Being a runner at heart, Garmin has always been my go-to brand for running watches. I’m onto my third now. Each purchase has been an upgrade on the previous model, with more features, newer technology and more assistance to track and analyse my runs.
Each one of my Garmin watches has shared the same design quality and simplicity of use which has made me loyal to the brand. My experience so far, as well as my shocking lack of a sense of direction when out exploring new routes on my bike, meant I was very excited to try out the Garmin Edge 520 Plus GPS Cycling Computer.
So, planning the route.
I'd be starting and finishing at the house of a friend who lives on the edge of the South Downs. The location allows us to get an evening ride in of about 30 miles, looping through the Hampshire countryside, in search of winding lanes, exhausting climbs and fast descents.
But here is where I usually hit problems. The South Downs is a great place to ride but the routes that I create on screen, which look so simple on a 2D map, leave my head the very moment I’m faced with seeing the world in 3D!
Usually I can rely on the local knowledge of the company I ride with, or if all else fails, stopping and checking the maps on my phone. But now, having a cycling computer with 'advanced navigation and turn by turn directions,' I think my sense of direction might be about to get a whole lot better…
With the route plotted on Strava and saved to the Garmin Connect app on my phone, I paired the Garmin Edge 520 Plus to my phone with no hassle, and in a matter of moments the two had synced and that was it – the route was now on the Garmin, ready to be attached to my bike and lead me out on my ride.
For this ride, I’d decided to attach the Garmin via the included out-front mount rather than the stem mount. I'd like to say I decided on this because it gave me a better angle when looking down to view the screen, but I think also it was because subconsciously it made me think I was time-trialling a stage of a Grand Tour…
The GPS locked on in a matter of seconds and starting the ride, the ‘home’ screen gave me the five fields that I had pre-chosen – elapsed ride time, speed, distance, elevation, and time of day (this is fully customisable from one field to five). For such a relatively small device, I was surprised that the numbers were so clear and easily readable.
There are several screens that can be scrolled through, including a basic map, compass and elevation profile. Knowing that I could scroll through to the map made me wonder if I would need to change screens manually to follow the directions of the route. I needn't have worried; at the first turn we came to the display switched to a zoomed-in map with an arrow telling me the direction I needed to take, how far away in feet the turning was, and time in seconds remaining to the turn.
This was great! No more stopping to check directions, or making a 50/50 guess at a fork in the road. I would actually be able to concentrate on the ride itself, putting together longer segments without worrying about where the next turn was, or that I was following the correct route at all.
We continued our ride, making our way into Catherington Down for a short but steep and punishing climb, pausing at the top for a quick drink in the evening sun, overlooked by the Clanfield Observatory. A short break and a fast downhill was then followed by a mile and a half of climbing to the highest point of our route, on the outskirts of the Butser Hill National Nature Reserve and Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
From here, the Garmin really excelled, navigating us south-east, directing us across the A3 into Chalton, and then onto Finchdean and Compton. At each turn, the display changed to clearly show the distance to, and direction of, the next road or lane. I’d cycled part of this route previously, but not having to stop to double-check directions meant that the ride was more enjoyable. I could take in more of the world around me and enjoy being out on the bike in the sunshine without thinking about memorising a route or wondering what would happen if I missed that turning…
This care-free enjoyment was broken when we joined a downhill gravel road. Overhanging trees intermittently let the light through, just enough to see most of the numerous pot-holes. This was going to take quite a bit of concentration.
Concentration turned to mild fear on realising halfway down that what I thought was a black carrier bag was actually a black cat. A black cat who showed no signs of moving out of the way, and no remorse at me having to take the even bumpier side of the path, as it looked on with disdain.
As the gradient levelled out and the road became smoother and more open once again, thoughts of the cat quickly disappeared as my attention turned to the rustling of the hedge alongside me, the site of a deer breaking through, then quickly turning and bolting back into the field as I drew up alongside. It’s a shame that the Garmin doesn’t have a wildlife warning as one of it’s features. It seems that this ride would have been perfect for it!
For the final ten miles of the ride, the Garmin confidently steered us through the correct turns and forks in the road, skirting the edge of the countryside before leading us towards home. By this point the evening sun was starting to set and so the Garmin's display changed from black text on a white screen to the reverse, making it easier and clearer to read in the fading light.
We were soon back where we’d started, ride finished, Garmin stopped. 30 miles covered, no wrong-turns, two animal near-misses. All in all, a perfect weekday evening ride.