There is a lot of hyperbole out there in triathlon tech world. A lot. Superlatives that promise “the greatest” and deliver “good.” They assure you the world and fall short of it. We’ve all become inured to it.
Every so often, we get the inside track on something that makes you think “this is gonna be pretty big.” And not just because of what you see on its face. Think Pandora’s box, myriad untapped possibilities. Even before they tell you “this is gonna be a not insignificant advance, something that moves the needle the way the heart rate monitor did in the early ‘80s and like SRM did with the power meter in the late ‘80s.
A few months ago in Boulder during a visit with Olympian and ITU World Champ Flora Duffy of Bermuda, we caught up with her coach, Neal Henderson. I caught up with the highly science-based coach (who likes to put his theories to the test in bike and triathlon races himself), at the gym, and out on a road ride. On that ride, Henderson had a special computer attached to his bike… one we had been privy to testing as well. It was something of a Pandora’s Box: a tool that has untold possibilities.
A few weeks ago, a group of Japanese engineers flew its team to Los Angeles and the AEG Olympic Velodrome in Carson, Calif. The company’s CEO and co-counder, Kunihiko Kaji (or just Kaji for short) was in as well, which made sense; he’s a keen cyclist, and was in for the chance to fly his Cervelo track bike around the 45-degree banked wood planks. And he looked like a kid tearing up the track. His fellow founder, Saizo Son, is an ardent triathlete as well. These guys bleed the product they’re producing.
On Kaji’s bike was the same computer Henderson had. The product was also on the bikes of a small coHRM, speed/cadence llective of bike and tri media. We would all have fun riding on the boards, but it was no joyride; tt was a data download for all of us.
The company, called Leomo, is based in the U.S. with offices in Denver and San Diego, as well as in Tokyo. On this day in Los Angeles, it debuted a product called Type R (“R” being for “race.”) It looks like an oversized bike computer, with an elongated clip-on battery and a glossy touchscreen monitor (and has a smaller battery for wrist-based use). If you think it’s an oversized iWatch delivering pretty high-res color data we’re already familiar with, think again. Compared to the Type R, the iWatch is a toy.
We all consider the heart rate monitor and power meter tools we need to garner the info to perform to our best ability. We think Leomo could be the next data breakthrough, on par with the HRM and power meter in terms of exponential value to the athlete.
So what is it? In short, it’s a paired computer and sensor set that has the ability to provide body position and motion analysis in real-time—while riding on the road. Think Retul motion analysis—but out in the field, riding (or running) on real roads, experiencing real loads, hills, wind, all the things that even the best trainer or a Woodway treadmill simply can’t replicate.
A rider loads five color-coded rechargeable sensors onto the body (one each on the tops of your shoes, one each at the front of your thighs under your cycling shorts, and one at the lower back along the waistline, at the sacrum.
Out on a ride, accelerometers in the sensors relay and record your body’s motion to a high-res color display. All elements are tracked; foot angle, lateral motion of the femur. Pair Leomo with your other ANT+ sensors (power meter, sensors) for more cross-reference data.
With that, coaches can dissect your ride. On it’s face, there’s easy stuff; if your knee has a biomechanical hitch. But beyond that, there’s more; If you drop the upper body, is there really an aero benefit or is it washed out and negated by a drop in power over a sustained period of time?
It takes training data and just drills the foxhole deeper with a new dimensions of intel to be analyzed, and improved upon.
All data is relayed to the touch-screen display for real-time evaluation (which is fully customizable to include not only your basic bike computer data (speed, power, etc.) but also pelvic tilt, legn angle, foot angle) in numerical values as well as on live graph charts. It’s all pushed through to the Leomo Link smartphone (Apple App Store and Google Play) after the workout is done, and can upload to both the Leomo training dashboard or web-based programs like TrainingPeaks.
