Hammerhead Karoo – First Rides, First Thoughts

I will complete a Hammerhead Karoo Review later in 2018; for now here are my thoughts and experiences after a few rides.

The Hammerhead Karoo is a high-end bike computer with a specialist nod towards navigation.

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Review

Edit: Here is a link to the review

Hammerhead Karoo Review

Getting Real

I could list all the features the Hammerhead Karoo hasn’t got and then tell you that Garmin has them all. I could then go through a list of some other cycling head units and tell you that they lack certain basic features and that Garmin has them all.

You’d probably then accuse me of being an extension of Garmin’s marketing team.

Maybe.

I tend to be a little more interested in running watches than cycling head units, even though I spend much more time cycling than running these days. One consequence of that is that I seem to get around to Cycling Computer ‘X’ a little late in the day. By then, typically, Cycling Computer ‘X’ seems ‘alright’ and perfectly usable and yes, it does still tend to miss out obscure feature ‘Y’. Sometimes obscure feature ‘Y’ is just what I ‘need’. Sometimes…but not often.

I came to the Wahoo ELEMENT late in the day. It seems pretty awesome to me. I use it.

I only got around to the Polar V650 late in the day. A few months ago, actually. It seems mostly awesome to me. I should use it.

I got hold of a Garmin Edge 820 just about when it was released and the touchscreen didn’t work too well. It still doesn’t work too well. The hardware seemed a bit slow and, more than a year on with some CIQ bits and pieces added, it now seems slower, especially on navigation over long routes. And I still find it relatively confusing to find any feature that I do not regularly use in the deeply nested and complex menu system. Day 1…to…Day NOW….still the same. It’s not great, but it really has got every feature you can think of and it makes a double-shot latte even better than I do. I dont use it. #TopSeller

Actually that’s a lie. I make even better double-shot lattes than Starbuck’s best and finest barista.

So. The Hammerhead Karoo brought you to read this. Yeah, well. SO FAR SO GOOD. I’ll elaborate later.

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BTW: I really do have ZERO relationship with Garmin, other than being a customer. So I’m allowed to say my version of the truth. Make of that what you will. (But the Garmin Forerunner 935 is the best ever triathlon watch…there, I said it, just to prove I’m not stupidly biased against Garmin who do awesome stuff…#NotThe820)

Fine & Fancy

I’m probably a bit of a minimalist at heart. The Hammerhead Karoo almost has TOO GOOD a screen for my liking. It really is a fine piece of hardware. It looks and feels impressively made. Perhaps a little on the heavy side but it’s never going to be used for racing by Team SKY, so I’m not going to worry about its weight too much (168g).

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Hammerhead say that their goal was to start out with awesome hardware and build great software on that platform over time. To me that seems a better strategy than releasing highly functional software on just-adequate hardware with a poor touchscreen. Of course, if improving functionality over time is Hammerhead’s plan (it is) then the best strategy for you and me is to WAIT until they have the features that we ‘need’ up and running. So it’s a risky strategy for Hammerhead. But what other alternatives does a small company have?

But, as we shall see, it has a reasonably good feature set released now…if that feature set coincides with what you want. Hey, you know what to do.

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Fine & Fancy Screen

I can say without a shadow of doubt that the Hammerhead Karoo has the best sporty touchscreen I’ve ever used. It nearly always works…which doesn’t sound too great. But that is a high compliment from me…I am a bit of a touchscreen hater. I don’t hate this one. (Taylor Swift advised me not to). It’s GOOD.

The Karoo has a beautiful matte screen; vivid with great colours (640x480px, 229ppi, 3.5″ diagonal). I looked at the Mio Cyclo 210 last month and liked its touchscreen’s colours. The Mio seems to have deeper, more dense colours than the Karoo but the Hammerhead has clarity and sharpness. And the flow of the screen movements on the Karoo is the best I’ve seen on a bike computer. Its screens move just like those on your mobile phone…and there’s a reason for that 😉 [It’s built on Android 6.0]

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Fine & Fancy Nobbly Buttons

The Karoo’s buttons are on the side and they are nobbly. Everyone should like nobbly buttons because you can feel them when you are wearing gloves. Remember winter? You cycle then too right? and it’s cold. You wear gloves. It’s October. “Winter is coming“, you’ve been warned. Actually I think I’ll copyright that phrase, it has a certain catchy ring to it.

