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Monday, October 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Gear Junkie: Measuring motion for cyclists

The Type-R measures everything from pedal strokes to pelvic tilt. (Courtesy / Courtesy of LEOMO, Inc.)
The Type-R measures everything from pedal strokes to pelvic tilt. (Courtesy / Courtesy of LEOMO, Inc.)
By Stephen Regenold For The Spokesman-Review

A drone hovers, filming the action. Cyclists race past, rocketing around a giant track. It’s a Thursday night in Los Angeles, and I’ve been invited to witness a product purported to be substantial for the future of the sport.

The venue is the VELO Sports Center and its 250-meter indoor wood racing track. The company is LEOMO, Inc., an upstart selling what it calls the “next frontier of wearable technology.”

Decades ago, athletes and coaches began using heart-rate monitors to gauge output and dial training plans. Today, cyclists further quantify physicality with power meters, a standard tool, which distill output in watts.

LEOMO believes the next step is something called motion analysis. At a high-level, this term refers to the assessment of body movements to build and display data for improving efficiency during sport.

The company’s debut device, called the TYPE-R, is a multipart package with a handlebar-mounted touchscreen and five small sensors. Gyroscopes and accelerometers measure a wearer’s motion and form, giving real-time feedback on foot position, leg angle, pedaling “dead spots,” and pelvic tilt on a bike seat.

At the race track, after a demonstration, I configured the kit to go for a ride. Like little tiles with LEDs in the corners, the sensors affix on your shoes, each knee, and on the lower back.

Bluetooth syncs the sensors wirelessly to the handlebar-mounted main unit. Begin riding and the TYPE-R is immediately gauging every pedal stroke. Readouts roll across the display in real time.

Multiple fields and swipeable screens provide data in percentages and degrees. Ostensibly, a rider can gauge performance with a glance at the handlebar-mounted unit, adjusting for efficiency as he or she rides.

The totality of metrics is saved. You download it later, spotting issues in form, discerning trends in your motion, good and bad. LEOMO believes the data on motion – heretofore unavailable beyond lab settings and complex mechanisms – will change how cyclists tweak technique, bolster fitness, and prevent injury.

I rode a few laps on the velodrome track before getting assessed. “Pedal one lap then go into the drops,” a coach shouted, instructing for a drill.

My bike tires gripped on the wood track, centrifugal force keeping my angled frame upright and accelerating. The LEOMO gauges did their thing, soaking in X-, Y-, and Z-axis information and pushing it to my screen.

Before pedaling off, a coach had encouraged I monitor pelvic tilt while riding. I tried to glance at the screen between banking turns. The numbers flashed, but it was difficult to comprehend.

Early adopters will be tasked to decipher motion data somewhat on their own. This is a new field. Unlike heart rate, watts, and other physical metrics, there is scant research or consensus on optimal pelvic tilt, “leg angular range,” and other data points the LEOMO units offer.

The company is working to demystify the output. Indeed, the product announcement coincided with an ancillary launch of a research body called the Institute of Motion Analysis.

After my laps on the track a coach gave me the top-level breakdown. He flipped through screens of data, charts and lines distilled to represent my motion on the machine.

The coach paused while reading the data. He pointed to a pelvic-angle metric, noting my stats were similar no matter if I gripped the top of the handlebars or went into the drops.

It was a quick and ad hoc takeaway. But the data point illustrated a weakness in my style – no matter where my hands were on the bars my spine position remained the same. This forced me backward on the seat, an unwitting move of millimeters that compromised muscle efficiency.

LEOMO plans to sell its first units to coaches who work with elite and professional riders. The TYPE-R will cost $399 for this crowd, and then its price will increase as the company opens for anyone to purchase.

In the end, LEOMO is making a big bet. But the company is well-funded and it has hired top cycling coaches and has a multitude of coders and engineers on staff.

Much like power meters a decade ago, motion devices are a burgeoning area. It took a few years, but now power meters are ubiquitous with serious cyclists; LEOMO insists its trajectory will map the same.

I’ll be watching LEOMO as it launches to the public this summer and seeks customers and supporters of its vision for “wearable motion measurement tools.”

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