By Larry Grossman
Caption: The Garmin Edge 500
You are in the middle of a lung-busting climb on your bike, or perhaps running the same said route, and you are sure you have never felt better on this particular workout.
It’s almost a guarantee that you will beat your best time to the top today, and thankfully you have your smart phone rolling with one of the many new workout tracking applications, such as the GPS-enabled Strava or MapMyRide, which will allow you to personally observe how fast, where, how big your ego got, how small your ego got, what type of Lycra you were wearing and most importantly in the “me” world, where you stacked up against your friends, people you hate, and the rest of the exercising community on the exact segment that has already been entered into the application’s website halls of glory for you to try and chase down.
For all this effort, preparation and stress, you may be awarded a gold cup icon that crowns you the champion until you have to actually race real people, who are now more motivated than ever to throttle you on the race circuit. There is only one problem -- you will suddenly realize that you inadvertently touched the wrong part of your phone screen while placing the phone carefully in your pocket. This immediately shut off your ride app and started the Tetris app. This of course typically ends with your phone battery being dead and your first score of “0” in Tetris.
The Garmin Edge 500
There is a better option. GPS technology has actually made exercise and training much more fun, manageable and challenging. There are so many worthy choices to pick from. Garmin of course is the first brand many think of. They have surged to the forefront of GPS-tracking technology since very early in the game, when they flew out of the gate in 1989 with their first wave of handheld devices, which operated by bouncing signals off of multiple satellite locations in outer space to tell you within a few feet of accuracy where you are actually located on earth.
It’s fascinating technology that has blown up into countless forms and uses in today’s world. For many years, I used the Garmin ETrex ($99.99) while out stomping around in the woods hunting upland birds. This device let me track my progress while walking in the middle of nowhere, but also “flag” areas that were notoriously good spots for me to hunt so I could easily find them in the future, even if it was years later.
For many years I used a Polar product for my bike training, but had some issues with power line interference. It could be a frustrating experience if you were trying to train at a particular level and suddenly lost all your information for 15 minutes or so.
Earthmate is another GPS-enabled tracking device that performs many of the same functions and has some great mapping functions, but it is sold as a handheld device, which means you must purchase the bike mounting hardware separately. It’s also a bit on the bulky side.
The majority of cyclists who track their training number really have no reason to be concerned with actually having a map on your screen. The cyclist or runner is more concerned with numbers such as mileage, heart rate, power, speed, etc.
Enter the Garmin Edge 500 ($369.99). This unit does it all. There are almost too many set-up options to explain here, but set up of the Garmin Edge is incredibly easy. So easy perhaps even my mom could figure it out, and that is easy. This unit is light, sleek, aerodynamic, and mounts easily to your handlebar stem or handlebar with the use of a cleverly outfitted mounting ring. I like the rubber gasket, which holds the mount in place, serving to protect carbon components and keep the unit from sliding around.
The Edge 500 can provide some very useful information if you are training seriously or just riding to stay fit and ride recreationally. Very valuable are the heart rate, cadence, speed, power, elevation gain or loss, gradient and calories burned functions, but what I like the best about the unit is the ability to set up five different screens with eight different display boxes on each page. That is a total of 40 different pieces of information to observe while you ride! There is also a scroll option on the Edge 500, which allows you to set from, slow to fast how quickly each of these screens rotate during your effort.
Of course when your workout is over, the first thing you want to do is look at your numbers and post them up on Facebook and the seven other social media outlets. Garmin makes that very easy, and their website, http://connect.garmin.com/, allows you to look at every single piece of your ride through detailed mapping of what you rode, dozens of numbers to analyze and compare, numerous graphs and in general a really simple and fun device to use. Once you have analyzed your numbers and feel they are worthy for the social network world, one simple click allows you to let everyone know how much slower than Jay Henry you are.
And then there is Strava…
Strava has become very popular as a free option for athletes to track their workout and training efforts the past couple of years. It serves as a great application to track workouts and compare themselves with other athletes who have trained on the same roads or trails. Who of your friends has the fastest recorded time up Vail Pass? Strava lets you find out. The only advantage of the Strava application for smart phones as well as the use of their website is that it is free. Your phone becomes the tracking device, sitting in your pocket during your exercise program. Strava does not tell you specific heart rate, cadence, mileage or other stats. You can see most of your numbers after your ride and upload information the Strava website, but you get no where near the functionality of what an actual cycling computer brings. Strava does have an option to upgrade to more features on the website -- however there is a monthly fee, and you still can not track information as you ride.
Keep in mind that if you prefer the Strava website format, you can easily upload all the information from your Garmin Edge 500 and other products right to your free Strava account.
So if you want to train at any level, whether to ride for the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda road team, your local cycling or running club, or just to stay fit and keep track of your personal bests, the Garmin Edge 500 can not be beat.
Eric Rubottom, a local cyclist who was injured severely when he was hit by a car on his road bike this spring, even says he is using the Garmin Edge 500 to monitor his recovery. “I can monitor many different metrics while out on rides - then download the info to GarminConnect on the web to compare, analyze, and track my improvement as my injuries heal,” he says. “ I can easily swap the unit between my cross bike, my hardtail and my full-suspension bike. All this functionality in an easy-to-use device that doesn't get in the way at this price point is unreal.”
So use the Edge or similar products to track your progress -- it may even help get you 10 to 15 seconds closer to Jay Henry next year, but I doubt it.