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Ridden & Reviewed: Garmin’s Edge 500

February 14, 2012

The Garmin Edge 500.  The ubiquitous little grey and blue computer, is gaining a loyal following—and coming in a few other color combinations as well.

Also available in black and red as well as black and gray!

If you are a recreational cycling enthusiast chances are you have one.  And if you don’t yet have one, chances are you would like one and/or know someone who does have one.  And if you’ve ever been on a ride where someone is using one, you’ve undoubtedly heard—or said—“how many feet have climbed,” “what percentage grade is this climb,” “how hot (or cold) is it,” or one of a myriad other questions a cycling addict and/or data junkie could muster.

Yes, the Garmin Edge 500 is a slick little cycling computer.  But most of us that have them—me included—don’t know half the features and functions that this little powerhouse can muster.

While I’ll walk you through some of my favorite things about the unit, you’ll get a chance to learn all the ins and outs this Thursday evening, February 16, at our Garmin Showcase event, hosted by the coaches from Cycle Camp USA (more on that later).

My number one favorite thing about the Edge 500 is that it really is plug and play.  Simply remove it from the box, power it up, and hit start.  Utilizing GPS technology, the unit will use speed and distance to calculate wheel size on the fly.  No programming needed, unless you want to more closely track your fitness, in which case you can scroll through the easy-to-use menu to enter things such as your gender, age, height, weight, activity level, and a few other data points.  The clearly set forth instruction manual easily takes you through this process if you want to get more out of your unit.

The simple Edge 500 mount on my road bike's stem.

My second favorite thing is the mount for the unit.  Simplicity at its best.  A small half-dollar sized base that mount to your bar, stem, or even frame via two heavy-duty rubber o-rings.  The unit itself comes with two mounts actually, and 14 of the o-rings in various sizes.   This makes moving the unit from bike to bike a breeze.  And, additional mounts can be purchased separately if needed.

Third on my top hits list are the accessories—the heart rate monitor strap is a fairly typical unit, but the speed/cadence sensor is really pretty slick.  I know what you’re thinking “why do I need a speed sensor for a GPS capable unit?”  Well if, like me, you do some riding on rollers or a trainer, you’ll still want to know how far and fast you’ve ridden.  The sensor is non-drive side chainstay mounted and uses a magnet placed on the back of the non-drive crank arm (for cadence) and another magnet on a spoke on the rear wheel (for speed).  Utilizing the timer feature and speed off the sensor, you can now see how many miles you’ve ridden while sitting in your garage.  Again, set-up is a breeze.  Mount the sensor so the magnets are aligned and have the unit scan for the sensor.

The speed/cadence sensor mounted on my mountain bike--complete with mud and dirt from the Warda Race!

Collecting all this data is one thing.  But what about reviewing it, cataloging it, and sharing it with your friends?  My fourth favorite feature is the ease of downloading all your ride data.  Options abound for data download software but I find the free Garmin Connect software to be clean and user friendly.  While friends love Strava for a little friendly competition, and some folks use Training Peaks, the Garmin Connect software makes capture and review a breeze in an easy-to-read layout.  The reports feature lets you compare rides, monthly totals, yearly summaries, and a host of other things.  Moreover, the mapping feature in the software uses the familiar to many Google maps, and there’s even social media plug-ins that allow sharing of rides and routes on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  Here is a sample of one of my rides on Garmin Connect.

Finally, I’ll say that Garmin has great customer service—listed as my fifth favorite feature, but really, who doesn’t love great customer service?!  My Edge 500 is actually my second Garmin unit.  I had a Forerunner 405—a watch style unit—a few years back when I was marathon training.  I somehow managed to get the Forerunner to go out of whack and, in a last ditch effort called Garmin.  They had me send my unit in and they replaced it with a refurbished unit—for the cost of shipping—in three days.  Top notch in my opinion, and something that made me a Garmin loyalist.

There are a host of other things the Edge 500 can do.  The display is easy to read and has three screens that you can scroll through (or you can set it to auto scroll) with each screen being able to display up to 8 data points!  Fewer data points on a screen, the larger the display, but even viewing 8 windows is pretty readable. You can also set audible alerts for a host of things including heart rate, speed, cadence, or even a simple timer—I have mine set to 10 minute intervals to remind me to drink on long rides.  Some of the more advanced features, like setting courses or workouts are great for those with a competitive event in mind.  The unit can receive courses that you can then go ride and you can compare your real-time performance with past performances.  Battery life is pretty good.   Riding 8-11 hours a week, I can get by charging my Edge 500 a couple of times a week, just to keep it topped off.  And, since the Edge 500 uses ANT+ wireless technology, it is compatible with many of the power measuring devices already on the market—such as PowerTap units and SRMs. I’m waiting to see Garmin’s own pedal-based power measuring device—Vector—scheduled for release later this year.

You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the Garmin Edge 500 Thursday night at our Garmin Showcase event.  The coaches from Cycle Camp USA will be on hand to walk folks through the unit, what it can do, how it can help your riding, make it more fun, and they’ll even help you set your unit up!  You can find information about Thursday’s event here.

I’m going to make sure my Edge 500 is charged for this afternoon’s ride!

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