We have been testing the Garmin Edge 800 since the beginning of the year and it has proved incredibly useful – especially on the Round Berkshire Tour in July. In fact, we were so impressed we hired a couple more!
While this review does not go into every single detail about all of the features on the device, as this would take days, we do hope to give an opinion on its day-to-day use for the average cyclist.
First up you have to setup the device including installing the maps. We got the OS Landranger maps which are great for cycling and provides a familiar look to those used to paper maps, although the Open Street Map package (free) is very good also. Attaching the mount is straight-forward and it will fit on stems (110mm or longer) or the handlebars. Get a spare mount and you can easily transfer it between bikes. This is one of the benefits of using a GPS-based device for measuring speed – you don’t need wheel sensors.
At a basic level the Edge will act as a speedo, telling you the usual metrics about average speed, time moving, top speed etc but you can get that for £20 from any device. The greatest benefit with these devices is the mapping, especially useful in finding your way around new places. I’m a great believer in looking at a map, remembering the route, then following it but every now and then (OK, most times) I get a bit stuck and being able to show your current location instantly on screen is really good. A word of warning though, don’t fiddle too much or take you eye off the road or you could come a cropper.
Perhaps the best way to get around is to load a course onto the device before setting off and using the built in navigation system to tell you when to turn. Audible beeps warn you of an upcoming manoeuvre and the Edge with chastise you if you go off-course! The built-in navigation system works but if you want to avoid the obvious routes you are best off logging on to something like ridewithgps.com, creating your route and then importing it to the device. The procedure is very straightforward but just take care to follow the instructions.
As long as you remember to hit the start button at the beginning, the Edge will then guide you along the route and record your GPS track in a GPX file. This can then be uploaded to the fitness site of your choice (or even just through Garmin Connect), so you can analyse your performance and compare sections to other riders.
One of the problems with using a device like this is reflection off the screen and we found that we had to turn the brightness level right up to see the route details without spending too much time with our heads down. We also left the screen on all the time to avoid having to take our hands of the bars to see the map and this all came at the expense of battery drain. On our day-long rides this summer the battery would normally give out after about 8 hours but that should be sufficient for most. Turning the brightness down or the screen off would certainly help performance here.
There are so many extra features we didn’t use; heart rate monitoring, cadence, power meters, virtual partner, and a whole lot more. It really does do everything you could ever want of a single device and possibly a lot more. If you want a device will fully-functioning navigation the there isn’t a lot else on the market that does the job of the Edge 800. However, if you don’t need the maps you can save a lot of cash by plumping for the 500 series which will do just about everything else.
With the rise of smartphone apps for logging rides you may question whether you need something like the Edge at all. Well, this is true if you are happy to hit the start button on your smartphone then chuck it in your jersey pocket but if you want actual feedback on the road you need a computer like this. Sure, you could strap your smartphone to your handlebars but most mounts we have seen are very bulky and using a touch-screen interface is tricky when cycling. Phone GPS units don’t tend to be quite as accurate as these dedicated units either with their barometric altimeters but they come pretty close and are affectively free. You can also dig your phone out if you are lost and load up a map to find your way home or even use the built-in sat-nav features in an emergency.
I guess it comes down to what you need when on the bike. If you are an enthusiast who like to go on long rides on different routes to explore the roads then the Edge 800 is something for you. If you are a more casual rider who only wants to track progress then smartphone apps provide a very cheap solution.
Finally it’s worth mentioning that we are giving the Garmin away free in a competition this year. Anyone turning up to one of our Urban Limits events in Berkshire this summer will be entered into the competition – once you have taken part in the Golden Minute challenge of course! The winner will be announced in October.