A basic cycle computer will give you the most important information for tracking your performance, however there are limitations that are annoying when you are looking for a specific piece of information.
As an example, imagine that you want to gauge your performance climbing a particular hill on your ride. To record your progress on the hill with a basic cycle computer, you would need to reset at the beginning of the hill. You might also want to see your performance for the entire ride. Perhaps you want to know what your average speed is just for the part of the ride after warming up and before you cool down. You still want all your mileage recorded. You’ve worked for every mile after all.
GPS usually offers lap markers and you can add the markers after the ride is over, so you can just concentrate on riding. Knowing how many miles ridden tells you very little compared to also knowing how much climb there was and what the weather was like.
When you decide to upgrade from a basic cycle computer to GPS tracking, a few options are available to you. You can use a smart phone with GPS to track your rides or you can choose one of the available Garmin GPS units to record your riding progress.
GPS Enabled Phone App
The smart phone option is by far the least expensive option assuming you already own a suitable smart phone. Smartphones are a do-all device and there are some disadvantages to using it for this specific task but it’s a good way to start cycling with GPS. The smart phone will not last for longer rides if you typically ride 100 miles or more in a day. Also, they tend to overheat on hot days if you leave GPS and the screen powered on. It’s best to turn the screen off and stow the phone out of direct sunlight. Lastly, there is an issue with how waterproof the phone is. Most are not waterproof so you should carry it in a waterproof case or pouch even when it’s dry out to protect against water and sweat. You can pair the smart phone with a basic cycle computer so you have a display to read while riding.
If you’ve already decided to go with a dedicated GPS, about the only choice available is the Garmin. It performs better than a smart phone because it is a purpose-built device. I’ve owned three and never had one overheat in high temperatures. The battery time is better, and they are waterproof without an added case.
There’s more than one option, which tends to confuse new purchasers, however you only need to ask yourself a few questions to make the right choice.
- Do you sometimes to rides in unfamiliar areas and would you use a mapping feature if available?
- What is the furthest you typically ride in a single day?
- Do you prefer to have larger, easier to read items on your screen?
If you want true navigation, then your options now are the Edge® 1000, Edge® 810, and the Edge® Touring. The largest screen is the 1000, however it’s also has the worst battery time. The screen on the 1000 is more scratch resistant. Since it’s possible to set the number of items displayed on the screen, the bigger the screen, the larger the items, if you set it to display only a few. You can also choose to display more items, however beginners are better off setting just the few things they want to see the most at first. What you set to display on the screen has no effect on the recorded data.
The Edge@ 510 (plastic screen) was a popular choice since it had some extra battery time. The 520 (glass screen) replaces the 510. Garmin’s website indicates it has the same battery time as the 1000. For battery time, the 810 seems like the best available option. It is navigation capable, but has a plastic screen that is easier to scratch. It is possible to add a screen protector to prevent wear.
Garmin now offers some smaller units that are less expensive, however a smart phone owner is going to find them a less compelling choice. Battery time on these less expensive models is comparable to a smart phone and you could easily pair a smart phone with an expansion battery for extended run time.
My current Garmin is the 1000. The large screen is easy to read in bright light with the backlight turned completely off. There are some nice features, like automatic ride uploading on completion and text message and phone call notifications. The Garmin is designed to be out in the weather. They do not overheat on a hot day and they are waterproof. They are designed to be mounted to a bike so the mounting system is integrated like other cycle computers. Turn by turn directions have become indispensable for me. With a smart phone, I would probably need to run two GPS apps at the same time to get navigation.
With a device that is not purpose-built, you will currently not have as good a user experience.
If you are purchasing the “just released” Garmin model, you should expect some bad software issues. The software issues eventually get fixed, but crashes, reboots, and lost rides occasionally happened with 2 units that I purchased near their release. Garmin also likes to advertise features that aren’t yet available. Landscape for the 1000 was advertised at least half a year before it was available. I vaguely remember seeing a picture of one of the models doing navigation and the screen had a 3D view that I’ve never been able to find on any of the models I’ve owned.
Garmin is a bit stingy with their maps. They’re fairly expensive and locked to one device. A device failure could mean you are out the money for your map update. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe you can move your maps over to a new Garmin. A friend that I ride with often had to spend way too much time on the phone getting their maps to work, since the Garmin they purchased already had the maps registered to someone else.
While working at a local bike shop, I encountered another awful business practice that I hope Garmin has had the sense to abandon. At the time, they were requiring the original box for warranty returns. The boxes were serialized and you were out of luck if the boxes got swapped. A customer with an obvious hardware issue usually doesn’t bring in the box. They just bring in the head unit that needs to be warranted. This practice requires the customer to return home to get the box, (assuming they still have the box) since there’s no clear statement that throwing away the box voids the warranty. With an electronic device that can contain all sorts of authenticity verification built-in, this is a ridiculous and unnecessary requirement. A store should be able to swap out just the head in obvious cases of device failure and send the defective device back in the box the other unit came in. This is good customer service, something that Garmin seems to have had and may still have a problem with.
Garmin has now been seeing some competition from smart phone manufacturers and they seem to have responded by making their devices a little more like smart phones. There’s a sleep mode on the 1000 that makes no sense to me. Either you are riding and you want it on or you are not and you don’t want the battery draining. The 1000 also turns on automatically when you plug it in and unplug it. I find this behavior annoying. When I turn off my 1000 to save battery, the cadence sensor does not reliably reconnect. People buy Garmin GPS units now for the ways they are not like a smart phone. I would still recommend the Garmin for its purpose-built advantages, but a few improvements to the smart phones ability to function better as a GPS tracker and that will change.
I know the bad section here is a bit larger than the good section, but I don’t think it should discourage a purchase, rather it should make you aware of the issues and be prepared to deal with them. There’s not much to say in the good section other than it does most of what it claims on the tin and it really does most of this well. Hopefully future competition will make Garmin work a little harder on the customer service side of their business. ?
This post was written by Tom