Electronic Timing Systems
I can’t think of many things more important to a bike racer than getting quick and accurate race results. I remember when I began racing I would wait days or weeks until I got a copy of the full results sheet to see if I came 50th or 51st. I would obsessively analyze my competition in those results for hours on end.
Since those days technology as completely transformed our lives in many ways, but very little has trickled down to providing us quick and accurate results for local club races. It’s definitely gotten better, but we sometimes still wait for days before results are posted. This is a thankless job mostly run by volunteers and very labour intensive. However, the technology to make this easier and better is available and has been used in motorsport racing for years.
There has been a grassroots movement from people and clubs looking for a cost effective, manageable, and accurate timing system which could be adopted by Clubs and States, and Cycling Australia. The goal is to eliminate line disputes, provide accurate results for all competitors, and to give riders almost immediate acces to results on the web.
This past weekend at our local Club Championships we used the MyLaps system for our timing and results. I spoke with our club president Adrian Vlok about his experience with using MyLaps and he had nothing but good things to say. It’s easy to use, there is lots of intelligence built into the software, redundancy in case of component failures, and has many safeguards in place to prevent confusion and riders taking laps out.
How the system would work
Each rider will have a unique and permanent race transponder attached to their bike. The transponder is attached to the front fork and has an internal battery which lasts up to 5 years. All your licence information is encoded on the magnetic strip on your race licence. When you register your card is swiped, information on you transponder is taken from the database and you are automatically entered to the start sheet and the computer which will record your transponder crossing the line each lap.
What are the benefits?
– From a club’s point of view, electronic timing systems reduce the burden of producing fast and accurate race results to the riders. It also makes it easier to write race reports and has the capability to automate rider registration before the race.
– Riders get access a host of new race information to benchmark yourself and to compare against your mates.
– Finish line placings are accurate down to 0.001 second.
– Members can access information from anywhere on the internet and brag on social networking sites.
– The extra data can create new dimensions to the competition (fastest lap times for example).
– Clubs can offer a consistent and fair grading/ranking system.
There are two types of electronic timing systems available. Ones that use active transponders (i.e. powered with a battery) or systems who use passive transponders (no power).
You see the passive transponders embedded into race number plates or bib numbers. They’re very cheap at about $5 per transponder. Unfortunately they are not well suited to road racing where dozens of riders can come across the line at 60km/hr all at the same time. They’re better suited to sports like triathlon, mountain biking and running.
The active transponders can get expensive. They need battery power and have a life of 5 years. However, they have an accuracy of 0.001 second and operate on multiple frequencies that can accurately record dozens of riders coming across the line within a split second of each other.
This is the largest barrier. In a survey that SKCC put out to its members, approximately 60% said that they were not interested in paying a one-off fee of $125 for a transponder that will last 5 years. As time progresses however, you would hope a second hand market for these transponders will develop and the price will come down. It’s a difficult thing to get off the ground for the clubs.
The cost to the club is approximately $5000-$8000 for the ETS decoder equipment, laptop and detection loop. The clubs would also need to purchase a stock of transponders so that non-club members could show up and race which is not cheap (200 spares at $125 each = $25k).
This cannot be a system that some people adopt, and others don’t. Everyone needs to use the timing system for it to work properly otherwise the results are meaningless. It’s also not economical for clubs to purchase all of the transponders themselves to give out every race.
The possibility of different clubs adopting competing systems is another hurdle. There are two major companies who the major Victorian clubs have been talking to. MyLaps (formerly AMB) and Tag Heuer. Cycling Victoria have recently endorsed the MyLaps system. Ideally Cycling Australia would simply issue a transponder that could also double as your race license. The problem here is that technologies are not necessarily interoperable and issuing a contract for Australian-wide timing system to one company might not be the best way forward from a commercial standpoint.
Nearly every sport that requires timing has gone down this path and road racing in Australia is just catching up. It’s not a matter of if these electronic timing systems will be implemented, but when. I know I’ll pay $125 (which works out to $25 per year) to get fast and accurate results on the web within minutes of the race finishing. Wouldn’t you?