Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fashion meets Function: Timex Debuts WS4

It was the biggest “aw, man” moments of my recent trip to Connecticut. Fellow photographer Larry Rosa, a frequent contributor to Triathlete was in town to shoot the Revolution3 Triathlon. He updated his Facebook page with this one: “Touring the Timex facility.”

No way!!! How cool would that have been, to visit Timex? I totally forgot that Connecticut was the U.S. base for Timex. Oh, and Cannondale! If I had planned a bit better and announced my arrival to the East Coast, maybe one of these guys could have received me and taken me around. As you might guess, I love tours.

I messaged my contact there, Keith Meyer. “Dude, I’m staying in Southbury, heard you are nearby! I should’ve come visit your facility and done a tour!”

His reply: :You’re just a mile away, but we’re slammed. For sure next year!”

“AW, MAN!”

I now know why they’re busy. Yes, they’re pumping out Ironman watches at probably rate of one per second (what a standard that has become not just in our sport, but in timing in general, eh?) But they have the coolest new watch hitting the market, and Meyer sent me one to test. It’s chunky, it’s bright, it’s bling, it’s data-rich. And it’s different than anything else they’ve ever offered.

It’s called the WS4, and part of Timex’ outdoor action-inspired Expedition Series. This was a watch (can you call it a watch? How about a control panel?) that we feature in the coming High Tech issue of Triathlete. When I saw it, a colleague of mine and I jumped up and down in an email to Meyer “Can we test? Can we test? Can we test?” Meyer relented and sent two to test. He was (and still is I think) suspect why all of us at the office were so geeked.Well, first off, it’s different. Way different. On my flight home from the race sitting in the United lounge, a fellow traveler asked “what kind of watch is that you have?” When I told him Timex he said “oh, really? I didn’t think Timex made watches like that.”

“That” is meant as, watches that are super chunky, and in fashion right now. Watches like U-Boat, Nixon, Bell & Ross. Sturdy statement watches. It looks more like a tool than a timepiece. It’s the action sport’s version of cufflinks.

And going to Connecticut, a guy in fatigues on my flight saw the big bit of orange bling on my wrist. “Man, that’s some sort of watch? What does it do?”

What kind of fun can I have with this guy? I put on my faux-Tony Little voice; up a few octaves, turned to volume 12 as though fueled by Red Bull and mescaline:

“What does it do? What does it do? Hell, what doesn’t it do?” I held out my closed, upturned palm and started unfolding fingers. “Altimeter! Barometer! Visual weather indicator! Digital compass! Temperature! It slices! It dices! It does it all!”

I was rollin’. “And—get this, you won’t believe this one—it tells the TIME! (And has a stopwatch, countdown timer, alarm, chronograph, Indiglo night lighting, all the basics in your normal Ironman watch… but I didn’t get into all that with him.)

Dude laughed—he was blown away. “Wow, I gotta get one of those.” Sold, to the customer in the military fatigues. Mildred, ring ‘em up!

The WS4 is gonna kick ass with triathletes, triathletes, swimmers—endurance sports fans age 18 to 45. Want to swim with it? Sure, why not? It’s water-resistant to 50 meters. Would I take it running though? Well, I’d opt for a smaller watch—it is a bit heavier than a standard Timex Ironman watch. But if I was headed to the track from the office and forgot my dedicated sport watch, this does everything that one does and has all the key functions (stopwatch, lap, countdown timer), so again, sure, why not?

Of course, pro triathlete/fashionistas like Luke Bell and Amanda and Michael Lovato were keen on it—it was the first thing Amanda noticed upon seeing me. (Of course, anything as bright orange and large enveloping my wrist would do that.) Luke said it’s the perfect competitor, in our market, to surf brands like Nixon, Quiksilver and the like, for guys who want to have good data, but don’t necessarily want to be wearing a sport watch around all the time. It’s all about style. A big, chunky watch is stylee, and guys as old as 45 want to retain their young style as much as they can before they sign up for AARP.

I noted that what separates the WS4 from being a copycat is the function. While the surf brands typically promote tide features, the WS4 has none of that. Instead, it has stuff triathletes would feed off of and surfers couldn’t care less about: outdoor data. And I had fun playing with it all.

