Garmin Edge 705, Part 1
Where am I? Where have I been? Where am I going? All can be profound existential questions weighted with issues of survival and one's knowledge of self. Or, it can merely be a rhetorical question that reminds you to check your surroundings. It is for both sets of concerns that the Garmin Edge 705 has aroused such interest.
The 705 is both a nifty gadget and a training tool with great potential. It's a mashup of a bike computer and a global positioning system (GPS), and as such combines many ride metrics with mapping coordinates and can result in an incredibly precise picture of every second of every ride. Thanks to Area Network Technology (ANT), a 2.4-gigahertz wireless networking protocol, a low-energy Bluetooth if you will, the GPS/bike computer can also be paired with a speed sensor, cadence sensor, heart rate monitor, and power meter. ANT is starting to go into some digital scales to sync up with wrist-mounted watches and then uploaded onto computer programs. ANT is a creation of Dynastream; Garmin bought the company after they came up with the system.
ANT, if you don't know it yet, is a huge deal for the wireless world. The transmitter is tiny, uses very little energy, the range is very good (we've heard it can broadcast up to 20 feet), and the chance of crosstalk or interference is incredibly small. There are a few flavors of ANT, the one used in most cycling devices is ANT+ Sport, generally written as ANT+. You'll find it in an ever-growing number of bike computers and heart rate monitors. It's going to help banish computer wires from bicycles and it is already making it possible for bike computers to work across brands.
Because of everything going on with the 705, we've decided to make this review a two-parter. It isn't a "Very Special" review nor will we leave you with a cliffhanger at the end of part one. Rather, we figured the review would be best digested if we broke it up into two parts. With this part, we're going to discuss setup and basic functions. With part two, we'll look at powermetering and other advanced features.
The 705 version we went with has been passed around the office a good bit. Not surprisingly, it is the fully-loaded one. Not only does it come with the 705 unit, the big honking box that can sit atop your bars or stem, but this one comes with a microSD card installed with an incredibly precise map of the United States on the card, an ANT+ heart rate strap and ANT+ GSC10, Garmin's speed and cadence sensor, as well as the standard charging cable and upload cable. Cool factoid: a digital camera USB upload cable will work with the 705.
We see a real appeal in the 705. A wireless altimeter/speedometer/odometer that cannot only show you where you are, provide a map of where you want to go, and can take you somewhere as well as return you home. You don't need to program the wheel diameter, with GPS, it is calculated for you. You never need to write down a turn sheet or take a map along for the ride.
The unit can work without any of the ANT+ devices hooked up. Just take it outside and turn it on. Once it has found satellites, it can take speed and distance readings and give you altitude. It has settings so the GPS features can be adjusted for walking or driving, as well as riding. There are two bike mounts included in the package, but you can put it in your pocket as well. The 705 can work if you just turn it on, wait for it to find satellites, press the start button, and go. Put it in your pocket and it will record so long as you remain outside.
We installed a bike mount on our main bike of the fall, our cyclocrosser, but used it with our commuter as well. There, we just shoved the unit into a pocket of our backpack. We decided against installing the GSC10 to see how good the unit works without the speed transmitter, because we don't like cluttering the bike and we didn't want to muck up the transmitter with the gunk that cyclocross leaves on a bike. Yes, we're never getting lost on a cyclocross course, but with low tire pressure, we've never had a good sense of how far we actually travel during a race.
We initially just wanted to keep things simple. No GSC10, minimal programming, just took it outside, turned it on, and waited for it to find satellites before we started riding. The first ride, it seemed like finding satellites took a few minutes, which could have been because we were standing in the shadow of our building. Afterwards, it acquired satellites faster. The software remembers where you turned the unit off; when you turn it back on, it remembers where the satellites were last and calculates where they should be.
The 705 seems to acquire satellites faster when out in the open, rather than near buildings. The unit also seems to initially set altitude only by the altimeter, rather than comparing with GPS data. We've been anywhere from 260 feet below sea level to 240 feet above; our door is at 38 feet above. (we used the USGS Viewer to determine this).
On our first ride, all we did was hit the "start/stop" key at the start of the ride, and hit the same button again when the ride is over. We quickly found out this was problematic for finding our current ride data as the screen preferences were set up by an earlier user.
For the second ride, we set the unit up so it could at least tell us something during our ride. We hit the "menu" button on the right side to access the various setup screens. The most important of the setup menu is the "settings" sub-menu. And of that, the "data fields" sub-menu. That allows you to create two different screens to see on the 705 when you're riding. Up to eight data fields per screen and you can toggle back and forth between them with the joystick or zoom buttons. We initially set up a road screen with speed, average speed, heart rate, average heart rate, elevation, total ascent, current gradient, and ride time. We then set up a cyclocross screen of speed, heart rate, average heart rate, total ascent, gradient, elapsed time, and lap time.
