Easy Monitor for NordicTrack Skier

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About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

This is a common monitor for a NordicTrack Skier. These were made in the 1990s. Electrolytic capacitors eventually dry out and items using them no longer work. Contacts on input buttons of the type used in these can also become weak or fail completely. Or, people leave batteries in these units too long and corrosion damages battery contacts, as well as circuit traces. And, components change in value.* This one still works fine, but I wondered about a simple backup replacement that would tell me my ground speed and the duration of my workout in minutes. I use ground speed to know what level of effort I am using so I can compare it to what I usually do. That and the duration of my workout in minutes are the two things I find most necessary.

*A few years ago our church security system began to give false alarms. The police would allow a minimum number of alerts in a month, but more than that would result in a hefty charge for each false alarm. We even thought we might have a rodent in the building and set a rat trap, but the bait was never missing. A check with the alarm company representative resulted in a new alarm system. After 25 years the circuit board in our system had become unstable and was giving false alarms.

Supplies:

Step 1: Schwinn Cyclometer

In 2008 Sailor Bob published an Instructable about how to program a common Schwinn cyclometer for use as a cadence meter so a bicyclist knows how many revolutions the pedals are spinning. I finally remembered that Instructable and wondered if I could program the same Schwinn cyclometer to replace a NordicTrack computer.

In the photo the Schwinn cyclometer is mounted to the handhold bar.

Materials

  • Schwinn Cyclometer (I got mine at Wal-Mart for about $12 US. In just a few years the price has risen to almost double that. Any bicycle cyclometer that uses a reed switch and magnet for a sensor, and sets the wheel size with four digits representing the wheel circumference in millimeters could be substituted.)
  • Electrical tape
  • 1/8 inch mono male audio connector (1/8" stereo will also work. See the next step.)

Tools

  • Screwdriver for mounting (Some Schwinn speedometers come without a screw-tightened collar. Use small cable ties, instead.)
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Knife
  • Side cutters

Step 2: The Connection

The sensor on a NordicTrack Ski Machine is a magnet mounted in a flywheel and a reed switch very near to where the magnet passes as the flywheel turns. The same type of sensor is used on the Schwinn cyclometer. Rather than use the reed switch already on the cyclometer, I cut the wire and soldered on a 1/8 inch mono audio connector, like the one shown in the first photo. The second photo shows the reed switch used as a pickup sensor on the fork of a bicycle.

I did not use the pickup sensor reed switch already on the cyclometer because the wire was not long enough to reach all of the way down to the ski machine's flywheel. Instead, I added a 1/8 inch mono* male audio plug and plugged into the computer sensor jack on the ski machine's upright post. See the third photo. Because this was a test rather than a finished product, I have not yet insulated my solder connections.

*A stereo plug may be easier to find since Radio Shack stores are less available in the last couple of years, particularly if it were taken from a pair of earbuds that no longer work. If you are using a stereo plug, use an electrical tester to identify leads and connect for the tip and for the second band behind the tip, not the band immediately behind the tip. That will work just fine, unless there is a break in the wire already connected to your plug.

Step 3: Calibration

I experimented with how to set the Schwinn cyclometer to give a reading as close as possible to the readings I get from the NordicTrack computer. The display on the NordicTrack computer (second photo) is set to show speed in miles per hour.

See the first photo. The Schwinn cyclometer is showing a speed of 3.7 miles per hour. I switched connections back and forth between the Schwinn cyclometer and the NordicTrack computer in order to compare readings and efforts for the sake of reasonably accurate calibration.See this link on the mechanics of programming the Schwinn cyclometer. A copy of what you find there is included with your cyclometer when you buy one, but people do lose those instructions in time.

I found I need to set the Schwinn cyclometer for a wheel size of 0470 and then select miles per hour to get the readings I would expect on the NordicTrack computer. The wheel size of 0470 would be the same if you chose to have the final reading in kilometers per hour.

Step 4: Other Data

The Schwinn cyclometer does not give some of the data available on the NordicTrack computer, like pulse and calories burned. It can give distance traveled and the time duration of the exercise session. (See the small numbers across the bottom of the Schwinn display. According to the reading, I have been exercising for 2 minutes and 56 seconds at the time this photo was taken. (This monitor does display both time and speed. An official NordicTrack montior like the one shown in the Introduction shows only one or the other at any one time.) The time duration of the last workout session is held in memory and should be deleted before the start of a new session. See the Schwinn instruction sheet linked in the last step on how to bring up the duration of the workout and how to zero out the reading from the previous session.)

