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Suunto 5 GPS Watch Review – Is Excellent Training Software Enough?

Suunto keeps pushing the boundaries of sport watch battery life. What has filtered down to the Suunto 5, and what didn’t make the cut?

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TLDRThe definition of average. But the amazing Adaptive Training Plan is stand out feature. TG SCORE: 3/5

Suunto 5 GPS Watch Review – Is Excellent Training Software Enough?

To say that the Suunto Spartan series of watches has been troubled would be an understatement. It would also be deeply misrepresentative of the work that Suunto has put into that line of devices – the small Sunnto Spartan Trainer for example is a terrific device for it’s target audience. But PR is PR, and as a result the Spartan name was dropped for the latest round of watches from the company. Last year was launch of the rather good Suunto 9 GPS watch (with one of possibly the least Google friendly rebrands) which reframed the series with a focus on battery life and accuracy. Two of the crucial factors which the ultra sport crowd look for.

This year, Suunto’s have released a mid-tier watch, with features pulled from both the Trainer and the Suunto 9 in the hopes of generating a perfect balance between cost, features and battery life. With the Garmin Fenix 6 coming soon and Polar returning to watches with the strong Polar Vantage V, how does the newest Suunto stack up?

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Suunto 5 GPS Watch Review – Design

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For the over all look of the Suunto 5, I think that the overall black stealth is a good look. The steel bezel and exposed screws give a premium quality, both visually and on the wrist. As a result of this subtle style, I think it looks much less… conspicuous than other sports watches on the market. Personally I’m going to stick to my yellow and orange watch straps, but for those who don’t have an unhealthy attraction to bright colours, Sunnto have hit the style just right here.

In fact across the Suunto 5 range, whether white and silver or copper with either burgundy or graphite straps, subtly and everyday wear seems to be the key. Especially as Suunto are pushing the every day wear with up to 14 days in normal watch mode

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So what has Suunto put in the box? Inside the stark white box, we have a couple of manuals highlighting Suunto’s heritage, the Suunto 5 watch, a charge cable (old Suunto style), and tiny Suunto sticker

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From the front, the Suunto 5 looks really classy, the shrunken screen is well balanced on the black version of the watch, with the glass border before the bezel keeping the watch from looking too small. As a side note Suunto has been very skilled over the last few watches when it comes to making the bezels scratch resistant, and I see no reason that would be different here

The Sunnto 5 aims for rugged style with exposed screws and the brushed metal bezel. Off setting nicely against the black glass, plastic and rubber.

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When loading up the Suunto 5 watch for the first time, you have to do a full setup on the unit. I do think I prefer this approach slightly more than the Garmin version where things are set up in the app. It is nice to be able to change things on the fly without grabbing for your phone. Speaking of changing settings, we’ve no touch screen to worry about here!

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There is a big focus on the trainer function of the new Suunto 5, which you really should enable right from the initial setup. The 7-day training plan is one of those things which you’ll wish you’d enabled earlier otherwise when you finally check it out

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You can opt to set the Suunto adaptive 7 day trainer later. But I think it is worth while hitting right from the get go. Particularly as most people would have an idea of exactly what their fitness goals are when unboxing the unit. Obviously these can be adjusted within the watch later as needed

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Suunto insists a little walk through the buttons before you get on with using the watch. Given that the buttons are unlabelled and can be context dependent, I think that is a good nod towards the end user. Speaking of buttons, on the RIGHT side of the case, we have the three buttons which navigate through the Suunto 5 menus. Holding down the middle button, for example, will bring up a shortcut screen

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Plus a further two on the LEFT side of the unit for the light and back buttons

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On the bottom side of the unit we have a legacy GPS antenna bump, harking back to older Suunto units. Most GPS watches now have the antenna hidden within the bezel. I don’t really mind the bump, esp if it means continued excellent Suunto GPS. However it does mean no quick release straps, which might irk some

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In terms of acquiring a GPS position, I found that the responsiveness was excellent. The Suunto app is also able to sync the with the watch to improve GPS lock on speed. But even without, I never found myself wanting more than 10 sec for a lock

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This is probably a good time to look at the heart rate sensor on the Suunto 5, a Valencell system taken directly from their trainer HR unit.