Once you've played with settings, you back out of the settings menu with the "mode" button. Once you're out, you have four screens to choose from. Bike computer 1, bike computer 2, map, and ride profile. Both the map and ride profile can be adjusted in terms of zooming in and out. The map, btw, never looks as good as it does in the print ads. The screen can look better on overcast days if you increase the backlight, which is easily adjusted by lightly touching the power button and then using the joystick to adjust the level.
When you end the ride, all you have to do is stop recording and your ride is saved. It has every road, every turn, every hill. It knows your average speed, your total ascent, the pitch of the hills and so on. You can review the data on the unit, but you can also upload the data to Garmin's Training Center program and/or their Garmin Connect website (registration is free). It is also compatible with Peaksware WKO+.
The Garmin Training Center is a pretty basic program. It can serve as both a training diary and a repository of your rides. You can program in workouts to the diary and you can review rides. Unfortunately, there are several limitations. A big one is that the diary doesn't have a way to input your rides so you can see them on a calendar. And the ride repository can't place planned workouts next to the rides. The mapping feature is similarly limited. While your ride is overlaid on a map, you can't see the exact roads you were on unless you were riding on major thoroughfares. You do, however, get to see elevation gained and lost and can chart two different metrics on a graph at one time. You also can't separate the ride into multiple events, which you might want to do if you failed to reset the computer before starting on your next ride.
Garmin Connect is quite a bit more sophisticated. Here, you can see a detailed map showing every road you covered, as well as have a "player" replay every second of your ride. The data can be shared with the public or friends as well.
Neither program is particularly advanced. There is a way to tick off laps on the 705 and you can then view the laps in both programs, but seeing them as part of the ride is impossible. In terms of gathering data for a training log, both are only mediocre. This might be by design. Garmin knew they'd be competing with WKO+ and others on this front, so maybe they didn't want to invest the time into making something that "serious" cyclists would pass on. The file can also be exported from Garmin Connect to Google Earth.
Both programs seem suited for cyclists who want ride data, but don't have a great desire to log all the information, nor care to compare data. It's great for seeing average speed, average heart rate, looking at a map of your ride, and sharing that ride with friends.
Notice we didn't include climbing data in the above paragraph. We've long wondered how valuable the info is. Yes, it's nice to tell friends that "we climbed as much as they do in a Tour stage," or "it was only 50 miles, but it was 5,000' of climbing!" but aside from bragging rights, it's hard for us to see how valuable it is. Steep climbs are different than gentle climbs. Steep descents are different than shallow descents, and so on. All that is fine to ponder, maybe with enough data we could see what kind of climbs we're able to put out the most power on most comfortably, but it turns out the real issue is how different programs measure your climbing.
The Garmin records data every second of your ride. Every second it records altimetric information. As the ride goes on and the GPS acquires more satellites, the elevation data becomes more accurate. When the ride is done and you upload into the program, an algorithm converts that information into climbing data. We did a 57-mile ride. We were watching our total ascent on the meter. When we got home, it read 2,896 feet. We then uploaded it into the GTC and it reported 3,897 feet. We then put the same data into Garmin Connect, and it reported 2,741 feet. The problem is that each program uses a different algorithm. Adding to the confusion, WKO+ said 5,283 feet and TrainingPeaks.com said 2,681. Throw out the WKO+ as the 2.0 doesn't employ smoothing (3.0 will). Ultimately, you're going to have to choose one.
Further, the altitude isn't necessarily accurate at the start though it typically gets more accurate. As the ride goes on and the GPS acquires more satellites, the elevation data becomes more accurate. The issue seems to be that you can't set your starting point so it knows the altitude there. If you wait long enough at the starting point, the 705 seems to correct itself, but waiting for the GPS to get it right is not something we had any interest in doing.
The uncertainty doesn't negate the value of the 705. It's still pretty amazing. We figure the altitude measuring will get better. Garmin posts free firmware updates and there's even an auto-updater you can download.
After a few rides, we realized that the bike computer info (aka the two screens) we set up for ourselves was less than ideal. We had no way of accessing ride distance at all. Since the setup is rather quick, you might as well have two different screens for road riding and then two different for cyclocross and just customize the screens depending on what ride you're about to do that day or that ride. It takes less than a minute to change them.
We love riding different places. Recording the rides certainly adds a little fun to that. Sharing them with friends is pretty good, too. We love recording ride data; it helps us think about rides and track our fitness. There are some annoying glitches, certainly, but the simplicity of just turning it on and going is great. The software, for the way we like to train leaves much to be desired, but it does work with WKO+, the details of which we'll go into in our next installment. The more salient GPS and mapping features we'll delve into in the next installment as well.
One of the obstacles we found with the 705 is that the owner's manual is fairly lacking. It was explicit enough for us to set it up properly, and relatively quickly at that, but there was plenty we didn't fully understand and we've been left with a nagging feeling that the machine capable of much, much more than we've been able to divine.
As for the questions we posed at the start, they are answered. And pretty well. One of our frustrations might well be that the promise of the Garmin Edge 705 is so great that we are expecting too much of it.