Setup was pretty easy. I only had to calibrate the altimeter or barometer, since both rely on the same pressure. After setting the watch next to a trusty digital indoor temperature reader, the WS4’s temp reading was within a degree of my baseline guide. Cool. Of course, the temp goes up to 85 degrees F or so when it’s on your wrist. But it’d be interesting to do a crazy hot track workout, glance at it trackside with your bottle between sets and come out of it knowing you were able to make time on your 800s considering the track temperature was 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

The digital compass (with a digital needle and display in degrees and cardinal points) is probably more for fun than anything, unless you race Xterra and have a penchant for getting lost. It has an adjustable declination angle that bumps up the compass’ accuracy.

The barometer shows current barometric pressure, as well as lows, highs in millibars (mb) or inches of mercury (inHg). It will track current and sea level pressure. That barometric pressure then allows the WS4 to host a little icon for estimated weather patterns—sunny, partly cloudy, cloudy and rainy. It’s your own little weatherman-in-a-box.

Final element: It comes in a rainbow of colors: It comes in black (black with a silver face or black with black face), orange (shown, as tested), blue, yellow and a stunning white.

Price for this functional, fashionable conversation piece? $200—absolutely reasonable given the amount of stuff you get out of it. Final tally? Cool for Dimes to dollars, this will be the perfect birthday gift for the triathlete who has everything. Or at least thinks they do. They don’t have everything until they have the weather forecast at their wrist.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Revolution3 Triathlon: A Classic on Deck Tomorrow!

I'm back on the planet. I removed the poll asking whether I ought to be at the Tour de France—turns out I am not going. Ah well. I will be at that time (about a month from now) taking some vacation to going to Switzerland to visit my wife, though, and will instead cover the Roth Challenge in Germany. That's a better trip in my opinion—I've seen my wife for about four weeks in the last four months. Plus I'll bring my bike and try to tag onto the back of Donna and her TeamTBB teammates on their easy days before hopping on the rail to Roth.

Right now I'm getting my camera gear ready, batteries charged, etc., for tomorrow's inaugural Revolution3 Triathlon here in Middlebury, Conn. I love being at debuts, and this looks to be a real kick-ass kick-off.

My trip here has been sweet. Heather and Todd Gollnick, as well as the man making it all happen, Charlie Patten, are putting on a wicked, wicked race that will force all the rest of their competitors to step up their game. A pro section with plastic-laminated posters of the athletes at their racks? (See Alex McDonald racking his bike... easy to find your spot, eh Alex?) A lit-up finishline arch, a'la Vegas? a $100,000 pro purse? The investment in this race is significant, all the big names are here, and considering this race is growing into a series next year, I think this will be a legitimate contender to the WTC, who have been fairly content to deliver a consistent product, but that's about it. Let's see how they step up—for the race entry-paying age groupers, and for the now-race-entry-paying pros.

The coup de grace is a real course. Not a flat draftfest, no. This is what the sport is about—challenging yourself. And as Luke Bell and I found out, it will be just that.

Luke invited me to hop in his rental and co-pilot a drive over the bike and run course. Race literature says the race is challenging. Thank God for Google maps on my iPhone; the roads are so rural and twisting, we nearly got lost, and had to stop and ask a local for directions. That look on Luke's face below? It was a familiar one. He searching signs, me plotting our progress on my iPhone. We got done and he came up with this one: "I think this is gonna be harder than Wildflower." Read: this has the makings of a classic. Maybe even an ESPN-esque Instant Classic.

The entire bike and run course is rolling, without a single parcel of flat. It's net climbing on the outbound loop, and net descending on the way back on the bike. But it's nonstop rolling and thus work all day. There will be no two-hour pro mens bike times. I'd be impressed if anyone breaks 2:15—and the Wildflower bike coures record is 2:14. There will be some good speed on the return, but that's not why it will not be fast.

No, it because the run is stupid hard as well. So everyone will need to save something for the run. Same story on the run; opening miles will be fast, as it's a gradual descent. But there's a few pitches up, then a steep pitch down, leading to a gnarly dirt road section that is banked in the turns, has it's ruts and bars, and undulating as hell.

Tomorrow at 6:55 the pros kick off, age groupers going off 10 minutes later. You can watch the simulcast broadcast being put together by Rev3 at Triathlete magazine's site, at I'm psyched to see how it all goes down. Because simple speed ain't an ally here; a combo of speed and strength on the hills will win this race. And whoever does should be fetted, for winning a tough race against a tough field.