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It never ceases to amaze me how things get increasingly complicated over time. Cars, telephones, stereos, televisions... they've all become more complicated since they were first invented. Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that the same has happened with cycle computers... Maybe I'm not surprised but I am certainly amazed.
Twenty years ago, I bought a cycle "computer" for my bike. I bolted it to my front fork and attached a pin to one of my spokes. Properly set up, every rotation of my front wheel caused the counter to click round a notch and, using an array of internal gears, it calculated how far I had traveled - displaying the results on something not entirely dissimilar to an old milometer display in a car. It was pretty basic really. Some years later I invested in a cycle computer that was far more advanced. It still had a device attached to the fork and it still had something attached to a spoke and it still counted the number of wheel revolutions. But this time it was electronic rather than mechanical. A wire ran from the sensor on the fork to a display unit on the handlebars and it showed me my current speed as well as the time I'd been traveling and the distance I had covered. A later upgrade dispensed with the wire from the sensor on the fork to the display, relying instead on wireless communications. And then came the Garmin Edge 305. It doesn't have wires. In fact, it doesn't even need a sensor on the wheel - instead it relies on the Global Positioning System of satellites to track your position, distance, speed, time and altitude. But it doesn't stop there. Oh no, that wouldn't be complicated enough for the modern world. Not content with the usual statistics, Garmin included the ability to monitor and record heart rate and pedal cadence as well, which must make this the most comprehensive cycle computer I have EVER encountered.
Being a committed gadget geek and a formerly keen cyclist that was looking for that extra piece of motivation to get back on my bike, the Edge 305 was a compelling offer. Not only is it a super techy gadget, but it also gives me a ton of information about my health and enables me to make the most of getting back on my bike. With a small amount of money expected from an insurance claim earlier in the year (ironically because I got hit by a car while riding my bike) I thought I'd invest in one.
It arrived in a 14cm x 14cmx x 14cm cardboard box, most of which was empty... the device itself is tiny - barely the size of a modern mobile phone. Made of a robust (and reportedly impact resistant) grey spangly plastic It's got a generous monochrome LCD display (complete with eerie green backlight for night use) and a selection of rubberised buttons on either side with two more on the front. All of the buttons are clearly labeled, if not intuitively laid out and it seems of very solid construction. On the back of the device is the rubber-clad (and thus waterproof) mini USB socket that is used for both data transfer and charging the built-in rechargeable battery. There's also the quick-release mounting bracket and a few small holes for the built-in speaker and barometric altimeter. And that's it. Not much to look at physically, but very impressive when you consider the amount of technology wrapped up in such a small package.
Of course, it can't detect heart rate or pedal cadence automagically, so there are a few other pieces that complete the kit. The first is the heart-rate monitoring chest strap. Anyone who has used a heart-rate monitor for exercise before will be familiar with this - it's a strap that's solid yet flexible on the front which contains two electrodes, with
an elasticated part that goes around your back to hold everything in place. When I first saw it, in all it's robust and near-rigid construction I feared that it would be hideously uncomfortable but in use it's actually one of the more comfortable chest-straps that I've worn. What's more, the electrodes work without the need for wetting or electrode gel, so gone is the sudden shock of a cold, wet strap being wrapped around your chest.
The cadence sensor is equally traditional, relying on a wireless sensor that gets attached to the chainstay, aligned with a magnet that is attached to the pedal crank. Each rotation of the pedal passes the magnet close to the sensor which reports the stroke wirelessly to the main unit. There is a magnet for the spokes as well, which is detected by the same unit that senses cadence but this is so infrequently used that it's not entirely necessary.
Set-up is simplicity itself. The supplied quick-release handlebar mount gets zip-tied to your handlebar stem, the remote sensor is zip-tied to the chainstay and the magnet attached to the pedal crank with, you guessed it, a zip-tie and that's pretty much it. Before you can use it, you will need to charge the device, something that is done by connecting the supplied USB cable either to your PC or to the supplied 3-pin mains to USB adapter. Charging takes a good few hours (I left mine to charge for 6 hours before first use), after which you should have enough battery power to last for about 12 hours of continuous riding - whether you've got the stamina for it is another matter entirely!
Of course no self-respecting gadget arrives these days without it's own software bundle and the Edge 305 is not to be left out. It comes with both USB drivers to enable communications with the device and with Garmin's own "Training Centre" software that lets you record and view the results of your bike rides and plot your improvements (or otherwise) over time. Bung in the CD and the auto-run routine will take you through the installation procedure in a matter for a few clicks of the mouse button... It's near enough (but not exactly) a case of Next, Next, Next, Next and you're done - provided you are happy to accept the default settings. Once installed, it will be worth using the "Check for updates" function under the help menu as there will undoubtedly be a newer version than the one the burned on to the supplied CD-ROM. When I checked, it was about a 20Mb download which, over broadband isn't a problem but might make you grimace if you're still on dial-up.
The first time you run it, Training centre will ask you to create a user profile which mainly consists of your gender, weight and age. From this it will assign average values for maximum heart-rate, speed etc, all of which will become useful as you start to train on your bike and all of which can be adjusted to better suit you should the average values not work. Other than that, before you've used your Edge 305 for at least one ride, there's not much to see in the Training centre, so we will come back to it after we've been out for a ride.
You've already got the cadence sensor fitted to your chainstay so just strap on the heart rate monitor, clip the Edge to your handlebar mount and switch it on. GPS signals are acquired amazingly quickly - the manual claims 45 seconds from a cold start but it's typically less than 30 seconds in my experience. What's more, thanks to the new super-sensitive GPS receiver, it will even start to pick up signals indoors! Because of this sensitivity, GPS signals are rarely lost, even when under dense tree cover or deep between tall buildings - it really is amazing.
