Bikerumor Review: Garmin Edge 500 GPS Bicycle Computer

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BIKERUMOR REVIEW: Introduced late last year, the Garmin Edge 500 takes all the GPS tracking and features of it’s full color, larger-screened siblings and packs it into a smaller, more cycling specific computer. We’ve had one on review for about seven months, along with the speed/cadence and heart rate sensors, and have been pretty impressed once we got to know the little guy.

The Garmin Edge 500 has all the normal features you’d expect from a high end bicycle computer, including speed, distance, elapsed time, time of day, etc. The bonus goodies are elevation and climbing and descending rates/totals (via both GPS and barometric pressure) and post-ride mapping of your route on the Garmin Training Center computer program. With the optional ANT+ accessories, from them or any compatible ANT+ brand, it’ll track cadence, heart rate, power and it improve the accuracy of the speed. All that, and more.

One feature we didn’t use but is included is workout programs and course mapping, and I’ll get into why we didn’t later in the review, along with the lap feature.

Looking for a solid cycling computer that throws more information at you than you can possibly handle? Read on to see if the Garmin Edge 500 is right for you…

WHAT’S IN THE BOX

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The Garmin Edge 500 comes with two mounts, letting you keep two bikes ready to roll. There are several different size straps, and the mount attaches pretty much anywhere (most likely you’ll stick it on the handlebar or stem) by criss-crossing the straps underneath:

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The mount can be set in either direction, and the computer goes in at 90º then twists to lock in. Because it can pull speed directly from the satellites, there’s no need to set up wheel circumference or settings for different bikes…just mount and go.

The box also contains a wall plug with various interchangeable international outlets, USB cable for syncing and charging, quick start guides in several languages and a CD with the owner’s manual as a PDF.

HOW IT WORKS

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Connect it to your Mac or PC via standard USB to Mini-USB cable.

If you’re like me and don’t typically read instructions, you’ll like the Garmin Edge 500, but you’ll be missing out on some of its features. Initially, I jumped right into using it without looking at the instructions for months. At first, it was frustrating not getting the info I wanted…until I really started playing with the buttons and was able to customize the screens and set the pages to show what I wanted, where I wanted it.

Basically, I would have gotten far more out of it from the start had I just sat down with the owner’s manual for 20 minutes. Features like the Course copycat routing and training simply aren’t going to be used well (or at all) without reading the instructions.

The biggest area of frustration prior to reading the instructions was with syncing. I actually figured it out on my own, but again, there was a lot of wasted effort, a couple of erroneously deleted rides and plenty of cursing. In order to save your rides, you need to “reset” the unit when you’ve completed a ride, otherwise it’ll delete it, continue it onto the next ride or otherwise screw with the data.

Getting started is easy enough, just enter your age, weight, height and activity level and you can get rolling…and you can enter this directly on the unit or on your computer then sync it.

Syncing is simple, just download the Garmin Training Center (GTC) from Garmin’s website (free), hook up the USB cable and launch the GTC program. The Garmin should automatically turn on in sync mode when plugged in and the GTC should auto detect it and download your rides. You can store quite a few rides on the unit before you have to sync it.

ON THE BIKE

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The Edge 500 is pretty small, which makes it easy to mount on your bar or stem.

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If you’re familiar with Shimano’s current Flight Deck, here’s a size comparison. The great thing about the Edge’s mounting system is that rubber bands, even those little black ones that come with tubes, can serve in a pinch.  Also, it’s tight enough to hold the unit in place during massive, high speed, ass-over-elbows mountain bike wrecks, yet easy to reposition if the sun’s hitting just right to reflect in your eyes.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD…OR NOT

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The Garmin Edge 500 allows you to set up to three pages of info, with as little as one and up to eight sections per screen. Shown above with three sections, you can customize each section to show whatever info you want, including speed, time, distance, temperature, cadence and all the other basic bicycle computer functions, plus a plethora of different heart rate, ascent/elevation and power readings…basically more info than you probably need while you’re riding, but it makes it an effective training tool for however it is you like to train.

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Once you get past three sections, it starts splitting them in half vertically.

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With five segments, the upper half of the screen remains dedicated to one metric. Jump to six sections and it splits that one, too (below). From there, it splits the top two sections vertically to get up to eight metrics shown at a time…which is very hard to read when you’re actually riding.

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I found it was easiest to set one page with just three or four of the most important metrics, like speed, distance, time and cadence; another page with elevation, grade, speed, HR and cadence, then dump whatever else I wanted on the third screen to check only periodically. To scroll through while riding, just hit the Page/Menu button. All buttons are easy to push, even with full finger gloves on.

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Another setting worth mentioning is the Auto Start/Stop. With normal cycling computers, the timer keeps ticking even when you’re stopped at a light, to water the trees or BS with friends…which kills your average speed. You can set the Garmin to automatically stop and start the timer whenever it senses movement, and it reacts pretty quickly. On the road, it works perfectly. On the trails, slower technical mountain biking can cause it to start and stop when you drop under 1.5 to 2.0mph…like during Breck Epic hike-a-bike sections. It can be set to audibly beep when it starts and stops so you know it’s doing its job.

