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VDO Z3 PC Link Altimeter, Heart Rate Monitor and Cycle Computer with PC Syncing Cable and Training Analysis Software
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Contact: VDO CycleComputing
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VDO Z3 PC Link
VDO CycleComputing
$349 + $49 for cadence option

The top of the line Z3 comes with the unit, heart rate monitor sensor and speed sensors, Windows PC training software (sorry no Mac software available), USB upload adaptor, a wrist adaptor and a full complement of batteries. The cadence sensor is a $49 option. Installing it on my Serotta TI bike was a piece of cake, even with a Garmin Edge 305 already on there as well. As the 305 was already on my stem, the only normally available place as I have FSA K-Wing bars, I put the Z3 on my top-tube near the stem. That seemed to work well, to if the Z3 was your only computer you would likely put it on your bar or stem. As usual you use wire-ties to hold the mount and sensors on and plenty are included. while both the Z3 and 305 are wireless there was no interference between the two.

As is always the case with a new bike computer, getting all the initial settings input into the system is a bit of a pain. Not that it's difficult, mind you. It's just that every bike system is different and you have to learn how it does things. Reading the manual is always useful, and in the case of the Z3 it's reasonably well written so that's not a problem. There are lots of settings so it's worthwhile to simply slog thru them one at a time. On units that connect to the computer I truly wish you could enter the data in the PC and then upload it to the device. It's surprising that none of the manufacturers do this.

The display screen is divided into 3 horizontal areas: the top line contains the altitude and temperature; middle is the readout for the cadence and heart rate and the bottom displays whatever settings you are flipping through when you press one of the buttons on the unit. The 5 buttons on the Z3 allow you to easily switch between the various modes of display. The A button on the upper left flips through the various altitude and gradient related functions while the P button on the upper right flips through pulse/heart rate functions. The 1 button on the lower left flips through mostly speed and cadence functions, tho it does contain Trip Distance. The 2 button on the lower right deals with time and individual bike distances. The Start/Stop button on the right between the P and 2 button is for the stopwatch function. It may sounds a little complicated, but once you get used to it it's quite intuitive.
Once I got everything set up and working I took it out for a quick spin. The first thing I noticed was that display is large and easy to read in all but the brightest and darkest lighting, but as it's not back-lit that's not at all surprising. The first real ride was the next day, a 36 mile ride over Bear Notch Road and back down the Kancamagus Highway with almost 1800 feet of climbing. This is one of my favorite rides and one I do almost every week. I was pleased to see that the speed, cadence and heart rate numbers on the Z3 and the 305 were very close to the same. However I did notice that the altitude numbers were about 150' off. It turns out that I had set up the base home altitude the day before on a rainy afternoon and forgotten to re-calibrate the barometer before I left on my ride when it was sunny. My bad... All you have to do to re-calibrate is hold down the A button for a few seconds before you ride and you're all set.

I've used the Z3 almost daily now for about 9 weeks and over that time I've logged well over 500 miles, including the Crank The Kanc Timetrial. As the 305 was on my bike as well I was able to compare their data head to head, both as I rode and afterward when I uploaded data. While every once in a while there were small differences out on the road, overall both units functioned darn close to identically. Most of the time at the end of the day they were within a few hundredths of a mile or so of each other in total distance and 50-100 feet in elevation gained. The Z3 accuracy is due to some special new algorithms in the internal software. The heart rate data was pretty spot on as was cadence. Not bad at all! The Z3 uses a single watch-style battery that you should replace once or twice a year. Leaving it in is upload cradle does not charge it. This is unlike the Garmin units which only last about 7 hours on a charge, the batteries are not user replaceable and have to be charged pretty much every time you use them.

Uploading the data to the computer was easy enough once I sussed out how to run the software from inside a Virtual PC window on my Mac. I'm not a big fan of most windows software, and PC Link wasn't all that great in my opinion. It takes way to many steps to do things and I didn't like the way it displayed graphs. That said, I'm sure if you're a PC centric person you will be reasonably happy with it. I could download the data, store it and display it, but it didn't have all the features and ease of use that I would like. Hopefully there will be some other options in the near future.

Note: One manual says that when you stop riding for 15 minutes the computer turns off. Another manual says 5 minutes. It's actually 5. If you forget to press a button to "wake it up" it won't record the rest of your ride.

Conclusion:  I've used the Z3 with the wrist band on hikes in the Presidential Mountains at over 5,000 feet in wind and rain and one cycling day in the Notch where there was still a good bit of snow on the ground. Through it all the Z3 performed admirably. I believe that the data is accurate and as with all bike computers once you get used to paging through the information it's a piece of cake to use. The only thing it doesn't have is a GPS and for a lot of people that's not a deal breaker. Especially with the cost of the newer Garmin units pegging $500! So if you want a solid bike computer with a very comprehensive list of functions plus one that can double as a sport-watch, the Z3 will fill the bill. I certainly like it.

Details: Speed & Distance
- Current Speed and Current Distance
- Total Distance Bike 1, 2 and 1+2
- Current trip timer Bikes 1, 2 and 1+2
- Total Ride Timer Bikes 1, 2 and 1+ 2
- Average Speed
- Real time comparison of actual and average speed
- Maximum Speed
Cadence Data
- Current cadence
- Average cadence
- Maximum cadence
Heart Rate Monitor
- Current heart rate (permanently displayed)
- Average & maximum heart rate
- Current heart rate in % of personal maximum
- Calorie-consumption on current trip
- Power (current watt-performance)
Altimeter
Current altitude (permanently displayed)
- Current gradient in % (permanently displayed)
- Current temperature in ∞C or ∞F (permanently displayed)
- Altitude gain uphill on current trip
- Distance uphill on current trip
- Maximum altitude on current trip - Average uphill gradient of current trip in %
- Maximum uphill gradient of current trip in %
- Altitude loss downhill on current trip
- Distance downhill on current trip
- Average downhill gradient on actual trip in %
- Maximum downhill gradient on current trip in %
- Total altitude gain uphill, for Bike 1 and Bike 2
- Total altitude loss downhill, for Bike 1 and Bike 2

Al Hospers
June 2009