Thursday, January 26, 2012

Equipment - 4iii Sportsiiiis

One of the things I saw way back when, in the 2010 Interbike show, was a new, still developing product by a new, still growing company named 4iiii. I put the picture of part of the interview here - a bit when one of the guys had some humorous problems trying to say something in front of the camera.

I alluded to the fact that I felt it the product of the year, but I never expanded on that thought. I didn't want to talk about some product that couldn't deliver, that didn't deliver, and then try and backpedal and say, "Well, I thought it was for real" and all that.

(And I know that I'm going to catch some good natured flak for that, but so be it.)

Well, today, in the mail, I found a box addressed to me.

The SDC nominated 2010 Product of the Year, the one that I never disclosed, had arrived!

Now, before I get into this thing, let me review some things I've learned about myself in the last few years of racing.

1. If my average wattage goes over 200 watts for a race, I usually don't have a sprint. I can't psyche myself out because I don't scroll through the numbers while I race - I only have second by second power readings available, and even then, I barely look at the computer while I race.

2. If my heart rate is over 168 or so when I launch a sprint, it's below par. Significantly below par. At 170-172 bpm, which is about my redline, I have no sprint - it's hard for me to even get out of the saddle. However, at 164 bpm, I have a ferocious sprint.

3. When I jump at about 95 rpm, I have the best peak power number. If I can stay in that range, by shifting whenever I get out of it, I can sustain a very high number much longer than normal.

I got all of these numbers by analyzing the power data the SRM gave me through the download. I didn't look at the computer while I was doing jumps or sprints or at the bell or whatever. I can't - I'd crash or something.

The only way that I could get this kind of data was by recording and reviewing my performance on the bike.

Let me say that again.

The only way that I could get this kind of data was by recording and reviewing my performance on the bike.

In an unfortunate coincidence, I can't use the data I got either, not easily.

And because that's important, let me say that again.

I can't use the data I got either, not easily.

It's hard to focus on the SRM screen, read my HR, read my cadence, all while barreling down the second last straight, while jumping out of a turn, while trying to surf the pack just right.

Ideally I'd have a system where I could have some way of telling me I'm at, just below, or just above my ideal points, without forcing me to look anywhere but where I want to look.

Let's get think about this. I can manipulate some factors, others I can't. Ultimately, average power is average power. I can't help it if I had to put down serious power to stay on wheels. Trust me, I'm not making attacks when I'm dying just staying on wheels - I don't flagrantly blast away at my reserves, not if I'm trying to do well in a race.

Another factor - my heart rate. I can somewhat take control of that. In the lead out in the final 2010 race, the Francis J Clarke race, my heart rate dropped 5 bpm during the lead out.

It dropped 5 bpm.

Heart rate is something where I can trade a few spots for a few bpm, with the idea that I should be able to get back those spots, with interest, in the sprint.

This means knowing my current heart rate is important.

The third factor - cadence, or how fast I'm pedaling at the moment.

This one is huge for me, just huge. I see, in different experiments, pretty consistent evidence that I lose as much as 200-300 watts when I veer away from my ideal cadence. Seeing as my race-end sprints tend to peak at only 1100-1200 watts, losing 200-300 watts is huge.

If I can jump at my ideal cadence, I should be able to stay much closer to my typical race ending 1200 watt jump.

If I'm really good, I may be able to rip out a training ride kind of sprint, one that bumps up that 1200 watts by at least 20%-25%. I haven't done that in a race ever so that's a pipe dream, but still, I can dream.

I'm putting things in terms of myself, in the descriptions above, but I can't imagine that I'm very different from an average regular racer. We all have our optimal power bands, our best cadence, our sweet spot heart rate. For me, I look for what I just described. Others may look for other things. A time trial kind of rider may focus on a narrow band of power output; a climber may focus on a similarly narrow band of power, or of heart rate.

We all have our sweet spots and we all need to be able to instantly and safely check them.

So what's all this got to do with the Product of the Year award, a belated year and change later?

4iiii came out with the product that accomplishes just that - it safely and instantly tells you if you're in your own sweet spot.

I talked with the folks at 4iiii at length in 2010, and a little less at length in 2011. The latter year was more interesting, with more off-the-floor talks, and an attempt at getting together to ride (I couldn't make the ride, and from what I could gather they'd be hammering anyway, something I don't do well except in a race).

The girls at 4iiiis.

