Have you ever wondered whether it would be worthwhile to spend hundreds of dollars on a Garmin Edge bike computer? This post will help you to decide, as we evaluate the benefits of a Garmin Edge bike computer, compared to a cheap bike computer.
Years ago I aspired to my first Garmin, but Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist was less than keen. Her challenge: “Why would you spend hundreds of dollars, when you could just keep using your $50 Cat Eye?” I thought it was a fair question, and I did a lot research to answer it. Here is what I came up with. Decide for yourself if you agree!
Price Range of Garmin Edge Bike Computers
On the one hand: yes, it is true that these are expensive bike computers. Ranging from the cheapest, the tiny Garmin Edge 130 Plus, which is the smallest GPS bike computer in the world. It sports an impressive range of features, and costs around $200.
At the other end of the range, the very large and very impressive Garmin Edge 1030 can perform every cycling data feature known to humanity, and comes with a price tag to match, at just shy of $600.
On the other hand, while they are expensive, Garmin Edge bike computers do come with a huge range of features that the cheap computers just do not have. So to return to Maggie’s question: are the features that come with Garmin Edge bike computers worth this amount of money?
Related Post: All Garmin Edge Bike Computers Compared: Edge 130 Plus vs Explore vs 530 vs 830 vs 1030 Plus
Horses for Courses
When I was a kid my father had a betting friend who often used the expression, “horses for courses.” Meaning that what works well for one person in particular circumstances, will not necessarily work well for the same person in different circumstances. Or a different person in the same circumstances. It stuck with me because I think it is true of just about everything in life.
In the case of bike computers, if you are an occasional cyclist, and are just mildly interested in knowing how many miles you logged last month, then most likely a cheap bike computer will do you just fine. For you, a Garmin Edge bike computer would be a waste of money. And if this is you, our very popular post about budget bike computers might be handy. Generally speaking, these budget bike computers only measure Current/Average speed; Distance/Total distance; and Ride time/Total ride time. Some of them also estimate calories used.
Benefits of Using an Advanced Bike Computer, such as a Garmin Edge
Are you a really keen and serious cyclist, aspiring to train hard and become fitter and faster?
If this is you, it is very likely that you will benefit from having a device that goes beyond just telling you how far and fast you went. Instead, you are likely to benefit from a device that seamlessly and effortlessly records all your training data. And automatically uploads it to wherever you like to track your progress. For example, Garmin Connect or Strava.
Related Post: Which Garmin Edge Bike Computer is the Best?
Data Collected by a Garmin Edge Bike Computer
Garmin Edge bike computers capture and compute an awesome range of data, including:
- Speed and distance
- Current, average, & maximum speed;
- Trip distance;
- Total distance;
- Elapsed time;
- Time of day;
- Calories burned;
- Altitude and elevation changes;
- Power output (if paired with a power meter). If you don’t have a power meter, you will get an estimate;
- Advanced power analysis;
- Performance metrics;
- Time in Training Zone;
- FTP (Functional Threshold Power) tracking;
- Cycling-specific VO2 and recovery;
- Cycling dynamics;
- Generating a performance power curve;
- Reporting on your heat acclimation and altitude acclimation; and
- Advising on water and calorie requirements.
The higher end models will give you advanced metrics, such as Normalized Power® (NP) or TSS (Training Stress Score®). TSS measures how much stress you put on your body as you ride. It is calculated using NP, Intensity Factor® (IF) and ride duration. The point of TSS is to help you figure out the best best way to plan your workouts and rest periods.
For more details on which features come with which bike computer, see our detailed comparative post. Or refer to the detailed chart at the end of this post.
Related Post: All Garmin Edge Bike Computers Compared: Edge 130 Plus vs Explore vs 530 vs 830 vs 1030 Plus
Mountain Biking Features
Most Garmin bike computers also include mountain bike metrics, which offer cool new ways to motivate you on your mountain bike – such as how long you were in the air, and how hard your ride was (Grit rating).
Garmin Edge bike computers also have the Trailforks app – with 130,000 mountain bike trails – preloaded on the unit. Basically, wherever you are, you can just stop and choose a nearby trail. You will be able to preview the route, and view all important details about it.
