Swimming with the Wahoo Tickr X

HR sensors with built-in memory are ideal for triathlon and swimming in general. These sensors transmit data in real-time for use on dry land, and when used in water, store the data for later retrieval. How well does the Wahoo Tickr X work in water?

Update

July 16, 2015

The dual-tap for inserting lap markers only works on iPhones at the moment, not on Android, and there is no estimate yet when this feature will be implemented on Android.

The Tickr X is does not work well enough in water to be able to record heartrate during swimming. Wahoo Support was very kind and responsive, but could not offer a solution.

As it stands now, the Tickr X is not a good option for heartrate recording during swimming.

Today’s “memory belts”

July 1, 2015

The Suunto Memory Belt was one of the first to store heartrate for later retrieval, but it transmitted only ANT (not ANT+), which limited the number of devices it was compatible with.

But now, both Suunto and Wahoo have released HR sensors with memory, and both synchronize via Bluetooth LE to a smartphone. Wahoo has also included ANT+.

I couldn’t wait for the Wahoo Tickr X – but it turned out to be a long wait, as Android support was not immediate.

Installation and first use

Upacking seemed easy; just take it out of the package, snap the Tickr on the strap, and it starts to blink blue and red. Pair it to your phone, add the sensor to the list of sensors in the Wahoo Fitness app, and off you go.

It was a bit more difficult. The Wahoo app displayed a BLE error. After force-stopping all apps that do something with BLE, the app started discovering. Finding BLE devices takes more time than finding ANT+ devices, so the Wahoo app will recognize the ANT+ signal from the Tickr first. But that is not the device type that you want. Ignore it, and wait until the BLE version of the Tickr X appears.

After you have just put on (activated) the Tickr, it will respond to pairing requests for a while, but  you may have to snap the unit from the strap and then reconnect it to re-activate pairing.

If you want to record an “offline” session, close the Wahoo app, otherwise the offline recording overlaps a realtime recording, and that will not work. Sessions have to be longer than 5 minutes to register – a useful fact when you are first just quickly testing it.

Offline recording

Offline recording starts when you put on the belt and stops when you take it off. According to the documenation, double-tapping the unit should insert a lap marker in an offline recording, but I can not see them in the workout histories or the exports.

To sync with the phone, start the app, go to Workout History, and choose Sync Offline Workouts. To start the sync, make sure you don’t wear the Tickr. Wait until the LEDs stop blinking. Then touch both the contact pins, and the LEDs will blink. It will then quite quickly download the workout. If it takes a very long time (> 2 minutes) it is best to repeat the process. It may require force-stopping any apps that use BLE (for example BLE activity tracker software and Garmin Connect).

An awesome feauture of the Wahoo app is that it doesn’t immediately upload your data to a cloud. It can be saved as a CSV (and other file types). This file is then zipped and stored on the phone’s storage in WahooFitness/exports. If you wish, you can upload to clouds, but you’re not forced to do that, which is very cool!

Limitations of offline workouts

Offline workouts don’t have accelerometer data (“running smoothness”). The heartrate samples are averages per 3 seconds, which is a bit disappointing. Interbeat (R-R) intervals are not recorded, so programs that use heart rate variability data (FirstBeat) won’t be able to calculate training effect or recovery from it.

First test

I have done some comparison tests with the Tickr X and the Scosche Rhythm+ optical sensor (worn on the wrist close to a Fenix 2) while swimming. Here are two graphs comparing the Tickr X (in blue) with the data from a Fenix 2 plus Scosche Rhythm+, during
TickrX_ScoscheRhythma bike – open water swim – bike session.

The Tickr X data shows no variablility at all during the middle part of the session in the water, while the Rhythm+ clearly does.

The Tickr X could be a great triathlon tool, but if this is really its best underwater performance, it is not very useful. Using another chest strap or electrode gel made no difference.

Wishlist

Things that ideally should be included in the offline recording and exports are:
Lap markers
Accelerometer data
HRV data

Error handling in the Android app could be better; displaying only “BLE error” or “waiting” doesn’t give a clue as to what could be wrong. “Downloading” doens’t always mean that data is being received.

In deep water

At the moment, for swimming, the Tickr X is in deep water. But if you need to record heartrate while participating in (contact) sports where wearing a watch is not allowed, it will work fine, although the lack of lap markers limits the usefulness.

Alternatives

Optical sensors like the Scosche Rhythm+ sensor, worn close to an ANT+ watch, work quite well, but they aren’t designed for that purpose, and your mileage may vary. The sensor will have to be very close to the watch, because the high frequency doesn’t propagate more than a few centimeters through water.

5.3 Khz (the older analogue system made famous by Polar) does go a long way in water, but is very susceptible to interference from electrical equipment, so they are only OK in open water (except salt water) but not in pools.

There are systems that use an optical sensor on an earlobe.

I have generally good results with the Scosche Rhytm+ in open water, pools and even the sea. The only downside is that the swim modes on the Garmin Fenix 2 can’t be used, because they won’t record heartrate. Swimming with the Scosche plus a Fenix 2 and another ANT+ watch is do-able, but not ideal.

Independent operations rating: 2 out of 3 stars. This heart rate monitor does not depend on cloud services. Works offline, but downloading and installing software is necessary.

Independent operations rating: 2 out of 3 stars. This heart rate monitor does not depend on cloud services. Works offline, but downloading and installing software is necessary.

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