Monday, September 28, 2009

Interbike 2009 - Power - Quarq

Until Interbike 2009, I've had little exposure to this new power crank company named Quarq. I saw them briefly last year at IB 2008, but I didn't feel like they offered a compelling product.

Now, with a year of refinement under their belt, I can't imagine trying to compete against them.

I got a nice intro to their current status when they spoke at the Power Summit, a great seminar about power held during IB 2009. It was standing room only and I managed to listen to the whole thing while leaning on the propped-open doors leading into the seminar room.

During the Summit we got to hear a very amusing history of Quarq as well as some of their new developments.

So how did Quarq get started?

By a starving, unemployed triathlete who wanted to get a power meter. He'd moved to Australia to train full time (don't get jealous yet), got engaged to a starving MBA student (don't get jealous yet again). Well, something like that - I'm adding the "starving" bit on my own to dramatize things.

Anyway, if you priced out power meters a few years ago, you know they ran in the thousands. Buying one was just out of the question for two starving (my embellishment, remember), kinda unemployed people. Being a bright guy he decided that, heck, I'll just make one.

Now you can get jealous.

They even have a picture of the scene where he's working on the first every Quarq, one where he's fiddling with some bits and pieces on some table. He later attached this thing to a pedal, so imagine a pedal with a big, square aluminum box hanging off of it.

Then he had to figure out how to test it.

Luckily they were staying about a mile away from some power meter center of the world, where the Australian cycling folks test all sorts of stuff, including - ta da! - power meters.

The test went well and they were on their way.

Well, first they made it back to South Dakota. They set up production in a perfect storm facility, a small place that happens to both machine metal and make circuit board type things. Located only 40 miles from their offices, the folks at Quarq could keep a close eye on changes, problems, and whatever else you keep an eye out on when you manufacture stuff.

So what did they make?

Crank based power meters that were user serviceable, user friendly, and took advantage of some of the newer ideas in the electronic world.

First off, they made the battery user replaceable. Those with SRMs (me included) understand that it can cost a bit of money to replace the batteries in those things. You have to send it out to Colorado, wait a bit, and then you get it back. Yeah, there are hacks online on doing it yourself, but it's still a hack, and if you mess up, you just messed up a $2500 piece of equipment.

The Quarq, on the other hand, is easier - it's like replacing a watch battery.

Second, they used an open source Linux operating system to code the electronics. Linux stuff, although diverse, use computing capacity very efficiently, and you can use 1-2 generation old CPUs to get impressive results. I know because I supported such systems for a while.

This means nothing except I think it's cool. Obviously there were some other geek types at the Summit because the room murmured approval when he mentioned "Linux".

Finally, when Garmin introduced Ant+ Sport, the Quarq folks adopted it right away. This means any of the standard head units that communicate using Ant+ Sport can communicate with a Quarq.

So what's a Quarq look like?

It sits in the crank arm spider. The CinQo is the power measurer and transmitter. There is a full circumference spider to connect the chainring bolt holes - apparently this helped clean up the power readings or something. It uses the manufacturer's arms and rings.

For those with compact cranks, it works on those too.

The original size CinQo, but one that's being phased out of production. Note the reinforcing ring running around the bolt circle circumference.

The smaller CinQo, the ones that will be shipping going forward. It's a bit thinner but otherwise not too different from the original. Note the reinforcing ring on the inside of the big ring.

The Quarq guy (the starving triathlete one) then showed their original head unit, a big, clunky Linux based thing. As he pointed out, since they didn't know what they wanted, they put everything in there. Since Ant+ Sport didn't exist, they had to figure out how to transmit all that stuff in their own language.

It was, as he put it, the kitchen sink approach - just dump everything anyone would possibly want into it.

It's like the original Nissan Pathfinder. Nissan had no idea what folks would want in what would be called an SUV so they had all these "truck" features. Two doors. Two fuel tanks. Two trip odometers. Two fuel gauges. Clunky transmission. Adjustable shocks. Ladder chassis. Heated mirrors. Big honking tire gate. Tow hooks all over the place. Massive alloy wheels. Reclinable rear seats. So on and so forth.

You didn't need all that to get yourself a cool SUV (although it'd be cool to have one of the first generation Pathfinders).

Likewise, Quarq realized that, look, we don't need everything.

In fact, they decided to go the other way - they figured they'd get the thing as small as possible.

And they did.

Enter the Qollector (pronounced "collector").

In fact, the "receiver" doubles as the pick up for the speed sensor. You can mount it on the rear stay so it'll pick up speed off the rear wheel. But other than that, there's nothing to it.

No display.

No buttons.

Nothing.

Let me say this - for all those folks convinced that watching a powermeter affects their riding negatively, the Quarq Qollector will hide either on your stay or even in your pocket. You can't look at any data even if you wanted to do so. So it won't affect your riding, even if you want it to.

It'll receive and store every single datapoint broadcast by whatever Ant+ Sport broadcaster, not just in one second or longer intervals. Even so, with 4 GB of RAM, it'll record pretty much a lifetime of data.

Literally.

You can back it up easily, restore just as easily, so if your bike with the Qollector on the stay does a swan dive off of some switchback, you can restore your data to your new Qollector pretty quickly.

Assuming, of course, that you weren't with the bike on that swan dive.

If the Qollector was sitting in your jersey pocket, you may not even need to do that.

In addition, using a built in application, it has its own powermeter software. Plug it into a PC, for example, as the guy did at the seminar, and the PC automatically reads both the application, and, using the application, the stored data.

And not only that, it'll work across different platforms, Mac or PC. Or probably Linux, since that's what they used to write it, but that's a guess.

Basically it's a total kick-ass USB magical thing.

Picture?

Initially I was too awed that I was holding a prototype, and I handed it back without taking a picture. I made it back the next day, just having downed a margarita, and managed to talk without slurring anything and took the picture without trembling too much.

Kudos to the crew there who looked at me without blinking an eye.

Their new super cool recording device - it worked in a live demo when they shoved it into a laptop and it ran and everything.

In my haste I forgot to ask how much they wanted this thing to cost. So I have no idea. But as a backup to your primary display, or even as a portable "lemme borrow your bike with your power meter and still record all pertinent data without you having to email me any files when I get home" thing, it should work great.

Yeah, I want a Quarq. BB30, stiff, light, serviceable, wireless, Ant+ Sport compatible.

Oh, and about $1500.

Yeah.

About the price of 2/3 of an SRM crankset.

And no scheduled maintenance costs.

Booya.

3 comments:

R. Zach Thomas said...

Yes, I want a Quark bad. The design is fantastic, they've got a great repute for reliability, and durn it, it's just a fantastic bargain (as much as a $1,500 power system can be called a bargain.)

One's on the shopping list when my PowerTap goes south. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

Great review! Glad you enjoyed Jim's presentation. I'm the starving MBA student (though we were already married when we decided to quit our jobs and move to Australia for and adventure).

We weren't totally starving the whole time; ramen noodles are cheap over there too. :-)

Mieke - Quarq Technology

Aki said...

Ah, okay, so I got a few minor things mixed up. My mental notepad was getting a bit filled up!

Ramen - I've seen sayings more than once about "well, just eat ramen for a month or two and you can buy blank-blank" (usually applied to car mod things). I'm glad this particular Ramen application worked out.