Caution - We would not advise readers to seek out this device as the software associated with it does not work on Win 10.
Those who are long in the tooth may recall, from the 1960s, the mechanical mileometers that one could get for bicycles, mounted on the front forks and operated by a peg on the spokes. As a cycling teenager, that was the ‘must have’ gadget of the day. Doing a fast forward to the present day, and still retaining the lust for data collection, the lure of a GPS based cyclometer was strong.
So what does a GPS based cyclometer actually do that a more conventional wheel sensor driven one does not do? The GPS machine uses signals from the collection of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to calculate its position many times a second. Provided the machine is able to pick up at least two satellite signals, it will work out its position to about the nearest six metres. Conventional cyclometers cannot do that. However, if the machine cannot pick up a signal due to overhanging trees or tall buildings then it becomes lost.
Given that the GPS machine knows where it is most of the time, it can also work out how long it has taken to get from A to B and hence the speed. If the machine is given some storage capacity it can store position points at regular intervals and thus record where the rider has been. It can also use the same logic as the conventional cyclometer and work out trip time, maximum speed, average speed and so on. Some machines also attempt to work out altitude since the same sort of triangulation algorithm could be used. However, if the horizontal accuracy is to the nearest 6 metres, it is unlikely that the vertical accuracy will be any better.
The Veloset GPS VS-600
This machine is about the size of a box of matches, so is somewhat larger than the traditional cyclometer. It comes with a small range of fixing options, aimed essentially at handlebar mounting. The fitting pack is also available separately as an optional extra so that if the user has several bikes, each one can be fitted with the mounting bracket.
The published technical specification comprises:
- Speed and live performance monitoring
- Personal Training – Speed Reminder
- Current, Max and Average Speed
- GPS Clock and Ride Time
- Light Sensor activated backlight
- GPS Location tracking
- Storage of POI Marker points
- Metric or Imperial measurement
In addition, the machine comes with Main NAV software for the collection and analysis of the route data files.
On powering up the machine, the display shows the current speed, the time and a number of other small symbols. Being used to other gadgets that require the user to set up the date and time in some detail, I launched into an attempt to do that. For this machine, however, that is not how things work. The time is worked out from the signals from the satellites and the world time zone in which the device is located. What the user has to do is simply select the number of hours after (+) or before (-) GMT their time zone is located. Thus the in the summer the UK is GMT+1. That is all there is to it, but I did not feel that the user guide made that particularly clear.
Moving on to the measurement units, the options are Metric, Imperial and Nautical, with the latter presumably being aimed at boaters and microlite flyers. These are easy to select once the operation of the two keys has been mastered. The left key is marked on the screen with a down arrow and the right key is marked with the “return” symbol, commonly found on computer keyboards. The screen is not a touch screen and the actual keys are lower down the unit marked as red dashes. These keys are touch keys not pressure operated mechanical keys. They work rather too well in that flicking one’s glove, elbow or whatever over the key while cycling will activate them, and change the display.
Above: Main NAV Software - Map display
Below: Main NAV Software - Speed display
Above: Main NAV Software - Altitude data
Below: Main NAV Software - Performance statistics
Finally choosing Exit takes the viewer back to the Sport, GPS Mode and Settings screen, with Sport being selected if the machine is to be used. In Sport mode the speed and the time are the default items on the display. They are in a usefully large font and easy to read. However, for me, the time is unimportant and I would rather have the distance travelled.
The options available are ODO, which is the total distance since use of the machine started, Elapsed Time during the trip, Distance Travelled this trip, Maximum Speed this trip, Average Speed this trip, Summary of all the above in very small text, and a satellite reading. I have not had any use for the latter so have not worked out what the value shown means.
The Unit in Use
The unit clips to the mounting bracket easily but securely and, with the large character on the screen, is easy to monitor as one rides. Before setting off it is important to wait for the machine to find a satellite, otherwise there will be no logging or speed readout, and the time shown will be wrong too. This will be familiar to those who use satnav units. Our experience has been that the machine is slightly quicker at picking up a satellite than our satnav. However, there can be times when the process takes quite a long time.
Once running the unit seems like any other cycle computer, with the exception that careless waving of anything over the switches can result in the display being altered. Fortunately, even if this happens, the route logging process continues without a break.
For logging a trip, there is an issue of what to do about journey breaks. Should one leave the unit on its bracket on the bike, or switch it off and take it into the café for security? If one does the latter, the route is recorded as finished and the rest of the trip is saved as a new route. Interestingly, this does not happen to the trip counter, as it will continue incrementing until specifically zeroed.
If one is using the unit without a mounting bracket, there is greater potential for problems. Placed in a shirt pocket, for example, the unit will pick up a satellite and log a journey, but the sensitive switches will ensure that the display will not stay the same as it was when it was placed in the pocket. One possible solution, that we have not yet had time to try, is to adapt a mounting bracket to take the equivalent of a watchstrap. This would avoid the problems encountered with pocket based use and keep the display in an easy position to view.
The information about the unit suggests that the unit battery will last for about 18 hours between re-charges. That is sufficient for most purposes, but one needs to remember to put the unit on charge rather than leaving it on the bike after a ride. The charge can be from a computer USB socket, or the supplied mains transformer is equally effective.
After a ride, the data that has been logged can be downloaded to the Main NAV software. The latter is supplied with a driver that is labelled as being for Windows 7, but we tried it on Windows XP and it seemed to work. The unit is not recognised by Windows as a USB external file store, so one has to use the Main NAV software to enable the logs to be downloaded. The downloaded data can be saved, but Main NAV only offers two file formats, .nav and .kmz. The former seems to be a proprietary format not recognised by other mapping and GPS software. The files are text files that simply list the time date and location. However, it is not possible to edit them in a text editor and then read them back into Main NAV. The .kmz format is a better bet as that is the Google Earth route format that is widely used and recognised.
Once a route has been downloaded the software allows the user to examine a summary of the trip statistics, but there seems to be no way to capture or export this data. It is also possible to view speed profiles and altitude profiles, but again there seems to be no way of capturing these displays. There is another option to view the route in Google Earth running in a window. When a number of routes have been downloaded, this is useful to enable the route to be identified and so correctly named when saved. If the .kmz option is used, these files can be loaded in the full Google Earth program later, or be shared with friends. As yet, I have not found an easy to use editor that will allow Google Earth format broken routes to be joined or repaired. There probably is one, as that sort of function is available in other route mapping software such as Memory Map. It is, of course, possible to edit .kml files with a text editor, but that is pretty tedious.
This cyclometer is a good value machine if you want the GPS option. It works well, has a legible display and produces useable logs of the routes followed. The down side is that the menu items are not necessarily in a sensible order for easy use. The switches are, dare one say, too easy to operate and so seem to be continually giving the wrong display. The software too, is a bit limited. That might not necessarily have been a problem if it had offered some of the more common file output types. The work around using GPS Babel on the .kmz files is effective, but adds unnecessary work.
2015 Update - The software that comes with the device and which is essential for extracting route data was less than reliable on Win XP. It managed to work much the same on Win 7, but will not work at all on Win 8 and the new Win 10. For that reason this product is effectively useless. I have tried to find alternative software with which to extract the data, but none seems to be available.
(c) 2012 & 2015 Cycling Otherwise