I have an ambivalent relationship with bicycle gadgetry. I've used cycling computers practically from the day I (re-)started cycling as an adult in 2009, but I've spent months at a time without any, and haven't had one on my main commuting bike for several years. I log a general estimate of commuting miles on the mycyclinglog website but am not really interested in any other data coming out of my daily commute.
On my 'good bike', however, I've always been interested in how far and fast I go -- though I am by means speedy nor am I what is known amongst audaxers as a 'Mileater'*. Nonetheless, the 'best bike' gets the best miles and I do like to know what I've been doing, in concrete as well as visceral terms.
The first few years, I used Cateye cyclo-computers. My first two computers (on the Brompton M3L) were wireless but found they sometimes fail to record what you're doing but likewise sometimes pick up interference from nearby devices, so just weren't reliable enough. I switched to wired versions and ran those on the Cross Check and Pacer quite happily.
Then I got the Enigma** and decided it was time to move up a level. I got a Polar CS200cad system using discount points with my private health insurance. I was particularly keen to try using the cadence and heart rate sensors to measure my level of fitness and (hopefully) improvement. But all I can say after 15 months is, the computer is lovely to use in every respect but all the extras have been disappointing. The various sensor/transmitter units are large and clumsy and were a pig to fit, and try as I may I've never been able to get the cadence sensor to work at all -- I think partially due to the shape of my cranks and partially due to the really naff tape supplied to affix a plain square magnet. The tape de-laminated in short order, leaving a messy residue on the crank arm.
So this week -- after several months of casual Internet browsing and reading lots of reviews -- I've bought a Garmin. I gave a lot of thought to what data I want from my rides. If a route needs to be planned beforehand, I prefer to do that using an online tool such as bikehike or ridewithgps, so being able to download a route onto the unit is important to me, but I don't want to use the unit to plan routes and don't really need a big bright screen for wayfinding. Basically, I simply want to record the ride - distance travelled, moving time, elapsed time, average miles per hour, maximum speed (and I'll know which hill that was!), and now, if I can, heart rate and cadence, elevation/climbing and even have a handy little map of the route that I rode, to look at later. While on the move, I may check the current time and speed on the unit but nothing more, so I don't need a screen any bigger or more sophisticated than what I've already been using (as shown above).
It seems to be taken for granted in many circles that technology moves on and if you don't keep up you get left behind. But a state of the art GPS computer unit with all the bells and whistles would be wasted on me.
Fortunately, Garmin make a GPS-enabled unit hardly any bigger than the Polar unit: the Edge 500. It was first launched in 2009, so I had to be sure that Garmin still support it, as the last thing I wanted was to purchase something that will be completely obsolete soon, if not already.
The trusted DC Rainmaker website came to my rescue. The initial review was very thorough, but the real value for money lies in the comments, where readers give feedback and share information. It seems the general opinion is that the Edge 500 is a great little unit. All the initial bugs have been fixed and Garmin continues to support it and provide updates. So why not?
I fitted it this afternoon. Nearly as much cursing was involved as with the Polar, again mostly to do with fitting the cadence sensor and magnet. This time, the interesting thing is that, computer/GPS aside, all the readings for the bike (the heart rate monitor feeding directly to the computer) are taken by a single sensor/transmitter unit secured with zip ties to the non-driveside chainstay. This unit has two sensors: one on the outside that must be lined up with the magnet (attached with a ziptie, not tape) on the inside of the crankarm and a second (on an adjustable arm) on the inside that must align with a magnet fixed to a spoke in the rear wheel. The fun was getting both pairs of magnet + sensor all lined up to work. And I had very little latitude as to where to position the unit on the chainstay, due to how short my cranks are! The nice thing is that the unit has indicator lights to confirm when things are working.
At the moment I have confirmatory lights for the cadence but nothing on speed/wheel revolution. Hmm. Meanwhile, the GPS unit is on the charger in the kitchen so not tested yet.
I hope to finish the set up by Good Friday, as I'm planning to cycle over towards Stevenage to take advantage of a Breeze ride being run from there, described as being "challenging". Given the stated distance is only approximately 35 miles, I expect the challenge will be provided by the terrain!
Oh and I got it in RED. :)
* Although... why not? I do ask myself. One day.
** Finally, I had a bike designed to fit me, which meant it had a stem long enough to actually attach a computer to! I have to say, I felt like maybe I was finally a "proper cyclist" -- not so much for having a computer on my stem, but for having a stem to which, if I so wished, a computer could be fitted.