Friday, July 16

Give Cateye Credit for Effort

After much looking at fancy, heart rate bike computers and GPS stuff, I elected to keep life simpler, and I purchased a “Cateye Commuter” for Buddy. I moved the “Cateye Vectra Wireless” from Buddy to the road bike, where it replaces the now-disgraced worthless French bike computer. The “Commuter” is a new model that came out this spring from Cateye, and it is intended specifically for bike commuters. It lacks expensive gewgaws such as cadence, heart rate, and computer download connection, but that stuff is mostly irrelevant for commuting. Since the “Commuter” has an elapsed time function, cadence is easy to determine anyway.

Anyway, the “Commuter” differs from most other cycle computers in five ways. Three of these are very nice, one would be nice if I could only figure out how to get it to work again, and one is worthless marketing hype.

No Buttons – The “Commuter” is designed so that you do not have to push any buttons to make it change functions. Cateye accomplished this via a mount that rocks when you push down on the rear of the unit, pushing a mode button on the back. This is a big improvement over Cateye “single button” units, because you can change functions even if you have ski mittens on. Heck you could change mode by pushing it with your nose if you were so inclined. I suspect the “button underneath” is also less susceptible to water intrusion when caught in a North Texas downpour.

ETA – The “Commuter” contains an “Estimated Time of Arrival” function. I set mine manually, for my commute distance of 20 miles. Riding TO work, I arrived three minutes before the estimate. The estimate would have been closer, except my ride to work is nearly a half mile shorter than the return trip home. Going home, the unit did not do as well. It failed to anticipate a leisurely stop at a major coffee chain in its ETA; post-coffee, it predicted I would arrive home a minute earlier than my actual arrival. I have one caveat to mention about this ETA function. The computer only increments distance settings in full miles. Since a typical bike commuter will cover a mile in four to five minutes, this means a nonrandom ETA prediction error of as much as three minutes. You’ll soon learn what the nonrandom error is on your commute, and mentally account for it. If you commute with the ETA display activated, you’ll also notice that most of the time you are riding FASTER than the average speed, because of stopping delays (signs and lights) that slow each of us down. Using commute distance to the nearest tenth, and allowing selection of “commute distance 1” versus “commute distance 2,” (many people have more than one commute route) would have made this significantly more useful.

Temperature – The computer displays temperature in the units of your choice. Temperature is a subject of great interest to me when I commute, as it relates to how much water I’m sweating off in summer, and how quickly stuff will go numb in winter. I’m not sure there are other bike computers in this price range that have temperature display.

The computer contains a backlight. According to the instructions, this lights for a few seconds when the display is pushed. There’s also a separate “light” button on the back. This would be a very handy feature for me in the portions of the year in which a significant portion of my commute is in the dark. It actually DID this the first time I used the computer, but somehow the feature turned off. I know the backlight still works because I can light it if I take the computer off the bike and push the “light” button. Oh, well, I guess I’ve got a couple of months before this becomes a serious irritant. Perhaps poring through the instructions again will lead to clarity.

Cateye has gotten silly in one regard with the “Commuter.” Their PR hypes this computer for a totally useless “Carbon Offset” feature that somebody imagined ought to be of great and unique interest to bike commuters. As in the review, here, and I see the same schlock in other reviews. Even if I were interested in how much carbon my commute might be saving, such information is totally useless to me on the road. What’s more, it’s easier and quicker to compute the information manually, based on simple mileage, than to get it to come up on the “Commuter.” Still, I tried hard to make this feature useful. I queried all our office liberals (contrary to public opinion, there ARE a few left wingers in North Texas), in an attempt to find one that would purchase carbon offsets from me. I was willing to be quite reasonable on the price. None of them were willing to put their money where their mouths are, so the “Commuter Carbon Offset” feature appears unlikely to turn into a Steve profit center. OTOH, perhaps some loyal reader might be interested in purchasing offsets? Email to and we’ll discuss it. Do it for the planet!

There’s an irritant associated with this useless carbon offset feature as well. Despite repeated attempts, and careful rereading of the instructions, I have been unable to set the date on this computer, beyond switching between m/d and d/m format. As far as I can tell, the only things it actually uses the date for is for this carbon offset feature, and as a display when the computer is approaching “sleep mode.” After consideration, this inability to set the date is not all bad. I’ll have a handy record of how many tons of carbon emissions I have kept out of the atmosphere since I first got the computer, which may be more useful than knowing it in strict calendar terms. I have no idea why Cateye picked displaying the date when the computer nears sleep mode. I’ve never really had any notion that date display was something I cared about in such a device, compared to total mileage, which is NOT simple to access on this computer, but which helps me decide when to purchase wear components such as brake pads, and when to go through items and check to make sure fasteners are not coming loose.