With all of the Garmin Edge bike computers, you can download training workouts from Garmin Connect or another app to the unit. Then, you can do the workout on your bike, following the workout instructions on the unit. It’s like having a training coach on your handlebars. The high end units will even offer you a Daily Suggested Workout.
Most Garmin Edge bike computers offer live tracking – which means designated people can track where you are while on your bike ride. This is an important safety feature if you cycle alone on remote trails. Most can also send an automatic report if you have an accident.
This tells you on the fly about the grades ahead on hills, and is really useful for serious climbers. On the cheaper Garmin Edge models, ClimbPro only works on downloaded routes. But it’s really quite awesome. It shows you graphically the grades that lie ahead, as well as the grade you are currently climbing.
What You Get with a Cheap Bike Computer
By contrast, a much cheaper bike computer such as a Cat Eye velo usually will only capture these:
- current, average, and maximum speed;
- trip distance;
- elapsed time;
- total distance;
- (with some models) calorie consumption; and
- (with some models) carbon offset measurement.
And of course, the cheaper bike computers are not going to upload any of this information to the Internet. Instead, if you want to keep records, you are going to have to type them up yourself.
Performance Tracking with a Garmin Edge Bike Computer
I think the key benefit of my Garmin Edge bike computer is that it allows me to track my cycling performance. You really cannot hope to make improvements in performance if you don’t have knowledge. You have to know whether you are improving, how much you are improving, and which training activities help you to improve the most. A Garmin Edge bike computer puts all that data at your fingertips. And on your computer screen, where you can review it at your leisure.
Performance tracking gives you the data you need to see if your training program is working. And it also gives you the motivation to keep on training. It is exhilarating to look back and see how much faster you have become!
I happen to have a middle-of-the-range Garmin Edge 530. This more affordable bike computer gives me almost all the performance-tracking features of the top-of-the-range 1030 Plus. It does not give me the high end navigation of the 1030 Plus, but I don’t need that. Which is why I opted for the 530.
Also because I agree with the respected cycling authority DC Rainmaker, who said that the Garmin Edge 530 “looks like the best bike computer ever.”
Tracking Your Rides – Without Internet
A Garmin Edge bike computer uses sattelites to track your rides, so you can track all your bike rides, wherever you go. To make it faster, they can tap into GPS, GPS+GLONASS, and GPS+GALILEO satellite systems.
The tracking feature on Garmin bike computers still works when you are out of internet range. This has enabled me to record rides on many occasions when I have been out in the country and out of internet range.
Not only is this useful for performance monitoring, it is also useful for other things as well. For example, I really enjoy looking back at rides that I did years ago. I can take a moment to feel proud of previous achievements.
Also, if you have just completed an awesome ride, you can save it as a route, so you can do it again in the future.
How to Save a Route to Your Garmin Edge Bike Computer
After the ride, simply log into your Garmin Connect account. Once there, select the ride you enjoyed so much. Then select Send to Device. In future, you will be able to find that course again on your bike computer by selecting Courses and then Saved Courses. And your Garmin will give you directions to do the same awesome ride again.
Related Post: How to Create a Bike Route on Strava and Follow it on Your Smart Phone or Garmin Edge Bike Computer
Strava Live Segments for Motivation
If you set up your Garmin to automatically upload to your Strava account, you can compare your performance with yourself or others. Strava will automatically show you when you have done a specific part of your route, known as a segment. You can see how your latest performance on that segment compares to your previous performances.
And if you wish, you can see how you compare to other cyclists in an equivalent age sector. If you are seriously striving to become an outstanding cyclist, this can be very motivating. A few times in my life I have been almost at the top of a particular segment, and it definitely motivated me to strive to go even faster the next time.
You can download Strava Live segments to Garmin Edge bike computers. Start by starring Strava segments ahead of your bike ride on the Strava app or web site. These segments will then automatically sync to your Garmin. And if you download a course from Strava, it will automatically transfer any Strava segments on that course.
