For many years, I would ride my age in miles on my birthday which comes around again next week. This year, I’m not ready for that long a ride, but I may ride it in kilometers, which still adds up to more miles than I’ve ridden in a long time.
I used to ride a sleek and efficient road bike, but after an accident a few years ago that required surgery to repair a broken elbow, I’ve switched to a heavier hybrid bike with wider tires and regular (not clip-on) pedals. My hybrid bike, which I’ve owned for several decades, is very low-tech, but I just upgraded it with a Xoss G GPS enabled bike computer for the shockingly low price of $29.90. It’s not as advanced as some of the much more expensive units like the $399 Garmin Edge 830, but it does track my distance and speed, and it’s incredibly easy to setup. Unlike old-fashioned bike computers that don’t rely on GPS, you don’t need to install a sensor on your wheel or tell it the diameter of your wheel, because it gets its location and distance data from GPS satellites. Versions of this and other GPS computers that also measure cadence (revolutions per minute) do require a wireless sensor on the wheel hub.
Like high-end devices, it comes with an app that will track your rides. That app, according to the company, is compatible with Strava, a popular fitness app that not only tracks bike rides and runs, but lets you share your stats with others to compete or at least encourage you to push a little harder. I have a friend who uses Strava to map out all of his rides so he has a complete history of every ride he’s taken, including a map of where he rode.
I’m not sure how it’s possible to sell a GPS bike computer for under $30, but it’s one of many Chinese-made fitness devices that are a lot less expensive than brand-named products. That same is true with fitness watches which can sell for several hundred dollars down to under $30.00.
Truth be told, you don’t need a bike computer or even a smartwatch to track your walks, runs or rides. Both iPhone and Android come with apps (Apple Health and Google Fit) that can automatically track your outdoor activities and give you maps, summary reports and even fitness points based on how far and how fast you go. These apps rely on the GPS built into your phone and don’t require you do anything special other than giving them permission to track you. Once configured they work automatically in the background. You don’t have to remember to record your activities – – they do it automatically based on their tracking of your movements. Most evenings, I look at my Google Fit to find out how much I’ve walked or biked during the day and am often reminded of exercise that I had forgotten I had done that day.
Any fitness band will record your heartbeat and even some inexpensive ones can use your phone’s GPS to track your movements while others, like the $99 Fitbit Charge, and have their own GPS chip to track you even if they’re not connected to a phone. Some fitness bands will also record stairs climbed and other exercises.
If we wind up with smoky air from wildfires like we did last summer, I’ll take my bike riding indoors. Even some inexpensive indoor bikes like the Sunny Health & Fitness Endurance model I bought last year for $327, have an LCD monitor that keeps track of time, speed, revolutions per minute and “distance” traveled if you were moving. It also has a pulse monitor, which requires you to hold on to sensors on the handlebars. My Fitbit Sense can measure and display my time spent, pulse rate and calories burned during an indoor session if I remember to start the “spinning” routine. If I don’t, it still measures my pulse rate, which it uses to estimate my activity level.
There are numerous apps that can train you, motivate you or track you in a wide variety of exercises including some that don’t require any equipment. Healthline has compiled a list of The Best Fitness and Exercise Apps of 2021, including Fitness & Bodybuilding Pro and Home Workout – No Equipment, some of which are free to at least try. The Fitbod app starts out with some questions to determine your age, weight, gender, fitness level and available equipment and, based on that, builds you a custom exercise routine. Like many apps, it’s free to try with a $59.99 annual membership fee.
Although it can be interesting to know how far you’ve walked, run, or biked or how many minutes you’ve logged on an indoor bike, elliptical or other exercise routine, it really isn’t necessary to quantify your entire workout. For most of us, just being active for at least 150 minutes a week is the key to better fitness. But if you’re a competitive athlete or just need a bit of incentive or feedback to keep yourself motivated, a little bit of tech can go a long way toward helping you get into better shape.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.