(Most) Bike Computers Are Evil, Stupid, and Stupidly Evil

04.2.2007 | 8:01 pm

Here’s a question I’m pretty confident nobody has ever answered “yes” to:

“Have you ever replaced the battery on a bike computer?”

I know I haven’t. Up until now, the reason has always been the same: bike computers self-destruct before even one battery runs out. And for this reason, I have learned to always buy cheap bike computers — the ones you can get for $12.00. I mean, the wires are going to break, or the contact points are going to rust/oxidize, or condensation is going to get between the LCD and the view window, or the buttons are going to stop working, regardless of how much you spend. So why spend $40, $50, or more on something that will last no longer than the $10 item?

That question was rhetorical.

I Get Stupid
Due to what I’d like to call a bout of serious-minded dedication compounded with a willful dismissal of facts I know to be true, however, last winter I went and bought a Polar CS200cad cyclocomputer. Here’s what this little beauty boasts:

  • Speed sensor
  • Cadence sensor
  • Heart Rate monitor
  • Wireless, wireless, wireless!

It was easy to set up. It was easy to use. It gave me massive quantities of data, which I have used to adhere to Coach Lofgran’s awesome training program as faithfully as I can.

You already see the problem, don’t you? Well, that’s because I am using effective foreshadowing techniques, but the fact remains: I should have seen it coming: Within a month, one of the batteries (the speed sensor) died. And then one time I forgot to turn off the main computer doohickey after a workout, and that pretty much killed the battery on the main computer.

I Get Angry
So, I should replace the batteries, right? Of course I should. And what does Polar have to say about how to do that? Well, they say I should ship the whole ball of wax back to their service center, where they’ll be happy to put new batteries in for me.

Thanks, Polar! That’s an awesome idea! But I admit to having some minor quibbles:

  • You’re going to charge me about $15 for each battery you replace. That’s $30 so far.
  • You’re going to charge me about $7.50 for shipping, plus I have to spend my own money and time to ship this, so now we’re up to about $45.
  • Once I ship it off, I have no bike computer at all until Polar gets mine back to me. I don’t find that inconvenient at all!

To recap: After having spent $160 on Polar’s bike computer and getting use of it for about a month, they’d now like me to pay them a bare minimum of $45 to get new batteries, even though the batteries didn’t last due to faulty design (ie, the stupid bike computer doesn’t realize it’s not receiving any information from any of the sensors, and therefore doesn’t get the clever idea of maybe shutting itself off).

Polar, in their Very Helpful Customer Service & Repair website page recommend I just go ahead and pre-authorize a service charge of up to $75, and they’ll just use as much of that as they need to.

Hey, Polar, I have a better idea: how about if instead of doing that, I get really disgusted at you for creating such a weak design — an electronic instrument that doesn’t know to turn itself off, is not rechargeable, and must be sent away to get new batteries — that I just accept my stupid purchase as a sunk cost, realize that any more money I spend on this lame cyclocomputer is throwing good money after bad, and vow to never buy anything from you ever again?

I Like My Garmin 301
I do have an exception to my general vitriol toward cyclocomputers, though: My Garmin 301. It’s a wrist-mounted GPS with a heart rate monitor. You can buy it at Amazon.com for $161.85. Here’s what I like about it:

  • No sensors, wireless or otherwise. You just strap it to your handlebar. My handy tip in this regard: buy a 6′ length of copper pipe insulation for $2.00 and cut off an inch-wide cross-section of it. Put that around your handlebar and it’s just right for the wrist-sized velcro strap mount the 301 comes with. Very easy to move from bike to bike that way.
  • Wait a second, I guess it does have a sensor. The HRM strap must have a battery, right? Well, that’s lasted about a year and doesn’t have any problems yet. Has anyone ever had to replace a battery in their HRM chest strap?
  • It’s rechargeable. In fact, the 301 recharges with a mini-USB jack, which I have plugged into both my home and work computers. So it’s not like you need to have a special recharger for it (although it does come with one, which I keep in my garage).
  • It lasts. The 301 claims to last 11 hours on a charge. That seems to be about right. Long enough for most big rides, or several 2-hour rides.
  • It has a big red button. That’s the start/stop button. It’s easy to find even when you’re riding. And all the buttons are easy enough to get to, even when you’re in motion and wearing gloves.
  • It has not conked out. Here’s an interesting feature other cycle computer manufacturers ought to take a look at: none of the other features matter if the stupid thing can’t handle being outdoors.
  • It works with MotionBased.com: Motionbased.com is a cool site where you can upload and show off your ride stats, for free. You can check mine out at http://eldennelson.motionbased.com.
  • Since it’s a GPS, you don’t have to do complex math. You don’t have to know your wheel circumference or anything like that, and you don’t have to change any settings when you move it from your road bike to your mountain bike. It’s doing speed and distance based on GPS data.

I Ponder Whether to Upgrade
The thing is, I would like to have cadence info, since I’m trying to be serious about the whole training thing this year. And it looks like I can do that with a Garmin Forerunner 305 with a cadence kit.

But I just don’t know.

Here’s my pro and con list.


  • I’ve had good luck with Garmin.
  • This should be about the same as my 301, but with cadence
  • If I have a 305 for the road bike, I can just leave the 301 on the MTB full-time.
  • Cadence-tastic.


  • Expensive
  • Wireless cadence sensor = potential battery hassles
  • People will call me a huge nerd for having not just one GPS bike computer, but two.

So, does anyone have the 305 setup with the cadence kit? Are you happy with it?

And, more importantly, is everyone as otherwise disgusted with cyclecomputers in general as I am?

Thanks for letting me vent. I feel much better. And my nasal passages have cleared.

