive to put there, and more importantly - too much trouble to do every time.  Even launching an app is too much trouble to do every time - I just want to get on my bike and get to work, or wherever else I'm going.   But if the data was collected automatically - how far I went, what routes, and how fast.  It would be fun to sit down in the evening and look at it from time to time.

I think this is the key for tracking apps.  I'm interested to record & look at the information, but as soon as it becomes an additional thing to remember to do, the likely hood of me (or many others) using it regularly falls off a cliff.

Yes - I've seen the Wahoo Fitness Computer, but it gets the solution backwards, to my taste.  The data is collected by your phone first, and this Wahoo display is more like a second screen for the app, and I believe the app has to be actually running.    I'm saying that the bike-computer should record the information and be the principal interface with the sensors, and the app should connect to the bike computer automatically (Automatic uses iBeacon for this) & store the information long term for later review.  For the record - I don't care about wireless sensors (wired are cheaper & in general more reliable), and reliability is key.  If it adds a bit of weight or wind resistance - so be it, I'll get more exercise.

Bonus - Power my Lights

 A great added value or upsell feature for the commuter like me, would be some extra battery capacity and wiring to power my bike lights.    Then I would only have one thing to remove from my bike, take inside and charge up from time to time.

So that's it - my wishlist, the product I would like to buy, but have not yet seen on the market.  If you like the idea, and want to make it real - please do so.  I'd be more than happy to help.  I've got circuit-card layout skills, basic app making skills, and marketing skills - here's an example:  www.headsupdrive.com