First Impressions: Mio ALPHA Heart Rate Monitor

Cycling coaches and fitness experts have touted the benefits of using a heart rate monitor (HRM) for decades. And while power meters have become the hot ticket for monitoring one’s performance, wearable HRMs like Mio’s ALPHA ($169.00 MSRP) have generated new interest in heart rate-based training.

Unlike traditional HRMs, the ALPHA doesn’t rely on a chest strap to record your heart rate. Instead, an electro-optical cell senses the volume of blood under the skin, and the device uses algorithms to determine your heart’s true rhythm. The benefit? Increased comfort, and according to Mio, 99% EKG accuracy.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Mio Global ALPHA HRM heart rate monitor

Image courtesy of Mio Global.

Thanks to the ALPHA’s simple, two-button interface, the device is easy to configure and operate. When you unbox the ALPHA, you simply set the time, and it’s ready to go. Mio recommends positioning the ALPHA snugly above the wrist bone when using the device as a HRM. During our testing, Mio’s ALPHA detected our heart rates on the first attempt the majority of the time. One criticism of strapless heart rate monitors is that they’re not as accurate as conventional strap-based devices. We compared the Mio with multiple traditional strap-type monitors, and the ALPHA’s readings were within 1-2 BPM.

By itself, the ALPHA’s reporting capabilities are limited to exercise duration, average heart rate, and time spent in the target heart rate zone. For true data nerds, the device is compatible with a wide range of smartphones and popular fitness apps including MapMyRide and Strava. Using Mio’s Bluetooth® Smart (4.0) connectivity, we were able to easily pair Mio’s ALPHA with Apple’s iPhone, the Magellan Cyclo 505 cycle computer, and Polar’s V800 sports watch.

For multi-sport use, the ALPHA is an excellent choice. The comfortable, strap-free design offers a viable alternative to traditional heart rate monitors without sacrificing accuracy. With its long battery life (8-10 hours in recording mode) and numerous connectivity options, it offers seamless integration. For dedicated cycling use where we don’t need the watch’s chronograph functionality, we would probably opt for one of Mio’s smaller units such as the FUSE or VELO.

During several months of testing, our sample ALPHA has withstood its share of abuse. From well below freezing to the mid-70s, it never failed to detect and display our testers’ heart rates. And despite an unexpected trip through the washing machine, the mineral glass LCD display remains clear and crisp. If we could make one change, we would like to see Mio develop a charger with a more mechanical connection. The current USB charger utilizes a magnetic interface, and can sometimes become disconnected from the watch (especially when connected to a desktop computer’s USB port).

Disclosure: Mio Global provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: Compass Barlow Pass & Stampede Pass Tires

Riders who prefer skinny tires have plenty of options when it comes to high-performance rubber. But you’re looking for a wide, supple tire, the pickings can be mighty slim. Thanks to Seattle’s Compass Bicycles, fans of wide tires don’t have to sacrifice width for performance.

Compass offers tires for 26″, 650B, and 700C rims. All Compass tires feature folding beads, and most models are available in standard and extralight versions. For long life (and improved puncture resistance), both versions–which are handmade in Japan by Panaracer–feature 3 mm tread thickness. Extralight tires are available with tan or black sidewalls, while standard models are only offered with tan sidewalls.

Model Weight (g) Width (mm)
Stampede Pass
(standard)
281 31.5
Stampede Pass
(extra light)
251 31.8
Barlow Pass
(extra light)
370 37.8
Tires measured on Rolf Prima VCX rims with 22.6 mm outer and 18.4 mm inner widths.

We tested Compass’ 700×32 Stampede Pass in the standard ($57 MSRP) and extralight versions ($76 MSRP), and the extralight 700×38 Barlow Pass model ($78 MSRP). Our testing took place on paved and unpaved roads, and included both utility and recreational riding. Tires were installed (with tubes) on a variety of rims, including models from ENVEHED, Mavic, Rolf Prima, and Specialized. All three sets of tires mounted easily on our test wheels, and seated without any hops or wobbles.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Compass Stampede Pass Black Mountain Cycles TRP RG957 HED Ardennes Plus LT Cane Creek

From ten feet away, one might mistake the Stampede Pass for a basic commuting or touring tire. The tan sidewalls give off a retro vibe that belies the tires’ modern construction and materials. For those that prefer a more modern aesthetic, the extralight version is also available with black sidewalls. On the road and trail, the Stampede Pass tires delivered a smooth, nimble ride. The minimal tread proved effective on hardpack dirt roads, and behaved predictably on wet and snow-covered pavement. While the Stampede Pass tires have a maximum pressure of 90 psi, we never ran more than 80 psi on paved roads.