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This is possibly the biggest visual give away as to wear costs have been saved compared to the Suunto 9 which has a sensor moulded to the back

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The old style Suunto charger port is present here. Requiring the claw style adapter. No an issue but i have preferred to sharper snap of their Suunto 9 magnetic charger

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That pretty much sums of the visuals of the Suunto 9. A melding of parts from the Suunto Trainer, and the features of the Suunto 9. Kind of the perfect expression of a mid tier watch

Suunto 5 GPS Watch Review – Specification

  • Screen Resolution: 
    • 218 x 218 – with mineral glass
  • Weight:
    •  66g vs 81g for Suunto 9
  • Bezel: 
    • Stainless steel (as this matters to some people)
  • Communication: 
    • BlueTooth
    • NO ANT+ here, which will always be a deal breaker for some
  • Sensors: 
    • Altimeter,
    • Digital compass,
    • Optical Heart Rate
  • Battery:
    • 14-day watch mode
    • Three different durations with three different GPS options 25h/40h/120h
  • Waterproofing:
    • 50m vs 100m on the Suunto 9
  • Activities: 
    • >80
  • Standard features: 
    • Sony chip for GPS, GALILEO and QZSS support
    • Valencell HRM,
    • 24/7 activity tracking,
    • Smart Coach
    • HRM works with swimming

Whilst we are on the “watch” specification and changes from the Suunto 9, it might be worthwhile highlighting that whilst we have new features, Suunto has not updated many of the little irritations present deep inside compared to their previous units. The Suunto 5 will STILL not automatically change time zones. Not even via an update pushed out from the phone app. Seriously, the Suunto range is targeted towards ultra runners and adventures, for whom changing time zones is not infrequent. I think this highlights how much of each Suunto watch is an adding patch work of their older units, and how things are not looked at overall

Suunto 5 GPS Watch Manual

The Suunto 5 manual is available HERE

Suunto 5 GPS Watch Review – Software

Whilst I’m on the subject of irritations, let’s just air all the dirty laundry, as this software headache this is probably the biggest failing of Suunto to date. I hate to be so hard on a company which has solutions in the pipe line, but unfortunately in the pipeline doesn’t help the user at the moment (Or the reviewer) I’m referring to the Suunto App

Previously Suunto has been using MovesCount. Not the greatest, not the worst, but it did work.

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The new Suunto app – in isolation is great. The app is straight forward, clean, and easily understood. The problem is, no apps are used in isolation today.

I have regularly been unable to get activities to upload to Strava – no problem I hear you cry, just grab the .Fit file from MovesCount. But here is the problem, Suunto has abandoned MovesCount before their replacement is ready, and the new flashy Suunto App can’t upload to MovesCount

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Never mind you say, that is progress! Just grab the .Fit file straight from the new Suunto app, as you can with Polar, Garmin, and Wahoo apps.

Nope sorry, the app doesn’t support that yet. So they recommend to use MovesCount. Which we have just been told doesn’t work with the new app.

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Progress happens, the software moves forward, but really Suunto should have held back the release until their software ecosystem was ready.

Suffice to say that the graphs of the optical heart rates for this review have been a mild pain in the neck to produce! But to be fair all is not doom and gloom with the new app. You are now able to create sport modes on the app which is a big improvement.

