I have been a fan of Garmin cycle computers for a long time. I like to measure what I am doing. Sometimes this is because I am actually tracking improvement (or lack of improvement), sometimes it is just out of interest. It could well be that makes other than Garmin are just as good or even better. But Garmin is what I know and there is just so much choice out there now that I find it easier to stick with what I know.
I am the kind of person who likes to know how many miles I have cycled in a week. I like to know how fast (or slow) I have gone. I like to know what my maximum speed has been (this goes hand in hand with my love of descending – I feel so proud if I can exceed 40mph down a hill!). I do not think that having this information is essential to enjoy cycling, or to be a good cyclist, I just like it. That said, if you get really into cycling as a sport, the numbers start coming into their own when you are aiming to measure your improvement or to race.
There is now a bewildering range of gadgets and gizmos to measure and record your sport. None of them are really necessary, but lots of them are fun.
For my birthday in December 2016, my lovely husband bought me a new Garmin. I have used it for just over a year now and I absolutely love it. This is the one piece of kit (obviously other than my bikes) which I would feel totally lost without.
The Garmin Vivoactive HR
This Garmin does everything I want it to do on a day to day basis.
Gone are the days of brick-like GPS computers, I wear this as my day to day watch. Alright, it’s not small, but it’s not too big either. This means that I never head out for a ride having forgotten it, because I am always wearing it.
These are the reasons why I love this watch:
It finds satellites quickly
This is vital. Like I said, I record everything I do on a bike and if I am setting off on the school run, I just don’t have time to wait for gadgets. Having already waited for procrastination and delays by two small people who never seem feel any sense of urgency, my patience is generally all used up. I can honestly say I have never waited more than 30 seconds for the Vivoactive to find satellites.
It records all the training I do
The Vivoactive is a multi sports watch which can record cycling, running, swimming, golf (if you’re that way inclined) and just about anything else, it seems. It has the massive advantage that it can also record indoor cycling with the addition of a speed and cadence sensor. This means that I can get all the data I love when I am on the turbo trainer. The speed and cadence sensor sensors are very easy to add. There is no lining up three different gadgets and waiting for lights to flash like there was with the 305 speed and distance sensors. The cadence sensor goes on the crank arm and the speed sensor goes on the rear wheel hub and that is that. It takes about two minutes to set up. My one slight niggle with this is that I have to tell the watch to reconnect with the sensors every time I turbo. This does only take seconds but I still wish it would just remember them.
It has a heart rate monitor which is actually reliable
Hurray, Hurrah, no more chest straps! I do not need to know my heart rate most of the time, but it is really helpful for focused training, especially on the turbo. The Vivoactive picks up heart rate with a wrist sensor which I have always found reliable. It also displays heart rate during a training session with zones. These zones are automatically calculated from your resting heart rate, but you can set them yourself if you choose. I find it interesting to know what my resting heart rate is too, although in all honesty I have never actually put this information to any use.
It is also a pedometer
Having young children, I do a fair amount of walking. I am a big fan of outdoor time and time in nature. I think I must have pretty much worn a path around both the Botanic Gardens and the Zoo. I kind of like to keep track of how far I have walked too. Especially if I am trying to lose weight and using Myfitnesspal. When I first started trying to lose the baby weight, I kept a pedometer in my pocket all the time as walking with the pram formed the bulk of my day to day exercise. I used this to balance calories in and out. I found the pedometer a great motivator to get me out, especially on days when the weather wasn’t all that great.
The Vivoactive is also an accurate pedometer. When you first get it, it asks you to do a simple walk test so it can use satellite data to make the pedometer personal to you. You can also choose whether to set the Vivoactive with a move alert. This monitors how long you are sitting still for. If it thinks you have been sitting still for too long, it vibrates and a message pops up MOVE! I go through phases of loving and hating this feature. It seems to have an annoying tendency to wait until I swear, I have just sat down after a busy day, and then shout MOVE! at me. I switched it off for a fair while because of this. Then I read Bike Nation by Peter Walker. After reading the section about health and physical activity, I switched it back on again. I just shout back at it to SHUT UP! sometimes.
