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Tech review - February 24, 2004

Specialized Turbo Pro

By John Stevenson

With a huge range of functions, Specialized's new Turbo Pro computer does everything but tell you it's time for another Powerbar or Gu sachet.

Compact & easy to use
Photo: © Specialized

Computers are one of those product areas that have seemed like a 'me too' from Specialized until lately. It was as if Specialized did computers because everyone else did computers, and despite some striking industrial design, there was nothing to really set Specialized's computers apart from the vast horde of others out there.

With the Turbo Pro, Specialized now has a computer worth making a fuss about. Key features include a wireless sensor for the main functions, altimeter, backlight, cadence (which requires a cable that plugs into the back of the computer), temperature and all the usual speed/distance/average/maximum read-outs. There's also a function to count down to a target distance, a repeating countdown timer for simple interval training and a second wheel size option so you can switch it between bikes.

The display has three lines. The 16mm high top line gives you speed, the middle 8mm high numbers display your chosen second function and the bottom dot-matrix display tells you what you're looking at. A 'mode' button takes you linearly from one function to the next, while the 'set' button switches between sub-functions (such as cadence/average cadence/maximum cadence, or altitude/altitude gain/incline) or, if held down, allows you to change a setting.

Assembly to the bike is simple. One of the big advantages of wireless computers is that, if everything goes according to plan, you attach the sensor to the fork, the magnet to the wheel and the computer to the bar and everything Just Works. Winding wires round cables, and securing them with zip ties and so on, is all rendered unnecessary. The usual downside is that wireless computers have a reputation for poor reliability. After 1500km with the Turbo Pro, I've experienced no reliability problems at all.

Once you've mounted the computer to your bike (two sizes of mount are supplied so it'll fit 26mm or 31.8mm handlebars) then it's a matter of following the manual to set it up. It's all fairly straightforward, except that the manual is rather small, and if you don't have super-sharp young eyes, you might struggle with the details of the teensy diagrams. Making the manual available as a PDF download from the website would solve this problem, as us old giffers could print it out at a larger size. [Update: Specialized tells us the manual is available as a download from the company's website, and it turns out I was looking in the wrong place. Specialized's manuals can be found here.]

Another manual glitch is that the procedure for setting tyre size (page 11) is not fully described. The missing step is to hold down the mode button when you get to the display of the tyre circumference in mm to start the numbers flashing, then switch between the numbers with the 'set' button.

On the road

Once you're rolling, switching between readouts is simple - you just press the mode button to flip through the functions, and the set button to access the sub-functions. It's all very simple, though the sheer number of functions means it can take a while to get from one to another.

It would be nice if the Turbo Pro remembered which sub-function you'd chosen on your last channel-surf through the data. In fact, it does remember if you've chosen to read temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit, but it forgets all your other choices, including whether you want trip distance or odometer, defaulting to the latter. I'm far more likely to want to know the distance I've covered in the ride than my all-time total.

The altimeter function shouldn't be taken too seriously. I found that it consistently under-reported the climbing I'd done. Now, that's not unusual. Electronic altimeters need to have a threshold below which they ignore an altitude change, otherwise they pick up every trivial rise and fall in the road and you get credited with bumps you've basically coasted up. But you feel a little bit robbed when a moderately hilly 66km loop that has three climbs totaling a little over 500m is reported as including only 250m of ascent. Damnit, I sweated up those 250m and I want them recorded!

The cadence function works. Back in my long-ago bike shop days we used to waste wet Wednesday afternoons in winter having spinning contests on a bike in a wind trainer with a cadence computer - I wish we'd had the Turbo Pro's maximum cadence function then. Aside from the sheer data-geekery I don't have any other use for a cadence function, but riders who are trying to perfect a Lance-style spin will appreciate it.

The Interval Timer will also appeal as a training aid. It's a simple repeating countdown timer that sounds an alarm after your chosen time, so you get beeped at, say, every 90 seconds.

Good and bad

On the whole, this is a well-designed little unit with a huge number of functions. It's very good at its core job - being an easy-to-use and easy-to-set-up wireless computer. I've not seen any sign of problems with interference from powerlines and the like, and ancillary functions such as temperature and altimeter also seem accurate.

A few minor niggles mark the Turbo Pro down, though. The stingy algorithm for cumulative altitude is annoying, and choice of odo instead of trip as the default distance readout is just silly. On the whole, this is a good computer, if you can live with those deficiencies.

Update: March 2, 2004

We invited Specialized to comment on our criticisms of the Turbo Pro. Specialized told us that the issue of under-recording cumulative altitude was a problem with the first batch of computers, and that the data sequence would be better showing trip distance rather than odometer as its default setting. The Turbo Pro is currently unavailable while Specialized sorts out these issues. Units available from the end of April will record cumulative altitude more accurately and will have the odo and trip functions switched, according to Specialized. With those changes, I'd mark the Turbo Pro up to four and a half yellow jerseys.

Recommended retail price: US$99.95
Pro: Easy to use, reliable, plenty of features
Con: Under-recording of cumulative altitude, poor manual
More information: Specialized's website
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