/ fitness

Suunto's Spartan Platform: Cycling

A long time ago, when I first learned that a self could be quantified, I got the original Ambit. I then got the Ambit3 Peak. And with both of these watches, I use an external heart rate monitor, got on my bike, and cycled: no speed sensor, no cadence sensor, just time, GNSS, barometric pressure, and HR data.

"Horiffic," I hear you cry! "That is not a quantified self!" I know, but I was young, and inexperienced. At the time, though, this was simple, spartan perfection.

I am now a more complex man. I know about cadence. About power. About left-right power balance. About gathering accurate speed data using a speed sensor (effectively turning my bike into a glorified trundle wheel). About electric shifters, and gathering gear shift information.

Garmin caters for complexity: of course they do. They capture all of the above dataset, and more, on the wrist. The watch will display it there, if you want to risk crashing while trying to read a small screen.

Suunto, sadly, do not: they do not support a pool of sensors (ie two speed sensors). They barely support gathering cadence data from a power meter. They don't support a separate cadence and speed sensor, only the combined monstrosity that uses magnets, and magnets, as we all know, slip, causing the dreaded bad data. They do not support left-right power, just one side, probably left, but who knows? They most certainly do not support gathering gear shift information.

And this is all very odd to me: the thing on my wrist is a computer, basically an antenna, and storage. It is logically capable of all of these things, but someone has decided these are not to be supported, and it feels very much like the cycling functionality has been coded into the Spartan platform as an after-thought, "because that way we've got it," instead of thinking "what could we do in here?"

Sensor pools

I have two bikes. This means I have two speed sensors, and two power meters. If I want to record a ride with my Suunto 9 (or other Spartan-platform watch), I have to:

  1. Pair the speed sensor.
  2. Set the wheel size.
  3. Pair the power meter (which will push the Stryd out as a power meter if I've been using it for running).
  4. Accept no cadence data will be recorded.

Now, I want to record a ride on my other bike. I have to go through steps 1-4 again. What's interesting, is if one runs strings against the Spartan platform firmware, it echoes back BikePOD1, BikePOD2, and BikePOD3. The support for more bike pods is clearly in the firmware somewhere, but not exposed to the user. This gives me hope for sensor pools, too, as this looks very much like a sensor pool. Sadly I found this in January, and in July, this has yet to be built upon.

Bad Suunto.

Cadence from a power meter

Power meters are commonly either mounted on the cranks, in the pedals, or sometimes in the bottom bracket. As such, they are perfectly placed to catch and record cadence data, removing the need for a separate sensor. Here is what happens when I record cadence data from two power meters:

Garmin Vector 3

What is this... Gooble? Let's zoom to the section at the beginning:
I either have the most eratic cadence, or, the data is bad (as I was recording the data to a Wahoo ElEMENT BOLT at the same time, I know the data is bad).

Just gooble.



Not even gooble. Just... empty.

Cadence from a discrete cadence pod

I remember when I was 15, a bike computer derived its speed data from a magnet on the front wheel, and a reed switch on the fork. Magnet passes switch, circuit closed, distance added. Simple, elegant, wait the magnet slipped hang on I wasn't going no wait I haven't stopped!!!

We live in a better world now, in terms of cycling telemetry: we have sensors with accelerometers on them. Put sensor on thing, pair with computer, set wheel size, away we go. Replace batteries a year later. Instead of the monolithic sensor pod here, there are two discrete pods. Sadly, the Suunto's Spartan platform can only pair with one bike pod: if you want cadence, you have to pair with the cadence pod (or get it from your power meter). If you want speed, you have to pair with a speed pod. This isn't some niche thing: this is the normal thing in the modern world.

Bad Suunto. Very bad.

Why record cycling on my Suunto 9 at all?

A good question. Completeness, convenience, and recovery time: I've found Suunto's recovery time guidelines very useful, and this extends to cycling. I like the overall training count on my wrist.

A half-way house would be to allow data to go from the Suunto app to the watch, so that if I record a ride on my Bolt, which is pushed to Strava, can then be pushed into Suunto's ecosystem via RunGap (this currently works). The next step would be to add workout summaries to the watch logbook, including recovery time, as appropriate. I know the logbook can be written to from the ecosystem, as when one gets a new watch, recent logbook entries are copied across.

Much as I love my Wahoo BOLT, I also like riding without a computer: one less thing to remove if I lock my bike up, but still letting me track distance travelled on the machine (useful for mainetance logs). Sometimes, I want the data, but I also want to not have it distracting me.

And, ultimately, because I want to: what I have is 90% of a complete product, and it just needs either a nudge to push it to the finish line, or a note to say 'this will never happen'.