It automatically uploads to my phone and laptop and it links to other apps
With my old Garmins I had to occasionally dig out a cable and connect the device to my laptop to upload my data. This one uploads by Bluetooth to the Garmin Connect app on my phone. This means that I can waste a few minutes each day looking at data. It also means that all the data appears on my laptop. No more cables, which is a real blessing as my youngest loves to hide cables. I really like the Garmin Connect app on the phone. It has lots of lovely graphs and features. On the laptop it is another story – I really don’t get on well with Garmin Connect on the laptop. That said, I can still get hold of all the data I want from it and then put it into my own spreadsheet.
When I wouldn’t use it
I have to say that I probably would not use the Vivoactive for racing the bike. I would rather have a bike mounted computer for this. A watch is just not that practical for glancing at during a race. It’s fine on the turbo as I don’t have to take road conditions or other riders into account. I am also personally not that bothered about knowing my heart rate during a race. If I am racing, I also want my data on a larger screen, so I can see it clearly even if I am reduced to a retching mess! When (not if, when) I make it to the start line of a race, it is likely to be with my old 305, or possibly the Edge 500. That said, I will still wear the Vivoactive during the race as I like to see the data afterwards and play ‘how high can you go’ with my heart rate!
The downside to the Vivoactive
There is actually only really one thing which annoys me about the Vivoactive, and that is pausing it. When I go out for a club run, we usually have a cafe stop. The Vivoactive auto pauses when you stop which is great, but then if I get up and walk anywhere, it auto starts again, even though I’m not back on the bike. This annoys me. The alternative is to stop it temporarily. The only problem is that it then comes up with options on the touchscreen to save or discard the session. I have this fear that I might brush the cross by accident and discard the ride so far. For a data junkie like me, this would be a fate worse than death! It’s not the biggest deal,but it is a bit annoying.
My Past Garmin Loves:
As I said, I have had Garmin cycle computers for years. They are the only GPS based speed and distance monitors I have used. Before I had these, I had a cateye computer which involved a magnet on the spokes. This was great too and much cheaper than a GPS computer. These type of computers are not easily switched between several bikes though.
The Garmin Forerunner 305
I loved my Garmin 305. I first got one in 2008. It looks pretty dated now and you wouldn’t want to wear it as an everyday watch (unless you were weight training with one arm, I suppose). I used it for running and cycling. To me the best thing about it was that is is so big it has a massive display so I could set it to show lots of data at once. This was really handy for racing as I could see time, distance and average speed really clearly. It would also give me virtual speed and distance on a turbo, with an added speed and cadence sensor although this was an almighty fiddle to set up.
The worst thing about the 305 was that it sometimes took ages to find satellites – I am talking, put the thing outside the front door a good 15 minutes before you planned to use it type of ages. This was incredibly frustrating. I also never got on with the heart rate monitor side of it – it had a chest strap and me and chest straps for heart rate monitors just do not get one. There is something about my build that means they never work consistently. Still, when I do finally get back to racing, I would definitely dig out my old 305 and see if it still works.
The Garmin Forerunner 220
After my first child was born I got back into running. I found it easier to find the time to run. While the 305 worked just fine for running, it did look a bit like carrying a small brick on my wrist. The time it took to find a signal was also driving me mad now I found that my time was so limited. So, I decided ‘needed’ a 220. This is just a running monitor. Oh, the joy when I turned it on and it found a signal within 20 seconds! This was a great monitor for running as it recorded all the data I needed to prove that I was now incredibly slow, but that I was gradually improving. It also had the advantage of looking decent enough as an everyday watch. I still didn’t get on with the heart rate monitor strap but I had resigned myself to this by now.
But then I got sore knees and running was no longer an option. I also got the cargo bike and cycling became a part of my daily life again, hurray! But this meant that I felt I needed another garmin…
The Garmin Edge 500
This Garmin only does cycling data. But that was fine because I was loving cycling and anyway, I had the 220 for running. The Edge 500 is a reasonably basic computer but it did everything I wanted. It also had a pretty cheap and simple gadget to attach it to the bike which meant that I could put one of these on each of my bikes and just move the computer between them. It could also show 5 different data screens at once so I could see my average speed, my current speed, my time, my distance and whether I was going to be late, all at once. It didn’t work with the turbo though, but I still used my old 305 for that.