There exists no purer evocation of childhood than the skipping rope. A rope, two handles, hours of fun. Of course, adults have a way of taking the same ingredients and making them far less innocent. Which possibly explains the Tangram Smart Rope (£79.95, apple.com/uk): an “LED-embedded jump rope that displays your fitness data in mid-air”. Why? Does anyone really need an electronic skipping rope that has its own app? Surely this is the definition of flashiness for the sake of it?
I put on my special shorts and get swinging, to see if such monstrosity can be defended. There is a good chance it can. While totally unnecessary, the image of a virtual counter racking up rope turns in mid-air is striking. And, as we know, coolness is infuriatingly self-justifying.
But it is important not to fall into a nostalgia trap – exalting our childhood games and the way we played them. Remember how Father would smuggle a piece of coal home? We would pretend it was a mighty horse, taking turns to ride its dusty back! Ahhhh. But, no. Nostalgia is merely sandpaper that rubs jagged memories smooth. Things aren’t necessarily better for belonging to our past.
Jump ropes don’t belong to my past, in any case. When I was young, skipping was for six-year-old girls in school playgrounds and 26-year-old men in boxing clubs, and I couldn’t relate to either. Now absent of such hangups, I’m interested, but inexperienced. Perhaps the Tangram Smart Rope can show me the ropes, 2019-style.
The model I am testing is certainly a semi-handsome thing. Brushed metal handles in cherry red are topped with low-friction bearings, allowing free rotation of the matte-black rubber cable. The look is thrillingly reminiscent of a child’s first nunchaku. I feel like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, albeit one who didn’t make the final cut. (Velázquez, the Pete Best of hero amphibians! Swinging his light-up rope with frictionless bearings!) None of this is bad. Trying to get into the groove, however, I’m frustrated.
The central section of the rope is reinforced and inflexible, to protect the row of LEDs inside, and, as a result, it has a different density and feel. Moreover, the join between the cable and LED strip segments the rope, which impacts on the swinging of it. The thicker section is burdensome, and thuds when it slaps against the floor. It also increases resistance, making it hard to get a good rhythm going. Arguably, the heavier rope increases its fitness potential, requiring greater exertion to rotate. But it’s a drag, dude.
The linked Tangram app is fine, and reliably counts the swings and also has a stab at estimating the number of calories burned. But the chief selling point of this model – the mid-air running counter – severely disappoints. The CGI on the box pictures a fitness model with a high number (2016 and rising) hovering before her at chest level, like the projection of a digital alarm clock.
When I try it, the lights stay largely dark, erratically bursting into life for a few rotations before disappearing again. My pathetic figure (“0006”) is barely legible, like a fugitive firefly flashing on the ground, around my knees, above my head. It is strangely beautiful, this breathless grasping at phantasms. In fact, the rope could be a metaphor for life itself. But it would be more useful if it worked.
This whole business of trying to spot and then interpret the flashes of light is unnecessarily stressful. It may sound odd to wish for exercise that was more relaxing, but the joy of skipping is a zen-like emptiness of repetition. When you are not in the zone, you are forced to remember that skipping is insanely, brutally hard work on the calves, glutes and lats. Maximum respect to six-year-old girls. After 15 seconds, my legs are aching, my stomach is complaining – and I have to skip to my loo, my darling.
I try a few more times over several days and my stamina improves, but the LED functionality never does. An analogue rope wouldn’t let you down like this. Turns out this update on a classic is not flashy enough. Smart Rope thinks it’s too cool for school; really it needs to work smarter, not harder.
Licence to be ill. Very ill
I eventually reached 0007, which is the closest I’ll get to Daniel Craig levels of fitness.
Wellness or hellness?
I’d rather pay money for old rope. 1/5