You’ll be happy to know that aside from spending hundreds of pounds on a fantabulous all-in-one GPS lap timer from one of the big names like Starlane or Aim Sports, there is a cheaper and more affordable solution to lap timing that will see you getting a wealth of information about your laps – including your times of course – that will be enough to satisfy the vast majority of riders.
The setup will consist of a mobile phone, a relatively inexpensive GPS lap timing app (some free!) that runs on the mobile phone, and finally a GPS receiver that links to the phone with magical wizardry known as Bluetooth.
Different phones will be compatible with different apps and receivers, so below I have detailed the most popular combination of app and receiver for each major brand of mobile phone. Don’t worry if you don’t own one of the latest smartphones, have a read of the Nokia section for a tip on getting your hands on cheap phones to use as lap timers.
Why do I need a GPS receiver when my phone has built in GPS tracking? – Anyone who has attempted to use the phone’s built in GPS receiver when lap timing will testify that it is a somewhat inconsistent affair. The truth is the GPS tracking built into today’s phones just isn’t good enough to accurately track your movements to the point where you are getting consistent readings on your placement and times, and that’s assuming you don’t actually lose the signal to the satellites altogether which can often be the case.
Built in receivers run at 1Hz, where as most standalone receivers run at 5 or 10Hhz which means the frequency at which you are tracked will be higher, so the accuracy of the readings of your speed, position and time will also be higher. Times are said to be accurate to 1-2 tenths of a second using external receivers.
App of Choice – Harry’s LapTimer
The most popular app for lap timing on the iPhone is currently Harry’s LapTimer. Don’t let the description and pictures fool you though, this app is just as capable of being used on motorcycles as it is cars. You can download Harry’s LapTimer from the App Store on your phone.
As far as receivers go, the most popular option is the Dual Electronics XGPS150, however to make use of the receiver’s 5Hz GPS rate for race/timing apps it does need a firmware update. Don’t fret though, this isn’t hard to do and if you go to the Dual Electronics website you can download the update and instructions on how to apply it to your GPS device.
App of Choice – RaceChrono
RaceChrono had only previously been available on older Nokia devices, but after the huge success of the app over the years the developers have been hard at work putting together an Android version. It was released mid-2012 to high acclaim and has fast become the lap timing app of choice for Android users.
A very popular receiver for many years now (and the one I actually use) is the Qstarz BT-Q818XT. It does exactly what is says on the tin and in all the time I’ve used mine it has worked exactly how it’s supposed to (for a fairly modest price too). Given the openness of Android’s Bluetooth function, the BT-Q818XT works with all Android phones, but you will need to download the ‘Bluetooth GPS’ app from the Google Play Store for it to work properly.
App of Choice – RaceChrono
As said above, RaceChrono found its origins with Nokia phones running the Symbian operating system. The app has been around for many years now and is by far and away the app of choice for Nokia Symbian phones.
Given its price and how it performs with Nokia phones, like with Android devices the Qstarz BT-Q818XT a very popular choice and the receiver I would recommend. All you need to do is turn it on, connect it to your phone via Bluetooth and you’re away.
Don’t have any of the above types of phone? Don’t fret! – I was in the same position but thankfully due to the fact that RaceChrono works on many old Nokia phones, you can pick an old generation Nokia phone up on eBay for not a lot of money. If you go to the RaceChrono download page you can see all the Nokia Phones that the app works on, then it’s a simple case of looking on eBay at the different models.
App of choice – Track Timer
Thankfully we finally have some options available for Windows Phone, albeit not quite at plentiful. The best app that I can see would be Track Timer, which you can find using the link above. Windows phones thankfully now allow you to pair Bluetooth GPS devices to them so you can grab a Qstarz device as with some of the above options.
Hopefully the above has shown you that you don’t need to spend mega bucks in order to get your hands on an accurate and information rich lap timer setup, and while there is a cost involved, it’s a darn site less than what you would pay for a big brand GPS lap timer, making these solutions great value for money.
Disclaimer – It has to be said that timing on a track day at the majority of UK circuits is not allowed. If you choose to time yourself on a track day (many do) then obviously you do so at your own risk.
Photo by Race Chrono