Gear Review – Garmin Edge 500 & 800 Cycle computers

Ultra runners frequently have the need to cross over into other sports, whether because of injury, cross training or coming from a triathlete or ironman background they find it hard to leave the bike in the garage permanently.

Cycling often features as a close companion sport for distance runners, with many of our top ultra-marathoners admitting to a stint in the saddle from time to time as part of their overall training strategy.

Most recently Andrew and Marcus have taken their experiences from the trail over to their road bikes and shown that a good nutrition strategy and tough mental approach is very transferable to knocking off large distances on the bike at a competitive level.

At our Alpine training camp in the Victorian mountains earlier in the year we were lucky enough to bump into Aussie legend and current Tour Down Under champion Simon Gerrans on a recovery ride at the top of Falls Creek. After a quick chat and a few photos the conversation moved to ultra running and it didn’t take long for the ubiquitous Kilian Jornet to be mentioned. To our surprise Simon knew him and referred to him as a recognised talent on the bike in Spain.

Closer to home it is not uncommon for Aussie rep athletes such as Dave Eadie and Meredith Quinlan to put in significant hours in the saddle.

So in the spirit of expanding our gear reviews to cover the toys some of us may use in pursuing these other sports, we took the Garmin Edge 500 and 800 for a spin.

Andrew and Simon Gerrans sharing nutrition tips at the top of Falls Creek - Victoria, Australia

To ensure we bring you as much detail as possible we enrolled Andrew’s better half Laura to trial the Edge 500. She has a great riding pedigree and recently completed a Sydney to Melbourne ride with fellow ultra runners Meredith Quinlan and Marie Doke.

Here’s what Laura found….

GARMIN EDGE 500

The Garmin Edge 500 is a lightweight GPS-based bike computer that allows cyclists to track distance, speed, location and elevation (among other things). It also comes with the option of tracking your heart rate, cadence or power through additional sensors that can be attached to your bike and paired with the computer.

Ever since the face of my Garmin 310XT was smashed in a cycling accident last year, I’ve been on the lookout for a new cycling computer.  The 310XT had been great for tracking all the usuals (distance, speed, average pace etc.), but having to wear something that resembles a laptop on your wrist isn’t ideal for longer rides.

A few months back I signed up for the Audax Alpine Classic, an epic 200km ride in the Victorian high country with around 4,500m in elevation. I completed the 140km event last year so it was time to up the distance. The event would be a perfect opportunity to test out the Edge 500.

Image courtesy of Garmin.com

I know the old adage about never doing something new on race day, but trialing the Edge 500 presented a good excuse for some rule breaking – but first I had to work out how to attach it to the bike.

With the contents of the box it came in sprawled on the floor next to my bike and instructions in hand, it was surprisingly easy (and fast!) to fit the unit to the handlebars of the bike. You can either fit the unit to the stem so it sits centered just behind the handlebars, or to the left/right of one of the bars. For me, I have my Ayups located on the stem so it fitted best on the left handlebar.


The attachment system is rather ingenious – a combination of hooks and bands that cross over the handlebars and provides a safe unit that effectively “locks” the computer unit into position with a simple side twist.

The only thing I would say about this though is that you need to be certain the unit is locked in place before heading out, as I have heard stories from friends of the unit coming lose if it hasn’t been slotted in correctly.

Once the unit is locked in, it’s a simple matter of turning it on and allowing it to locate a GPS signal. There’s no waiting, waiting, waiting…….for the signal to appear. In all the times I have used the unit, locating a GPS signal has been almost instantaneous – a nice change from my 310XT (though mine is getting on in years).

Image courtesy of Garmin.com

Battery life is also another plus. The Edge 500 lasted all day and then some during the Audax Alpine Classic, which worked out to be around 10 hours once break times are included (and I am too lazy to turn it off between stops – the battery life is said to be 18hrs). There is a handy function called ‘Auto Pause’ which allows the computer to pause your accumulated riding time when the bike ceases to move – my husband calls this cheating but I like that my rest stops aren’t included. At least I feel like I am getting faster.

The amount of data you can track through the Edge is great. I’m not a huge data junkie, but having the ability to view any combination of data fields including speed, average pace, calories  burned, cadence, distance, elevation (there are too many to list) in a screen view that you can set up exactly how you like is brilliant. It’s all easily readable while you’re on the move as well, thanks to the display being large enough to read but still compact enough that it doesn’t get in the way. The data fields can also be set to scroll at set intervals, so you always have the latest information in front of you.

Once you’re done riding, you can connect the Edge 500 to your computer with the included USB cable and upload the data to Garmin Connect™ to analyse your performance. Users of other Garmin products will be familiar with the graphs and extensive analysis tools available through the site. It’s enough to keep even spreadsheet monkeys happy.

Downside?

For my experience, there isn’t really a downside. The Edge 500 is a smart riding accessory, its compact, user friendly and covers all the basics you need in a cycling computer. There are some that may say you can get the same thing in a cheaper model, but I question whether it would be as user friendly as the Edge 500, or have the same level of strength in GPS signal.

