Archive for the 'Equipment' category

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.

BR Lights Initial Impression

| August 30, 2007 9:36 pm

Yesterday my new BR Light arrived by FedEx, just in time to give it 45 minutes on the charger before I jumped on the bike and headed north to Morgan Hill for a ride up Henry Coe with the Nightriders. I waited until dark before I started the ride back home from Morgan Hill so I could test out the new light. I had purchased the C2-H model, which is a handle bar version and the model with the higher lumen (and shorter run time).

The light has three power settings, high, medium and stealth. I had them program my light so the stealth mode was at 5% instead of the normal 2% because when I tested it last Friday during the mountain bike ride, I didn’t feel the 2% would be adequate. I am glad I made that change.

Before I get into how the light performed on the road, in the dark, here are some interesting comparisons between my new light and an older 20/10 watt dual light system I have used in the past.

BR Light compared with Older Light

On the left is the new BR Light, which is all self contained in one unit. That means the mount, the light, the battery, the controller switch are all together. Compare that with my old light with a separate battery, a bag for the battery, cables to connect the battery to the light, a light mount, and a control switch I had to attach to the handle bar.

I weighed both setups (san chargers). The BR light weighed 14.2 oz (408 grams) while my old light came in at 2 lbs, 2.5 oz (992 grams) or more than twice the weight. My old light has two lights, a 10 watt and a 20 watt, for a total of 30 watts, but with both lights I can only get a couple hours of run time, even with that heavy battery.

The BR light is small enough and light enough to mount on the handlebar with no need for cords (note I have small hands).

BR Light in hand BR Lilght in hand

I then did a very unscientific test and shined both lights in a dark room against the wall.

BR Light vs. Old Light

The BR light is on the left, the old light on the right. It should be obvious to even the most casual observer that the BR light is much brighter and the light is whiter, which is easier to use on the road.

The mount for the light is attached to it. It is a clever all metal mounting system that I believe is very solid, even fully adequate for mountain biking. Once mounted, it is easy to move the light left or right as you are riding, to aim the beam. The light does not come off as quick as those lights that have a mount that stays on the bike such as my Cateye HL530, but then those mounts are often flimsy. The BR light is relatively easy to attach and remove and certainly faster and easier than setting up a light that has an external battery that you need to attach to the bike somewhere then wire it to the light on the handlebar.

BR Light Mounting System

Now back to my ride in the dark. I rode 13 miles in the dark, part through the city streets and about 10 miles on a road that had no street lights and enough times with no cars to test things out. I found that on high power the BR light has plenty enough light for me to go as fast as I wanted. I took my speed up to 30 mph on a short descent and felt fully comfortable.

On the medium setting the light is adequate for 20 mph, what I would usually do on a flat road. If the route was short enough I would still opt for the higher light setting, but the medium setting was fine, especially if the road has a white line to gauge off and is in reasonably good shape.

I had a short climb where I tested out the stealth mode (my light was set at 5%). I found it adequate, but barely, for climbing at up to 7-8 mph. I am glad I had them change the setting and maybe a slightly higher setting would be useful. In any case it is about as bright in the stealth mode as my Cateye HL530, which has a claim of 1,500 candlepower (a useless measurement in my opinion).

I feel that with this particular light, I could basically go all night on a single charge by using the medium setting for flats, the high power for descents and the stealth mode for climbing. The light has a 6 stage battery indicator. A colored LED goes from green (full power) to blinking green, then to orange, then blinking orange, then red, then blinking red. It is a clever system and very easy to see how much battery life left.

I found using the single control button on the light to work very well. It was very responsive.

If I owned a HID light I would make a direct comparison. When we did the night mountain bike ride last Friday we did an informal comparision with some HID lights on the ride and found the BR Light similar in terms of illumination. The BR light has the big advantage of using the new CRED LEDs which are very reliable and much more shock resistant than a HID light. The LED light turns on immediately and it is no problem to shut it off and back on as you wish.

I have a sophisticated light meter back from the early days of photography that will measure LUX, but I have to find some batteries first. They don’t make the mercury button batteries anymore for this device that is 25 years old. When I get it to work, I can do more testing.

In summary, I am very glad I bought the BR light.

Bright Lights into the Night

| August 24, 2007 11:55 pm

I ride with a group called the Nightriders, who both road and mountain bike. Tonight I decided to join them for a night time mountain bike ride up Henry Coe, the largest State Park in California. I wanted to join the ride tonight because we were going to have guests from BR Lights come join us and bring some of their new lights for us to test out. I was in the market for a new light, needing something I could use for the Furnace Creek 508 in October and other events I want to do, in addition to the night mountain biking.

BR Lights Car

They let me try both the handlebar light (C2.1-H model) as well as the helmet mount light (Jen-H model) with the auxilary battery pack. I got the lights setup quickly due to a clever design for both the handle bar light and the helmet light. Unlike my existing lights that required me to first put an a handlebar bracket, attach the battery, attach the light, connect the light to the battery and finally attach the control buttons to the handle bar; this unit is all self contained so the battery and control switches are all in one unit. It makes the design look a bit boxy but I was pleasantly surprised that in the field when I had mounted the unit on the bike it didn’t look as big as I thought it would after looking only at their website.

The helmet light is a nice looking design, again all self contained. The only downside of this is that it is a bit heavy on the head, but not unreasonably so at only 300 grams.

We took off soon after 7 pm, with plenty of light to make the first climb. Kyle and Jeni, from BR Lights, were out in the front and I struggle to keep up with them even though we were on a fire road. I realized they were great mountain bike riders in addition to knowing a lot about LED light technology.

Klye and Jeni from BR Lights

Kyle and Jeni from BR Lights

Franz with BR Light on helmet

Franz with BR helmet light

As we reached the first regroup area it was getting dark and we had a chance to finally try out the lights.

After the rest of the group arrived we had a chance to compare the lights. Jim had a triple shot on his handlebar so we pointed it ahead to the right and I pointed the BR handlebar light to the left. You can see the comparison in this photo.

BR Light vs. Triple Shot

Comparison of BR Light (left) and Triple Shot (right)

The BR light was clearly brighter, not only over the wide area, but much brighter in the spot area.

Jim also had on one of the BR helmet lights while he hammed it up for the camera.

Jim with BR helmet light

Jim with BR Helmet Light

We made our way to the tricky single track. Not being a real experienced mountain biker, I normally would have been very nervous doing this single track in the dark but I found the combination of the BR handlebar light and the BR helmet mounted light illuminated up things fully. I usually was running the handlebar light on half power and relying more on the helmet light, which seemed to work fine.

Both lights have a stealth mode, that sas some extremely long battery life. I tired that mode but found it too weak for anything other than maybe climbing on a road bike.

Some of the riders in our group were using HID lights. I didn’t see that they were any brighter than what I was using, which is quite a feat considering the BR Lights use CRED LEDs, are all self contained with a total weight much less than the HIDs and much greater durability.

It was well past 11 pm when we finished about a 20 mile ride.

I was so impressed with the BR Lights that I ordered the handlebar version (C2.1-H model) right away. I would like to buy the helmet light also but that would be a bit much for me right now, but I am tempted. I hope I get my new BR light quickly before the our big night mountain bike adventure in September.

Franz Kelsch

See also:

(my personal endurance sports website)
(primary cycling club where you can contact me at