You can view the segments on your bike computers before you ride. And you can set up which effort you plan to pursue: KOM/QOM or PR. These stand for King of the Mountain/Queen of the Mountain or Personal Record. In my experience, this can really help you to motivate yourself to cycle faster. I always go for Personal Record.
Recording Your Ride and Navigating without Running Down Your Phone Battery
Garmin Edge bike computers are optimized to run for many hours on one charge. On occasions when I have forgotten my bike computer and been forced to use my phone for both navigation and tracking, I have quickly run down my phone battery.
Phones are not designed to have their screens on all the time; bike computers are designed precisely for this purpose.
Long-term Software Support
I have been using Garmin Edge bike computers for decades. They keep upgrading the software. Even if your device is very old, you can still download the latest software and take advantage of the latest training and recording features. As soon as you see a new Garmin Edge bike computer come out with cool new features, you can be confident that those same new features will soon be added to your old bike computer in a software update. Of course, this does not apply if the update is hardware-dependent, but that is unusual.
This is in contrast to smart phones. I am convinced that the management of these companies deliberately plan to make your phone obsolete when it is two years old, so you are forced to keep buying new ones.
State-of-the-Art Navigation on Your Bike
If you need navigation, a Garmin Edge 1030 or 830 is definitely an excellent option. You can input addresses on the fly, and it will guide you there. It will give you turn-by-turn visual directions, as well as audible beeps if you go off course. And it will give you directions to get back on course. These will include rerouting options
There was a time in my life when I used an Edge 830 for navigation, and I loved it. I have no sense of direction and easily get lost, so it was invaluable for me.
If you buy a Garmin Edge 1030 Plus, 1030, or 830, it comes preloaded with a full set of high-quality maps for North America and Europe. And, if you need more, you can just log into Garmin Express and download them for free!
For details of exactly which countries you will get, see our post, Garmin Edge 1030 Plus vs 830 vs 530.
A Garmin Edge 530 will also offer turn-by-turn directions, but only if you download a route to the unit in advance.
Keeping an Eye on Data
Garmin Edge bike computers are famous for having easy-to-see data screens. What is more, they are customizable. So you can ride with an eye on all the data that is most important to you personally.
You simply cannot achieve this with a small, cheap bike computer.
A Garmin Edge bike computer is designed to function as the brain of an inter-connected machine. The entire range uses both ANT+ and Bluetooth to connect to heart rate monitors, as well as to speed, power, and cadence meters. With these bike computers, you can integrate every monitor you have into one giant recording system, and then effortlessly upload all of that data to your chosen app – such as Strava.
All of the Garmin Edge bike computers are very connected, with phone call and text message alerts, and a ton of other connected features. These include:
- Smart notifications
- Being Garmin Connect compatible
- Being Connect IQ™ compatible
- Automatically synching your rides
- Being compatible with Vector™ power meters (and other power meters)
- Offering Incident Detection (to alert someone if you have an accident)
- Live Track
- Weather, and
- Being compatible with Garmin Varia.
Note that only the higher end Edge bike computers include Shimano Di2 electronic shifting integration; Rider to Rider Messaging, Unit to Unit Transfer, ANT+ shifting, and Shimano Di2 electronic shifting integration.
For more details on this, see our detailed comparative post. Or refer to the chart at the end of this post.
Related Post: All Garmin Edge Bike Computers Compared: Edge 130 Plus vs Explore vs 530 vs 830 vs 1030 Plus
Wireless Gear Systems
Garmin Edge bike computers can be hooked up to wireless gear systems, so you can monitor and change gears right on your bike computer.
I was very interested to learn that even the comparatively budget Bryton 420 can hook up to wireless gear systems, as explained in the video below. This is another budget option that is well worth considering.
Bottom Line on Whether Garmin Edge Bike Computers are Worth It
You can’t improve something you can’t measure. So, if you are serious about bike training and improving your performance, a Garmin Edge bike computer will very likely turn out to be a worthwhile investment. It will make performance tracking effortless, yet incredibly in-depth. Also if you want to track your rides and even navigate, these bike computers are outstanding. And you can buy with the confidence that the software will be upgraded and supported far into the future.
