Besides sponsoring a Pro Tour-level cycling team, Garmin makes some very nice navigational aids. I would be lost in Europe without a car GPS like my Garmin Nuvi 265. For the past few years they have also been making bike computers with GPS capabilities.
You might have seen the likes of Christian Vande Velde, Bradley Wiggins and Dave Zabriskie with the venerable Garmin Edge 705 on their handlebars climbing the big mountain of the Alps and Pyrenees. The 705 has maps and GPS tracking, which is very nice, but since these guys always seem to have a police escort, the folks at Garmin decided to come out with a computer that is more compact and a bit lighter.
The result is the Edge 500, which will be the computer of choice for the Garmin-Transitions team in 2010. The more compact design includes almost all the functionality of the 705 save for the mapping. But fear not, the 500 does take GPS waypoints so you can map your ride when you get home.
All the Data You'd Want
I tested the 500 over several months, and the executive summary is that this is a very nice cyclocomputer. Besides all the standard computer data—including speed, distance, time and average speed—the unit also comes with a host of altitude-based functions such as current altitude, accumulated climbing or descending and percent grade. There are a whole host of heart rate functions and cadence options.
If your power meter speaks the ANT+ communications protocol, there are a number of power-based functions such as current power, average power, etc. Suffice it to say, this is a data-rich computer with 43 different functions which can be displayed.
As with the Edge 705, you can connect the unit to your computer via a min-USB cable and download all your ride data. Garmin offers a free data analysis tool called Garmin Connect for looking at the data. The very good news is that the data collected is both accurate and precise, making this a very useful tool both on and off the bike.
Unfortunately, the documentation for the instrument left me a bit confused, so the initial setup was mildly frustrating. But, fear not, once you have the unit dialed in, it will work very well for all your cycling needs.
One of the nicest things about the Edge 500 is that you can program it to display the data you want. The unit has three different data screens capable of displaying up to eight different pieces of data. That means a maximum of 24 different (or the same, you get to choose) pieces of information can be displayed during a ride. And if you are not into data overload, you can choose to display only one data item per page, or two or three or four...You get the picture.
Recommendations for Users
I have a Power Tap wireless rear hub that sends its data using the ANT+ data protocol. The Edge 500 picks up all the data from the hub nicely, though you need to set the wheel circumference to a custom value (I uses "2096"), rather than "automatic", to get speed data from the hub.
Also, for those who like to know their average speed on a ride, it is highly recommended that you set the "auto pause" feature to some positive value other than zero so that your time during a ride when your bike is not moving does not count toward the average speed calculation.
Be sure to hit the stop button at the end of a ride. This will provide more accurate training data and will also preserve battery life.
A nice feature is that because of the physical design of the unit, updates for new features or software bug fixes are easy and available by connecting to the Garmin website and performing a download.
Can It Be Improved Upon?
Obviously there are some things that can be improved upon. The Edge 500 has an internal battery which needs to be re-charged about every 15 hours. Because this is so critical it would be nice if the battery life indicator was larger and more readable.
If you live in an area where GPS signals may be dodgy, like among the California Redwoods in northern California, it is advised that you do not rely on the GPS for speed data. I would recommend getting the GSC-10 sensor, which attaches to the left rear chainstay and provides both speed and cadence.
Also, it would be nice if the percent grade feature was displayed out to tenths of a percent. Ultimately, 7.9 percent is a much different climb than 7.1 percent.
You can't really fault Garmin for offering free data analysis software which does not have a lot of features. If you really want to give your ride data a hard look, you should probably buy something like the TrainingPeaks WKO+ software.
In summary, the Garmin Edge 500 (with a suggested retail price of $250), is a feature rich, accurate and precise instrument that sets the gold standard for cyclocomputers.
Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. Find the latest news, rumors and more on his Active Expert blog. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Europe.