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What Do Fitness Trackers Bring to Cyclists?

It's really handy when the electric bike calls for sport on the wrist. But do fitness trackers - so-called wearables - bring benefits for cyclists? 5 models Fitbit, Garmin & Co. in the test.

"Congratulations!" It flashes on my smartphone, "You have won the mountain goat trophy." And that for the silly eleven floors that I ran up today. As each of my movements is recorded and analyzed by one of the hip fitness bracelets, I seemingly climb one podium after another. "Wearables" are the latest craze. According to a study last year, the Germans spent 450 million euros on fitness trackers.

Image Credit: Pocket Lint

And now, the smart accessories can tame more than just steps: they calculate the calorie consumption, analyze the quality of sleep, monitor the pulse, and complain about too long inactivity. But the next generation is already in the starting blocks. Smartwatches bring cell phone features to your wrist. No matter if you write text messages, making calls, or manage appointments - with the Smartwatch, you can even surf the internet.

However, without a cell phone in your pocket, nothing works. The current wearables only work in combination with the matching app on the smartphone. Via Bluetooth, the devices can be synchronized, and the data can be evaluated. However, if the trackers and watches neither automatically detect cycling, nor work independently of the smartphone, what benefits do they offer for us bikers? Would apps like Strava and Runtustic or a modern GPS computer not be a better choice? We tried different systems.

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Test Fitbit Charge HR

The slim fitness bracelet counts steps, calories burned, and monitors your sleep quality. It connects to the clearly arranged smartphone app via Bluetooth. There you also get access to a database of nutrition tips. PLUS:, the point of the Charge HR is continuous pulse monitoring. A small display shows the current day progress at the touch of a button. The Charge HR is instead a small motivational aid for office stallions but offers hardly any additional benefits for cyclists.

PLUS: Long battery life, about 5 days; Heart rate monitor included; simple operation
MINUS: Does not recognize cycling; not waterproof; also counts when brushing your teeth steps

Test Sony Smartwatch 3

The waterproof Smartwatch runs on Android Wear as the operating system and can be easily controlled via the touch screen or voice command. In addition to the most common tracker features is also room for your favorite apps. The Sony displays calls, messages, and picks up current information from your smartphone. Despite the integrated GPS, nothing works without a cell phone in the pants. Thus, although a Strava recording can start, but the phone must be within reach. Conclusion: an excellent toy for technology freaks.

PLUS: Chargeable via USB cable; fast voice control; NFC, Wlan and GPS onboard
MINUS: A bit helpless without a mobile phone; Battery life only about 19 hours; no pulse sensor integrated.

Test Garmin Vivoactive

The all-rounder Vivoactive masters all-important fitness tracker functions fetch notifications from the mobile phone and have various training apps ex-works. Using ANT + or Bluetooth, it collects data from heart rate monitors, running or cadence sensors, and displays them on the clear touchscreen. The Vivoactive records completely self-sufficient activities. Evaluation and planning are handled via the exemplary mobile app or a web dashboard. The highlight for multi-athletes.

PLUS:  battery life approx. 10 days; GPS, GLONASS, ANT + and Bluetooth onboard, very accurate measurement; Smartwatch and Fitness Tracker Functions
MINUS:  No integrated heart rate monitor.

Test Polar M450

GPS, heart rate, and altitude measurement are the basis for a perfect workout. The M450 also offers a barometric altimeter and Bluetooth. This allows the sensors to be coupled or evaluated via the Polar Flow app or the PC. The most important data shows the customizable, easy-to-read display. There are no fitness trackers or smartwatch features, but we did not miss them in any way. Smartwatch features include the Garmin Edge 1000.

PLUS:  barometric altimeter; configurable display, good battery life; Bluetooth and GPS on board; functional analysis software
MINUS:  No navigation function; little intuitive operation.

Alternative: smartphone apps in the test

You want to record your training data and tours, but do not necessarily need a display on the handlebar? Then apps like PowerTraxx or Strava offer the simplest and cheapest alternative for bikers. The apps use the GPS signal of the smartphone, but can also be partially complemented by Bluetooth sensors. The phone disappears in the jersey or backpack. For evaluation and planning, a wealth of training databases and apps are sometimes available to you free of charge.

PLUS:  cheap, partly free; a large selection of app providers; expandable via Bluetooth sensors
MINUS:  Not suitable for the handlebars; high battery consumption.

After four weeks with various fitness trackers and smartwatches, I really only want one thing: my peace. Constantly beeps, blinks, or vibrates. I burnt most of the calories on the way to the socket anyway. A real benefit I could not draw from the data - I sleep as bad as ever. Also, as an active athlete, I know when I need exercise. For sports muffle, however, the trackers can be a motivational aid.

Author: Edward   

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