I had a bike when I was a kid but it wasn’t anything fancy — and the extent of the high-tech was a mechanical bell you could ring on the handle-bars. My wife though is an avid biker and even has one of those collapsable models that you can carry around in a trunk of a car (me doing the heavy lifting, such fun). So I get that her love of biking can be combined with a desire to see how well she accomplishes her goals that include exercise as part of the regiment. She agrees, as long as I don’t ask to see any stats relating to data she prefers to keep to herself.

But in order to see that data you’ll need the iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone. And an iPhone (3G/4/4S) or iPod touch — since one is used alongside the case and sensors as the computer that is reading/presenting/recording the data. Not that the POWERHOUSE isn’t dong some fancy work as well. So since I’m fairly uninitiated in the world of biking, I better take this from the beginning.

The iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone itself is a case that is waterproofed and designed against shock. You’d think it better be since it is going to reside on a bike’s handlebars as the wheels spin. Of course the shock absorption is for the iOS device inside. That means the first thing you’d better do is properly seat that device inside.

But sensibly you first had better load in one of the free iBike apps — these can be found on the iTunes store. There’s four of them: Sports which among its features can measure speed and use sensors to read speed, cadence and heart-rate; POWERHOUSE which goes well with this kit as it’s the same name — providing goal-oriented fitness plans with big screens and animated information that is customizable and designed to both inform, motivate and access what you are doing; Coach for measuring various aspects of the ride and providing graphical data; iBike [Japanese text here] which is all in Japanese but looks to have some cool features to use — once you can decipher them if you don’t speak the language.

So with the apps fully loaded, you release the catch on the top of the POWERHOUSE. This allows the top end to flip open. Now you orient the screws on the inside so that the thickness will be correct for the device inserted (you get hardware for this) — the instructions that come with the POWERHOUSE go into how this is done and if you’re one of those types who thinks a manual is to be laughed at — don’! It’s vital that the iOS device is held securely. Really vital.

So you place the iOS device into the iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone and close the lid and secure the latch. The front of the iBike POWERHOUSE may be a protective layer between the world and the iPhone/iPod touch, but it lets you access the touch-screen in the normal manner with your fingers.  But before you do that, you’ll need to secure the POWERHOUSE to the bike’s handlebars. Again, this is where the manual will play an important part. Use the information provided, along with the included hardware, to seat the iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone on the bike so that you can easily see the touch-screen. Of course it goes without saying that looking at the screen while pedaling away is verboten — it’s as bad as texting while driving. The idea is to activate the functions of the app, ride the bike, stop riding the bike and then see the results. It’s true that the screens provide big numbers for the most part that you can see at a glance, but be warned. Safety first and at all times.

 When you first start up with an app, obviously you first will tell it about yourself (height/weight) and your bike. But where it gets good is in how it calibrates to you and the bike so as to form a cohesive unit (yeah, I said that). You’ll do a calibration ride to get all the sensors functioning in time with the app, and it’s here where the POWERHOUSE shines. That’s because it’s a total system where you can configure screens to your liking, do fitness tests and the like. For some the videos that demo functions like installing the bike might seem simplistic and something that you’ll only need to see once — but believe me that that “once” can be a big help if the level of biking applications you’re used to consists of an odometer strapped to your waist. And the wealthy of accessible videos is pretty outrageous. And useful.

Over the course of a few days, it becomes obvious that the iBike Sports is my wife’s favorite. That’s because the results gives her more than just information about the ride — but also GPS’ the ride with maps and lets her email the results back to her computer for filing/record keeping/etc. I ask here when she’s going to go with the POWERHOUSE app and she says to mind my own business. I get that she is working her way more slowly than some into making this hardware/software combo something that she can be comfortable with. But she does share that she doesn’t bother listening to music or using the phone that is accessible during the ride, since interruptions annoy her,  but I’m glad that the phone function is there just in case.

As to getting the included back wheel speed/cadence sensor in position for her before all this went down, the installation is not complicated, as the necessary hardware is provided. Obviously you should follow the provided directions, but if you’ve ever replaced a bicycle chain, you’re miles ahead of the level of expertise needed. For those a bit clunky, like me, it was just making sure I had plenty of light to see, that the instructions were laid out with the hardware and that the bike was propped so that I could tinker with the wheel without fear of metal falling on top of me. Don’t mind me — I used to have trouble getting baseball cards to hit the spokes of my bike. But as a end result, it’s pretty cool how it wirelessly links up with the iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone to provide riding details (my wife says that getting a heart monitor strap is next).

Not being a biking enthusiast I get that my approaching the iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone from a strictly “tech” point of view doesn’t do it service: those looking for a fitness plan and to improving their performance have a wealthy of tools to use here (yes I admit to chuckling over the “Brazilian Butt” bike ride plan — sophomoric that’s me). The system works with videos that can be viewed, which can help enormously. This is a complete system and should be considered as such. The guys making this don’t just toss the hardware and software at you and say you’re on your own.

Now the casual bike rider is more likely to go with one of the company’s lesser models — I can see how the iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone by its nature is designed for someone who is serious about not just biking in general, but about his/her performance over the course of time. For sure some of the exercises are easier than others, but it’s fair to say that someone using the POWERHOUSE IS serious about their exercise regiment. Not that you have to be all Lance Armstrong hell-bent to apply, but you should at least be willing to devote yourself to following the serious exercise programs provided. The trick when using these programs is being willing to submit to the weeks-long plan so as to get the intended results: this is not a time where casual acceptance or a lackluster attitude will succeed. You don’[t get something for nothing here. Effort counts.

Seeing the iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone, it’s no wonder that stand-alone GPS devices and those Nike sports sensors you can buy get short shrift. Who needs them?

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★★☆

Great

Bottom Line:

Biking enthusiasts who want to know the results of their time spent in the saddle won’t find anything to fault with the iBike POWERHOUSE iPhone. The case and hardware ensures that the iOS device is secured and safe from damaging vibrations inside, and able to provide a running account of your movement and after-the-ride facts when done.  9 gets you the hardware that is needed as well as the programs for motivating you to leave “couch potato’ing” behind.

Pros

  • I-iSlim and CycleMax plans included
  • In-App purchases to extend an application’s capabilities

Cons

  • Doesn’t work with Android-based smartphones



Marshal Rosenthal

 
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.