Archive for March, 2010

Garmin Edge 500 vs. Polar

| March 20, 2010 8:11 am
Garmin Edge 500 vs. Polar

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.

ANT+ Devices

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.

Initial Setup

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 Heart Rate Laps Speed
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
Total Descent
VS – 30s Avg.
Vertical Speed

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.

Data Download

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.

How Steep Can I Go?

| March 14, 2010 6:56 pm
How Steep Can I Go?

What is Percent Grade

The term “grade” comes from civil engineering and is the most common method of specifying the sloop of a hill. By definition, grade is defined as:

It is not the angle of the hill, which is measured in degrees.  A very steep section could be a 20% grade, which is about a 10 degree angle. A 45 degree angle would be 100% grade.

How Do We Use It?

There are two factors associated with a hill climb, the average grade and the grade at any given point. The average grade is easy to calculate, assuming you know the distance of the climb and the total elevation gain. Let’s take a hill that is 1 miles long with an elevation change of 1,000 feet (0.189 miles).  You can calculate the grade as follows:

On our bikes we don’t actually measure the “run” but measure the road along the slope of the hill.  Using a little trigonometry, we can determine that for this particular set of numbers the “run” is 0.98 miles and the grade is 19.2%. We could therefore use the measured distance on the bike and the error here would only be 2%, even less so for lower grades. We all know from climbing a very steep hill that a grade of 19% is very difficult, but none of the climbs we track have an average grade of 19%.  The steepest of climbs usually average no more than 10% grade, or about 500 vertical feet per mile. In California, Bolhman On Orbit averages only about 10.5%.  So although average grade is certainly a factor, there are several factors that need to be considered.

  • Maximum Grade
  • Total Distance
  • Total Elevation Gain

How each of these impact you as a climb is very much a personal thing.  Some can power over a very steep, short section, and yet fade with a long climb, while others have a very difficult time with a short, steep grade (or maybe they are not using a low enough gearing) but can climb strong for 3,000 vertical feet.

Of all the parameters we could use to describe a hill climb, the hardest to determine is maximum grade.   Unless you are a surveyor, you are usually limited to measuring elevation gain using an instrument that is using barometric pressure (or even less accurately, GPS only).   How accurate is such a measurement?  Pretty good over a significant elevation change, but not so good over a short distance.  Couple that intrinsic error, with the aspect that a very short, but very steep pitch, is not nearly the same factor as a steep climb for 1/4 mile.  So what are the parameters that should be used calculating maximum grade?

Last year I was biking in the beautiful island of Hilo Hawaii and ventured down about the steepest road I have ever attempted on a road bike. This is a view from the top that shows the vertical descent down to the ocean.

There was a sign at the top of the road that said 25% grade.  This picture gives you the idea.

Going down was tough enough, going up was impossible and only one person in our group made it all the way up without stopping.  To excuse myself for walking a section, I stopped and used an inclinometer application in my iPhone to measure the grade, resting in on the top tube.  I measured 35% grade.

Does that mean the maximum grade was 35%?  Even if the measurement device was accurate, it was still over a distance spanned by my two wheels so a bump in the road could have a big impact.  To calculate the maximum grade, we need to decide over what distance.  It is a decision that the designers of all cyclometers that read out percent grade, need to wrestle with.  Make the distance too long and people don’t get the instant feedback they expect.  Make it too short and you get some numbers that don’t reflect what you feel and that fluctuate too rapidly.  So leave your comments here on:

  • What is the minimum distance we should use to calculator maximum grade.
  • How best to measure it.

We will use your feedback on developing some factor for maximum grade on the hills we track.

Website Changes

We are updating our hill climbs on the Ultra Cycling website (  We are working on maps and hill profiles for the various climbs.  Look for those changes to be coming soon.

2010 Low Key Hill Climb Series

| March 12, 2010 9:09 am
2010 Low Key Hill Climb Series

For those who live in the bay area and want to test their climbing skills on some of the local favorites, the 2010 Low Key Hill Climb schedule has been announced. These have had a large turn out and you can make up your own category. Many of the climbs that are planned are also on the Ultra Cycling King of the Mountain hills, so you can have a chance to enter your times here.

The links under the Low Key Hill Climb column take you to their website.  The links under the Ultra Cycling KOM Equivalent column are for the Ultra Cycling website KOM times for that hill.  Note that for the Ultra Cycling website we only include times that individuals input and do not enter any data from the LKHC or other races.

