Thanks to a better-than-expected tax return and the fact I'm doing a lot more miles than usual, I was recently able to justify dropping a few dollars on a Garmin Edge 810 cycling-specific GPS unit. I'd had one on my wish list for a while but at around $650 they're a fair investment. I had a look at a few of the online stores but decided that buying from a local bike shop was a better-value proposition since I would get local maps and local power adapters and could take it back in if there were any warranty issues. For only a few dollars more than the basic unit I picked up the kit with the speed and cadence sensor and the heart rate monitor.
The unit is relatively easy to set up on the bike. There's an out-front mount provided which positions the unit ahead of the handlebars, and a couple of pretty handy stem mounts too. The unit's menu system is pretty easy to understand once you've fiddled around with it for a while.
There's a lot to like about the Garmin. The display screens are very customisable and easy to read. The backlight makes use during night riding much friendlier than a regular computer and the screen is easy to use even with gloves on. The heart rate and cadence monitors work really well. The inbuilt navigation system is pretty neat too and I can see it coming in handy on brevet rides and tours. Battery life appears to be good and uploading data is straightforward. Charging using the supplied USB cable and moving the unit between bikes is a breeze. And the unit's accuracy is impressive.
There are a few niggles though, and some are more than a little annoying. My unit has several times turned itself off during a ride, an intermittent bug which seems to be brought on by changing screens on the move, but only now and again. The fault has happened a couple of times for no apparent reason too. It's happened perhaps half a dozen times in 400km, so it's hard to know exactly what's causing it. Secondly, the screen, rather than being glass, like most smartphones, is plastic and very susceptible to scratches. I have learned this from unhappy experience. A thin-film screen guard is highly recommended.
Finally, I'm not overly impressed by the unit's computer and internet integration. While the Garmin can talk to a smartphone, the connection is bluetooth and is pretty unreliable. When the connection works it's relatively easy to upload to the Garmin ride tracking website but there is not integration for other websites, such as Strava. True, there are workarounds but you expect better from a premium unit. There are some other features via the link to a smartphone, such as live tracking and live weather, but they are of little practical use. There is also no ability to customise the unit through the PC, something that would be much easier than using the on-screen menus.
I've had a few Garmin units over the years, from a handheld GPS to a wrist mounted Foretrex. As a general rule, I've found them to be reasonably reliable but stolid and a bit unexciting. If you've got an Apple iPhone for example, it's not hard to think that the Garmin unit suffers a bit by comparison in terms of innovation and imagination. On the whole, I'm very happy with my Edge 810. If cycling GPS technology continues to improve at the rate is has in recent years, I see great things ahead. A GPS with an inbuilt camera for example, is something that makes a fair bot of sense and I hope is not too far away.