Sunday, April 11, 2010

Review: Garmin Edge 500

Someone I knew decided he didn't like the color of his Garmin Edge 500, so I bought it off him for $200. You can buy the version that's bundled with a HRM and Cadence/Speed sensor, but it's cheaper to buy those pieces separately. Since I didn't care about having a Cadence/Speed sensor, I just bought the Garmin Heart Rate Monitor. [Update: I bought the Cadence/Speed Sensor after all]

First, a note about what the Edge 500 is and is not. It's not a navigation unit like the GPSMap 76CSx or the Edge 705. There's no slot for an SD card to store maps, and it won't even give you route pointers or directions. It is purely a replacement for a traditional bike computer. My Sigma 2006MHR had given up the ghost recently, and I wanted a stoker computer for the bike position anyway, and the Edge 500, while expensive, had the benefit of not needing wheel magnets and sensors, as well as not needing adjustment when I switched it from bike to bike. Having nice looking tracks when you're done is a plus, though a minor one.

The unit came with 2 bike mounts, though you can buy more mounts if you have other bikes. The tie-on is very similar to the Sigma's with 2 rubber bands. The computer slots in and then twists 90 degrees to secure. I found the mounting not as reliable as I expected, since in pushing the buttons I ended up twisting the computer back towards the unlock position a couple of times.

The computer itself is fairly easy to use. There's a power button, and a start-stop button. A mode button switches between 3 different configurable displays, and accessing the menu system to switch settings, bikes, etc., did not require reading the manual. One note that the person who sold it to me said to do is to ensure that you always stop the timer and immediately reset the GPS unit while you still have a GPS signal, as otherwise the unit will lose all the data from your ride. I can definitely see this being very annoying.

Connecting the unit to my Windows 7 PC through a USB cord was straightforward, though I had to use the control panel to force Windows to recognize the unit. Once that was done, tracks uploaded quickly and easily. If you want to see my tracks, here's a hilly ride without the HRM and the next day's recovery ride with a HRM.

GPS speeds are not very accurate. In the first ride, the GPS unit recorded a top speed of 55.2mph. I had a separate, traditional bike computer on that bike (it was a tandem), and it recorded a top speed of 41.5mph. That's a 20% error. In other words, if you went on a Tour of the Alps, and all you had was a GPS track telling me your top speed of 100+kph, I won't believe you. Use a traditional bike computer if you want accurate speed measurements. Or get the speed/cadence sensor. The temperature sensor is also not very accurate, and doesn't react quickly to changes in ambient temperatures. This is of concern because without accurate temperature sensor, elevation changes measured by the barometric altimeter might not be accurate.

One improvement from previous years is that Garmin's Connect software now does appropriate smoothing for elevation gained/lost if you turn on the Elevation Corrections on the web-site. This makes Garmin's elevation gained/lost reports much more believable than in previous years.

Battery life with the Edge 500 is much better than in previous units. I've recorded about 7 hours of elapsed time with the unit on, and it reports 75% battery life. [Update: After two back to back rides (King Ridge, Coleman Valley Road]without a recharge, the unit was down to 30% from 100%. This was with both the HRM and the GSC 10 in use, which means that a 15 hour battery life is a reasonable expectation] The quoted 18 hour battery life seems very achievable. The unit is also light enough that I wouldn't consider leaving it behind on the Tour of the Alps just to save weight. All in all, I'm satisfied with this purchase as a bike computer replacement. It costs about $100 more than a similar non-GPS bike computer, but does quite a bit more. However, if you care about navigation features and absolute minimum weight isn't a big issue, I would still recommend the Edge 705 instead. I'm certainly not leaving behind my 76CSx for the upcoming tour, but would happily use the Garmin Edge 500 on my single and tandem for local rides.
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