by Franz Kelsch
For more than 20 years I have been a fan of Polar Heart Rate monitors, a company that was the pioneer in the field. Being one who both runs and cycles, I was happy when Polar came out with their tri-sports S625X watch. When coupled with the footpod and the bike sensors, I was able to measure speed and distance for both running and biking.
It is obvious to many that Polar seems to have lost it’s luster, being replaced by other companies, most notably by Garmin, who focused on GPS. I did not have an interest early on because tests showed that the early running Garmin watches, which relied only on GPS, were not as accurate in tracking distance, as the Polar HRM was when using the footpod. This was confirmed later when Garmin released a footpod for their subsequent running watches.
I liked the advantage of the 625X which I could move from bike to bike and to my wrist for running. I could also download the data to my computer to not only track my progress, but analyze my workouts. It was this later feature that started to become frustrating with the Polar. My Polar 625X relied on the ancient IrDa method to transfer the data and also only worked under Windows. Despite considerable talk on the various blogs, Polar has continued to ignore the Mac, which Garmin started to make software for their devices to run on both Windows and the Mac.
Garmin released the Edge 205/305 series and they looked appealing. But I heard that the battery only lasted 10 hours, not long enough for some of the double centuries. They then released the Edge 705, which supported maps, and with a longer battery life. But the price seemed too high for me. When Garmin released the new, smaller, Edge 500, I decided to make the purchase. After a few days, I am ready to compare using it with my two Polar 625X HRMs.
Turns out that the new Edge 500 was the same weight as the my Polar 625X HRM.
I always thought that the Polar watches were easy enough to move from bike to wrist to bike, but the Edge 500 is a dream, with a very clever bike mount that only requires a quarter turn. My package included two bike mounts and a lot of the special o-rings that are used to attach the mount to the bike, either on the stem or handlebar.
The Garmin Edge supports connection to ANT+ devices. I purchased the bundle with the heart rate strap and the bike speed/cadence sensor. Too bad that I could not use my Polar heart rate straps, which are excellent. If you have a power meter that supports ANT+, you can pair it with the Edge 500. Note that you can use the Garmin Edge 500 without the speed/cadence pickup since it will use the GPS to calculate speed/distance. This works well when you have a GPS signal and there are not a lot of sharp bends. I use this method to mount the Edge 500 on the rear of our tandem, where it replaced out Garmin eTrek GPS.
The speed/cadence sensor is a very nice single unit design that mounts on the chain-stay. I had no issue with the transmission even though the pickup is quite a bit further away from the Edge 500 unit than is typical where you have a speed pickup mounted on the front fork.
After charging the device for the recommended 3 hours and turning it on, I was put directly into the setup. I noted how fast it found the satellites compared with my Garmin eTrek, even though I was indoors. The setup involved entering your age, weight, height, etc.
Then I went about modifying the display. Similar to the Garmin hiking GPS units I have owned, I was pleased to find out you could select what data to put where you want it. You are given 3 different pages you can switch between. For each page, you can set from 1 to 8 data fields to view at one time. If you select 5 or fewer fields, one field is displayed at the top in larger characters.
The number of different data you can pick from is amazing.
|Cadence – Avg.||HR – %HRR||Power||Speed – Avg|
|Cadence – Lap||HR – %Max||Power – %FTP||Speed – Lap|
|Calories||HR – Avg||Power – 30x Avg.||Speed – Max|
|Distance||HR – Avg. %HRR||Power – 3s Avg.||Temperature|
|Distance – Lap||HR – Avg.%Max||Power – Avg.||Time|
|Elevation||HR – Lap||Power – Lap||Time – Avg. Lap|
|GPS Accuracy||HR – Lap %HRR||Power – Max||Time – Elapsed|
|Grade||HR – Lap %Max||Power – kU||Time – Lap|
|Heading||HR Graph||Power Zone||Time of Day|
|HR Zone||Total Ascent|
|VS – 30s Avg.|
One thing I notice when setting up the Edge 500 was how difficult it was for me to read. I was not sure why since the size characters on the display were similar to my Polar HRM. So I compared the two together, mounted on the bike.
The difference in the contrast is quite striking. The Edge 500 has a contrast adjustment but that seemed to have little affect. In all cases it was much easier for me to read the Polar 625X display. Having used the Edge 500 on several rides now, I did note that reading anything but the large sized font at the top, is hard. Those with better eyesight may not have an issue.
This image is from the Garmin website. I would like to know how they photographed it so the screen is so readable.
After taking my first ride I was anxious to download from the device. I installed the free Garmin Training Center software on my Mac. I connected the Edge via a min-USB cord, and it was immediately found and the workout was brought in. I was amazed how good this software was.
I find this layout much better than the Polar software, which mixes your speed, heart rate, elevation all on one graph. Compare the above view with what I had with the Polar software shown below.
Web Based Options
Garmin also offers free web based software called Garmin Connect. I gave that a try and the data from the Edge was brought in just as easily.
I tried some of the other web based applications. One of particular note is Strava. This site requires payment but does a good job of analyzing your data.
This site offers a very interesting feature. When you upload your Edge 500 files to it, it can determine when you do certain climbs and then compares your times against other Strava users. When I did the Metcalf Mauler ride, it knew I had climbed Metcalf and compared with other Strava users. Too bad that I didn’t have this Garmin GPS device last year when I climbed Metcalf in 13:18, or I would be KOM on their page.
I am happy with my purchase of the Garmin Edge 500 and have taken the Polar speed sensor off my main bike. It has found a home on the rear of our tandem, replacing the Gramin eTrex I was using. Downloading the data is much easier, especially for Mac users since I no longer need to boot into Windows to get my data. The options for analyzing the data is much greater. I am disappointed in the screen readability. I am not sure why Garmin can not use the same type of LCD screen that Polar uses, which would make it much easier to read while riding. Having a GPS opens up a lot of possibilities, such as the automated climb time comparisons that sites like Strava offer. For a very in-depth review of the Garmin Edge 500, read the blog posting by DC Rainmaker.