But if you are a casual cyclist and prepared to trust your instincts on whether you are getting fitter, then a Garmin Edge bike computer would most likely be a waste of your money. You could get by with a cheap bike computer, or even use an app on your smart phone.
Whatever bike computer you decide to buy, we would HUGELY appreciate if you use one of our affiliate links. These cost you nothing at all, but they give us a small income, which means we get some income for our work. Please see the buying options below.
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Chart Comparing all Garmin Edge Bike Computers
|Best Price right now on Amazon||Best Price on Amazon Right Now: $199.99||Best Price on Amazon: $239.99||Best Price on Amazon Right Now: $289.99||Best Price on Amazon Right Now: $399.99||Usually around $600. Please click here to see the Best Price on Amazon Right Now|
|Best For?||Cyclists who want a premium bike computer in a budget, compact unit; and who don't need much navigation help; must be OK with black & white & with button control (not touch screen)||Cyclists who want a premium bike computer at a budget price; but who need navigation and turn by turn navigation. Great if you need a larger screen. Better for navigation than training. Not suitable if you want to use a power meter||Cyclists who want nothing but the best in premium training features; must be OK with pre-downloading routes when they need navigation help, and with button control (not touch screen)||Cyclists who want nothing but the best in premium training features and navigation||Cyclists who want nothing but the best in the very latest premium training features and navigation; and who need a bigger screen & free, high-quality maps preloaded on the unit|
|Size of Unit||1.1" x 1.4" (27 x 36 mm); 1.8" diag (45 mm)||2.2" x 4.1" x 0.9" (55 x 105 x 22 mm)||1.9" x 3.2" x 0.8" (50 x 82 x 20 mm)||1.9” x 3.2” x 0.8” (50 mm x 82 mm x 20 mm)||2.28" x 4.5" x 0.8" (58 x 114 x 19 mm)|
|Display Resolution||303 x 230 pixels||240 x 400 pixels||246 x 322 pixels||246 x 322 pixels||282 x 470 pixels|
|Weight||1.2 oz (33 g)||4.1 oz (116 g)||2.7 oz (75.8 g)||2.8 oz (79.1 g)||4.4 oz (124 g)|
|Waterproof rating||IPX 7 (you can drop it in 3 ft of water for up to 30 mins, & it will still work)||IPX 7||IPX 7||IPX 7||IPX 7|
|Screen size||1.8" (45 mm) diagonal, black and white||3.0" (76 mm) diagonal color||2.6" (66 mm) diagonal, color||2.6" (66 mm) diagonal, color||3.5" (89 mm) diagonal, color|
|Touchscreen or button control?||Button control||Touchscreen, works well||Button control||Touchscreen, works well||Touchscreen, works well|
|Battery Life||Up to 12 hours||Up to 12 hours in GPS training mode||Up to 20 hours in GPS training mode||Up to 20 hours in GPS training mode||Up to 36 hours in GPS training mode, up to 48 hours with minimal sensors and backlighting|
|Battery Save Mode (extends battery life by up to 50% while still tracking all ride data)||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Option to add Garmin Charge Power Pack (to double battery life)?||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bike alarm that connects with your phone?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Find my bike computer?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Elevation?||Yes||Yes, based on GPS as it has no barometric altimeter||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Ambient Light Sensor?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Basemap||No||Pre-loaded Garmin Cycle Map||Pre-loaded Garmin Cycle Maps with Integrated TrailForks content||Pre-loaded Garmin Cycle Maps with Integrated TrailForks content||Pre-loaded Garmin Cycle Maps with Integrated TrailForks content|
|Ships pre-loaded with high-quality maps for two countries, plus can download any other countries for free?||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Can you add maps?||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|How many routes can you save on the device?||30||100||100||100||100|
|How much history can you store on the device?||Up to 100 hours||Up to 200 hours||Up to 200 hours||Up to 200 hours||Up to 200 hours|
|Address search (input address and it will plot a route)? AKA On-Device Course Creator||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Popularity routing (Trendline) - shows routes used most by cyclists?||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Turn-by-turn navigation?||Yes, but very basic, breadcrumb-style navigation only. And only for downloaded courses, e.g. from Garmin Route Creator||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Recalculate route on the device?||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|New re-routing options?||n/a||No||No, but will arrive in a future software updatea||No, but will arrive in a future software updatea||Yes. Choose from Rejoin where you left course; Skip ahead to course; or Cut across|
|Calculate route back to start?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can you create a custom course on the unit (this is a sequence of waypoints or locations that leads you to your final destination)?||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Create a round-trip route on the device?||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Find nearby POI (points of interest)?||No||Yes||No, but you can use the included Yelp app to find them||Yes||Yes|
|How does it communicate?||Bluetooth, ANT+||Bluetooth, ANT+||Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi||Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi||Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi|
