Good or bad, I’ve come to rely on bike computers for cycling. No, I’m not fast, nor am I a pro, but I am an engineer by trade and like data, a lot. I am motivated by it, I like to collect it and it also allows me to play with gadgets that help me to obtain it.
I know, many people say the best thing they’ve done in a long time for their cycling routine is ditch the computer, the Strava and the quest for just one more KOM. I, on the other hand, love watching the miles pile up over the course of a year, the feet climbed, the number of recorded rides.
Back in the day we had those simple Cateye bike computers with two buttons and a very limited amount of captured data. I can remember that it only had the all important odometer, a trip computer, average speed, time and if one was really cool an average trip speed, whoa! Of course, no one can forget that awesome wire that had to be run from the handlebars, down the awesome new Rock Shox Judy you bought, with zip ties (not unsightly at all) to a sensor that was easy to dislodge while mountain biking. Don’t forget the little magnet ‘puck’ that was set-screwed to a tiny round spoke. It would then adjust itself to more than the allowed 3mm away from the sensor when riding over a root, or speed bump, or a small crack in the side walk. Yes, I do tent to exaggerate.
It’s been a bit different for the last 12-15 or so years thank in large part to Garmin. Love them or hate them, Garmin has brought a massive amount of capability, functionality and usability to market in a small enough form factor that you aren’t strapping an iPad to your handlebars. Yes, the GPS units often have bugs at launch, but eventually they reach legendary status in terms of reliability like the old Edge 705 or the Edge 500. I’ve always been an early adopter and watched the complaints roll in on forums. Most of the complaints tend to be user error. I have had a few little glitches, but I’ve never lost a ride or deemed a device unusable, except for that time I crashed and busted an Edge 1000...ouch.
So before we get on to the pros and cons, I’d like to answer the question I’ve had more than any other: “Why don’t you just use your phone?” (In a snarky, judging voice of course)
Simple, I will list just a few of my reasons, I’m sure there are others:
Battery life: Bike computers last much longer than cell phones on battery power, especially with GPS enabled.
Cost: Yes, the Edge 1030 is expensive, but not as expensive as phones are getting these days. Apple just announced their top of the line phone starts at $1100! I do not want that expensive device on my handle bars (or in my pocket, R.I.P. iPhone 6+, a story for another day...).
Cycling Specific: What do I mean by that? A bike computer is generally directly compatible with lights, sensors and other gadgets you use on your bike. With a bike computer, there is no need for work arounds or specific apps you need to download.
Ease of Use: Bike computers are just easy to get data to where you need it these days. Who are we kidding, what I meant to say is it is easy to get your data to Strava. With some devices having WiFi, including the Edge 1030, you don’t even need to pair your phone, just walk into your house, or any recognized WiFi network, and it will do it for you, automatically.
So, back on topic, the Edge 1030. How do I like it? In the past 2 years I have had the Garmin 520 (after the not at all infamous Edge 1000 crash), the Wahoo Bolt and the Edge 1030. I currently only have the Garmin Edge 1030. Yep, that’s it. Why? Quite a few reasons actually. Allow me to elaborate:
Garmin 1030 Pros:
Size: Yes, it is large, but that is to accommodate the nice, large and easy to read display as well as all of the electronic voodoo going on inside to perform its GPS, Power Meter, Magnet-less sensor goodness.
Extended Battery Pack: This put it over the edge (pun intended) for me and made me click the ‘Add To Cart’ button. Funny enough, I haven’t used it yet as I was unable to do a couple of the long rides I had planned this year, but rest assured, as soon as I do I will let you know how well it works. You are supposed to get 24, yes 24 hours of run time when you use the battery pack! That’s awesome!
Limitless Data: Yes, if a bike sensor exists the 1030 will most likely connect to it.
Navigation: Not just simple point to point navigation or return to starting point, oh no my friend. The Edge 1030 is capable of POI navigation, meaning you can enter an address, coordinate, etc. and have it route you there and quite accurately I might add. Having the large screen is also a great asset to have for navigation.
Limitless Customization: Many, many available data screens, ride types, training types, structured training programs, and so on.
Aftermarket Support: Many companies have gotten aboard the Garmin sensor and Connect IQ train, similar to the iPhone. They are the market leader when it comes to rugged, handheld, outdoor and fitness navigation (outside of smart phones\watches). Many companies recognize this and offer software/apps for Garmin devices, such as Bontrager’s app that connects their Flare RT front and rear blinkie lights so that they come on automatically when you start to ride (I know I often forget to turn on the tail light) and offer lighting customization as well as battery life status right on your handle bars, very handy!
Also, there are a massive number of Garmin Edge series quarter-turn mounting solutions available from companies like K Edge, Barfly and more to fit just about any style of bike.
Touch Screen UI: Yes, I know to many this is a con, but so far the touchscreen on the Edge 1030 has works really well. It has issues with gloves and in the rain like any other touch screen device, but it limps by in those situations as well, which aren’t all that common on my rides.
