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Why You Need an ANT+ USB Key

2015 Update: Check out this post for updated product options!

Do you have a PowerTap, Quark, or other ANT+ compatible power meter? How about a speed/cadence sensor or heart rate monitor that’s ANT+ enabled? Do you ride indoors (Zwift anyone?) during the off season to maintain and improve your fitness? If so, you should have an ANT+ USB key. Why? Read on to find out!

What is an ANT+ USB Key (/Stick/Dongle)?

An ANT+ USB Key is a small, inexpensive piece of hardware that plugs into a USB port on your computer. It looks an awful lot like a “thumbdrive” or “memory stick” that you might buy to transfer files between computers. However, what it does is much cooler than that! It allows your personal computer to communicate directly with your ANT+ enabled cycling hardware (power meter, heart rate monitor or speed/cadence sensor.) Cool, right? Yes, but … it’s what that allows you to do that’s really cool!

Garmin USB ANT Stick<sup>TM</sup>

Garmin USB ANT StickTM

What can you do with an ANT+ USB Key?

So why should you have one? Well, if you train indoors, you know that sometimes motivation is hard to come by. Staring at the wall in the basement kind of sucks, and even listening to music can only get you so far! Imagine if you could interact with your computer live, based on the actual power, speed, and heart rate that you are putting out on the bike! How cool would that be? The answer? Very cool indeed!

With an ANT+ USB Key, you can ride on your trainer or rollers, and your computer can read exactly what you are doing, directly from the sensors on your bike! And with the right software, you can race against others, or see real-time graphs and output from your training!

What software works best with an ANT+ USB Key?

Lots of software is now available that works with an ANT+ USB Key!

Golden Cheetah allows you to see your training output directly in graph format, as well as with a series of other output metrics. It’s very cool! You can also set up a training view, which allows you to embed a video or movie and still see the real-time metrics on the screen at the same time. This works really well with The Sufferfest videos, as an example.

TrainerRoad is another piece of software that works well with an ANT+ USB Key, and gives a live ‘dashboard-like’ view of your training metrics.

But…what if you actually wanted to race someone, rather than just see your stats on a big screen rather than your Garmin? Well, there are options for that too, and this is where I personally feel the technology shines! The best of the racing options are Zwift and Tour de Giro.

Zwift – need I say more? If you want to join the Zwift ‘revolution’ you need one of these bad boys!

Tour de Giro lets you connect to a race server over the internet and race other people or ‘artificially intelligent’ bots on a variety of courses. This is a very cool piece of software, and makes training much more motivating! I highly recommend you give this at try; you might get hooked!

Where can you buy an ANT+ USB Key?

2015 Update: Check out this post for updated product options!

Alright! You’re sold! You can see why owning one of these little guys makes your indoor training more fun and increases your motivation to train. So, how do you get in on the game? There are two commonly available options; the Garmin USB ANT StickTM and the Suunto Movestick Mini.

The Garmin USB ANT StickTM  is readily available at most bike shops. You can also buy one on Amazon.com if you’re in the US, or Amazon.ca if you’re in Canada.

Your second option is the Suunto Movestick Mini which is slightly more expensive (buy on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca); however, the advantage is that it is much smaller, and thus less likely to break off or get damaged while it is sticking out the side of your computer. This is especially important if you use a laptop, as it’s more likely to get moved around and bumped up against something.

Suunto Movestick Mini

Suunto Movestick Mini

Summary

An ANT+ USB Key will allow your on-bike ANT+ sensors to communicate directly with your personal computer. You can use it with a variety of software to see your training metrics live on screen, or to race against your friends (or random strangers) over the internet. Because these little guys are pretty darn inexpensive, it’s probably worth trying out! If you do decide to give one a shot, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments section below!

2015 Update: Check out this post for updated product options!

Comments

Pingback from DARREN COPE » Recording Power from CycleOps 300 Pro Indoor Bikes
Time January 21, 2015 at 9:04 am

[…] last night to test it out. I plugged my trusty USB ANT+ Key (see my post about why you need one here!) into the OTG cable, and plugged that into my phone. Using the VirtualTraining app (Android, iOS) […]

Pingback from DARREN COPE » More ANT+ USB Key Options
Time February 6, 2015 at 8:38 am

[…] years ago, I wrote a posted titled “Why You Need a ANT+ USB Key,” which has been one of my more popular posts. If you train indoors at all, I recommend you […]

Comment from Jeff
Time November 13, 2015 at 7:44 pm

Hello.
Please explain why we need a dongle for connectivity.
Can’t a PC (or smartphone) do it all in software over wifi or bluetooth?
Cheers
Geoff

Comment from darrencope
Time November 16, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Jeff; most power meters and speed/cadence sensors, etc. use ANT+ to communication. I don’t know of any PCs that speak ANT+ natively, and very very few smartphones do. Thus, the need for a dongle so they can communicate. Some newer power meters and sensors are shipping with Bluetooth Smart, and phones can read that. However, they are still in the majority.

Comment from Henry
Time March 22, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Hi
I keep getting very confused about what is needed to connect a speed and cadence sensor to a computer. Do you need a bike computer as well to connect to the computer? Or will the Ant+ device simply connect directly to the home PC?

Comment from darrencope
Time March 22, 2016 at 7:03 pm

You would need the speed/cadence sensor, and an ANT+ USB key plugged into your laptop. No bike computer necessary.

Comment from Bonnie Tyus
Time June 21, 2016 at 7:17 pm

Do I NEED this usb ant+ stick for my vivofit to work properly?

Comment from darrencope
Time June 22, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Bonnie, I don’t think the Vivofit transmits anything via ANT+, so there wouldn’t be any point…

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