|Time & date display?||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Smart notifications?||Yes (calls and texts only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can you respond to a phone call with text on your Android device?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Rider to Rider messaging?||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Does it display the weather?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Connect compatible? (this is an online community where you can share data, plys analyze - like Strava)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Automatically syncs your rides to the Garmin Connect™ Mobile app on your phone?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ANT+ (to connect your devices?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bluetooth Smart (aka BLE or Bluetooth Low Energy)?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Unit to unit transfer (share your data with friends with similar units)?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|LiveTrack?||Yes||Yes, new enhanced version||Yes||Yes||Yes, new enhanced version|
|Incident detection (so someone is automatically notified if you have an accident)?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|LEV/ebike compatibility via ANT+?||Yes||No, but coming soon||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Compatible with heart rate monitors, plus power, speed and cadence sensors?||Yes||Supports heart rate monitors, plus power, speed and cadence sensors, but does NOT support power meters||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Shimano Di2 electronic shifting integration? (“Digital Integrated Intelligence” enables instant electronic shifting)||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can it download free apps and widgets from the Connect IQ™ store?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Compatible with Garmin VIRB video camera?||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Compatible with Garmin inReach 2-way satellite communicator (to send your location if you need assistance and your cell phone cannot connect)?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Varia Compatible?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can you control it with a Garmin Edge remote control?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Does it have Extended Display (so you can use your bike computer as an extended display to view data screens from a compatible Garmin mulitsport watch)?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Autostart (so your timer will start automatically once you are cycling at a custom speed)?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can You Customize Your Data Pages?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Interval training (so you can set up exercise and rest intervals)?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Advanced workouts? (so you can create customized, goal-directed workouts)||Yes||No||Yes (much improved over 520 Plus)||Yes (much improved over 820)||Yes|
|Daily Workout Suggestions?||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Can You Download Training Plans to It?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Virtual Partner (so you can compete against a digital cyclist)?||Yes, within a course||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|VO2 Max estimate? (the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise)||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|FTP tracking? (Functional Threshold Power is the average power that a rider can produce over the course of an hour)||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Will it Advise You on Recovery Time?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Time in heart rate training zone?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|TrainingPeaks iLevels (WKO4)||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ClimpPro (new feature that shows you graphically the grades ahead)?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Power Meter Compatible?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Performance Power Curve? (tracks your power output over periods of time)||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Advanced Power Analysis?||No (not on device, but you can do it on your computer later)||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Does it have Physio TrueUP (a Garmin Connect feature that keeps physiological data in sync between multiple devices)?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Does it compute calories based on heart rate?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Strava Live Segments on the unit?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Aerobic training effect?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Heat acclimation (how well are you adjusting to heat)?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Altitude acclimation (how well are you adjusting to changes in altitude)?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Water and calorie requirements (reminders based on course)?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Auto Pause (so it stops recording when you stop your bike)?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Smart Trainer Control?||No||Not yet, but coming soon||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Courses (so you can compete against your previous rides)?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Alerts (to alert you when you reach goals such as heart rate, calories, time, or distance)?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Activity Profiles (that's where you have different profiles for activities such as road or mountain biking)?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
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|Grit rating (how tough is the route)?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Flow rating (how well did you ride the route)?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Hang time (how long were you in the air when jumping, how far did you go)?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Integrated Trailforks? (130,000 trails preloaded on unit)||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
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