Also, I am assuming thanks to newer and faster hardware, the screen is very responsive to input, such as scrolling from screen to screen and using the drop down menus. I have found some of the buttons on other devices downright difficult to use when mounted to handlebars, including and especially the Garmin 520. The Wahoo Bolt smartly puts the main buttons front and center on top of the unit so that neither the mount nor handlebars get in the way.
Respectable Battery Life: While not quite as good as the Edge 520, the Garmin Edge 1030 is a significant improvement over the Edge 1000, especially with functions like the backlight turned off, and that’s without the extended battery pack. The battery pack (purchased separately) seamlessly integrates with the Edge 1030 specific out front handlebar mount, which I think is very slick. You can even charge other devices off of the battery pack, such as lights or cell phones.
Garmin Edge 1030 Cons:
Size: Yes, this is also listed as a pro, but some people can’t get past the size. Honestly, when I first opened it I was a bit surprised at how large it was, but after a ride or two it felt perfectly normal. It is definitely smaller than having a 6.5” smart phone display mounted on your stem.
Cost: It is expensive. It truly is a device for the data junky, gadget junky, serious cycling tourist (navigation being your top priority) or pro rider. If you don’t seem to match any of those categories, you can easily get by with a lower model like an Edge 520 or even the 25.
Infinite Adjustability: This was a pro too, but can easily be a con. Analysis paralysis is a real condition and many of us suffer from it. You could spend hours getting things juuuuust right only to change it again after your next ride. Luckily, you can have many ride profiles, with custom screens for each, to suite your current mood and riding style/surface/type.
Appearance (White sides and back, black screen bezel): Some people have complained about the appearance of the Edge 1030. Many would prefer it to be all black. This is a personal preference and I personally don’t mind it at all. You can always get a colored ‘bumper’ for it and make it almost any color you’d like (I chose bright green, more so for some protection than to add color).
Touchscreen: Many prefer a button only operated device. I could go either way. What I don’t like about buttons is that they often are stiff enough so they can’t be accidentally pressed. However, the buttons are then hard to press while riding, especially if they are located in awkward places, reenter the popular Garmin Edge 520. Who approved the start/stop button placement on that device?
Overall, it is a great time to be a gadget junky and cyclist. A decade ago you had a very limited number of full featured bike computers where as now it seems a new company pops up each year with a promising product line, and often at a great price point. Wahoo and Lezyne immediately come to mind when I think of a newer and already popular bike GPS at a reasonable cost.
You can’t really go wrong with any bike computer you choose as long as the following options (which vary significantly between companies and even their individual product lines) meet your specific use case.
Keep in mind the following when buying a new bike computer:
Is Navigation Required? If yes, buy a GPS enabled computer and decide how detailed you need the navigation to be. Do you just need simple point to point routing or are you riding the Trans-America Bike Route for a month or more?
Is Battery life important? Do you try to beat your time around the block or are you riding the Tour Divide MTB race? Also, consider whether or not the unit you are considering can be charged while riding via a dyno-hub or USB battery pack.
Touchscreen or push-button operation? Try each option out in the store. Ask if you can try it with a bit of water on the screen or with gloves on to get the full effect.
Color vs Black and White screen? Personal preference here, but be sure sure to check them out in person at your LBS and walk outside to see how they look in the sun or under bright light. If they have a dark fitting room, see how effective the back light is on the device in case you find yourself riding at night.
Small vs Large Screen? Although the gap is narrowing, more often than not, a smaller screen means longer battery life.
Feature set needs? Make sure the computer will do what you’d like it to do and connect with the sensors and devices you’d like it to connect to. Does it have Bluetooth, Bluetooth Smart and Ant+? Does it connect to iOS and Android phones equally well? Can it pair with your power meter? If you plan on a major upgrade like a power meter or electronic shifting, make sure your future device is already supported or that the computer is well supported in general by the manufacturer with frequent firmware updates.
I have been very happy with the Edge 1030 for almost a year at this point. Garmin continues to roll out regular updates and I’ve had zero non-user related issues to date. Would I recommend this device? Provided you have time to learn it and money to buy it, absolutely. Do you (including I) need it? Absolutely not, you can easily get buy with a simpler (cheaper) bike computer and use your phone as the GPS/Mapping device. Please, just make sure you don’t run the battery down in case of an emergency where you need to use the phone part of your smart phone.
Finally, a PSA for our more OCD prone cyclists out there: Protect that bike computer screen (or smart phone if you go that route)! To save money, I buy generic phone screen protectors that are often too big for a bike computer and cut them down to size, they’re super cheap. Why? If you’re ever riding single track, gravel or even pavement in the rain, grit and mud will inevitably end up on your display. You, or at least I, will then wipe the sand infused dirt and mud away. This action has just essentially wet sanded the screen. The next time you see the screen clean and dry, it will most likely have scuff marks on it that won’t wipe off. These unsightly scuff marks make it harder to see the screen from an angle and they also obliterate the resale value of the device should you try to sell it down the road.
Ok, I’m off my soap box, this review has now concluded.
If you liked liked this review or (hopefully) found it useful, be sure to let me know in the comments. If you have any other questions I always try to answer those in a timely manner as well.
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Until next time, get outside and never stop Dadventuring!