All I Know

Paging Utopia

I started using Map My Ride pretty soon after it was introduced, because it was so much easier to map out prospective routes with it than with Google Earth. It remembers your workouts and calculates calories.

When I got my Garmin Edge 500 [1], I started using Garmin Connect so I could read my data and store it in my Rain Man-esque spreadsheet. The Garmin couldn’t successfully calculate the calories I had burned unless the timer ran absolutely without interruption, such as for stoplights, which I encounter routinely. So I had to use both Garmin Connect and Map My Ride to round up all the data I wanted.

I got going with Strava after reading an article in a cycling magazine explaining segments. Once I tried that a few times I was hooked. Then I figured out how to get Strava to estimate my power (because I don’t have a power meter), and the hook was set further. For a long time I continued to use Garmin Connect because it plainly calculated moving time more advantageously for me, but at length I decided that in the interest of efficiency, I would just use Strava. I made the appropriate notation in my spreadsheet so I would know at what point I cut over to a timing methodology that was noticeably slower, and that calorie burning methodology that is more stingy (see sidebar 2).

Sidebar 1: We have a Garmin for our car, and it is superb. Garmin has a really cool biking team. You would think that the Garmin Edge 500 and its supporting software would be equally wonderful and bulletproof, but it isn’t. There’s the calorie calculation I described, which is known to be broken and stays broken, no matter how well you update the firmware. The website is just okay, and the device is horribly overpriced compared to the similar Cateye product.

Sidebar 2: There is a whole imbroglio about what application calculates calories best. I believe the accepted answer is Map My Whatever gives you the most calories burned for a fixed level of effort, Stava the least, and My Fitness Pal in the middle and the most accurate.

So things were plodding along that way, using Strava only, until I noticed a problem. The Strava time is just wrong, that is, it is more than what appears on the Garmin device. So in my case, I will ride route 1, and the device produces a time of 55 minutes. When I upload the data to Strava, it shows a moving time of 56 minutes. For someone like me with, again, Rain Man-esque concern for these numbers, this is not acceptable at all. UGGHHHH!

So now were are back to Garmin Connect, which is now much improved, with a couple of provisos. The dashboard is composed of app-like devices, some of them really promising. However, the calorie calculation still doesn’t work, thus rendering its otherwise cool integration with My Fitness Pal worthless. Garmin has added Strava-style segments except for the minor issue that they just don’t work. Finally, Garmin does not estimate power, so you still need Strava for that. Golly!

Is it beyond hope to have a single site on which everything works properly [2]? Why isn’t Garmin rich enough to program up stuff that works? Why don’t they just buy Strava, who can’t possibly have a very effective revenue model, but has nevertheless produced mostly superior software? How can the calorie algorithms be so far apart? How can the moving time algorithms produce different answers? Garmin shared their API with other fitness sites last week. I’ll be interested to see if life improves.

[1] How I came to have a Garmin Edge 500 is a saga of its own. It wasn’t because of careful product evaluation.
[2] Watch this space for an similar upcoming rant about grocery stores. It would be great if I could get decent fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, canned goods, organization, and prices all at the same place.

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