By Sue Halpern and Bill McKibben
If you’re an athlete who’s out to progress, you have to think of your body as a machine, a system of systems—cardiovascular, muscular, respiratory—and machines need gauges. A heart-rate monitor can tell you how efficiently your body is working and how hard you are pushing yourself. GPS can tell you where you are, track your route and time your progress. If you really want to improve your performance, you need baselines and goals. That’s where gauges come in.
And boy do we have gauges: The heart rate monitor of a decade ago has given way to a battery of miniaturized electronics that can follow your every function and goose your every step.
These days both the Fitbit Charge HR ($149, www.fitbit.com) or the Garmin Vivofit 2 ($99, www.garmin.com), can track not only your every step but also caloric exertion and heart rate. Goodbye chest strap, hello convenience. Both the Garmin and the Fitbit are most precise when you haven’t moved a muscle and are maybe thinking of going out for a hike or a run. (They are less accurate on the go.)
The Vivofit benefits from an on-board battery that lasts a year before it needs to be replaced, while the Charge HR turns out to be aptly named since it needs to be plugged in every three or four days. On the other hand, the Charge HR has a more friendly computer interface and mobile app than the Vivofit 2, and a more elegant, low-profile design.
The TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio ($229, www.tomtom.com), by contrast, is in the growing family of uber fitness trackers and seems made for triathletes. It is bigger than a simple wrist-band, yes, but more reliable when tracking heart rates. The TomTom has a built-in GPS that tracks your route and plots the wave form of your heart rate over time. It is waterproof and can be calibrated for a variety of activities including cycling and swimming (it’s not set to track heart rate while swimming, although one reviewer has found that by putting it in “Treadmill” mode it will.) It can also distinguish between running outdoors and running on a treadmill. It can pair with your phone and lets compete against your past performances. Oh, and it broadcasts the time in big, easy-to-read, numbers.
Cyclists who are not keen on either chest straps or fitness watches can simply slip on the Lazer LifeBeam ($229, www.lazersport.com), the first bike helmet embedded with optical sensors and a 3-axis accelerometer. The helmet transmits via ANT+ or Bluetooth your heart rate to a smart phone or to a bike computer, like a Garmin. Built on the super-comfortable Lazer Genesis helmet, the LifeBeam’s sensors are undetectable once the helmet is on your head, and until you end your ride and have to plug in your lid, you can forget that you’re even being monitored.
Brandon’s Neshobe Winery and Foley Bros Maiden Double IPA
The fifth hole on the Neshobe Golf Course, one of the best little golf courses in the state, backs right into the lovely vineyards of the Neshobe Winery. Open from 11 to 5 pm, Wednesday through Sunday, It’s a great place to stop at the tasting room after a ride over Brandon Gap. There are decent wines and a lovely setting but the real reason to stop is that the folks behind Neshobe are also responsible for Foley Brothers Brewery. And the Foley Bros Fair Maiden Double IPA is worth stopping for. This double IPA is fairly widely available in bomber bottles (we have even found it at the Costco in Colchester). In the ever-growing hop sweepstakes, the double IPA is what it takes to give hopheads the fix they once got from first-generation microbrews, and in this case it comes with some fairly rich malting as well. If you really concentrate, you can get tropical fruit flavors, but it screams pine resin. So if you’ve come off a gap ride from Rochester, with its glorious white pines along the ridge, you’ll be making a day of it. The one other gauge you might want to check is a breathalyzer; this is 8.2% alcohol by volume and it comes in a big bottle, so share.