Monday, March 23, 2009

VDO Z3 PC-Link Cyclo Computer

After months of researching the pros & cons of GPS units and this state-of-the-art stand-alone, I pulled the trigger and placed my order for this beauty today. There were a lot of pros and cons to be sure, but with a 20% off coupon from REI about to expire, and a fat dividend check I didn't want to fritter away on odds and ends, timing turned out to be the factor that forced my hand. Timing also because as GPS units get more reliable at somewhat lower price points, this stand-alone may no longer be available. I doubt any GPS unit under $1,000 will have a comparable altimeter.

If you've read up on Garmin GPS units in particular, you know that the best elevation, climb, and grade data comes from GPS units that contain a barometric altimeter that the GPS unit simply calibrates. Because of my experience as a private pilot, I am very familiar with calibrating barometric altimeters, so saw no advantage there in having a GPS unit do it for me. (being able to correctly set a barometric altimeter is a key question on both the 4-hr written test and the actual flight test)

I do think GPS makes a nice tool for mapping routes, especially for mtn biking where there are no roads (assuming GPS signals can get through) for MapMyRide or Bikely to use when auto-mapping, but the range of data being reported by the various makes and models of GPS units varies by so much there is no reliable estimate available. It's the old dilemma of the man with two watches never knowing what time it is.

VDO makes the instrumentation for Porche, BMW, Mercedes and several motorcycle companies, was until very recently owned by German powerhouse Siemens, and so has the impeccable quality that reviewers rave about. Its 5-yr warranty backs that up rather emphatically. I also wanted to keep my speed and cadence sensors, and add to that a high quality heart-rate monitor and altimeter. Sigma does not have a computer that will do HR, altimeter and cadence, and I have not been very impressed with Sigma reliability. Having all of that data recorded in 20-second intervals seems a waste if you can't pump it into your computer for use in your training logs and analysis.

For triathletes the Z3+ comes with a watch band and can be worn as a wrist watch - sans the cadence and speed data. The software, although documented in a tragically bad form of Germ-glish, is very, very good, and provides a wide range of analytic capabilities, as well as the ability to overlay the data onto a Google Earth map and then animate the ride using uploaded data. I WAS somewhat incredulous that I had to shell out another $50 for a cadence package because for $350 they don't include it. Fortunately, I was able to save about $15 by having it shipped to my local REI store where I will pick it up.

I am also secretly hoping that the VDO people will let me use their API so I can extend their software to do things they don't - like calculate 90-10% and 80-20% inner-percentiles, median and minimum cadence, and standard deviations on speed, heart rate, cadence and altitude. I also intend to write a real, understandable, English manual for the device, as one is sorely needed. I think this will be an indispensable training and planning tool and can't wait to pick it up on April Fools Day :-O


m said...

Any updates on the VDO Z3+? I'm also looking at this model as a replacement for a Blackburn Neuro 6.0 which I returned.

Grey Beard said...

I returned the VDO unit as the altimeter just wasn't working. I also found the software to be kind of 'Germ-lish' in nature, as some of the deeper menus were titled and labeled in German.

Mostly I just felt, and now feel very strongly, that the Garmin 305 with cadence and HR monitor, for $100 less I might add, are far superior. The Garmin 305 is the device the VDO would be after it died and went to heaven. EVERYTHING, is better - well, except the VDO graphic were better.