There’s also an auto lap function that can be set to automatically count laps by distance or other metrics, but I found it to be sort of annoying during general riding. If you’re actually doing laps, then it’s a great way to separate data for each lap when you review it on your computer, which brings us to:

INFORMATION OUTPUT

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This is the Garmin Training Center screen on a Mac. This is the downloaded ride data from the Burnsville Metric Century in NC in April. The “History” along the left side is all of the rides that have been downloaded from the unit. The “Workouts” below that were pre-programmed workouts…and you can program your own, too, but it’s not a very user-friendly experience thanks to a lack of good copy/paste ability, and I tried four times to create one and upload it to the unit to test this feature, and each time it crashed the program and erased the workout I had created. I only tried this on my Mac and have not attempted to create or upload a workout on a PC.

At the top of the screen is the data from the ride. It doesn’t show every metric that’s available on the unit, but shows the important averages, ascent/descent, distance, time, pace, max speed, calories, cadence, HR (avg and max) and power metrics.

The boxes on the lower right can show speed, pace, split pace, elevation, grade, HR (as BPM or %Max), Cadence and Power. You can have it display several boxes (more than just the two shown) at a time, and choose whether to display the metric versus distance or time. If you click somewhere on the graph, it’ll show the location on the map so you can see where you peaked or dipped for the chosen metric.

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The map within the GTC is kind of lame, but you can export your ride to Google Earth (shown above), which can then show you the ride on a map, satellite photo or hybrid…and if you haven’t played with Google Earth, it’s pretty fun. You can create flyovers of your rides.

TRAINING PARTNER – PART ONE

The Garmin Edge 500 was launched for athletes that wanted a serious training tool without the fuss of maps. While we didn’t get to test the workout functions of the system because it refused to upload a workout, I did get to test the Course Follow feature, which lets you repeat a past workout to see if you can beat your time (or whatever other metric you feel like competing against).

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With the Course History, you can pull up a past ride on the unit directly, or create one from the GTC and upload it (theoretically, anyway, the program crashed when I tried to upload a course, too). For my test, I pulled up the history on the unit and chose a past ride. The downside to choosing a ride from history on the unit is that you’re only looking at the date of the ride, so you need to remember which date you rode the course you want to repeat.

Once you select the course, it takes several minutes for the unit to configure itself and start, at which point the Page/Menu button will scroll through the normal pages before showing the two screens directly above. On the left is the “map” showing the ghost from the previous course and you as separate arrows. Just like in Gran Turismo, you want to beat the ghost. The screen on the right shows you and the ghost on elevation with several more metrics. Between the two screens, it’ll show you how far (distance and time) ahead or behind you are and how long (distance and time) until you finish.

One of the features that I found lacking in the Course History set up was any sort of alert that you’re off course. Because there are no real maps, just the outline following your past course, there’s no indication when to turn. In Garmin’s defense, their GPS is tight enough to make it easy to know unless your blocks are like 20 feet long. The real downside to this is if you’re on one of the other screens and/or not focusing on the map. I intentionally went of course and continued going completely the wrong way on the wrong road for two miles and it never beeped or flashed any indication that I was astray.

So, for Mac users, I’d caution that you might not get everything you wanted out of the Edge if you really are buying it to set up workouts and training programs. For PC users, I don’t know…leave a comment if you’ve used this and how it works for you.

TRAINING PARTNER – PART TWO

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I mentioned the Auto Start/Pause feature on the unit’s timer; well, the downside is that it doesn’t show your total ride time, only the time that you were actually moving. Enter Garmin Connect, the online version of their Training Center software. Visually, it’s much better than the GTC software, and it offers up much better reporting of the data. To upload your info, you’ll need to create a free account, then connect the device to your computer and hit “Upload”. It seems to work best if you’re only uploading a few rides at a time…when I tried to upload three months worth of rides, it tended to leave a couple in perpetual “uploading” action. The screenshot above exemplifies the more complete reporting. It shows TOTAL time from the moment you hit Start until you hit Stop, including all those pee breaks and stop lights, the temperature range and average, elevation range and average and various ways of thinking about your speed and pace.

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Stage one of the 2010 Breck Epic, as seen through Garmin Connect.

The “Player” screen shows your selected ride in an animated fashion. Choose two metrics (speed, elevation or temperature) for the top graph, hit “Play” and it’ll move along your route showing you those plus Distance and Time as the pinpoint moves along the map.

Not only is the information more elegantly displayed, but the maps are Google Maps, so you can zoom and view by street much better than from within the GTC.

Unfortunately, you can’t upload workouts or anything to the unit from the Connect interface, either (for PC or Mac).  You can also choose to share your workouts with the Garmin Connect community if you like, and if you have certain Tanita body analysis scales, you can upload your body’s stats into the program to (eventually) get a timeline of your overall health next to your workout timeline.