As good as the standard Stampede Pass versions are, the extralights are in a completely different league. Plush doesn’t even begin to describe the extralights’ ride. The extralight Compass tires practically floated over chipseal roads and broken pavement. In theory, the lighter casings are more susceptible to damage, but we didn’t encounter any issues with the extralight models. Interestingly enough, the only puncture that we experienced during our testing occurred with the standard Stampede Pass tires on an early morning commute. Based on the size of the flint-like shard that caused the flat, we suspect that a heavier, less-supple tire would have met the same fate.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Compass Barlow Pass Rolf Prima VCX Disc Salsa Vaya

While not every bicycle can accommodate 38 mm wide tires, the ones that can will definitely benefit from the Barlow Pass’ smooth, fast ride. The tires’ plump profile proved ideal for mixed-terrain commuting and recreational rides. Some riders may balk at the idea of using $78 tires for commuting, but the Barlow Pass’ superior performance inspired us to seek out longer routes to and from our destinations. We didn’t test the tires in any competitive events, but Compass Bicycles’ Jan Heine reports that many of his customers choose the company’s tires for gravel racing (Heine completed the 360-mile Oregon Outback event on Compass extralight tires with no flats or tire damage).

Are the Barlow Pass tires effective on dirt and gravel? Most definitely–if you understand the limitations of their minimal tread. Performance on hardpack dirt is excellent. Shallow gravel was no problem, but you’ll probably want a wider tire for deeper gravel. In mud or loamy soil, we certainly noticed the lack of knobs. Compass’ Barlow Pass tires really shine on washboard dirt roads; we could comfortably cruise along at a good clip thanks to the tires’ passive suspension properties. And although they are rated to 75 psi, dropping the Barlows’ pressure down to 35 psi (front) and 45 psi (rear) will make them behave like a much wider tire on dirt and gravel.

If you need the reliability of heavily armored tires, the extralight Compass models may not be the right choice for your application. For average riding conditions–including mixed terrain use–we have no qualms recommending the standard Stampede Pass and Barlow Pass tires. Riders who are looking for the next level of performance and comfort owe it to themselves to check out Compass’ extralight tires.

Disclosure: Compass Bicycles provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: MORSA Designs Accessory Mounts

Handlebar real estate is a precious thing. If you’re one of today’s well-connected cyclists, there’s a good chance that your bicycles’ handlebars are overflowing with electronic accessories. Making room for a new toy–whether it’s the latest POV camera or smart phone–sometimes means leaving one gadget behind. Not so with the MORSA mounting system. The modular design can accommodate two accessories, and takes up less space on the handlebar than even the tiniest cycle-computer.

At the heart of the MORSA system is the company’s carbon-composite mounting arm ($20.00 MSRP). The arm allows you to mount one or two accessories using MORSA’s adapters $10.00/ea MSRP), which are available for Garmin-style computers, Rokform phone cases, and Garmin, GoPro, and Shimano cameras. MORSA also offers a universal adapter ($10.00 MSRP) that is compatible with nearly any accessory that normally clamps to a 31.8mm handlebar.

Unlike some dedicated accessory mounts, the MORSA system does’t limit your accessories’ positions to one or two options. If you want to mount your GoPro camera level but prefer your Magellan GPS positioned at an angle, that’s no problem. The mounting arm can also be flipped so that devices can mount in front of, or behind the handlebar, and the adapters’ positions can be adjusted independently of one another (and relative to the mounting arm).

We tested the MORSA with a variety of accessories including Garmin Edge 500 and Magellan Cyclo 505 cycle computers, lights from Lupine and Phillips, and wearable devices from Mio and Polar. Even when paired with the heavier items, we didn’t detect any slipping or unwanted flex with the MORSA system. And despite our initial concerns, the small, low-torque fittings held tight over washboard dirt and gravel roads. Swapping the mounting arm between different bikes was easy thanks to system’s hinged-clamp design.

MORSA’s modular, à la carte design makes it easy to configure the exact system for your particular accessories. Compared to many competitors’ single-device mounts, the MORSA system is a real bargain. One addition that we’d like to see is a bespoke adapter for Magellan’s excellent Cyclo computers (Magellan uses a slightly different mounting foot than Garmin).

Disclosure: MORSA Designs provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.