As regards pulse, there are work-arounds. First, the heart rate tool for a NordicTrack monitor involves a spring clip on the user's ear lobe. I have tried one, and it was not very accurate. In addition, I believe the user is supposed to stop exercising for part of a minute while the monitor acquires a reading.

The dependable low-tech. way is to release the cords from your hands for a few moments, put a finger or two on the big vein in your neck and count your heartbeats for 10 seconds. Then multiply by six for beats per minute. Nurses check pulses all of the time with fingers on a pulse point and a 10 second count. The time display on the Schwinn cyclometer reads out continuous seconds, but you will need to keep your feet moving on the NordicTrack skis or the display will freeze after about 5 seconds.

Many people wear an electronic fitness tracker on their wrist, and these often include a heart rate monitor. The method of reading your heart rate employed is to turn a bright LED "on" and a camera lens reads fluctuations in translucence of the blood flow under your skin associated with surges of blood from a heartbeat. Most of these fitness trackers do not give a continuous readout because the bright LED light would deplete the battery very quickly. Some take a reading at intervals, and uploading data to the companion app. would show a graph for your pulse during the duration of your workout. Customer reviews on various trackers both praise and condemn the same model on accuracy, no matter whose brand name is on it. Some customers complain that their tracker quit working after only a few months.

I found Instant Heart Rate by Argus with Azumio in the App. Store and have it on my smart phone. It is free and uses the same LED technology characteristic of the now popular fitness trackers worn on the wrist. It gives a quite accurate count. See the second photo. It shows a collage of a phone mount I made. It helps me to avoid dropping my smart phone while using the heart rate app. Lightly place your index finger over your phone's light and camera lens. The reading requires ten or fifteen seconds before it is complete and is a snapshot, not a continuous reading. It is fairly easy to hold an index finger over the phone's camera while exercising without too much bouncing around. After a few readings with any of the above methods you will know what your breathing is like in your target heart rate zone and can use it as a general guide. Check again periodically. As your condition improves, your processing of oxygen becomes more efficient and the correlation between breathing and heart rate can shift.

The most reliable heart rate monitors involve a sensor on a chest strap. The sensor sends data to a receiver wirelessly. The readout is usually continuous. Some fitness trackers offer a chest strap as an add-on.

At the very best, calories burned per hour as reported by the NordicTrack computer is only a reasonable guess. The amount of effort expended is also a factor. At this site, you find this information: The Nordic Track ski machine can help you to burn calories and get in shape. According to Calorie Lab, a 150-pound person on a Nordic Track Ski Machine will burn 415 calories per hour for light effort, 496 calories per hour for moderate effort and 571 calories per hour for hard effort. If you weigh more, calorie expenditure will be somewhat greater. If you seek out more information like this, you may not find information related to a ski machine, but try searching for cross-country skiing. This site has a calculator into which you enter personal data, and it gives you a calorie count per hour. Fitness trackers worn on the wrist use your heart rate to calculate calories burned based on personal data you enter in the corresponding app. on your phone..

If you are familiar with Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper's aerobics program, you can get a table of exercise point values for cross-country skiing here. (Scroll to page 18 of 21.) A reasonably fit person gets a minimum of 30 points per week. 20 minutes of cross-country skiing is worth 6 points. 30 minutes is worth 9 points. Some of Cooper's charts will mention a ski machine, but this fairly comprehensive chart does not, so cross-country skiing is the closest applicable category. Unfortunately, this chart also does not distinguish for different levels of effort.

If you have a NordicTrack monitor and need to replace it or if you do not have a monitor and want one, you can use newer technology in a recently manufactured device for very little money. One thing I really appreciate about this skier monitor is that its response to speed changes is much quicker than the official NordicTrack monitor. I also find trying to keep my speed within a certain narrow range keeps me focused on the Schwinn monitor so that time passes quickly and I do not have time to become bored.