I call them the girls with all due respect. They were a good hearted bunch for sure. One is the wife of their spokesperson Ian, and all of them are athletes. They also took their "booth girl" duties seriously but with a grain of salt, enjoying the camaraderie with the people interested in the product (the girls use them), while at the same time understanding that some of the guys at the booth had no idea what a Sportsiiii was, and never would, and didn't care.

The show booth glasses, with a Sportsiiiis mounted to a pair of sunglasses.
The heart rate broadcaster is on the right, the speed/cadence on the left.

Ultimately, although we kept in touch, I still had reservations on how this product would work (and if it would work at all). This is why I never put up a post about the product - I didn't want to be talking about a dream.

I wanted to talk about reality.

Well, reality landed in the mailbox today.

Inside the box.
This is a Sportsiiii with HR.

(Disclaimer - I'm getting this as a tester so I didn't buy it. But I'm going to test the heck out of it, believe me.)

The packaging is light and simple. The device itself weighs next to nothing. It charges up pretty quickly - by the time I got the software loaded and going, it was pretty well charged. Once I started playing with the settings, it was done, fully charged. Not much to charge; I'll be curious what the battery life is on the thing.

(Cue the wistful "well it would have been great to use in SoCal on a Palomar attack, with 6 or more hours continuous use to fully test the Sportsiiii".)

The lower back of the unit.

The round thing is a little speaker. If you want to know exactly what's going on, the Sportsiiii tells you. The red thing is, um, some red thing. I just looked it up. It's actually a touch sensitive power/function button. There's a black cap over the micro-USB port.

Micro-USB port open.

You can see the stuff that came with it in the background. Two mounts for glasses, so you can mount the thing on two glasses. A heart rate strap. Micro-USB adapter. A small quick start manual.

And that's it.

Because of a number of reasons, the first ride of the unit won't be until tomorrow, and it'll be on the trainer. But for now, with the setup and all, we can see some of the features.

We'll start with my focus, the heart rate and cadence things.

(With no Ant+ Sport power meter on my bike, I can't take advantage of power. As it is I need to get a cadence/speed pickup to broadcast that info to the Sportsiiii. Out of the box, with no Ant+ Sport pickups on the bike, I can only use heart rate.)

Picture of HR screen

Note the full charge indicator in the lower left, the big green battery. Note also the big yellow button "Ready to Upload". This uploads the settings into the Sportsiiii.

In this shot I've focused on my peak HR zones, the spots where I want to be just before a sprint. The green LED tells me I'm in the right zone (156 to 162 bpm, ideally just at or below 156), the yellows to either side alert me that I'm a bit out of it, either with more reserves (to the left) or going into the red zone (literally, as the LEDs move to the right).

The reason the interface has those music-print like lines across the screen is you can tune (pun intended) the LED colors to your preferences. So, for example, if I want the first two or three LEDs to light red, I just click and drag the musical notes to the red bar. After the settings upload, the appropriate LEDs will light red, not yellow or orange or green.

Incredibly, with the click and drag interface, I can make one bpm adjustments to the ranges. It's that sensitive. For a time trial type rider this would be incredibly valuable.

Cadence screenshot

Here I've adjusted the cadence range to a very minute, very fine range. The green LED will light when I'm between 92 and 95 RPM. The yellow before will stay lit in the 85-92 rpm range, prompting me to shift up. The yellow after will light from 96 to 100 rpm, warning me I'm starting to stray out of my optimal range.

Going into the sprint I want to see green in front of me. I'll shift as soon as I see red, then keep going.

If this sounds like it looks like the F1 steering wheels, with their LED shift lights that light up just before you need to shift, you're right. This is exactly what they were thinking when they made this set up. An intuitive, never have to look closely, no numbers reading, no focusing, just catch the color out of the corner of your eye.

For the rest of it I'm not as concerned. I know that my best time trailing and FTP type efforts happen at 111 rpm, so I set the red LED to go off at that point.

I expect that for most of a race I'd be in the upper yellow or orange zone, between 96 and 110 rpm.

For a hillier ride or a hilly crit, I could change this to focus a bit on a lower rpm range. This would let me focus on not bogging down too much on a power climb.

So, at this point, just before I use the unit, I'm going to sign off.


Tune in tomorrow for a ride report.


Ian Schmidt said...

ever since that post years ago I've also been looking forward to this...

I'm excited to hear an extended review of this gizmo.

Aki said...

I'm pretty excited by the whole thing still. I just wish I had a recording Ant+ device because combining it with the wired SRM isn't ideal. At least today I got the Ant+ speed/cadence sensor. I definitely have ideas on how to improve usability etc. Looking forward to it.