For the longest time in canoe racing there was only one way to gauge speed in the canoe. The paddler would have to strap a watch to a thwart and time how long it took to cover a specific distance using basic landmarks such as bridges, powerlines, docks and or buoy markers. The paddler would then have to compare times from previous efforts to gauge if there had been an increase or decrease in relative speed. The inherit downside of this method being that you can only gauge speed on the exact same course as had previously been paddled. If this paddler wanted to know stroke rate, he would also have to manually count strokes over the course of a minute or a couple of minutes and do some basic math to extrapolate his or her SPM. In recent years with the development in digital and GPS technology we can put these days behind us and open our training to limitless course selection and there is now no need for meticulous journaling or memory to see trends in improvement in speed over time. One of the GPS units that needs to be considered is the Nielsen-Kellerman SpeedCoach OC 2.
The Speedcoach OC 2 is a paddling specific GPS unit that will mount directly onto your boat and display an array of data that can be useful to the competitive paddling athlete. The Speedcoach will track your basic GPS data such as speed and distance along with average speed, stroke rate (SPM), stroke count, distance per stroke, calories per hour (paddling Specific calorie count), and total calories burned. This is a lot of data that can't possibly be deisplayed all at once. Because of this they have chosen a 4 data field screen. The top 2 data fields will be locked in for the duration of the workout but you can choose what they are from the setup screen. The bottom 2 fields are set up as "flex" fields meaning that you just press one of the top buttons on the unit and it will scroll through all of the possible data fields. I found this useful especially trying to figure out which data field was most important to me for different workouts.
The actual unit itself is 3 1/2 inches wide by 2 1/2 inches and 1 1/4 inches deep. This is roughly the size of a credit card for reference. The unit weighs roughly 5 1/2 ounces and comes with a couple of mounting options. I personally use the GoPro mount and have a sticky base on the thwart of my C1 (bonus from having a stinger) but you could easily buy a handle bar mount for a GoPro for those of you that have round thwarts.
The size of the screen seems very adequate as I am used to using an old Garmin watch that would display 3 data fields on a watch face so these data fields are actually pretty darn large for myself. This would be a huge advantage to anyone that needs a larger readout. Remember every time you are looking down and taking time to read the unit your eyes are off of the river so something that is easy to read can help you keep your eyes where they should be most of the time and that is on the river.
Now that we have the basics of the unit out of the way, lets talk about the actual performance and the pros and cons of the unit as I have seen from my personal experience. Please remember this is only my opinion and some of these insights may be either a pro or con for others so I ask you make your own judgment.
1. Screen Size - as mentioned above this screen is a perfect size for the competitive athlete. it is large enough to give large readouts for the data fields but not too large that it takes up unnecessary space.
2. GPS accuracy - This GPS updates very frequently, much faster than my Garmin watch that I was previously using. This can be both an pro and con. The reason for this as this updates so frequently that it is constantly going up and down each stroke which can be confusing for some. The reason this is a pro in my opinion is this can tell you if you are running faster on one side or the other or what your technique is actually producing in speed per stroke. I also noticed as I went back into the settings that you can adjust the smoothing of the speed in the advanced setup menu which I have yet to try but will see if this gives a slightly less jumpy readout. I typically use the average speed readout as one of my data fields which somewhat solves this problem also as this gives you the average speed that you have for the piece.
3. Stroke Rate Data - This is the main reason why I personally was interested in this unit. I was searching for a way to see my stroke rate data in front of me during paddling. I also have a Garmin vivoactiveHR that does record stroke rate but to do so the watch must be worn so I cannot actually view the stroke rate as I paddle which was a big downfall for that watch.
4. Flex Fields - I actually really like the fact that you can scroll through all of the available data fields without getting out of a workout and adjusting them in the settings like you have to do with most other watches. I found that I would change them semi frequently throughout the workout to focus on different areas.
5. User Interface - The setup for this GPS is pretty user friendly. It comes right out of the box ready to use and making adjustments to the settings is pretty intuitive. There is no learning curve needed for this device and you do not have to go through an entire setup process to get started.
6. Battery Life - The battery on this unit is pretty impressive. I used this for multiple sessions without having to charge this. I have not fully tested how long the battery would last to see maximal run time but I am confident that it could handle a good 5hr long paddle.
7. NOT touchscreen - Most of us know that touchscreen and water tend not to mix well. Usually if water is on a touch screen it typically renders the device useless. The designers of the speedcoach decided to go with a unit that does not have a touch screen and I think this was a smart option. The unit has only 4 buttons but they are pretty easy to use even when you are out on the water and splashing around. No need to make sure this or your fingers stay dry to use.
1. Adapter needed - For most canoe setups you will need to get a handle bar mount adapter so that you can have this mounted to a thwart or foot brace. The unit does come with a sticky mount adapter for flat surfaces but most designs today surprisingly do not have a great place for the sticky mount. This adaptor is pretty cheap but it adds more cost into the setup so that is why it is on my cons list.
2. Price - The GPS unit by itself is $399 and if you want HR capability and additional features like programmed workouts you will need to add $50 to this cost. This is definitely not the cheapest GPS unit that you can get for your boat. Although the cost is up there, there are other GPS watches in this same range that do not have the same capabilities as this unit and this is very good quality piece so is worth the scoots if your willing to pay.
3. Stroke Rate Data - Although I had this in the pros I also need to have this in the cons. The reason that it makes the cons list is because it seems to jump around too much for my taste. If it averaged the stroke rate so that it only updated every 3 seconds or so that would provide the feedback that I was personally looking for and would allow me to focus on paddling rather than averaging in my head as I read the screen.
4. For Boat use only - If you are looking for a unit that you can also use for runs and bike workouts this would not be the best bet for you. This is a very specific device designed for use in the boat so it does not have the versatility of other units that are designed to go on your wrist that can also be used in the boat.
If your are interested in looking for more information or to purchase your own Speedcoach OC2, just go to the following link.