You can’t adjust the standard sport modes display on the app, but at least you can create your own now. Similarly many of the setup features, such as setting your personal goals, or triggering adaptive training can now be engaged from the app

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Suunto does still have some way to go to get the Suunto 5 and the rest of their line to the same level as the competition, in that you still have to plug into the computer when it comes to updates. Nothing OTA here

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Smart Watch functions

A Bluetooth connection to your phone, to the Suunto app, will allow the Suunto 5 to receive smart notifications from your phone. Pressing on the middle button will bring you across to small menu where you can read current messages

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There is also the same ability to answer on dismiss incoming telephone calls as well

Sleep tracking has been given a boost in the Suunto 5, but is oddly not enabled by default. You’ll find the option to enable it, nestled deep at the bottom of the first menu. It’s a little strange, as I would have thought it made more sense to either enable by default, or engaged during the in the initial setup?

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The setup is a relatively standard; you tell the Suunto 5 either on the watch or from the Suunto app when you normally go to sleep, and then when you usually wake. From there, tracking will begin automatically, and will also give an indicator of what your sleeping heart rate is, in a wrist version of the Beddit Sleep monitor.

When you wake in the morning you a greeted by a brief overview of the previous night’s slumber. But the sleep heart rate is now not merely an interesting fact, but has been used to provide info on sleep quality

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Whilst sleep tracking has been present on Suunto watches and the vast majority of fitness devices for a while now, the Suunto 5 adds on sleep quality, which is one of the areas that the Suunto 5 beats it’s older sibling

I do think that sleep is an under recognised part of training. Sufficient that it has been suggested that doctors prescribe sleep. Thus anything which allows the athlete to have a better handle on their rest, and thus training is all the better. No one is served well by doing a training run when you are dead on your feet!

We also have the standard activity tracking in terms of steps, stairs etc built into the watch

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After a run, it is quite cool to see the step bar fill up after

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Suunto continues to try and look at the whole athlete, enquiring at the end of the week how things have gone, and looking back over training

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Suunto Adaptive Training Modes

This is the one area where Suunto strides out for innovation, and gifts the Suunto 5 features not seen on the Suunto 9. Let’s be clear, if you are looking at buying the Suunto 5 this is the feature, developed from FirstBeat, to make the purchase on compared to other units

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Many people look at training plans, or sign up to things such as FTP builders on Zwift but the honest response is that many people dont stick to them, or complete them, or really engage properly.

By having a training plan based around the simple goals of improve, maintain or boost Suunto casts a wide net in terms of people who are likely to actually get a benefit from the smart watch generated, personal training suggestions. This is not a series of complex work outs and training plans, but a simple series of workouts based on intensity. You can pay for specific coach, and online plans, the Suunto 5 is NOT at that level. But what it is, is always ready, and always person specific. When you look at it from that perspective, the Suunto 5 is very well priced!

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The work out options are broad, basically choose your sport and head off. It doesn’t even have to be one of the Swim/Bike/Run trio. You can do you training on any of the sports that the Suunto platform will support, and that is jut about everything! Including free diving!!!

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As the watch begins to analyse your performances based on your training frequency, VO2 max, and training effect, the Suunto 5 is able to update and improve your plan depending on your Maintain, Improve or Boost goals

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You can either review the whole weeks training plan on the watch, or just view what is advised that day

The Suunto 5 easily walks you through what is expected, holding your hand over the various training zones.

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During the exercise, you are trying to keep the heart rate within the appropriate zones. Either from the straight forwards heart rate number, or the graphical ring around the edge

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If you do push too much, or conversely slack off for too long, the Suunto 5 with give you a sharp heads up

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Suunto 5 Battery Life

Suunto have recognised with the Suunto 9 that they need to carve out their own niche when it comes to sports watches. As a result on the Suunto 5 there are three intelligent battery modes; Performance, Endurance, Custom

Regardless of the actual battery life durations, that often doesn’t help much if you come home and see 5% battery life. What does that mean?? Can I get a 5km run in, or do I have to charge? When you move between the different battery modes, if you when load up the exercise you want to undertake, you get a little time based estimate of the battery life remaining. The watch will even nudge you to change battery mode if needed!! Now THAT is useful to the vast majority of users!