At the end of your training or racing session, you get all your basic data, as well as all this new data: pelvic angle (which can indicate if you’re staying in the aerobars) and a “dead spot” pedaling score (an isolation of points in the pedal stroke that lack smooth speed and power). When that Dead Spot Score is compiled with power and cadence numbers, it creates a Pedal Stroke Intelligence graph, helping clarify the efficiency of your pedal stroke. It’s a take on SpinScan and the pedal load metrics that Pioneer is able to relay on its
Then there’s left and right leg angular range. Left and right foot angular range. And the one I am drawn most to: pelvic tilt. This one (as it relates to triathletes) will show when athlete either sits up out of the aerobars, or doesn’t rotate the hips forward on the tri bike, using a curved lumbar to incorrectly and inefficiently rotate the pelvis back on the sit bones.
As the technology develops, engineers will be building in visual cues (for example, to keep the upper body at a particular aero angle… no higher, no lower) input by your coach. Additionally, running metrics will be next on the list. Never mind the other things they have in mind; pelvic rotation (yaw) and pelvic (fore/aft). For now, however, it’s a cycling product… but still incredibly relevant to triathletes.
In summation, this is an incredible coaching tool; it allows the data-driven coach to really ask more questions, and get more answers. While the rank-and-file age grouper may not be as keen on it, there will be a few who will want Leomo to self-diagnose or self coach… and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it is a data-intensive tool to be sure.
Beyond that, it provides physiotherapists a great tracking tool for rehabilitation injuries or breaking incorrect or inefficient motion patterns.
And for triathletes, it’s value is incredible. “To me it has its greatest application for triathletes,” Allen told LAVA. “You have a power to cadence map, and an opportunity to understand where the pelvis is in space in order to drive home how to stay in the aero position.”
Soooo… you’re a coach and have to have one? Or a sports physiotherapist and have to have one? Or are just a data-hungry athletes and have to have one? Pricing is not yet set, but Leomo said the first round of buyers (the first 100) will get their Type R for $399. The next 500 will price at $499. By the end of the beta program (date not set), they will price at $599. And when they are a full retail public product, they will price between $700 and $800.
LAVA has had a test unit for about two months ahead of the launch, and knew that the product would have true testing verification with two major industry players providing testing feedback in development: Peaks Coaching Group founder Hunter Allen and USA Cycling cycling coach Neal Henderson (and coach to reigning ITU WTS Series World Champ and XTERRA World Champ Flora Duffy). Henderson, of Bedford, VA, and Henderson of Boulder, Colo.s have been helping squash bugs, test true utility and in the end, finding it a helpful tool in getting some Olympic track athletes some silver medals at the Rio Olympic Games. The company also has brought in cycling fit expert Ivan O’Gorman out of Boulder, Colo., and have an expert panel including O’Gorman, Allen, Henderson, Jim Martin (Academic advisor and associate professior of exercise and sports sciences at the University of Utah), Inigo San Millan (Medical Advisor and Director of Sports Performance at the University of Colorado) and Rodger Kram (Physiology Advisor at the University of Colorado Locomotion Lab) that make up a think tank research body called the Institute of Motion Analysis (IMA), which will identify and share practical applications of motion analysis.
We only just begun investigating Type R, with the only feedback being simple practical elements; it doesn’t yet have an adapter for tri bike aerobars (and won’t work on integrated aero-topped handlebars… you have to have an open 31.8 clamp in order to mount the bracket to your bike, so unable to mount it to a Canyon Aeroad, we have it jury-rigged on our Cervelo S3D with Canyon’s aero-top road drop bar). That aside, we had a bevy of questions for Henderson (below on a bike ride with Flora Duffy recently in Boulder, Colo.) on practical use, triathlon utility. So we sat on the couch at AEG Center with Henderson to head down the rabbit hole a bit, see where it goes…
LAVA: I look at the cross-pollination with elements like GebioMized seat and foot pressure mapping as one of the “we haven’t even broken the ice” opportunities…
Henderson: There’s already some integration of output, what’s going on, and what we can pull in using other ANT+ sensors. Combining motion with output and physiology, along with other mechanical measures like saddle pressure, mechanical measures or even on a power meter, left/right power production. It’s gonna tell us more of the story, and how we can change, to improve the performance, and/or decrease the potential for injury.
