Tech Review: Mobile gear for bicycling

By Ron Scopelliti

As much as I like to consider my bicycle rides “me time,” where I can shut out the world and just deal with my bike and the surrounding environment, practical considerations, such as having an elderly parent at home, mean I always need to have my phone at the ready.

So this spring I decided it was time to not only find a good cellphone holder for my bike, but to see what kind of apps might be available to enhance my ride.

In the past, the cellphone holders I’ve tried have been a little sketchy. They involved overly-complicated arms, with joints that tended to loosen up over bumps, and always left me wondering which bump would be the one that sent my phone under the rear wheel.

During a recent trip to a bike shop, I was shown a Delta Smartphone Holder, which mounts very simply on the handlebars, and is more stable and secure than others I’ve tried. I bought mine at a local shop for $25, but have seen them online for as little as $19.

It’s easy to attach with a single screwdriver, and comes with a variety of shims to fit different size handlebars. While it would be time consuming to switch it between different bikes, Delta makes a quick-release adapter that’s sold separately.

The phone is held in place by plastic jaws that are kept taught with small bungees. The jaws are further secured with a cam-lock lever. Shock absorbing pads on the hard-plastic mount protect the phone from the impact of bumps. So far, the holder has proved secure, even over the frost heaves on the Blackstone River Bikeway.

Now that I had my phone mounted like a mini-dashboard on my bars, it only seemed natural to add a cycling app. After looking at a few different options, I settled on Road Bike by Runtastic. A free app that’s available for Android or iOS, Road Bike keeps track of the path you’ve taken, the mileage you’ve covered, your average speed, and the elevation changes you’ve encountered. It also saves the data as graphs, and estimates how many calories you’ve burned based on age, height, and weight. And it gives you options to easily share your activities through social media.

The free version includes unobtrusive ads that appear as a thin bar near the bottom of the page. During my first ride with the app, a pleasant voice alerted me when I’d covered my first mile. After my second mile, however, she alerted me that I’d have to upgrade to Road Bike Pro for continued voice coaching. The upgrade also features more elaborate charts, live tracking of friends who have the app, and the ability to hook into sensors to monitor your heart rate, cadence, etc…

Though I don’t generally like to pay for apps, the upgrade cost of $3.99 struck me as a bargain. The voice alerts are particularly handy for me, because my rides are often limited by time. Having a pleasant-sounding English woman remind me how long I’ve been riding is a good way for me to stick to my schedule.

I found the app easy to read while riding, and I was impressed by the seamless way it resumed after being interrupted by a phone call. Checking out the map, graphs, and statistics after my ride gave me some interesting insights into my riding, and the terrain I’d covered.

So far, both the Delta Smartphone Holder, and Road Bike (both the normal and Pro versions) have more than met my expectations. The one downside I found to Road Bike was that it tends to be a drain on the battery. If you’re planning a long ride, be prepared with a charging cable for when you return to your car. The unexpected upside to the app is that shutting it off at the end of my ride is a good reminder to take my phone off my bike before I put it on my trunk and drive away.