Leomo creates a wearable, motion capture system to give coaches a snapshot of how cyclists really pedal.
Until now, quantifying how you move when riding your bike has had two major limitations: accessibility and reality.
Only in a biomechanics lab or a motion capture-equipped bike-fit studio could you obtain such information and those opportunities are few and far between. And many argue that what happens in the lab or fit studio isn’t what’s really happening on the road.
Leomo, a Japanese tech company, has been working to refine and simplify the measurement of cycling. The company’s overarching goal of “optimizing movement through visualization and quantification” means cyclists can gain insight to movement metrics.
With the involvement of physiologists Hunter Allen and Neal Henderson, testing protocols could allow riders to also learn how their movement affects overall performance, bringing the Type-R’s true potential to the forefront.
A remarkably simply setup
Between placing the markers and mounting the head unit, I was ready to ride in less time than it takes to change a flat tire. Only the sacral sensor, requiring dual-sided tape, is anything other than ‘set and forget’.
The software is not quite as approachable. In fact, there’s a learning curve required. But before thinking this makes it a no-go, it’s not because the software isn’t user friendly. Quite the contrary. If it’s challenging to use, it would be a result of capability, not poor programming.
And once I had the phone app installed, it wasn’t long before I was customizing the system for my preferences.
Uploading workouts also became pretty simple once the process was repeated a few times, but following power meter software development for the past decade has me a bit preconditioned. If you’re familiar with the process I’m referring to then you’ll quickly be dialed. However, if uploads, file management and analysis aren’t yet your thing, it’ll take a few hours.
But think Mac, not PC — what you’re searching for is often staring at you, not buried deep in the trenches. Personally, I’d rather have a robust system that I’m not using in totality than vice versa.
Function and fashion
Retul, Vicon and other systems are useful indoor motion capture tools. But the Type-R is an active, untethered marker allowing athletes freedom of movement in their natural setting.
The purpose of the unit is to provide both real-time and post-ride analysis for cyclists to modify their pedaling motion, in hope of enhancing performance. Although I cannot speak to the accuracy, repeatability has proven good and the system does exactly what Leomo claims: continuous feedback during, and powerful analysis after, rides.
Although it’s currently in beta it’s quite sleek in appearance, but not refined as an entire package. One of the factors affecting its appearance is that it’s modular. Leomo will be pushing in to other sports and wants the head unit to be interchangeable from a functional standpoint.
The proprietary computer and five motion-sensing markers have a modern, finished feel. When not in use, the marker charger is pretty clever, with a five-sided cube to house all the hardware.
The battery system, however, could be cleaner. Unless using one of the two short-life batteries (30 and 45 minutes’ capacity), which are practical only for trainer use, the system loses its tidy appeal once the 90-minute battery is mounted. Between the three batteries, riders can expect a bit more than 2.5 hours of function.
Leomo was quick to point out that the battery system is the next major objective, and in fairness, the amount of data flowing through the system is immense. Plus, riders and coaches can capture necessary data in less time, so this may be irrelevant.
The screen has great detail, but it does sit quite far ahead of the handlebar and the individual parameters can be a bit small if too many are selected, as with other computers. By using the phone app riders can easily program five different windows, ensuring a good view.
Real-time feedback and post-ride analysis
The Type-R provides real-time data on speed, distance, HR, power and GPS (not guidance or maps on screen, but post-ride viewing) just like your existing computer, and a whole lot more.
And depending your rationale for investing in the system, the app allows you to customize the screen(s) to offer any number of variables that are important to your needs.
A potentially powerful resource
Where the system shines, in my opinion, is in post-ride analysis. Initially I investigated blindly, just out of curiosity, and quickly realized that there are key visuals that make output metrics obvious. And although I wasn’t exactly certain how to use the information, it was quite clear what I was looking at.
But this does raise an important consideration, and anybody familiar with the evolution of power meter use is primed for this critique. At the moment, the Type-R provides a lot of information, but there’s a ‘what do I do with this?’ elephant in the room.
That’s not to say that the data isn’t useful, in fact Leomo offered a handbook written by Hunter Allen that feels incredibly familiar to Training and Racing with a Power Meter. Anybody that’s read the book understands why I referenced the evolution of the power meter previously. Prior to Hunter’s book (and a few others) riders were a bit aimless with the numbers they were generating.
Over time the understanding of not just what the numbers represented, but how to leverage them for improved performance, became more developed. Today power meters have clear data and corresponding protocols and I suspect that, with time, the Type-R will be the same.
Efficiency and practical application
One of the major focus points of the Type-R is the idea that through analyzing pedal smoothness, or lack thereof, a rider can positively influence their performance. And although I like the Type-R for what it’s capable of measuring and the manner in which it provides output, I urge a moment of pause when attempting to connect pedal stroke smoothness and efficiency.
As far as I know, there’s no research supporting this concept. However logical it may seem, this would be a very rider-dependent scenario, based on muscle physiology and a whole host of other parameters.
Attempting a one-size-fits-all approach with bone structure and muscle function is very dangerous. Allen’s mini-book on how to train and race with the Type-R handles this topic delicately, indicating he’s on the same page.
I’ll also be interested to follow the evolution of how the other metrics are handled. If data indicate a muscular imbalance or not sitting squarely, then what? Who will be qualified to step in, and how will that protocol look? The future of the Type-R could be opening up a new set of doors for the analytical mind to find marginal gains, but for now drawing if-then conclusions is cautioned.
The sensor placed on the sacrum has a few limitations — its output is relative to gravity and it only provides information on one axis.
When pedaling up or down a slope, the gradient influences measurement. This can be teased out in post-ride analysis, and Leomo says the future units will have a head unit reference sensor to manage this within system.
Additionally, as a bike fitter focused mainly on the pelvis, I’d like to see the other axis of the sacral sensor accessible — there’s a lot of valuable information in the other two planes of motion. Leomo says this will be the case in the future.
Last but not least, the addition of a marker set on the lower leg and a reference head unit sensor could amplify the power of the tool.
Currently, the foot marker is not actually measuring ‘ankling’. The foot sensor is measuring the movement of the foot relative to gravity, which includes the lower leg and foot. Measuring ankling would allow riders to compare outdoor riding and indoor fitting, which would be an ideal validation tool.
And if the head unit had a reference sensor, riders could know not just within system (ranges) or gravity-relative information (sacral sensor), but could obtain absolute values of joint angles. This information would certainly paint a cleaner picture of kinematics and influence the potential treatment or fit protocol.
All said, much like the early days of the power meter, there’s just not enough familiarity with the data to know how to leverage it to the fullest extent.
But the Type-R is bringing something unique to the table, and as a rider and fitter that’s incredibly interested in the info it provides, it is a pretty exciting product.
Making the leap for a purchase at this point would definitely place you in the early adopter category, but not at the risk of the system not functioning properly. I feel it’s ready for use as long as you can accept the aesthetic complaints regarding the battery appearance and duration, and current limitations to the information provided.
The big question is what to do with the information, and technically speaking, that has nothing to do with the function of the system.
If you want to make full use of the system, a power meter is a must.
Below is information from Leomo on pricing structure and availability for the Type-R (note: we’ve asked for clarification regarding the ‘invitation only’ and have yet to receive a reply).
“The Open Beta Period [started 12 March 2017] and is by invitation only. The first 100 units will be available for $399.99. Next 300 units are $499.99. Units after the first 300 units will be available for $599.99. After the Open Beta Period, the retail price is expected to be between $700-800.”