currently, i can think of several arguments for and against being interested or obsessed with numbers. given that the current global economic crisis revolves entirely around numbers, a comprehensive comprehension of the intricate ways in which they can be manipulated is undoubtedly a very handy and highly employable skill. but when listening to or reading the financial news that seems to have crept from somewhere near the back of my newspaper to perilously close to the front, i can't help thinking that when related to national or coprporate finance, numbers have ceased to be a means to an end. they are now a concentrated end in and of themselves.
when the ceo of wpp (apologies for the over-use of acronyms) was interviewed only the other morning regarding his salary increase being more than three times the company's increase in profits, his command of obfuscation was more or less the equal of his command of digits. apprently, £1.5 million is regarded within his particular peer group as being 'a low basic salary, topped up with incentive and stock bonuses'. i now feel compelled to search for an employer who will offer me such a commendably low basic salary.
there is little doubt that numbers got us into this mess in the first place, or rather, not the numbers themselves but the people who push them around for a living, particularly where those numbers represent someone else's bank balance, rather than their own. but the numbers themselves are the fall guys here, patiently sitting in all their innocence, happy to represent any commodity, currency or deficit you wish to define. one day you're the positive number at the foot of a bank balance, next day you're being castigated as a representative of the greek national debt.
and if every country has national debt, where is all the money going?
the numbers referred to above, however, are in the esoteric region, hardly within the grasp of us mere mortals not in government somewhere. the numbers allowed to be possessed by you and i are far more anodyne and in some cases, infinitely more friendly. perhaps it would be seemly to represent the numbers game in a more benevolent light, principally by attaching them to the handlebar of a bicycle. if those seem unfriendly at any given time, i would tender that we only have ourselves to blame.
long gone are the days when it was only possible to affix a tiny peg to one of the front spokes, an instrument that would cheerfully click a three or four digit counter attached to the appropriate fork leg. as you pedalled, the numbers not unnaturally increased one digit at a time, though representative of what, it is hard to say. the best that could be gleaned from this rudimentary display was that the trip from house to library and back was 728. those are hardly the figures that would gain access to british cycling's fast track programme.
cycle computers are considerably more sophisticated these days, offering a plethora of information that may be of great import, along with possibly just as much that adds to the confusion. i doubt there are many who will rue the passing of tethered computers, where not only was it necessary to wind the attached wires round the front brake cable, but eminently possible to separate said wire from its sensor if not too careful with one's handlebar adjustment. wireless is undoubtedly the way to go, and even that has become a sophisticated setup.
ant+ is a wireless technology that works similarly to bluetooth, but sits within a wider range. thus compatible accessories no longer have to be frustratingly close to the head unit, but can be more practically affixed on useful parts of the bicycle. this technology has been previously exploited by garmin, and has here been adopted by bbb in their new range of digiboard computers. the model under inspection is the snappily named bcp-51wh, augmented in this case with the optional cadence kit. all spread out on the kitchen table this provides a method of displaying speed, heart-rate (there's a chest strap hrm included in the box) and pedalling speed. the lack of connecting wires can be viewed as an impressive bonus, but doesn't mean that it's plain sailing after opening the lid.
the digiboard head unit isn't huge, but it's not tiny either, so i was opting for fitting it on the stem to provide better support when randomly pressing buttons en-route. rather than provide two separate mounting brackets, bbb have decided that one size fits all is the ideal solution, one that would seem sensible and sane, but to do so, a degree of user interference is required. there are four miniscule screws on the bracket's base that need to be unscrewed with one of those comparably miniscule jeweller's screwdrivers which, of course, is immediately to hand in all cycling households. whatever you do, please carry out this operation over something like a dark towel, not only to catch the inevitable dropped screw, but enabling easy discovery when the inevitable happens.