Week Date Low Key Hill Climb Ultra Cycle KOM Equivalent
1 10/2/10 Montebello Montebello
2 10/9/10 Kings Mountain Kings Mountain
3 10/16/10 Portola State Park
4 10/23/10 Sierra Road Sierra
5 10/30/10 E. Dunne Ave Henry Coe
6 11/6/10 Welch Creek Welch Creek
7 11/13/10 Bonny Doon – Pine Flat
8 11/20/10 Hicks – Mt Umunhum
9 11/25/10 Mt. Hamilton Mt Hamilton

SFR Russian River 300K Brevet

| March 3, 2010 5:49 pm
SFR Russian River 300K Brevet

by Lane Parker

After I failed to complete the Devil Mountain Double back in 2007 I decided that super long rides were not for me. So, the 300K (188 miles) seemed out of the question but I’ve been doing so well this year with distances up to 150 miles that I felt like the 300K would be tough but doable. And there’s something different about the brevets, at least for me. There seems to be so much comradarie among the riders than on other organized rides. In the past, I would start getting frustrated after about mile 120 and mad at myself after about mile 150 for signing up for such a distance. Saturday, I never felt that way. It was a great day.

Russ and Sheila

Russ and Sheila

Now for the 300K. My good buddy Ken Emerson picked me up at 4:20 and it was off to the Golden Gate Bridge for a pep talk from Rob Hawks followed by 188 miles in the saddle. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m doing on a bicycle at 6AM. It had been raining most of the night but by the time we rolled we just had wet roads and, as usual, I forgot something important: this time it was my fenders. I’m sure the people following me like Russ & Sheila Stevens weren’t too happy about that. Sorry.

Like the last two brevets we wound our way through Sausalito, Corte Madera, Larkspur, then on up to Petaluma. As forecasted, the rain started up again at mid-morning but thankfully it stopped by around noon. For the first time this year, there was a secret checkpoint on the route. When I signed the sheet I noticed that someone had left their route sheet and money in a plastic bag on the tailgate of the truck. I asked Tim Houck, the checkpoint master, what was going to happen with it and he said he would take it back to Rob. With some coercion he agreed to let me take it with me and that conversation separated me from Ken and one of his legion of friends, Kobayashi. When I arrived at the check point in Petaluma, Ken told me his buddy Mojo needed money so I said “I have money.” Mojo was standing at the front of the store wondering who was going to pay for the food and drinks he was holding in his hands so I asked him if he lost his route sheet. When he said yes I handed him the plastic bag with his money and route sheet. I can’t remember seeing anyone more grateful and I was really happy I found the owner. It was a bonus that it was a good friend of Ken’s.

Rolling out of Petaluma I was lucky to be in great company with Barley & Susan Forsman, Mojo, Ken, and ironwoman Michele Santilhano. With a strong crew we cruised the next 30 miles to Healdsburg through farms and vineyards. Leaving Healdsburg at mile 80 I was feeling strong so when I got to the front I put the hammer down and when I looked back Ken and Michele were both rolling along with me so I ground out the next 25 miles or so averaging 20mph. I should have asked them to take the lead a few times or dialed it back a bit because by the time we got to Hwy 1 to turn south I needed a break. Ken and I stopped for some Advil and a bit of a stretch but Michele kept churning with some other guys who had latched on.


As we headed down Highway 1 I was amazed at how violent the ocean was. I heard later about the earthquake in Chile and wondered if the ocean behavior was related in any way to the earthquake. After the coastal run we caught up to Michele at Diekmann’s at mile 120 but didn’t see her again until the end. Barley and Susan caught us there and after a brief stop they also took off ahead of us. They said Mojo wasn’t feeling too well so he was a bit behind and we didn’t see him again. Just as we were rolling, Clyde Butt rolled up with his new best friend, Andrea Symons from Germany (another ironwoman).

Ken and I slowed the pace a bit from Diekmann’s for the next 24 miles to Marshall at mile 144 where we had the best clam chowder ever. That was the last checkpoint and it was getting dark. As we were prepping to roll, Andrea pulled in and asked if she could join us for the last 40 or so miles. That’s when we discovered how strong she is. I could tell she was capable of taking off at a faster pace but she wanted the company and it was good to have the three of us for the extra lights since it was very dark on the backroads before we got back to civilization.

Lane, Andrea and Ken

I had estimated that we could finish in 14 total hours but we spent a little longer at a couple of the stops, thankfully. So, Ken, Andrea, and I pulled in at 8:37PM. It’s such a great feeling to finish a challenging ride and not be completely wiped out.

Thanks to Rob Hawks and all the volunteers who make these events such a great success. And a big thanks to all the friendly cyclists who support each other so well throughout the ride.