With GPS signals acquired, a heart-rate monitor link established and the wireless cadence sensor working, you're good to go. Now all you need to is press the "mode" button to get the display showing what you want it to. Choose from one of two cycle computers, an altimeter view or the traditional GPS track view. Start to ride and all the relevant information will be displayed. And this is just another place where the Edge scores heaps of points over the alternatives - every display is customizable. Not only can you choose how many data fields are displayed (from 1 all the way up to 8), you can also choose which information is shown on each screen and in each data field.
The list of display items is impressive. All of the basic functions; heart rate, speed, cadence, time and distance are available. But so are average speed, heart rate and cadence, both overall and for individual laps. Altitude, total ascent and descent, time of day, calories used… the list goes on. In fact there are 33 fields in total - way more than you could ever display on a single screen, but the fact that there are two configurable bike computer screens and that each of the other screens can be customized means that you can show the information you're most interested in for the activity that you're doing. So your two bike computer views may focus on speed and heart rate respectively while your altimeter view could display speed and current incline with the map vie displaying speed and heading. Whatever statistics you fancy seeing (within reason), the Edge 305 can probably be configured to show them.
Now all of this flexibility is very nice, but it's not good if you need to wade through a 3-inch think instruction manual. The supplied manual is, thankfully, small (about the size of a CD Case, and only 70-odd pages) and easy to read. That said, you probably won't even need to read it to get started. The controls are clearly labeled and intuitive to follow - you will have it set up to your preference in next to no time and, should you find it not quite right - just pull over to the side of the road and adjust it as you go.
As well as the two bike computer screens, there's also the elevation profile display which shows the ups & downs of your current trip as well as any still to come if you are cycling a pre-recorded route. Then there's the map display which will show you where you've been and, where you still have to go - again the latter only if you are following a recorded route.
All this mention of recorded routes has probably given the game away a little bit, but one of the many neat features in this device is it's ability to make a course out of any piece of riding you do. The GPS tracks are good for about 3 - 6 hours of riding, so it will record where you've been and, once home and connected to your PC, you can use the Training Centre software to save an exercise as a route. This can then be sent back to the device as a route that you can recall and ride again in the future. While this my not seem like a particularly neat feature, where it really comes into it's own is in racing against your previous time as not only does the route contain the GPS coordinates, it also contains the performance data for the activity from which the route was generated. So you can actually race against your previous time!
This does require that you hook up your Edge to your PC (only Windows is supported). Provided you have installed the supplied software, your PC will detect the fact that you plugged in the Edge and proceed to retrieve your training records from it. When it's complete it will give you a graphical display of your
Pictures of Garmin Edge 305
Main unit detail
most recent workout which is customizable to some degree. For a better idea, see the screenshots I've attached to the review, but suffice to say that it gives an excellent representation of your workout, including heart-rate, elevation, speed and distance. And as I've already mentioned, you can compare two separate exercises and see how much you've improved.
Not only that, the Edge can also be used as a proper training tool. It is possible to construct workouts that take you through warm up, exercise and cool down and can be carefully targeted so that you get the best out of your efforts - either working on endurance, recovery or sprinting or probably a combination. Results are all recorded and uploaded to the Training Centre software, allowing you to track your progress over time.
And it is your ability to monitor progress over time that is the biggest advantage. I've been back on my bike for about 6 weeks now and in that time I've reduced my time for a 13mile circuit from 1hr 2 minutes down to 54 minutes - not a massive drop but it's encouraging to see it and plot the time after time reduction. The same goes for heart-rate, my average heart rate has dropped during the same time as well. Cadence is just an added benefit, in that I can start to figure out what my optimum pedaling rate is.
As you can probably guess, I could wax lyrical about this gadget for hours more. In fact I've probably already bored just about everybody at work that would listen (and a few more that wouldn't). But it's already a long review and I think I've covered the main points in reasonable detail, so I'll call a halt to the proceedings and ask that if there's something specific you want covered, please leave a comment - I will happily come back and update this review should there be any interest.
So I will start summing up and, at this point it's probably worth mentioning that Garmin do make a "lesser" device, the Edge 205 which doesn't have the pedal cadence or heart-rate monitoring capability, which means it's still a fine cycle comp. The Edge 305 bundled with both heart-rate monitoring and cadence sensor weighs in at about £250, while the Edge 205 (which has neither heart-rate of cadence) costs a more palatable £150. If I were considering one of these from scratch, I would absolutely buy the Edge 305 over the 205, and I would make sure that I bought the Heart-Rate option. If I was pressed for cash I would probably not spend the extra £35 on the cadence kit as it's not as useful as the heart rate.
In use it's been a breeze. It's been far more inspirational than I could ever have imagined and has encouraged me to get back on my bike with far more vigor than I could have hoped. The ability to race against myself really helps with performance and the discipline imposed by the staged workout routines (complete with audible alarms if you're not meeting your targets) is extremely helpful. As a regular cycle computer it also does a fine job - the simple fact that you can download and save your tracks is a boon in itself but the fact that it records your performance data over the whole route is excellent.
If you are a keen cyclist and a fan of the gadget then this is close to essential kit. If you are a keen cyclist and want a cycle computer that will help you improve your fitness / performance then this becomes close to an indispensable aid. To me, it's worth every penny. It's well-built, packed with features, cleverly designed and perfectly executed. If there's one thing that lets it down, and only then because it doesn't do as much statistical analysis as you might like, but it is still perfectly functional. So it's a whopping 5 stars for what must be close to the ultimate gadget for a bike.