the large, coin-sized battery to power the digiboard is supplied in the pack, and the step through instructions to set each function are clearly and easily defined. where i came unstuck was in my repeatedly pathetic attempts to have the hrm, speed and cadence paired with the head unit. i fear that bbb have to accept at least partial blame for this state of affairs. pressing both sides of the large button at the bottom of the unit puts it into pairing mode, where it hunts for anything that might be of digital use and sets it up accordingly. it nabbed the speed sensor almost immediately; fitting the cadence unit to the left chainstay and pressing the button again nabbed this one straight away, but lost the speed completely. no amount of frustrated footering (including removing and replacing batteries and re-setting the main unit) would remedy this situation. don't even get me started on pairing the heart rate sensor.
original problems notwithstanding, it turns out that every sensor needs to be in operation before successful pairing can be achieved (who knew?). the following morning, all worked in mere minutes. (joyous) screams again. the gap required between sensor and magnet (cadence and speed) meant that both sensor units were required to adopt angles well separated from the horizontal or vertical. surely accidents waiting to happen? perhaps not.
in an effort to give the digiboard as hard a time as possible, it was fitted to the stem of a colnago cyclocross bike, but one with a square(ish) cross-section. mounting is via a couple of zip ties, easy enough under the circumstances, but quite hard to tighten as fully as would have been the case on a rounded model. i'm very much in favour of the mini-bungee method, but i apologise for trivialising. not only was the whole enchilada fitted to a cyclocross bike, but the subsequent riding pattern was in thick mud, wet grass, unruly undergrowth and rock-strewn pathways. in fact, pretty much everything that might be expected to disrupt normal service in oh so many ways. add to this my very best sven nys impersonations, and the cycle was frequently carried up scrabbly inclines, expressly designed to greatly worry the worryingly exposed cadence sensor.
it is incredibly naive of me to think that the chaps at bbb would not have taken all this into account during the 'what have we here, gentlemen' stage of development. despite my giving not one fig for the safety of every last bit of the digiboard, everything continued to work even when, by rights, it should have been seriously ruffled into an inoperative state, even if only temporarily. nothing i did over several days of incompetent leaping on and off, and one or two inadvertant excursions into the undergrowth (something most of you may more usually refer to as crashing). even substantial quantities of mud failed to stop those ant+ neutrinos from reaching their destination. but what you all really want to know is 'is it truly waterproof?
for once in my long career, i can unequivocally testify in the affirmative. after at least a couple of hours of playing in the wet, i rode home in absolutely torrential rain, precipitation that caused major incidents of localised flooding all across the island, but throughout which the numbers never skipped a beat. i jest not when i say that this was the equivalent of submerging everything in water for about fiteen minutes. the three buttons around the edge of the unit are large and easy to operate even with long-fingered gloves, though they do make it awkward to remove the unit without altering one or more readouts, (and possibly even resetting everything before having the chance to read the day's exertions.)
the speed display is the largest and easy to view; cadence and heart-rate readouts are a tad smaller, but still commendably legible even under duress. at the foot of the display there's a variable readout providing options such as ride time, average speed, maximum speed, calories expended and a myriad of other inscrutable but doubtlessly entertaining facts and figures. at the top left corner, the time of day is constantly displayed, digits that inhabit the bottom right when the unit is in sleep mode. surprisingly, considering powertap hubs are also ant+ compatible, there's no option to pair and view power output. perhaps it's not as simple as i'm presuming. in this day and age it also seems strange to me that none of the acquired data is downloadable to a computer for hours of endless amusement at a later date.
there's one model above that tested, costing around twenty pounds more and adding an altitude readout, but i'm happy to settle for the numbers i could see before me in bridgend woods and beyond. there is likely more going on here than is strictly necessary if you're only along for the ride, but if needed for training purposes or as a record of longer journeys, this is an entirely appropriate purchase at around £130 retail, and well worth the money for its ant+ ability and stunningly effective waterproofing.
it's nice to know that the folks at bbb are so forgiving of reviewers' incompetence. i really ought to read manuals more closely. it seems that i installed the speed sensor on the fork with the battery enclosure facing inwards instead of outward, thus requiring the bizarre angle i achieved to have the speed register on the head unit. i can only apologise to windwave and bbb for my inadequacy in this respect.
bbb products including the digiboard, are distributed in the uk by windwave.
posted saturday 29 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................