Bicycling (South Africa)
The GPS device designed for SA conditions! Viva!
By Aaron Borrill
Cyclists are a lot like sheep, aren’t they?
You only need follow a couple of conversations at a coffee stop to get an understanding of what goes on in their minds: nobody wants to be left behind.
This notion applies not only to races and group rides, but to all of the latest cycling doohickies and must-haves too. A few years ago, it was power meters. In 2017, it was 1x12 Sram Eagle drivetrains; and it’s looking like 2018/19 may very well be defined by the disc road bike.
But what about GPS devices? Right now, smaller seems to be the in thing; but that may very well change. Garmin has ruled the roost for the better part of a decade now, and it’s only recently that the likes of Wahoo – and Polar, to a lesser extent – have began to put up any form of resistance. And in fact, we’re now seeing more and more cyclists jumping ship and moving away from the perennial favourite.
But what if we told you there was a new GPS device in town? One with South African roots, and with the ability to challenge the main players?
PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN
It all began several years ago, when Hammerhead founder and CEO Piet Morgan, a native South African, became intimately aware of the challenges of navigating by bike – when he cycled across the United States, over 63 days.
It was there that he had an epiphany: it occurred to him that the concept of light-guided aircraft-carrier landings could very well be applied to cycling.
He used this thinking to develop his company’s first product, the Hammerhead H1. As the name so descriptively implies, the device took the form of a T-shaped, handlebar-mounted unit that displays navigational prompts through a simple and elegant LED visual interface; just like a head-up display.
With the help of co-founders Laurence Wattrus (another South African) and Raven Beemsingh, the company realised that the more serious cyclist could benefit from the same thinking, but with a larger screen and a more focused device. And just like that, Hammerhead’s second product – the Karoo, named after SA’s famed natural semi-desert region – was born.
TECH AND SPEC
The Karoo runs on a fully customised Android 6 operating system. It’s one smart device, and boasts one of the best (if not the best) screens on the market. Utilising a 0.9mm-thick sheet of Gorilla Glass, the high-definition 640x480 (229 pixel per inch) touchscreen is super-responsive, and one of the Karoo’s biggest drawcards.
Setting it up is a relatively simple exercise. First, you need to create an online account; but that too is quick and easy. Once logged into the Karoo dashboard, you’re able to browse through your profile, build routes, check your activities, and update your settings and links to third-party apps such as Strava, Training Peaks and the like.
Creating customised data screens is simple and quick to do. You can insert up to 12 fields per screen, each of which can be assigned to various bikes, power meters and heart-rate sensors. The fullcolour mapping is superbly detailed, but it’s the accuracy of the routing that sets it apart.
Not to mention the turn-by-turn instructions, which display on the bottom of the screen – after all, the company does pride itself on its navigation proficiency. And routes can be added by loading any of the usual file extensions (such as GPX, FIT, TCX, KML, or KMZ).
Unfortunately there are no sound prompts (for now). But that’s a minor gripe, considering everything else it can do: you can pinch-zoom on the map, and scroll around it to see what’s ahead or behind. With around 16GB of onboard storage (8.5GB of user space), downloading myriad maps and rides will never be an issue.
And in terms of battery life, Hammerhead claims 15 hours per charge, which is on par with rival units from Garmin and Wahoo.
Well, as I say, the Karoo’s screen is a work of art – by far the best in its class. Not only does it feature a matte, anti-glare finish; it also benefits from hydrophobic properties, so water and other liquids are repelled from the screen.
Then there are the diagonally opposed buttons, arranged in this way to prevent accidental clicking when clasping the device from both sides. And the textured surface of the buttons makes it easy to operate with gloves. The company is constantly developing new tech, and will send out software updates every month to further refine the user experience.
The Karoo is compatible with Garmin mounts, so it’s easy to switch between bikes. Included in the box is a genuine Barflybranded mount, should you need it, but it’s a bit chunky to be honest.
One thing that is hard to ignore is the size of the Hammerhead Karoo – at 98 x 72 x 28mm, it’s a fair whack bigger than its rivals; but honestly, it wasn’t something that bothered us. In fact, the bigger screen made monitoring vitals such as power and heart rate less of a strain and more of a pleasure.
To nitpick, we’d say it’s more the device’s weight – 185g, versus the Garmin 520’s 62g – that will freak out the weight weenie in us all. But that’s a small price to pay, considering the Karoo is far less of a headache to deal with on a daily basis: no frozen screens or random switching off here.
In fact, its ease of use and intuitive functionality will nullify any preconceived issues you may have with its dimensions. The Karoo’s mapping and GPS capabilities are unsurpassed, trumping the big three in terms of accuracy, directional prompting and level of detail.
The Hammerhead Karoo provides users with a worthy and refined alternative to the Garmin, Polar and Wahoo onslaught currently dominating the segment.
Yes, compared to its rivals it’s a heavier and somewhat bigger device; but these are negligible minuses considering the glitch-free experience it provides the user – not to mention the proudly South African connection!
The Karoo’s screen is by miles the most responsive we’ve tested, and the resolution is unprecedented. In fact, over 30 hours and 400km of testing, we experienced no gremlins or hiccups of any kind.
In terms of accessibility and pricing, it will be available to South African customers directly through its website – following the same ordering system as in Europe, with a local distribution centre making delivery a breeze.