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The Suunto 5 performance and endurance modes, are pretty much as described. With performance you are getting the best quality logs of your data, screen backlight on and high frequency optical HRM readings. You can also customise, where the core change is basically choosing GPS accuracy from off/ok/good/best, back light on and off, and optical HRM on and off

Suunto 5 GPS watch review – Running

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I was lucky enough to have the Suunto 5 with me whilst in Greece recently, so it made sense to really test it out in the heat from an optical HRM perspective. Knowing that I was going to be slow heading up the side of one of the near by outcomes to the the monastery on top, but using the Stryd Pod means I could keep in my power zones

I’ll be honestly I really prefer having the powered running built right into the watch, and no need to side-load apps etc (not that that is possible with the Suunto 5) Yes, I might not have more detailed information on the run, but just being able to have the system working as it does out of the box is great.

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For what ever reason, the Fenix 5 plus and the Wahoo TIKR seem to have done their own things the run up the cliffs. But after the brief stop to check out the view from the top the Wahoo TIKR was back in line again

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If we look at the results from a graphical perspective you’ll see what I mean

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Perhaps at the very start the Suunto 5 got a little confused, but after the first minute or so, it was recording data nicely

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I do quite like that one of the default screens for running with the Suunto 5 is per 5km time. Although is does show that I was clearly defeated on that last km to the summit! *whimper*

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You can try and load routes for your runs, or review the bread crumb trails after a run… but I wouldn’t. I really don’t see the point in bread crumb trail routes today on watches, especially as some fell running events are now request no forms of navigation devices for the run.

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Suunto 5 GPS watch review – Cycling

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There is now a plethora of optical heart rate enabled watches on the market, and we’ve seen that that on the run the Suunto 5 seems quite accurate. HOWEVER with the vibration from cycling makes optical HRM units a little variable in accuracy, so let’s have a look how the Suunto 5 performed against it’s peers. Just an overview of the numbers, things down look great

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When we look at the graph you can see why, for some reason the Suunto 5 MASSIVELY over reads at points, hitting >200bpm. Which I have not been able to reach… for a while

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Even on the latest firmware a repeated ride showed that when cycling the Suunto 5 doesn’t seem to be much better than the Garmin Fenix 5 – Which I’m on record as having described as abysmal

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The Suunto 5 now uses the Sony GPS chipset for positioning. This unit has been shown to be very efficient when it comes to power sipping. There have been a few hiccoughs along the way with this chipset, however certainly when looking at the cycling maps, there are no issues.

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Frankly I wouldn’t say there is much to put between the the Suunto 5 in green and the other GPS units used here. The Fenix in orange, Garmin Edge 1030 in red, Polar Ignite in Blue, Coros Apex in pink and Garmin Edge 530 in grey

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Indoor Cycling

As the Suunto 5 is pretty much a Suunto 9, that means that we haven’t received any fixes for the 9’s short comings. One issue that personally bugs me about the Suunto system right now, is the way Suunto handles sensors. This is particularly obvious when it comes to handling cycling sensor pairing. Whilst I do have a lot of duplicate sensors in the Zwift cave, which won’t be an issue for many people, having more than one bike in a house is quite common.

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So having multiple cadence or speed sensors can be quite common. Similarly, in the Zwift World, it is not unusual to have more than one power meter. That being one for the bike, and possibly one in the smart turbo. Here in lies the problem, I have no idea which sensors the Suunto 5 has connected to. Or possibly not to.

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If you look on the sensor page on the Suunto 5 in the settings of the watch, there is merely a Bike pod connected – no identifying features as to which of the units actually is sending the data. Which is a bit naff when BlueTooth sensors have the ability to broadcast more detailed names, rather than the ANT+ sensor ID

Either way, rant over. So optical HRM resting here should be easy, strap the devices on and go

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So we’ve already covered cycling, and running, and given that the optical heart rates were not brilliant on the bike, it seems reasonable to compare the how the heart rate sensor functions on a Zwift spin, as that should remove the issues with vibration.

