By Fred Zahradnik
Garmin offers more sports- and fitness-oriented GPS devices than any other manufacturer by far, with 5 cycling models and 11 for runners and triathletes.
Several months ago I reviewed Garmin’s Edge 605 for RBR. The 705 also continues to impress with its technology. Some RBR readers have been less thrilled, however, reporting reliability problems eased by Garmin’s very good customer service.
The 705 and 3 previous Edge models are a bit bulky, especially to the eye of a competitive cyclist. As you probably know, Garmin is the primary sponsor of a pro road team, and the company has tapped the experiences and preferences of those riders in the development of a new GPS-enabled cyclecomputer.
The result is the Garmin Edge 500, which has just come on the market as I’m writing this in early December 2009. I was fortunate to receive one of the first production units and immediately put it on the road for RBR. With interest in the 500 running high, we’re offering this review before the customary 25+ hours of testing.
The Edge 500 looks great with its silver-gray, carbon-weave faceplate, white-and-Garmin-blue trim, and clean, no-wires installation. It’s sturdy, waterproof (passed my immersion test) and has a better, tougher handlebar/stem mount. It’s suitable for road or mountain biking and easily transferable between bikes.
Biggest difference between the Edge 500 and the 705/605 models? Besides appearance, the 500 does not have color mapping or GPS navigation, and the display screen is narrower and shorter (1.17×1.44 in. vs. 1.37×1.71 in.). The 500 is trimmer overall, and at 56.7 grams weighs nearly half as much as a 705 (105 g).
The handlebar/stem mounting system is better designed to be more secure than the slide-in version used for previous Edges. The 500 has a base plate (photo) that quickly, easily and firmly attaches with the included O-rings (use the appropriate size). The computer then clicks in with a firm 1/4 turn.
Like the other GPS cyclecomputers in Garmin’s line, the Edge 500 has many functions (list below) any of which can be shown in the multiple display modes. Plus, you can set up to 3 display pages with different configurations and scan through them while riding. It’s a very impressive number of display options.
You can select 1-8 data fields to display per screen. The font size and display segments automatically adjust to fit. Due to the relatively small screen size, I recommend showing no more than 5 data fields per screen — one large top-middle data field and 4 smaller ones just below.
Here’s how I made use of the display customization. I set up 3 display pages. The first is a general screen with speed, average speed, distance, time of day and heart rate. The second is a custom “climbing” screen with total ascent, vertical speed, grade percentage, and elevation. The third is a custom heart monitoring screen with current HR, percentage of max, and zone. Similarly, if you use a power meter you could set up a dedicated power page.
The Edge 500 has a rubberized perimeter that includes 4 raised buttons. They’re under the rubber skin to keep out dirt and water. These buttons perform multiple tasks, given the number of functions in this computer, but they are logically set up and required only a brief owner’s manual consultation to master.
Power on/off and page/menu buttons are on the left. This pair also doubles as ???enter??? and ???back??? buttons. The start/stop and lap/reset buttons are on the right, doubling as up/down scrolling buttons for the menus. I was easily able to locate and operate the buttons while riding, even in light long-finger gloves.
Call me a curmudgeon, but I see little need for anyone but a beginner to measure pedaling cadence. Once you become familiar with the feel of the cadence ranges, and what works for you, there’s no point in cluttering your bike with cadence sensors.
You can get the Edge 500’s cadence function as a standalone accessory or bundled with the heart monitor. The sensor detects cadence via a crankarm-mounted magnet passing a chainstay-mounted sender, which also detects speed with a magnet (included) attached to a rear spoke.
The Edge 500 reports speed accurately using GPS alone, but the sensor data combined with GPS provides quicker response, Garmin says. If you do want cadence, this wireless unit (photo) is well-executed and not too bad looking.
Power Meter Compatibility
The Edge 500 includes Garmin’s wireless ANT+ standard, which is compatible with iBike, PowerTap, Quark and SRM power meters. Power functions include zones, current power, average power over the last 3 or 30 seconds, power/lap, max power and kilojoules. Without a power meter I was unable to see these displayed.
Garmin Connect Online
Like other Garmin sports models, the Edge 500 will automatically upload your workout details to the free
Within Garmin Connect you can view routes on a map and select and review reports on your historical stats. You can also share routes with others. Garmin has been steadily improving Connect. What was once a balky service is better, and the price (free) is great.
Heart rate sub-functions (10)
Power sub-functions (7)
Speed and sub-functions
Temperature (a first for the Edge series)
Time of day
Ride time and sub-functions
Vertical speed (rate of ascent or descent)
If you don’t want or need the color mapping and GPS navigation features of the Garmin Edge 705/605, the 500 is a solid alternative. Its style, compact size, sturdier mounting system and lack of wires make it look at home on a high-end bike.
I’ve found GPS cyclecomputing to be accurate and reliable, and I like being able to switch the computer between bikes. In fact, the Edge 500 comes with 2 mounting plates and O-ring sets — nice touch. All it takes to move it is a simple twist — no resetting of wheel size or any other fussing is necessary. GPS automatically and accurately provides the data for speed and distance.