Wahoo’s Elemnt has nobbly buttons too but not quite as nobbly. On a scale of 0 to nobbly, the Karoo is about 8 and the Wahoo about 3 or 4. Personally I find that having buttons on the side is a bit easier to press, sometimes, as I semi-grab the head unit. Those of you with fine motor skills will, no doubt, prefer a simple button press on the top of the device. Actually, either way it makes little difference so long as your buttons are nobbly.

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Bells & Whistles

Don’t mention the bells. There’s no audio alerts. And it is a navigational device. Shhhh.

Architecture

The greatest architectural illusion is not Baroque fancy or Victorian flamboyant, but minimalism

Kevin McCloud

OK, so that’s an architectural quote relating to houses and stuff like that. But it applies equally to the tech architecture of the stuff we use.

At one end of the architectural spectrum is Garmin who, ideally, would like to do everything in a big, ring-fenced field which you have to pay an entry fee for. Reality gets in the way and the fence has to have some gates in it so that people can freely walk from Garmin-world to Strava-world and such-like.

Perhaps right at the other end of the spectrum would be Wahoo. They still have a fence but it’s around a much smaller field and there are lots of free admission passes to move swiftly through the gates that they have. Putting the metaphor to one side, if there was a generic app to configure sports devices then I’m sure Wahoo would use it. But there isn’t. So Wahoo minimises the stuff on the bike computer and lets the app do much of the infrequent, boring configuration work.

Hammerhead are rightly aiming for a model somewhat closer to Wahoo than Garmin. Hammerhead seem to have made a subtly different call to keep the device admin ON the device and so you don’t need an app…at all. In one way that’s a good call for a small company as ‘all’ they have to do is bug-fix stuff in one place – on the device. If you have an app-based infrastructure and a web portal then you have to make one change in LOTS of places…after all one Android app really is not the same as another Android app on someone else’s smartphone flavour of Android and even different versions of iOS have their nuances. I would imagine that the downside is that complex changes made to a device’s firmware are hard to implement and restrictive in nature…then again the Karoo is basically an Android phone so I would imagine that there is a good pool of talent out there able to do wonderful stuff on the device.

Hammerhead *DO* have an online dashboard which currently lets you: look at completed activities; look at pre-existing routes; and create new routes. The dashboard is also where you link to external services like: RideWithGPS; Garmin Connect; STRAVA; KOMOOT; Training Peaks; MTB Project; and, no doubt, more in the future.

So, Hammerhead’s architecture is seemingly minimalist. However I bet they agonised about what to do with NAVIGATION.

  • On the one hand, ‘NAVIGATION’ is their thing. That’s one area that they want to stand out at and, to-date, what they have achieved does have some interesting and novel elements
  • On the other hand NAVIGATION is bloomin’ hard to do. And they also invested in their own online route builder which, I would imagine, is a monumentally complex and time-consuming undertaking fraught with intricate nuances that could cost a fledgling company dear. (You can build routable routes by map clicks on the device too)

I bet they really thought about doing things like Wahoo and saying, “Sod it, let’s just let RideWithGPS do all the route creation stuff and get on with making a freakin’ awesome piece of biking tech gold“.

Well, Hammerhead have made their navigational bed and now they have to lie in it. It’s still a potentially comfy bed though!

In Hammerhead’s defence I would say that I find RideWithGPS to be nearly as impenetrable as a Garmin menu system (nearly). Like on a Garmin, you can do “it”…you just have to waste 30 minutes googling HOW to do “it”. So, maybe Hammerhead have decided to merely provide most people’s navigational needs themselves but also link with RideWith GPS to ensure that the complex stuff can also be done.

So. It all makes theoretical sense.

Hammerhead One app is not related

The Ride

Build v1.5.270.3

It’s been quite a ride, I loved every minute of it

Charlton Heston

One way to figure out if you might like the Hammerhead Karoo is to ask yourself “Do I like good looking bike tech with an awesome touchscreen“. The other way would be to consider, “Do you often load a route at the start of your next bike journey?”. If you answered YES to either, then keep reading.