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    9 Discussions

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    pedal-power

    3 months ago

    I purchased my Nordic Track Skier (Model 505) in 1983 and still use it. It came with only a mechanical speedometer with a flexible steel drive cable. In 1994 I adapted an Avocet 25 bicycle computer in much the same way that Phil B adapted his Schwinn bicycle computer. At that time I contacted the company for the proper calibration factor to use. Here is the information they sent me:

    Nordic Track Skier
    429 RPM = 12.5 KPH (7.77 MPH)
    120 Steps/Min = 12.5 KPH (7.77 MPH)
    0.0004902 Km/Input (= 490.2 mm/Input)

    I noticed that Phil B, experimentally, came up with 470 mm for his wheel size (calibration factor for his bicycle computer) which is very close to the 490 mm that the company sent to me. I have been using the 490 mm wheel size calibration factor for the past 25 years in my Nordic Track bicycle computer.

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    Phil Bpedal-power

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thank you for your comment and information. As I mentioned to BridgetJ10, a friend who repairs and rebuilds NordicTrack skiers told me NordicTrack used two calibrations on its monitors over the years. I do not know which monitors used which calibration, nor how much one calibration differed from the other. My attempt at calibrating the bicycle spedometer was relatively non-scientific. I adjusted it until it felt as close as possible to the factory monitor we had been using. I find my best use of a monitor is to compare today’s effort to yesterday’s so I know if I am doing sbout the same work.

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    BridgetJ10

    4 months ago

    Thanks for posting this! I did something similar using a Bluetooth bike speed sensor inspired by what you did. Since I already had one I wasn't using it didn't cost me anything extra but the one I have (Topeak) I think costs about $60 to buy new. I velcroed the sensor to the support bar next to the flywheel and put the magnet activating the device on the flywheel. My onboard computer still works but I wanted something that would pair with a Garmin sports watch. It works perfectly! The calbration you use was slightly off in my case (.15 mile compared to the NordicTrack computer after 2 miles) but I increased it to 495 mm which is the distance between the mid axle of the flywheel and mid axle of the rear rollers which seems to be right on. :)

    4 replies
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    Phil BBridgetJ10

    Reply 4 months ago

    Thank you for your comment. You are to be commended for your clever solution to your need. A good friend repairs NordicTrack skier equipment and knows a lot sbout all of their skier items. He told me the calibration is not the same on all NordicTrack monitor models, but some were calibrated a bit differently. He did not give me any additional details. That might account for the discrepancy between readings you got and the calibration I suggested. I do not know for certain.

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    BridgetJ10Phil B

    Reply 4 months ago

    That makes sense! I have a different monitor than yours and didn't realize they were calibrated differently. It would make sense that different NordicTrack ski models would be however. I have a 1993 Pro unit. Thanks!!

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    Phil BBridgetJ10

    Reply 4 months ago

    We would need model numbers before I could ask my friend. I did pass on to hum the first of these Schwinn monitors I calibrated for a skier. He wanted to pair it with an official monitor, but they interferred with one another when connected directly as part of the same circuit. I do not know if he pursued it any further.
    And, welcome to Instructsbles. Unless you just “lurk” you will make friends from all over, some from overseas.
    Although it is not linked here, I did post in the Community section about refurbishing NordicTrack rollers. Often they begin to “hiccup” and you can restore them by removing the rollers, flushing them a bit with even WD-40, sopping up fluid from your flushing with a tissue until there is no more gray stain from fine metallic dust, and letting them air dry. If you wish, you can lubricate them with a couple of drops of ATF transmission fluid. It is a terribly cheap alternstive to replacing the rollers and it most often works.

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    pedal-powerPhil B

    Reply 3 months ago

    When the Nordic Track company sent me their calibration factors in 1994, they sent them for two models:

    Skier:
    429 RPM = 12.5 KPH
    120 Steps/min = 12.5 KPH
    0.0004902 Km/input (= 490.2 mm/input)

    Club Skier:
    650 RPM = 12.5 KPH
    120 Steps/min = 12.5 KPH
    0.0003205 Km/input (= 320.5 mm/input)

    I am not familiar with the "Club Skier" or how it differs from the "Skier". My Model 505 was the basic Nordic Track ski machine when I ordered it in 1983. It had only a mechanical speedometer driven by a flexible steel worm drive cable. I have been using 490 mm in my adaption of an Avocet 25 bicycle computer for the past 25 years.

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    Graeme_P

    2 years ago

    A very nice example of making an alternate use for a device, to replace another. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome!

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    Phil BGraeme_P

    Reply 2 years ago

    It is fun to think about why something works. Then you can think about other ways to use it, even if those ways seem at first to be unrelated. Thank you for looking and for commenting. (I do not have a treadmill, but I am wondering if this Instructsble could be used to provide a monitor for those, too, as well as maybe some other exercise machines.)