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What features are needed, and what ones are desirable on a fitness tracker for a cyclist? I am looking for one that will support jogging, walking and other exercise, but cycling is essential.

There are heaps of 'reviews' of these things, and a such large number of products available, I can't find information that gives me much confidence that any particular model supports cycling, and how well it does.

How can I assess what is a good fitness tracker for someone who primarily cycles, but not exclusively.

More constraints, this is for a small woman who can't wear a chest strap or watch/band (5ft with really thin wrists). She also runs(slowly), users a scooter(leg power/not motorised), walks and plays soccer occasionally.

She wants to get an accurate measure of energy use in kcal - and the tracker we tried was not very accurate.

Willing to look at multiple devices, if that is the way forward.

  • It would depend on what data you wanted from it. If you want the cycling data to include cadence, then any that supports ANT+ should work with a compatible cadence/speed sensor. Other than that, it's heart rate info (again, ANT+ support). A friend has a Motorola active watch which has integrated GPS and supports ANT+ so he'd have all bases covered if he needed that extra data. But, he uses GPS data only for cycling and running and he seems happy with it. – jonifen Dec 3 '14 at 23:43
  • Well, I can help answer the opposite of your question: the FitBit One does not track cycling. You can log it, but eh, the log interface is absolutely freakin' awful. – D.Salo Dec 4 '14 at 0:06
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    Not sold or advertised as a Fitness Tracker, the new Garmin 920xt added activity tracking to the multisport watch that does all the stuff a GPS cycling device should (speed, cadence, map, power meter, HR, anything ANT+) but now also tracks my steps, sleep and beeps at me when I sit around too long. The GPS is only used for the running, cycling and open water swimming. You can get a quick release kit to mount it to your handlebars. – Glenn Gervais Dec 4 '14 at 0:09
  • I think this has the potential to be a great question, except you turned it into a product rec. – PeteH Dec 4 '14 at 14:20
  • @jonc ANT+ is very interesting - hard to work out where to start. – Stephen Dec 5 '14 at 0:04
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I come to this question as (in chronological order) a speed skater, cyclist, and runner. I have been a full-time Data Whore since early 2007. I have used various Garmin devices and smartphones. What I have found works best is the device that is on your person, with a sufficiently charged battery, and actually recording data.

I spent five years using a Garmin Forerunner 205 on a daily basis. That thing rocks, but Garmin’s device firmware that provides the user interface is just universally terrible. In spite of that, they are still very good devices for their intended purpose. After swearing I’d never buy another Garmin I was given a 405CX and after giving that away a few months later, was given a Forerunner 305. I still use that to this day.

Smartphones are great for “light” use, but when the GPS radio is running full-time, as required for an accurate athletic recording, battery life will absolutely be an issue. If the total riding time in a day will never exceed a couple hours, a smartphone could work. If devices such as heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, etc., are desired, they can be used with various smartphones by way of either ANT+ adapters or using Bluetooth accessories.

I’ve also long had issues with chest strap HRMs, in that they simply don’t stay up when I run. If I tighten the strap enough to keep it in place, it makes me nauseous. But recently I have realized that putting the sensor on the left side of the ribcage just below the armpit still gives a good read and stays in place better, and that even letting the whole thing slide down so that the sensor is over the solar plexus still seems to work. And I’m a relatively thick-chested male; conventional wisdom is that smaller females tend to have an easier time getting a read because there is less tissue to attenuate the electrical impulses.

Now, all that said… I say spring for a standalone GPS device if possible. They will offer significantly better battery life, and at least as of late 2014, still use much better radio hardware which makes for more accurate and less glitchy data. Many of them can be quick-release mounted on either handlebars or a wrist strap. But if you do go with a phone positioning accuracy will be close enough, and without a whole lot of biometric data (not just heart rate but also oxygen usage), caloric expenditure is just a wild guess anyway.

  • +1 for "without.......caloric expenditure is just a wild guess anyway" . I would go as far to put "research lab" in the ..... – mattnz Dec 11 '14 at 2:12
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I can't really give you an overview of the market, but I can list a couple of devices that I've got, or my wife has, to give you an idea of what is around. But I'll say straight off that this might be limited value to you.

First there is the Garmin Edge. This is ideal for measuring cycling data - you have external sensors such as heart rate monitor, speed, cadence, power sensors (which connect via ANT+). The 800 series and above are top of the pile, with maps'n'all (and support all the sensors). The 500 series support routes but don't display maps - they also support the sensors. Garmin have introduced some lower-end devices but double check before you go and buy - some of them don't support the external sensors so for your purposes would be....limiting.

I'd probably say that this range of devices is pretty useless for activities other than cycling.

Also in the Garmin range is the Vivofit. I was given one of these so also have experience of it. It is basically a step counter. I'd imagine it would count steps while jogging, but bear in mind that it is just a counter. The Vivofit will also measure your heart rate, but it does so by an ANT+ connection to the Garmin Chest Strap. You'd think they could have come up with something better.

My wife has a Fitbit. As fas as I can tell from having talked to her, it is the functional equivalent of the Vivofit. There are nuances with the displays (all are designed to be minimalist so the display on all is non-existent or limited). Apparently the new Fitbit will also measure your heart rate (the older ones don't), simply by virtue of being on your wrist. I'm pretty sure you can forget about using any Fitbit devices for cycling.

Mt wife and I did also look at an exercise computer for her, and we came across this Forerunner 920XT watch that @GlennGervais mentions. Double-check this, but the beauty of this device is that it supports all these ANT+ sensors, so can capture anything that the bike computers can capture. I also know that there is another ANT+ sensor designed to fix onto your trainer (shoe) so you can get metrics when jogging. Presumably things like step distance, speed and whatever the running equivalent is of cadence.

The downside with this device is the price - it is currently on Garmin's site at over GBP400, so you really are talking top of the range here. (And don't forget the sensors will be extra.) Also, I'm not sure how it attaches to the bike - with the Edge computers they sit on the handlebars and are pretty much ideal.

In terms of other devices, I know the Samsung S5 and the new iPhone have both gone down a personal fitness route, so there may be some mileage in that. Of course, these phones themselves cost a pretty penny to start with. But certainly some of the cycling web sites (e.g. Garmin Connect, Ride With GPS, Strava) offer apps to allow you to capture ride data, so if you have a fancy phone in any case these could be realistic options for you.

That's about the limit of my knowledge. Hopefully other people can chip in with information about other options - it wouldn't surprise me if people like Polar had the exact same devices on the market as Garmin, although I'd also expect the prices to be similar.

When you look at the notion of a single fitness device that measures everything, this is very early days.

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I'd go smartphone based. Most of the apps have a free version to try out. The accuracy of most trackers whether phone based or not isn't great at a realistic price. Even then some effort may be needed in the tracking (changing load carried). If you're not talking about a training tracker but just to record calories burnt for a range of manually selected activities you've got a lot to choose from. I've stuck with Cardio trainer (android) for cycling, running and hiking (steps or gps on the latter 2) since it came preinstalled on my last phone. I'm not saying it's perfect but good enough and also gives me gpx files online. You're likely to find a better app but it's somewhere to start to help you work out what you want in addition to the basic features.

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