The Suunto 5 does reads perfectly well along the entire length.

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This is repeated when we look at the graphs.

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Maybe if anything a fractional lag. But given starting multiple devices I think that may be due to me

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Suunto 5 – Swimming

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Here I had a bit of a surprise. I don’t normally put much time into testing out the GPS chips within the sports watches, as long as watches are in the ballpark I’m happy. As we’ve seen with cycling, the Suunto 5 seems perfectly accurate. HOWEVER when it comes to open water swimming, this is worth paying attention, as pushing the watch into and out of the water, breaking the GPS connection can be rather tough

So comparing the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, Polar Vantage V and Suunto 5, all set to record for accuracy was going to be interesting, not only as the Polar and the Suunto both use Sony GPS chips. I opted for a nice long, steady state swim, to really find any issues. The Sunnto 5 used as the pace setter up to 1500m

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Now here is an interesting one! Both other watches measured SIGNIFICANTLY further. Not even within a reasonable error!

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So that meant loading up the three companies softwares to see if I could tell of any issues with the traces

Garmin is suggesting nearly 500m more than the Suunto 5 is crazy! Sure the swim isn’t my strongest suit, but I’m a long way from flailing around like a drowning man!

Looking at the Garmin trace first, we can see why it is so wonky, apparently I went for a climb on the the rocks at several points

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The Polar Vantage V is actually quite controlled and granular

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By comparison the Suunto 5 appears to have fewer data points, with lots of straight sections by comparison, suggesting that I may have been robbed for a few meters splashing here and there

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We get the same picture if all three tracks of overlaid to each other.

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Swimming optical HRM is available. But perhaps looking at the Suunto trace we can see why Garmin has opted not to enable it yet. Stating that no reading is better than a bad reading

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Suunto 5 GPS watch review – Conclusion

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In some ways the current Suunto series feels a little bit like a device which should have come out in 2017/2018. As does much of the current Sunnto line. Maybe the styling is intentional that way. The Polar and Garmin ranges have more visual flare. But then it is likely that the Suunto 5 will attract more users with it’s every day wearability.

Similarly, the Suunto 5 looses out to this years crop of watches by lacking things like running power built in, or advanced metrics. Perhaps, like the styling, Suunto has prefered to focus on form over function, and let me be clear, the flexibility and functionality of the Adaptive Training Plan software is miles ahead of the competition.

It is just a shame that Suunto hasn’t put a little bit of that time into developing their sensor management system which is TERRIBLE – and seems unchanged since 2015!

The everyday use of the software is very good, and the overall layout of the watch is very sensible. The thing which isnt is the Suunto Movescount moving over to the Suunto App, and leaving half the functionality missing. I’m sorry Suunto but this is just unacceptable. Delay new software coming out sure. No issue with that, but when it is out, make a clean break, and don’t “coming soon” most of the features your users have taken for granted in the previous system.

Overall I have to say that the Suunto 5 is about as middle of the road as it comes. So middle of the road that what Suunto has released is a Suunto 9 with with a few features – altimeter and compass removed and a few shrunk, screen, battery and waterproofing depth

This is NOT a great watch as a result, but certainly not a bad one either. It is the definition of an average sports watch. I’m going to reiterate off the back of that statement that the Adaptive Training Plan is a stand out success, but Suunto needs more to be competitive. If you like the styling, find a good deal and will USE the training plan, go for it. It sounds like I’ve a real downer on the Suunto 5. I don’t, I just don’t the WATCH compares well to it’s peers – but for the Adaptive Training Plan (Do you get the feeling I really liked that part!!)

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. <br /> <br /> After learning a lot about olecranon fractures, I was introduced to the world Zwift, and slowly transitioned into writing about sports gadgets and the like<br /> <br /> Trying to keep up cycling, swimming and running whilst being a busy General Practice Doctor