What you CAN do, however, is share your exploits with friends and family via various embed and linkage options. Click here to see the above ride as a shared link and play around with the metrics on your own.

ACCESSORIES

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Garmin offers packages with HR Monitors, Speed/Cadence Sensors and Power Meters, all of which work on the ANT+ standard, or you can buy these items separately after the fact. Or, if you already own an ANT+ sensor for any of those metrics, it should play nice with the Garmin.

For this review, we used the HR monitor and Speed/Cadence sensor. With the sensor, the unit won’t record cadence. It will record speed, but I found that under heavy tree cover (whether mountain biking or on roads with solid tree canopies), the speed reading would jump by as much as +/- 2mph (or, a 4mph swing), which makes it hard to really tell how fast you’re going if you’re trying to maintain a certain speed. With the sensor, it was much more accurate…or at least it didn’t fluctuate wildly.

The unit sometimes took a minute or two to pick up both the HR monitor and S/C sensor, but once they connected it never dropped them during a ride.  And I never had any interference from anyone elses equipment on group rides.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

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For me, an acknowledged gear freak that likes toys and lots of information but couldn’t care less about maximizing training efforts, the Edge 500 is pretty sweet. There were only a few occasions when I thought it’d be nice to have a map on the screen, and if you regularly ride out without knowing where you’re going, a “get me home” feature that lets you retrace your steps would be cool, but overall it’s hard to argue with the abundance of information that this system offers.

Shown above at 12,527ft during the Breck Epic, the Garmin Edge 500 has been on my road and mountain bikes for almost a full year of testing and it’s worked flawlessly the entire time, survived several crashes and even the mounting straps have stayed strong. Being able to see virtually any metric you want and customize it to suit your needs are what make this a really cool bicycle computer, and getting to see your rides on the map with all the pertinent info is icing on the cake (and for seriously training athletes, it’s what you need to keep track of your performance).

The only negative thing I can say is the seeming inability to upload workouts and courses from a Mac to the unit, which limits its usefulness as a pure training tool for those who Think Different. If this were fixed, we’d give it a full Five.  Based on your intended use and the type of ‘pooter you type on, it could make or break your decision to purchase.

Depending on accessories linked to it, battery life is good at well over 8 – 10 hours of continuous use. It charges quickly using the included wall plug and less quickly using the USB cable. Oh, and if you lose the USB cable, just use any standard USB-to-Mini-USB cable.

Despite being shown in painful, RGB detail just how much I suck at climbing, the unit’s ease of use, vast amount of information it gives and the lightweight (57g) and compact size earn the Garmin Edge 4.5 Thumbs Up!

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PRICING

The main unit, which comes with everything shown in the picture at the top, retails for $249.00.  They offer a bundle with the HR monitor and Speed/Cadence sensor for $349.00, saving you $20 to $30 over purchasing them separately. Accessories like replacement straps, chargers and such are also available.

http://www.garmin.com

Comments

Rob - 09/09/10 - 8:46am

Great review, but you left out an important piece of info, the price!

david purdy - 09/09/10 - 9:12am

You have only scratched the surface of courses and training.

If you use something like bikeroutetoaster you can enter in a course and if you edit it properly, you get both the symbol for the turn/summit/etc. and the street name.

http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=158373

putting the tcx file into training center gives you good idea what it will look like on your Edge 500.

And the Edge500 does indeed tell you when you are off course. It also tells you where the course starts and how to get there.

Also, there is training and it is very easy to set up various interval training regimes. And don’t forget the alarm which is a handy way to remind you to drink every fifteen minutes.

Tyler (Editor) - 09/09/10 - 12:25pm

Rob, thanks…just updated the post with pricing and options.

David,
Thanks for the link, we’ll check it out. I’m talking to Garmin to see if there’s a known issue with uploading to the unit on a Mac and will update this review if we have a solution. My comments were based on my experience with the unit, but there certainly is a lot of depth to the options, so I may have missed some settings that would tell me when I was off course. As I used it, though, there was no alert, beeping or visual notice that I was way, way off course or any indication of when/where to turn.

Brian - 09/09/10 - 3:23pm

Excellent and informative article. I have one question: How do I change the display pages (e.g., with page one showing time, speed, and distance; page two showing grade, calories, time of day, etc.)? Many thanks.

Tyler (Editor) - 09/09/10 - 6:08pm

Brian,
The easiest way is to read the owner’s manual and follow the instructions, something I’ve learned the hard way many times. That said, simply hold down the Page/Menu button until you have options, go to Settings and it should be obvious.

Another update, I spent an hour on the phone with Garmin’s tech support and got some of the issues resolved allowing me to upload workouts and courses to the unit, but other updates wouldn’t transfer, so we’re sending in the unit for them to check out. Will update on progress. Even still, I like this thing quite a bit.

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