Thursday, January 6, 2011

Product Spotlight: Garmin 500

Product Spotlight: Garmin 500

by Coach Lang Reynolds

One of the biggest cycling innovations of 2010 was the expansion of GPS-based cycling computers by industry giant Garmin. After releasing the game-changing Edge 705 in 2007, Garmin upped the ante in 2010 with the release of the Edge 500 and 800 computers, which built on the strengths of the 705 to offer GPS-enabled computers in more compact packages. With the ability to receive ANT+ standard power meter data transmission, Garmin now clearly leads the pack in cycling computer technology.

After six months of using the Edge 500, I can say with confidence that it is hands-down the best cycling computer I’ve ever used. As a power meter head unit, it stands head and shoulders above the other offerings thanks to its (relative) affordability, compact size, functionality, customizability, and ease of use. At $250 MSRP, it comes in much cheaper than other ANT+ head units such as the PowerTap Joule and SRM PowerControl.

While the tradeoff for the Edge 500’s compact size is that it does not display a map of your location or allow you to follow a pre-programmed route like the 705 and 800 (it simply records the GPS data of your route), it does display pretty much all other data you could imagine. With three fully-customizable data screens and up to eight data fields per screen, the user can configure the Edge 500 to show any and all pertinent data, and nothing the user doesn’t want to see. From power metrics to altitude data to the traditional speed, distance, and cadence, the 500 can display anything you want. With climbing data such as current altitude, total climbing altitude, and vertical ascent speed, the 500 is a must-have for any climbing aficionado.

Most importantly, the Edge 500 is incredibly easy to use. It’s intuitive interface is completely plug and play and I have yet to use the instruction manual. It synchronyzes with your power meter immediately and without a lengthy search or calibration process, and can switch between two different power meters (a PowerTap or an SRM, for example) in a matter of seconds, which makes it especially useful for cyclists with multiple wireless power meters. All of the power meter’s functionality is maintained and the 500 picks up the data with identical accuracy as the stock company’s head unit.

As with any GPS computer, the on-bike functionality barely scratches the surface of the 500’s total functionality. Downloading the files to a computer opens up a whole new universe of possibility in data analysis and training archiving. Garmin offers a free web-based training resource, Garmin Connect, where you can upload and view all your files and keep a full training history. Like everything Garmin does, Garmin Connect is easy to use and incredibly useful. If you want more in-depth analysis you can also view the files in third-party software. Some of these third-party applications, such as web-based Strava, allow riders to upload and compare rides and performances on local climbs, adding a whole new dimension of virtual competition to every training ride.

In short, the Edge 500 is good. Real good. It’s so good, it inspired me to switch back to my PowerTap wheel from the wired SRM I was using earlier this summer, because, being already fully addicted to power data, after getting a taste of the GPS AND power data combined, I just couldn’t go back to plain old power data. Your results may vary.