Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is back, with a look at an item the Bike Noob has so far successfully avoided.
Judging by the stems and handlebars of an increasing number of riders, Garmin is taking over the cycling world. Or at least, the bike computer part of it. Seemingly everyone has, or wants, one of the brand’s pricey little, GPS-equipped Edge units. Ray confirms he’s about the only one in his group who doesn’t use one. Fellow guest blogger Don Blount is a longtime user. I’m not immune to the little gadget’s allure. When I got the chance to test ride an Edge 500 for myself (I have a relationship with Garmin through my real-world job in the boating industry), I jumped at the chance. Normally, that would result in a standard-issue review, but considering that by now endless other outlets have already done that job quite well, I decided to take a different approach.
To be blunt, I decided to look at why so many riders had happily purchased a computer that costs several hundred dollars, when far cheaper alternatives — that do the basics quite well — could be had for much less.
For my friend John Matthews, part of the answer was the unit’s multitude of features. “It goes so far beyond the standard wired or wireless bicycle computer that there really isn’t any comparison,” he says of his compact Edge 500, referencing the computer’s ability to display not only speed, time and distance, but up to 61 other pieces of data including cadence, heart rate, elevation, lap times, and grade. Don agrees. “Lots of data,” he notes, while also pointing out the Edge’s accuracy, long battery life (12-18 hours), and auto shutoff feature. “That saves me from putting my bike away, forgetting to shut it off and discovering before my next ride that it is not charged.”
John also points out the unit’s ability to be easily transferred and configured to multiple bikes, and the Edge’s extensive customization potential. On the 500, up to five separate screens can be individually configured, with as little as one — or as many as eight — information fields per page. John also found the customization process, and the unit’s overall operation, highly intuitive and “ridiculously” easy to learn.
It seems to me that an equal part of that answer, however, is that a lot of us take our riding pretty seriously. As the Edge units are ANT+ compatible, they work seamlessly with any number of external add-ons, including wireless heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, even power meters. They can also record and store all sorts of stats from multiple rides for those who like to upload the information to sites like Garmin Connect or Strava. Don notes Garmin’s online log allows him to “download my data and compute totals and compare as far back as when I first began using a Garmin.”
Stats recording was a compelling reason for another friend, Tim Robinson, who purchased a touchscreen Edge 800, a larger device that includes color maps and can display turn-by-turn directions. Tim likes to track his rides, but found fault with the current slate of smartphone apps. “I had been using MapMyRide and Strava on my cellphone, but it would die part way through a big ride,” says Tim. “I wanted something that would do the same thing, but keep my cellphone fully charged for emergencies.” As part of our local group had recently taken to heading out of town for hillier rides in preparation for Georgia’s Six Gap Century, he also wanted a unit that would show his position and a route map so he wouldn’t get lost if he got dropped from the group.
As to Edge model’s high price points, all seemed willing to make the investment. John contends his 500 is actually a great deal. “I have not found anything else that comes close to this functionality,” he says.
Initially, I thought I’d go back to my previous computer after my test period with the Edge 500 ended, but now I, too, have grown pretty attached. Why? All of the above. Like Tim, I also got frustrated with the Strava iPhone app killing my phone battery. That same app also seemed to not accurately record my elevation, a minor detail but something I like to track when I get the chance to do some serious climbing. I also like the Edge’s ability to be recharged via the same USB cable that uploads its data to my computer. My old computer’s battery indicator was woefully inaccurate, and batteries died unexpectedly several times.
What’s not to like? Don notes the somewhat flimsy, rubber O-ring mounting system. He’s opted for a stiffer mount from BarFly that also puts the computer ahead of the handlebars. I’ve tried a similar mount from K Edge that I would recommend. Don also adds the 500’s side-mounted buttons can be cumbersome to use if you’ve also got a light close by on your handlebars.
Still, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives…but is that enough to justify the expense? I guess the answer will depend on how serious you are about your cycling, how obsessive you are about your stats, and maybe just whether or not you think there’s better stuff to spend your money on.
Clearly a lot of people, however, are living on the Edge…pun intended.
Mel Hughes says
I am afraid that, in my humble opinion, using devices like the Garmin or the apps for smart phones really only feed one’s obsession about stats. Don’t get me wrong, I use Garmin devices every day at work. But this discussion reminds me of something a working photographer once told me back in the pre-digital age. I had asked him about going to a workshop. He looked at me closely then showed me how much film I could buy for the price of attending the workshop. He said, “I am sure you would learn something there but I can almost guarantee you that you will learn at least as much if not much more by actually shooting that amount of film…”
Does spending $500-$800 for a Garmin really make you a better rider or does it just make a statement to others that you are a better rider because you have paid the price for a high output data device?
Just for clarity, the Edge 500 can be found for $200-250…
Mel Hughes says
My error, Jeff. But still…
mark x says
The best money I’ve spent on my obession (cycling).
With cadence + heart monitor, I can chart my workouts and stay physically on track. Not sure if I’m a ‘better rider’, but my rides are better. Monitoring my heart rate is important to me. The cadence meter DOES help me improve my cycling stroke.
Of course, it feeds my stat obession too. Uploading it to Strava or Garmin connect is a breeze. A record keepers’ heaven.
In my career, my job involves numbers … so I understand I am a little weird.
Mel Hughes says
Truth be told, we all come to cycling from different places. I love tinkering with my bikes, trying different hardware like brakes or rear cog combinations or more upright handlebar positions… So clearly, my focus is not on performance but just being on the bike comfortably and enjoying the ride. Enjoying the ride means many, many things to each of us. If competition and speed are the focus, then training is certainly the key. I can see the benefit in having an objective history of all the things people need to focus on to improve those two focus points, even if only competing with yourself…
I wouldn’t know about obsessions;^)) Just don’t ask my wife how many different sets of seemingly similar handlebars, brake handles, stems, and leather saddles I have hidden away… Or about acoustic guitars or cameras…