Saturday, 6 August 2011

Gear: iPhone on my bike & a review of the Top Peak iPhone Dry Bag

Taking part in the L2P is obviously a great opportunity to indulge in some extra gear.  As part of my training I'm going to have to go on some long distance rides going into areas I'm unfamiliar with.  A GPS would be really quite useful for this plus the ability to log all my training rides automatically would be fantastic.  I took a look at the Garmin Edge 800 which appears to be a great cycle computer, data logger and GPS but I'm not sure if I wanted to splash out on it.   Instead, I decided to see what I could do with my iPhone (a 3GS).

The first thing to do was to find a iPhone mount for the bike.  A bit of googling lead me to the this great blog entry reviewing various mounts from which seems a thoroughly useful site indeed.  The author of this site also produces an eBook dedicated to turning your iPhone into something akin to the Garmin.

This is a pretty useful eBook but a tad on the expensive side for what it is.  It reviews various iPhone mounts, contains a bunch of tips to extend the battery life of your iPhone and provides a recommended set of apps. to assist with cycling ranging from how to turn your iPhone into a fully-fledged GPS data logging cycle computer to useful repair apps.  It's about 30 pages long so at £6.95 it works out at approximately 23p a page.  Given the price of the recommended apps. I think £2.99 would be a more reasonable price.

I followed its recommendations and bought the Cyclometer app.  To mount my iPhone I ended up ordering a mount that had yet to be reviewed but which the author seemed to have great expectations of.  This was the Top Peark iPhone Dry Bag.

I got mine from eBay. I've only used it once and I'm pretty impressed.  I haven't tried it's waterproof properties but given the quality of the materials and workmanship coupled with the clever closing mechanism it looks like it will work.  I might try putting a pretend phone inside and see if it stays dry.  The clever thing about the bag is  that the top through which the iPhone is slid in seals together and then rolls up before being fastened to the back of the case with Velcro.  I think to get water inside it would need to be submerged!  I didn't take a picture of this but here's one from their website.

Given that the iPhone can't be used when you have gloves on I was surprised that it can be easily operated when inside the bag.

It attaches to the bike easily with the supplied mount which uses a strap to wrap around the handle bars or the stem.

This is held in place by large screw with an Allen key head.  The only criticism I have so far is that the screw is plastic rather than aluminium which means it's very easy to strip the hex head.

The bag is attached by sliding it onto the mount.  As the mount  is square it can be mounted in either portrait or landscape mode.

In order to slide on there must be about 6cm of travel from sliding the bag onto the mount until it finally clicks into place.  As such it's unlikely to go anywhere.  Additionally it's held in place by a spring loaded fastener making the mounting pretty secure.

 This however is also one its downsides.  The picture below shows there is a fair amount of space from the end of mount to the end the bag's clip.

This means that when riding on bumpy roads it's quite springy and tends to bounce and rattle.  It reminds me of when I used to tuck the ends of the  mud guards of my Raleigh Grifter under themselves so it made a motorbike sound when the tyres rubbed against it.  On smooth tarmac it's fine.

Coupled with the Cyclometer app. this appears to be a proper little GPS though I haven't tried that functionality out yet.  Instead when I took it out for a spin last Thursday I started using the data logging facilities.  It allows you to name a route and once going it records statistics for the entire ride.  At the end these can be uploaded to Goolge Maps and it gives a per-mile breakdown of the ride along with the route.  Any subsequent rides can be compared.  All this information is neatly stored in a calendar format so you can easily pick up your phone and see a historical view of your training.

As a bit of fun at the start and end of each ride; and in during the course if you so wish it can upload to Facebook and Tweet on your behalf.  At the end it announces your route and averages etc. and also provides a link to the Google Maps based route.

All in all this appears to be a pretty good pairing.  A combination of my existing cycle computer, front light and now the iPhone does make for a cluttered handlebars and this is before a feeding bag.  As I already have all the immediate information I need from the computer if I don't need a GPS then I'd be tempted to just start the app.  and keep it in my saddle pack and at the end of the ride quickly grab it and stop the timing.  I don't a few extra seconds will make all that difference.

However, I did come across a bluetooth based HR monitor from Polar which works another recommend (from the eBook) iPhone app. which could mean the cycle computer could be completely replaced by the iPhone.

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