As a kid in the late ’80s, the mountain bike was my and my friends’ tool to explore the old logging roads and quarries of the Granite State. As I’ve grown and moved over the past 25 years, I’ve continued to do the same, compiling extensive paper and mental maps of everywhere I’ve lived. For that reason, I’ve long liked the idea of using GPS to map my rides. While early multi-sport and later bike-specific models could certainly take the data needed to make decent maps, their size, complexity, and cost have long kept me away.
With ever-improving (and ever-shrinking) GPS and battery technology, it was inevitable that someone would release a GPS-enabled cycling computer that made sense for my intended use: tracking time, speed, and distance as well as collecting data that could later be used to generate maps- all at a price that makes sense. With the release of Garmin’s $150 Edge 200 this fall, it looked as though the inevitable had happened. Click through to find out if traditional cycling computers have become obsolete and my desire to map every ride can be met…
Foregoing power monitor or heart rate monitor connectivity and pre-loaded topo maps, the Edge 200 is a simple unit to use. Initial charging is done via an increasingly common mini USB port and no calibration needed. Initial setup is limited to entering language, measurement, and time format as well as providing gender, weight, height, and year of birth that enable (very) simple calorie burn calculations. Like the higher-end Edge 500 and 800, the Edge 200 uses a simple but effective bar/stem mount, held in place by two o-rings. Two mounts (helping to justify the cost by allowing for its use on multiple bikes) and over a dozen o-rings of different sizes are provided.
Though the unit itself is a whole lot larger than I expected, the 55g mounted weight is within spitting distance of the far smaller Cateye Strada Wireless with its sensor and zip ties (50g). Still, the Garmin takes up most of a 90mm stem and a good deal of the 100mm stem pictured- but is well protected in that position. The large size allows for four legible lines of text while riding: current speed, distance, riding time, and a line that can be toggled or cycle between elevation gained, calories burned, and average speed. Weirdly, though there is a clock on the main screen, it is not accessible while riding. As most of us live in a world of constraints (fitness, financial, and of course schedule), this is a huge oversight. Especially with mountain biking’s starts and stops and given varying start times, the Edge does very little to help you keep those “I’ll be home by noon” promises. Garmin has sent the current clock issue workaround: while on the ride screen, press and hold the Menu (lower left) button for two seconds. This will take the unit back to the home screen (with its clock) without stopping recording. Not readily viewed while riding- but better than no clock at all…
Having owned older GPS units, I was (and continue to be) amazed by not only how quickly the Edge 200 locates itself, but also how often the speed is updated. There’s virtually no lag between a sudden deceleration and its reflection on the speed readout, making the Garmin a convincing cycle computer. In addition to just gathering data, the Edge 200 allows rides to be uploaded as “courses,” which are displayed on screen as a simple line (absent any landmarks or roads) and can be followed without too much trouble. As a mountain biker, the “back to start” button, which treats the current ride as a course is much more promising- aside from its tendency to crash the unit, requiring a restart. Though it usually works on the second try, last thing that anyone needs when panicked about finding their way out of the woods is a blank screen. Every once in a while, the Edge 200 also seems to shut off for no reason- rebooting and choosing “resume” after noticing that it has happened is easy enough- but it can be frustrating when mapping new riding areas, generating a straight line between the crash and resume points.
The 14 hour run time is more than adequate for a weekend’s worth of riding- provided that you remember to turn the unit off before throwing the bike on a rack and mapping the drive home. My failure to turn the Edge 200 off has resulted in a number of information-free rides- not the end of the world, but some additional idiot-proofing on Garmin’s part would be welcomed by us idiots.
Though it can be disabled, the audible chirp when the Edge 200 auto-starts and stops is evil. When struggling up steep, technical climbs at immeasurably low speeds, the last thing that I need is a computer reminding me of that fact. Audio alarms can be set at regular time, distance, or caloric intervals- handy for anyone who has trouble remembering to eat or drink properly or to help with interval training (ugh). The lap timer is fairly standard save for the ability to have laps automatically recorded based on location, which is cool for for multi-lap races.
Though more advanced or training-oriented riders may want to upload collected tracks to their training or mapping tool/site of choice, Garmin’s own Garmin Connect site has been more than enough for my needs. Uploading the Edge 200’s data by way of a browser plugin, Garmin Connect is easy to use and understand as well as to share with other users. The maps are overlaid on either Google or Bing data and time, speed, elevation, and distance information is easily graphed based on rider preferences. Its ease of use really encourages me to upload my ride data regularly and makes the most of the data gathered without being a pain to use.
Overall, Garmin have met most of my needs in a GPS-enabled computer. The Edge 200 is very easy to use- a manual wasn’t provided with our sample and the fact that one was only needed to silence the auto start/stop beep reflects the work that Garmin have put into making the unit easy to use. The addition of mapping and GPS-based elevation to the standard bike computer functions is all I’ve wanted, and removing heart rate, power meter, and cadence connectivity has brought the price down very close to traditional bike computers that report elevation. The inability to display time while riding is a huge oversight, however, and one that has had me in domestic hot water more than once. The occasional crashes are also frustrating- every time I connect it to the computer I’m hoping for a firmware update to fix both that and the clock issue. Overall, Garmin have nailed the price/features/usability mix with the Edge 200. Very useful now, with a couple of software tweaks it could would handily earn five thumbs up.