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Confusingly, I gave my page sets the name of a bike.

The Karoo’s main start screen immediately prompts you with 2 things:

  • Page Sets – You might have one set of pages for your trail rides and one for your road rides. More like a sports profile than a bike profile even though, above, I called mine “Cervelo S3”
  • Route – create route OR choose a pre-existing route. See above, I’ve already chosen Pru Ride London

If you are the sort of person that regularly loads up ROUTES, then the Karoo could be for you. Just for simple ease of use reasons.

My first notable ride with the Karoo was a return journey from London to Brighton, which is just over 100 miles. I do that trip a couple of times a year but usually with varied routes and varied groups of people, so it really is always a case of “following a route“.

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I imported a route into the online dashboard from a RideWithGPS URL which the online dashboard then seamlessly linked to the Karoo over the net and via WiFi. I guess you could also do that whilst on the move if your smartphone is set as a WiFi hotspot and your Karoo linked to that…why not?

If, instead, you had chosen to create a route then you could follow that in all it’s re-routing TBT glory.

Back to the Brighton ride: I had a Garmin HRM-TRI and Favero Assioma power meter pedals paired up and raring to go. I had a Garmin 935 to record the ride and the SmO2 from a Humon Hex, I had the 935 on the bike’s handlebar stem with a Hex data field showing. A rather pretty Polar Vantage V was also donning my left wrist, if I was going to walk around a somewhat-trendy Brighton then I wanted to look my best. (Lycra…really?).

The ride started out a little chilly but, soon enough, it turned into a warm and very pleasant day. Warm enough to make me sweat going up Ditchling Beacon which, I have to say, now seems a lot easier than it used to after two weeks in the French mountains this summer.

The Karoo was perfectly visible in relatively strong sunlight and the touchscreen worked near-perfectly with either thin gloves or bare fingers. I’ve not yet quite got used to the functionality of the buttons and menus, though they seem relatively straightforward.

The previous evening I had pre-configured the data pages to my liking and I seemed to be able to get most things that I wanted on there. It was a quick and painless process that was somewhat similar to how Wahoo accomplish the same task on their app. I’d also configured the power zones based on my FTP of 405w (hang on a minute, maybe I did that in my dreams? ah yes, that would be right..it’s lower). I couldn’t set the HR zones based on LTHR which would have been nice.

I don’t recall seeing a calibration prompt for the Assioma (?), I’ll have to look into that more for the full Hammerhead Karoo Review, obviously. As well as the route, I got my 3s average power, cadence, HR and a few more things on display too. There were many others to choose from. A couple of omissions seemed to be:

  • Lap NP;
  • Last lap NP; and
  • The elevation graph was sweet-looking but I would have expected it to show the elevation ahead of me on the route (if available in the tcx). Nevertheless the awesome screen size did also allow 4 data metrics underneath the elevation profile which was nice, although I think only 2 are allowed underneath the map view – that’s fine.

Even though the Karoo has a stated 15 hours of GPS+sensor battery time I cranked down the display brightness a little…just in case. And I had a battery pack plugged in…just in case. All was good but the battery WAS somewhat eaten into, presumably by the continuous navigation which seems to blight EVERY nav devices’ stated battery times. I would imagine it will be the same on the Karoo sans battery pack.

In the end, after lunch, we returned on a similar route to the outward leg. This was handled nicely by the Karoo which supported in-ride re-routing ie you can load and follow a new route without stopping the workout.

A great experience all around. And did I say the Karoo looks good 😉 !

At home: I think I had previously set the auto-upload to STRAVA to be ‘off’ on the Hammerhead dashboard. Nevertheless I liked the Strava upload facility available at the end of the ride which is much more nicely integrated into the overall experience than on other devices, allowing a degree of control (eg with privacy) and modification before you commit your cycling efforts to our favourite segment engine in the sky.

 

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Take Out

 

It seems to do the job. And look pretty.

There seem to be a few bits and pieces that need addressing. Apparently Hammerhead are releasing frequent updates. Let’s see how things pan out over the next couple of months and then I will aim to produce a more detailed review.

 

Hammerhead Karoo Technical Specs

These are the full Hammerhead Karoo Specifications for those of you interested in this sort of thing.

 

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