Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Living with the Edge

Nope, I'm not shacking up with a member of U2, I've just acquired the Garmin Edge 500, a GPS-enabled bicycle computer. This is not intended to be a review of the device, there are lots of those online, but a chronological account of my use of it, and therefore, I hope, avoiding the "very nice, but what does this actually mean in real life?" questions I always have when reading comprehensive reviews of a product.

Up to now, I've managed my training with this set-up:

That's the Cateye Strada Cadence (wired), and the most basic Polar heart-rate monitor (HRM), the F1. And yes, that's a studly low heart rate for someone straddling a bike and taking photographs. Standing barefoot on the grass probably helped. It was an effective, easy-to-see set-up, and funnily, I never thought about its limitations until I actually started using the Garmin.

A big change in my training, one I'll talk about later, means that I now need to upload and share data easily, which is why I finally leaped at a Performance Bike sale and bought the Edge.

My first reaction was that it was a good size and of pleasing proportions. The blue and white make it look toy-like, and that actually appeals to me. Perhaps a reminder to not get roadie serious about the self? Because the buttons are well-shielded from the elements, they aren't too easy to press--a place where, no doubt, the touchscreen big brother, the Edge 800, shines.

This is what comes in the box:

I realise that a dark picture of lots of black components tells you phuck-all, but clockwise from top left is the HRM strap, lots of rubber bands for mounting, mounts for two bikes, wall charger with USB cord and various pluggies, Manuels, the unit, the cadence and speed sensor with an optional mount for narrow chainstays, zip ties and magnets, one to put on the crank arm for cadence, the other on the rear wheel for speed.

Mounting is easy, and I have it on the stem. Pictures in a bit, but all you have to do is rubber band the mount with two bands. To fix the computer you simply place horizontally into the mount and rotate into place. Such a blessing after the damn Cateye Strada which you have to unceremoniously rip out each time, skinning your thumb, accidentally resetting it and generally getting quite teed off.

Here's the cadence and speed sensor in place:

Because the Edge 500 has GPS magic, it can calculate speed and distance without this sensor, so I guess this is just back-up and correction? Cadence, however, needs a sensor. I have a magnet simply placed on the pedal spindle, where it stays in place from sheer magnetic will alone, so no ugly zip ties on my beautiful SRAM Force crank arm. No trouble at all getting the magnets close enough for the sensor to sense them, and no trouble getting the unit to detect the HRM strap and cadence sensor.

First draft of screenplay
The first thing that struck me about the Edge 500 is how much information can be displayed. There are 36 possible data fields (45 if you have a power meter) that can be displayed on three screens. Here's my first draft of the first screen:

That's too busy, so my current set-up has seven data fields instead of eight, giving heart rate pride of place on the top field.

My second screen is set-up for intervals, and this is the first draft:

And the third is a miscellaneous screen, with information for motivational purposes on climbs or on long rides. I've completely changed this one, so this picture is just for you to see what else the Edge has to show.

Charts, sharts
And if you think that the Edge itself shows a crazy amount of information, wait until you bring it home after a ride and plug it into a computer. (And do sundries like getting it to work with Garmin Connect, Garmin's web-based training log.)

Here's a link to my first logged climbing workout.

My assigned goal was to climb 3,000ft, so the 'total ascent' data field on the device was immediately useful. 'Grade' was also of interest to me, since cyclists are always talking about slopes in percentages, and I was keen on getting a fix on just what 6% or 8% meant in terms of cycling effort. Learning these numbers helps every kind of cyclist, from tourers planning holidays, to commuters plotting the shortest, yet least sweaty, route to work.

Also, the legendary Glendora Mountain loop, one of the stages in the AMGEN ToC is pretty much a backyard ride for me. I've done it a few times but always on the Volpe (with the moral support of its triple), and have always wondered what the total ascent is. I now know it's about 3,300ft, just over 1,000m. Interestingly, that's about the elevation of the home town, Bangalore.

So once plugged in, the elevation profile of the ride was my focus.

Yup, you can see why this is a beloved ride. You get about 14km of fast descent, down a nice bendy road that has almost no traffic on weekdays.

And don't forget that the Edge 500 has GPS, even though it doesn't have base maps and turn-by-turn directions. So once you upload a ride, you get a nice map, shown here with the laps I set.

Split 1 to 2 is a climb I've done often, and I want to keep a sharp eye on my times on it in the future. Once you ride a route and have the GPS path, you can set it as a course and transfer it back to the Edge 500. (Or you can create a new course on a site such as Bike Route Toaster.) Then when you want to repeat it, you select 'Do course' and get a trail on the screen to follow. More on that when I actually try it. I'm hoping it'll make my trips into LA a little faster. I always get lost when relying on what I called my Garmean, a paper clip Zip-tied to the bar, holding a printout from Google Maps.

Working out workouts
With my 3,000ft climbing goal for the week met, I had a set of sprint workouts ahead of me. I was required to ride a 1.25mi loop, doing a 300m sprint in my 50-16 gear, and recovering for the rest of the distance. No rinse, and repeat seven times. Imagine standing up and hammering, trying to monitor 300m on a tiny screen through a haze of sweat, blood and spit. (Okay, no blood, but if you've done a series of all-out efforts, you know exactly what I mean.) And that's why, my carbon clown buddies, the Edge 500 offers the 'workouts' feature.

Set up your complicated workout earlier, then just click a button and have the Edge do all the secretarial work of monitoring your distance or time, and even heart rate and speed goals. All you have to do is hammer and listen out for a beep. Or you could watch the Edge count back your time or distance to zero.

Once you get one of these I'll let you figure out (and tell me) why Garmin makes you use Garmin Training Center to create a workout, but let's not worry about that right now. Here's a screenshot showing my sprint workout in Garmin Training Center's workout creation dialog box.

So once I start the workout, it'll wait until I press the lap button and then start counting back my 300m distance for the sprint. Then it'll count back my rest distance, and repeat until I finish the seven sets or stop for a quick vomit. (As I almost had to when I did it recently.)

Let's look at the drop-down options in the dialog. (All of these can also be set on the device itself. It's pleasantly non-painful.)

So you can tell Mr. Edge, "I want to ride until I have 1cm needle depth numbness in my penis, and...

...while doing so, I want to keep my self-image in the 'smarmy' zone."

It's pretty cool actually.

Okay, so once your sprints are done, you'll want to come home and anal-ise. Elevation is of no interest, this time it's heart rate.

You can clearly see the spikes of the five sprints. But wait, there's six. A quick look at the corresponding speed chart...

...shows the first spike is accompanied by a sharp drop in speed. Oh of course, it's the steep climb onto the Santa Fe Dam where I did my sprints. You can see the opposite at the other end of the workout where there's a steep rise in speed, but a drop in heartrate, as I swooped back down off the dam. This is an obvious example, but just an idea of how you can start dissecting your rides. The heartrate and speed spikes of the sprints will be closely compared to the ones from the next workout, and over the months I'll have a great record of how I'm doing.

All of this is just from my first few days with the Edge 500, so there's more to come. If at the end of all this, you're asking, "Okay, all this is very well, but what's the use of it all? Are you racing? Are you being paid to sprint 1mph faster at an HR that's 10 beats lower than last month? You have graphs, so what?"

The answer of course is: if you have to ask, you're not a velokundi. Come back when you are.


  1. Loved the name velokundi.. :-) Nice writeup..Settled with a Sigma for 506 now. Atm machine would slap me if i ask more..!!!

  2. ATM machines slowly start to learn that the more you spend at first, the less likely you are to buy a better version a few months later.

    It's a long slow painful process though. Many slaps will be delivered.