If you have a bike, you need to have a computer on it - especially if you’re a fan of gadgets, and you probably are if you’re ferreting around on pocket-lint.co.uk. We got our dirty cycling mitts on the VDO HC12.6: I’m not sure what all the numbers mean, but we put it through its paces on the bike.
Mounting the unit was very simple, a case of attaching the base unit onto the handlebars and the sensor onto the forks (with the magnet in the spokes). This took less than 10 minutes and we were ready to roll - well not quite. Before setting off, you need to set the wheel size - the instructions contain the method of measurement, or the standard measurements of most common wheel sizes, in both metric and imperial, depending on whether you are going to use KM or miles. You can put in two different wheel sizes, for different bikes, tyres or race wheels.
The computer is mated with the base using a twist lock system, which has a good solid German feel to it. The computer itself is waterproof and finished in brushed aluminium - its big and square, and the buttons feel solid. So far so good, that is until you start pressing the buttons, of which there are three: Mode 1, Mode 2 and Pulse.
Mode 1 accesses the following features: Trip Distance, Ride Time, Average Speed, Max Speed; Mode 2 lets you into: Navigator, Clock, Odometer 1, Odometer 2, Odometer Total; Pulse means you can get to Stopwatch, Average Pulse, Time Above, Time In, Time Below.
Obviously, the heart rate monitor functions only work when you are wearing the cheat transmitter provided, which was as comfortable as any other the other brands of HRM. The added bonus here is that you can change the battery yourself. The supplied booklet covers most things in fairly good English and the computer can be set to work in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Dutch.
So, let’s get into the details. We mounted the VDO unit alongside a CatEye Cordless 7 to see how it felt alongside one of the most popular units available. First of all, most people are interested in speed, and the HC12.6 seemed a little slow to respond to changes in speed compared to the CatEye. Annoyingly the speedo only works in increments of 0.5kph, which is probably why it appears slow to change. However, all the other functions work as they should and there is little to say. The ride time has an automatic stop/start, so it really is the time spent riding, not including sitting outside a café eating fruitcake.
Under the second Mode functions, the Navigator is an interesting function, which gives a key to the target market for the computer. Navigator is a second trip distance, which you can reset in the middle of a ride - the suggested use is for following instructions from a route card, e.g., follow road for 4km, turn left, you can reset it and ride 4km, then turn left. I don’t want to be cynical, but I can’t see the point - unless you’re an adventure racer orienteering at night and want to avoid some simple mathematics. The Odometers are configured to record the total distance from each of the wheel sizes, and the total covered by both.
So far, it’s just a cycle computer, but now we move to the heart rate monitor functions, which is what makes this stand apart form the majority of other bike computers out there. The heart rate functions are fairly basic, but once you are strapped in, it constantly monitors your HR. The general set up is based around target zones, and you can set a high and low point from 80 up to 220. This means that you can set your zone, and it will time how long you are within your zone and also how long you spend above and below it. It will then calculate an average for you.
In the HR functions I found my greatest confusion with the stopwatch. Whilst the chest belt is transmitting, the computer records the data, including whilst you walk to your bike, get it out of the garage and so on, unless you employ the manual halt option. You can then start the monitoring again once you are ready to ride - otherwise the average includes all the messing around. The ride time and heart rate timers are separate, so you may record a ride of 1 hour, and heart rate for 1.15, because you were messing around at the start or finish, or stopped for some fruitcake. There’s also an alarm option that will sound when you go above or below your limits, which is a welcome touch.
So far the HRM functions sound very good, and they do seem to work well. But again, it seems to indicate the target user for this model, because there is no option for extracting any of this data from the watch, which serious cyclists will want. Also, there is no max HR for the exercise session, which would have been simple to include. You get the feeling that this unit is aimed towards the semi-serious exerciser or cycle tour rider, rather than the hardcore roadie - after all, there is no cadence measurement like you find on the Ciclosport HAC4, or the Polar S720i (albeit at a much higher price).
It’s assumed you have some knowledge about HRMs, because there are no instructions on why you would want to us it, or to what end. Most bike enthusiasts will know enough about HRMs to see what is happening. The final interesting feature is a servicing alarm, which comes up after 750km, to remind you to get your bike to your trusty workshop and have it looked over. It assumes that you'll buy a new bike with the unit and why not? You also get the option of setting Odometers, so you don’t lose all that data when the battery gets changed, or if you want to include miles covered with a different computer.
So overall, it’s a solid and accurate unit, with a good range of functions. Mastering the buttons does take some time, but it soon clicks into place. The HRM functions are the real winner here - a basic HRM costs about £40, the Polar S150, the entry level HRM with specific bike functions costs £100, whilst this chap costs £65. Ok, you could get a basic bike computer and a basic HRM, but not with the range of functions you find in this combination - it’s a big bang for the bucks.
Ok, it’s not all wireless, but it is an all in one unit. VDO is thinking ahead, because they also sell a wrist strap for about £8, so you can use it as a running HRM as well, and a second sensor kit is £9.
This unit was kindly loaned to us by www.rawexperience.com