This is a fairly useful computer for commuting, subject to the caveat about the ETA distance. If I can get the backlight working again, that’ll also be an excellent “in the dark” commuting feature not included in most bike computers in this price range. The carbon offset feature mostly provides me with something to make fun of Cateye about. Considering it cost me about the same amount as a Cateye Strada, it’s a better value than a Strada for a commuter, and particularly for a commuter whose commute is a consistent distance, consisting of a nearly integer number of miles or kilometers. I imagine that Cateye will get better at making a computer that is useful to commuters, but it is to their credit that they have made an attempt, and actually succeeded in some elements of that attempt.

Until I saw the “Cateye Commuter,” I’d never really thought about what I’d like in a commuter bike computer, but there are really quite a number of useful things that might not be nearly so useful for general riding, or even for noncommute utility cycling. I would love to someday be able to reminisce about the “Commuter” as the first attempt at what became a distinct market niche for bike computers. Here’s stuff I’d like to see incorporated in future bike commuter computers.
  • Multiple commute distances, set to the nearest tenth of a mile or kilometer
  • “Feels like” temperature in addition to actual temperature (I wouldn’t pay much extra for this feature)
  • Wind speed and direction (I wouldn’t pay much extra for this feature, either)
  • Estimated “on bike” time at completion. My personal record stands at one hour, nineteen minutes. If I have a shot at a new record, I wouldn’t mind if my computer mentioned it to me. “On bike” time is different than elapsed time, which typically excludes traffic stops due to lights and signs. The “Commuter” already has this information, it just doesn’t provide it.
  • Function that allows you to get a good ETA if you multimode commute, such as if you ride the TRE on part of your commute, which I did occasionally on my old commute. Basically, you’d add a time increment to the on-bike mileage.
  • Setup for multiple bikes (lots of people commute on more than one bike)
  • Time until dawn and dusk. The computer’s got a calendar & time, and knows what time I started, so it could compute sunrise/sunset, knowing a latitude. With this info, it could also estimate how much battery I’ll be using and how long until it gets light or dark.
  • Estimated headlight battery life remaining. The computer could do this quite simply, by just tracking how many hours of darkness have been encountered and subtracting that from the “battery life” value entered by the owner.
  • Simpler setup. I don’t need instructions in Japanese, but I WOULD appreciate them not being harder to follow than similar products from the same company.
  • Allow the user to set what gets displayed before the unit goes to sleep. Seeing the wrong date in the “Commuter” irritates me anew each time I see it.
  • Include a headlight mount in the unit’s bracket, so it clears up some handlebar room. This’d have the added benefit of increasing light sales by whoever includes this feature.
  • Don’t complicate things with the useless carbon offset.
What added features would you add for a commuter computer?


Ham said...

Feature 1 would be a Mobile Phone signal jammer, effective for a radius of 100 yards, or 250 with the additional battery pack.

Feature 2 would be a pop up .22 calibre (anything heavier would be impractical on a bike)

Feature 3 would be a fore and aft video camera, with geotagging.

Feature 4 would be a robotic puncture repairer

Feature 5 would be a "Distance and direction to nearest pub/gents/coffe house"

I think I'm getting into this now, there are distinct marketing opportunities for the enterprising creator.

Bill Smith said...

Thanks for this obviously tongue in cheek review. I'll probably buy one anyway!

Steve A said...

Bill, actually, despite the light tone, the observations in the review about the unit are accurate, though some of them are clearly my own opinion. Don't get the idea it's NOT a good unit, merely that Cateye needs to refine the concept some more before it becomes a "must have" unit that others copy.

cycler said...

Sunrise and sunset times are surprisingly geographically dependent as well as time and date dependent, so the computer would need your GPS coordinates and a way of translating that to dawn/ dusk tables.

Velouria said...

I think I have the wired version of this computer. My husband got it for my Rivendell Sam Hillborne, and I resisted at first - but now I thoroughly enjoy it. I too like the lack of buttons and how clearly it displays everything. The features I care about most are distance, current speed, top speed and average speed. It is also handy that the computer has a built-in clock, since I never wear a watch and it's a pain to get out my mobile phone every time I want to know what time it is. None of the other features I really need.

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