This Analog Bike Computer Has Style to Spare
Originally published by Jason Heaton on Hodinkee.
Let’s be clear from the start: this is not a watch. It’s a bicycle computer. But before you fire off a comment saying that Hodinkee has lost its way once and for all, consider the Omata One, a Finnish-made instrument with groundbreaking design marrying simplicity with intelligence, intuitive analog display and digital data collection. Oh, and it uses a Seiko movement. Got your attention? Read on.
Analog bike speedometers are nothing new. As far back as the 1950s, various companies from Schwinn to VDO (German maker of automobile instruments and a one-time owner of IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre) made sturdy handlebar-mount units that tracked speed and distance via a cable connected to a geared ring attached to the bike’s front hub. Of course, these were heavy, chrome units better suited for your Dad’s English three-speed than a racing bike. State of the art bike computers since the 1990s have been plastic digital units that tracked speed, first by a spoke-mounted magnet and sensor and more recently by GPS, and displayed speed, distance, elevation, power output, heart rate and other data, digitally. Omata set out to change all that with the forthcoming One.
While digital readouts convey a lot of information, they are often busy and cluttered and not terribly satisfying. Maybe this is why even in cars with LED dashboards, analog speedometers and tachometers are often emulated. A needle moving in an arc conveys the sense of acceleration and speed better than a blur of digital numerals. Bringing it around to our world, it’s why we still love watching the sweep hand on a chronograph over timing events on a digital Casio. But analog has its limitations. Multiple sets of information are harder to display in a compact space, and recalling past data is difficult, if not impossible. This is why the digital dive computer replaced the analog depth gauge, and digital Suuntos and Garmins have rendered analog barometer watches like the Favre-Leuba Bivouac quaint curiosities.
The Omata One aims to combine analog satisfaction with intelligent data collection for later analysis. It also looks nothing like a bike computer. The housing is a large disc made of anodized aluminum. An indexed turning bezel is used for mode setting. And the broad dial is three dimensional, with actual moving hands and multiple sub-dials. The information packed on this one dial is impressive. The large colored hand shows current speed in either kilometers or miles per hour on the outer scale. A smaller hand on the same axis adds up distance traveled. Meanwhile, the sub-dial on the left adds up accumulated elevation gain in meters or feet and the righthand sub-dial tracks total ride time, up to 12 hours. In use, it is incredibly easy to read on the move, and it's an entirely different sensation to watch the needle jump with a sudden acceleration, in place of merely watching sterile digital numbers change on a standard bike computer.
Of course, precision is the curse of analog displays. Am I going 32 km/h or 34? Have I been riding 46 minutes or 48? Determining these things is akin to using a wrist chronograph with a 30-minute totalizer and 12-hour counter. There’s some extra mental exercise involved. Still, Omata’s stated goal is to provide information with less distraction, allowing you to focus on the experience of riding, and the scenery around you instead of number crunching. And there’s just something satisfying about leaping out of the saddle to sprint for the city limits sign and watch your speedometer needle jump with you.
All of this is fun but in the end, is it just a bit of a novelty, like diving with an IWC Aquatimer Deep Three depth gauge? There’s information displayed in a novel way, but when it’s time to get serious, you still wear a dive computer. Short answer: no it isn’t. Omata has taken things a step further. The data displayed on the One is derived via Global Positioning System (GPS), which makes it extremely accurate and also collects and stores it for later analysis via a smartphone app. Clicking the bezel to “Connect” mode activates the One’s Bluetooth and connects the device with the app to download data from your ride. So you can then tell whether or not you did indeed ride 46 minutes or 48 in addition to a full suite of other ride data, including speed, average speed, riding time, distance, elevation gain, temperature and location. The device is also compatible (via BLE and ANT+ protocols) with heart rate sensors and power output meters for later slicing and dicing, so you can nerd out as much as your buddy with the state of the art Garmin. In addition, the Omata app can synch with the popular endurance sports sharing community, Strava, which lets you challenge your online riding foes with your personal bests.
Omata is an example of what happens when designers start with a clean sheet of paper instead of building off of existing models. The form factor is tactile and a pleasure to use and read—yes, in the same way as a wristwatch. The font used for the numerals was custom designed for quick legibility. And the One is light enough (79 grams) to satisfy weight weenie cyclists who shave their legs to save a gram or two, but it feels substantial and three dimensional in the hand as well. It clicks into a bayonet-style mount on the bracket affixed to the bicycle’s handlebars. A 90-degree twist releases it to take off the bike for downloading and the sealed battery charges via USB-C cable. “Power reserve” is 17 hours.
Omata enlisted the help of Seiko Precision, the micro-engineering subsidiary of the company that makes the watches we know and love. Seiko Precision manufactures timing equipment (naturally), camera components such as shutters, and high precision stepper motors. This last area is relevant to the Omata One, as the device translates satellite-derived data into a visual, mechanically driven analog display. Omata incorporates Seiko Precision stepper motors in the One to actuate the hands of the main dial and sub-dials. I have no doubt that accuracy and build quality is top notch, but how crash-worthy or shock-resistant it is, I’m not certain, so I’d probably use it exclusively on the road instead of off road on a mountain or cyclocross bike. Aerodynamically, it might not equal the wind tunnel performance of a flat digital bike computer but if you are concerned about that, I’m guessing an analog display isn’t for you anyway.
Omata has already created a buzz among both the cycling and product design communities. An early “ambassador” and product tester is Fabian Cancellara, the recently retired Swiss cyclist who is an Olympic gold medalist, multiple Tour de France stage and Spring Classics winner, and IWC “friend of the brand”. Given its avant-garde, “steampunk meets Jony Ive” aesthetic, it will likely be a hit with both the retro crowd, for whom the laid back display matches the steel frame steeds they ride, as well as the custom carbon bike owners who will appreciate its forward thinking and luxury vibe.
The One has not hit the market yet, but it is available for pre-order at a price of $550. While this may sound expensive to the average weekend cyclist, it is actually well within the range of other high-end (digital) bike computers, such as the Garmin Edge 1030. You can find more information and place an order at Omata’s minimalist website: omata.com.
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