Pedal power: Garmin measures it, Energysport harnesses it 

Garmin has acquired MetriGear, the maker of "Vector" a motion sensor platform that measures a cyclist’s performance. Vector won industry acclaim in late 2009 but needed a backer to bring this cool bike device to market.  Vector tracks a broad number of factors to give the cyclist data on cadence and power (in watts). It measures how much each leg contributes to the effort, how much force is being used when the cyclist pulls the pedal up or pushes it down, and so on.

Vector uses a sensor that is placed into the hollow spindle of the bicycle's pedals, with the battery pack attached to the crank. It can be easily moved between bikes and requires no special modifications to the pedal. The sensors use the ANT+ specification to communicate from the spindle to display unit.

ANT+ is an alternative to Bluetooth and ZigBee that its makers say can operate for years on a coin cell battery compared to maybe months for sensor networks using the other two protocols. At its core is ANT, a proprietary protocol for transmitting data across the 2.4 GHz band. Dynastream Innovations owns ANT, and delivers it via licensing agreements, chips or chipsets. ANT+ is an open extension for interoperating with any ANT device. It's what allows the heart rate monitor strap to communicate with the bike computer and other the devices.

Garmin is big into ANT+. And it's big into bike computers. Last month the company previewed a gorgeous high-end touchscreen GPS bike computer, the Edge 800, at the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas. The Edge 800 tracks all the stuff you would expect from a $450 device: speed, distance, time, GPS position, elevation, calories burned, climb and descent. Availability is expected in the fourth quarter, 2010, just in time for the holidays.

Because the Edge 800 uses ANT+, Garmin hinted that when both devices become available Vector will somehow be integrated with the computer. At the very least, the two should seamlessly work together. There's no word yet on when the Vector will ship.

So, what do you do all that wattage that the Vector says you produce? A device called the Energysport, by designer Filipe Lima, hopes to one day let you use your pedal power to recharge your MP3 player, cell phone, or other mobile device.

It attaches to the hub of the wheel where it harnesses kinetic energy and converts it to electricity. The recharger is attached separately.

The Energysport is still just a prototype and even in concept it has some limitations. The biggest is that it doesn't recharge devices while you are pedaling but must be removed before you can use it. Even so the potential for this type of device is huge. Plus, a removable charger could still work for some bicycle users, such as those on a cross country camping trip, or the daily bike commuter. Limitations or not, next-generation bicycle devices are becoming a real power trip.