Or just if there is some injury pattern, being able to break that cycle by identifying these movement patterns. That, I think, is going to be one of the big advantages for Leomo. The bike has things that make it such a great model, because you’re constrained. You’re on a saddle, connected to the pedals, and you hold… somewhere. So you have limited degrees of movement. The plus and minus to that? The plus is you can analyze it to a very fine degree. The downside is you have this incredible repetition of movement patterns, so if we have a movement problem, it’s pretty ingrained.
So changing that with neuromuscular re-education, things like that are going to have to be the next thing to follow, once identifying those patterns.
LAVA: Have you found a lot of varience with Leomo as a true field-testing tool, versus previous methodologies, which have invariably consisted of lab setting testing?
Henderson: Absolutely. And that’s one of the biggest strengths of what Leomo is. You can ride. You don’t have to have special equipment of any type, other than going outside and riding your bike, or going outside and running.
LAVA: Do you find that if testing someone in the lab, bike or run, that they want to put on their best show? I’d think that would skew the results you’re trying to garner.
Henderson: Sometimes, yes. And even simpler than that, there can be different types of resistance from one trainer to another. Or how big the flywheel is. There;s a series of things that we move differently when we’re completely constrained, versus when we’re outside. There aren’t that many trainers that allow a little bit of lean back and forth. Yeah, you can put someone on rollers, but then you have to have someone that can ride rollers safely, and it’s still not moving in the same way as you are out on the open road. The other part of that is that even on the road, you have your flat terrain, but also uphill. Downhill. Corners. You’re going to have some variation in the terrain. There’s different movement patterns whether we’re climbing or on the flat.
LAVA: Have you run-tested it?
Henderson: Yes, I have. and it’s not yet public-ready for run. It’s happening. And I think that’s going to open a whole new series of ways of looking at things.
LAVA: Coaches are the chief target, but we surmise this as having huge value as a rehab tool for sports rehab centers.
Henderson: Getting on the pre-hab rather than the rehab, staying ahead of the game, yep. It’s something I think we see more folks doing now. For example, someone may have these dysfunctional movement patterns doing these exercises, not looking at the sport. Now you can look at the individual sport and the movement. In cycling, using the sacrum as an example, it’s interesting having someone bend forward, and you can see where that sacral angle no longer changes. That’s SI lack of mobility, and everything from there goes thorasic. We can now actually accurately assess them and show them that, “yes, you can get to only 51 degrees before you go into thorasic flexion.” So when you put them on a tri bike and you can see them at less than 40 degrees—in real time—you know it’s not going to be sustainable. They can force themselves there for a few seconds, but then that’s that; it breaks down. With Type R, they can see it, and understand it, and understand what we’re trying to achieve in remedying it.
LAVA: Those that have used it, including yourself, what’s the experience in having real-time cues of your prescribed window, whether it’s power, or sacral angle or cadence. It’s always one thing to tell someone to do something, but to see the effect on your computer and have a color cue that you’re in or out of that prescribed window is pretty remarkable.
Henderson: That usefulness is what’s allowing us to physically give a better resolution to the prescription of a training session. It’s now not just “go ride this long, with this number of intervals, this long at this power.” Now I can say “ I want you to stay with this pelvic angle on your TT bike, keep it in this range.” Or I know now that when an athlete gets fatigued, so I can say “I see separation between right and left foot angles, so I want you to focus on the right side that is reduced as you fatigued.” I just now have more specific cues to the quality of the movement, and while they’re training. Not just the end result, but how you get to that.
Say you’re doing a training exercise. You can do less reps with better form, or more reps with poor form… which may hurt you. As a coach, I’d rather my athletes do less, but do it better. Type R allows us to find a cut point in terms of how we’re moving.
LAVA: Finally, as a coach, how exciting is it to have a whole new set of data point to refer to, work with and play with?
Henderson: It’s a game-changer, honestly. Being able to look at motion in this way, out in the field, out training, day in and day out, even in racing, it’s gonna be a true game-changer for us. It adds a huge element that’s been constrained to the lab.