The only other thing the Edge 500 doesn’t have is step by step directions to your destination. But if you’re after that level of detail…check out the Garmin Edge 800.

Happy riding….

Gamin Edge 800 by Marcus Warner

The first thing you notice about the 800 when compared to the 500 is that there is an awesome colour touch screen to interact with. A couple of years ago Garmin took the best features from the 500 and 705 models and combined them to develop and launch the Edge 800.

Image courtesy of Garmin.com

For me this is a stand out feature. The ability to have 10 fields of data per screen (up from 8) and 7 pages of information makes for one very versatile computer that is sure to satisfy the most nerdy of data junkies. It only takes a few seconds in the menu to customise these screens. I like the option to carry the bulk of immediate data on the one screen such as time, speed, HR, temperature, cadence, incline/decline and then scroll with a single finger gesture through to certain additional screens should I need to, e.g. waypoints and or specific climbs. If you want to see less data per screen and make a single image larger then the overall size of the display makes this computer very impressive.

The 800 Edge comes with a neat auto pause feature which is especially useful for city riding where you often stop at traffic lights (for those cyclist who do). The timer will start and stop automatically at a customisable speed.

Image courtesy of Garmin.com

Like the 500 it also includes a movement warning display. This is ideal for those who stop for a latte and then fail to restart their timer when they start to roll again.

Something most user are concerned about in this new age of touchscreen is how easy is it to use in the wet and with gloves on ? Well considering this unit has been around for a good year or more now and the technology is getting better and better, all I can say is that in both wet conditions and with varying degrees of glove thickness I was able to confidently use the screens even when focussed on the road ahead and at speed.

The Edge 800 also goes a step further to a full blown GPS unit you might find in your car. It will give you a turn by turn description of your course including how long and far to the next turn.

So once you have completed your ride, how do you download the data? A simple USB connector and a connection to Garmin Connect and off you go. Click on Download and within a few seconds it recognises this specific device and less than a minute later a 100km ride with full HR data is downloaded to view in all its glory.

Image courtesy of Garmin.com

The longest workout to date I have recorded was the 200km Audax Challenge where I was recording across all data fields including HR over a 9 hour period. It took less than a minute to download to my desktop.

In terms of battery life I am yet to find the full limit of this device on an average sunday morning ride. And often I fail to recharge the battery for a couple of weeks and yet the watch seems to just go and go.

If you already own some of the Garmin ANT+ accessories such as the HR belt then this is already compatible along with similar devices such as the speed and cadence sensors and the soon to be launched Garmin power meters.

So in summary, whilst we might be critical when it comes to finding the perfect watch as an ultra runner, when it comes to an everyday cyclist, the Garmin 800 Edge is the perfect package. Obviously all of these feature come at a price and the Edge 800 is not that cheap. Although to be honest if you are used to drop a years salary on a bike and nearly as much on helmet and shoes, then the Edge 800 is small fry considering the huge about of pleasure it can give.

Summary of Edge 800 features:

  • Displays power data from ANT +™-enabled third-party power metres
  • Barometric altitude and vertical profile
  • Wireless heart rate monitor
  • Self-calibrating wireless speed/cadence sensor
  • Turn-by-turn directions
  • Mapping detail
  • Card slot
  • Colour display

Score for the Garmin 800 Edge :- 4.5/5

In the interests of transparency, Laura was provided with a Garmin Edge 500 and Marcus with a Garmin Edge 800 to test for the purposes of this review by Footpoint Shoe Clinic Mosman.

Marcus

7 thoughts on “Gear Review – Garmin Edge 500 & 800 Cycle computers

  1. Just out of interest, how much cross-training – gym, bike, swim – do the ultra 168 guys engage in usually per week?

    1. Hi Adrian, I do one recovery ride of about 100kms on a Sunday and maybe an easy 60kms on a Saturday. During the week I do 5 days of core and gym work which will become more frequent as I build strength for UTMB. I am not big into my stretching so spend the time in the gym focussed on core and stability. Also spend about 20 mins of each gym session helping to work on my ankle stability after multiple strains in the last few years and so will jump on a half bosie ball for a while.

      1. PS I know Andrew is big into his CrossFit at the moment and so I am sure he will come on here and share with us his current cross-training

      2. Wow. That is certainly an impressive amount of ‘extras’. And here I was thinking that ultra runners just did massive volume.

        Interested to hear about the Crossfit angle too

    2. Huge believer in cross training. Weekday mornings are 2 hours run, 1 hour crossfit 30 mins stretch/roller and core. Sit at a desk all day then evenings 45 mins altitude training approx 5km then calf and ankle exercises and a quick stretch of any tight areas. Add in approx 100km of cycling usually on a Sunday and you’re done. No Zumba.

    1. No worries, thanks for the comments. Let us know if there is anything else that crosses over and we will endeavor to review.

Leave a Reply