PS: If anyone from Garmin is reading this and wants to send me a Forerunner 305 + a cadence kit, I will pimp it shamelessly (if I like it). Thank you.


  1. Comment by Solo | 04.2.2007 | 8:15 pm

    I too have a Polar CS200Cad, and have had it for about just under a year I suppose. Had an older Advantage Polar HRM that lasted forever and was the easiest thing in the world to change the batteries providing you had a small enough screwdriver. The CS200 batteries are actually all user serviceable. Was not going to purchase it until I confirmed that fact. Have yet to have to do so yet and I can promise I will not be sending stuff back to Polar unless they want to send me a CS600 back for my troubles. Shoot, for a version of your next jersey, I’d be happy to change your batteries for you if you shipped them to me.
    Ride On.

  2. Comment by Charlie Brown | 04.2.2007 | 8:26 pm

    I’ve got the Edge 305. It’s very easy to use – but a couple of negatives you should know about:

    1) Calorie calculation is based on speed and weight, not heart rate. So, when you’re going down a hill really fast, it assumes you’re incinerating calories much faster than when you go back up the hill really slow. If you know your rate of burn before hand, then this doesn’t really matter…

    2) Anomalous altitude gain calculations – same ride, same graphic out put of elevation profile, same distance, yet the calculation of elevation gain/loss can be off by 20% or so.

    3) If you’ve got crummy eyes like me (or if you plan on getting old like me) – I wear contacts ’cause I’m nearsighted, and have better luck with them than regular glasses when I ride. But, then I can’t see close… have to pick the lessor of two evils. But, the Garmin is too small for me to read easily unless I chose the display with the least amount of info (this is one of the cool features though – you can customize your display with about a zillion different options).

    4) Battery sensor for wireless cadence has a big clunky thing to zip tie on your crank arm. I use the campy method – stick the battery on the steel pedal spindle on the inside of the crank arm – much cleaner. But if you don’t have steel pedal spindles, you may need to use super glue or revert to the ugly zip tie thingie.

    Good things-

    You can customize the display.

    comes with two mounts, so you can move between two bikes in seconds (one for bar, one for stem – but minor issue).

    All the things you mentioned…

    Excellent reception now – enhanced reception means it doesn’t lose signal in trees – or even in your jersey pocket for that matter.

    Customer service – I had a problem with mine – sent it it and they returned a brand spanking new one in about a week – no questions asked.

    Fun gadget! Knowing you (well, not really, but having read your blog and met you briefly at my first LT100), you’d enjoy it…

  3. Comment by UltraRob | 04.2.2007 | 8:32 pm

    There’s a reason I haven’t had a computer on my mountain bike since I was in high school. That means I need both hands, one foot and almost all of the 2nd foot to count the number of years.

    For a while I didn’t even have a computer on my road bike. Then I decided if I was going to get one I’d get a fancy one. That was 2002 and I was training for the Furnace Creek 508. I was riding lots of miles and participating in the UMCA Mileage Challenge. Now it’s the Year-Rounder. Either you have to get receipts at stores along the way, get people that you see to give you their e-mail address so it can be confirmed you were where you said you where or you can use a downloadable computer.

    I got the CicloSport CM414. It stores distance, elevation, temperature, etc. every 20 seconds. I really had my doubts about it lasting. Many thousands of miles later it’s still working. I’ve had to chance the battery about once a year but even then it remembers all of the settings and total miles. It does always decide it wants the display to be in metric after a battery change but that’s easy to change. It does have a few quirks. Up until 10 hours of ride time it always shows the average speed 0.2 mph lower than it really is. After 10 hours it forgets about minutes when calculating average speed. It automatically turns off recording after 24 hours whether you’re moving or not. Very annoying in long races like the 508 or Race Across America.

    I do keep looking at the Garmin Edge but the rides I really care about having the GPS downloads are too long for the battery life. If they could get it to 16 hours it would at least cover all but a couple of my rides in a year.

  4. Comment by neil on wheels | 04.2.2007 | 8:37 pm

    get the 305. then use motionbased.com. dont look back.

  5. Comment by neil on wheels | 04.2.2007 | 8:40 pm

    Additionally, the 350 comes with 2 bike mounts, so you can just swap the GPS from one bike to the other. I do this all the time. Of course, I keep the cadence sensor on the road bike.

    What I most love about the 305/motionbased.com combo is
    1) the dot races – seeing 195 lb neil kick old/fat neil’s ass going up the hills.
    2) monitoring the differences in HR over time.

    One of these days we’ll have to hook up for a ride and I’ll give you the guided tour.

  6. Comment by fatty | 04.2.2007 | 8:50 pm

    charlie – you’ve got the EDGE 305, right? what kind of battery life do you get with that?

    neil – i’m not sure whether you have the edge 305 or the forerunner 305. which do you have, and what kind of battery life do you get?

    solo – ahh, i get it. my mistake was rtfm. got any tips on what kind of batteries i need?

  7. Comment by KatieA | 04.2.2007 | 9:13 pm

    And here I was thinking of getting a Polar bike computer to match with the HR strap I already have (and am about to upgrade to the runners model). Thanks for the forewarning there FC.

    But, I believe I can shoot your first point out of the water – my boyfriend has a bike computer that he bought from K-Mart for $20 (hey, it’s Australia, it’s all more expensive here) and he’s replaced the batteries… and it still works after 3 years. The shock and horror of it all. It’s not much, but it works (especially since I’m not buying a bike computer that costs more than the $200 Huffy Mountain Bike (HMB).

    Also, I get my Polar HR monitor battery replaced ONCE in six years, and I got it done at the local watch shop. The only warning I got was “It won’t be water proof anymore. Water resistant yes, proof, no.” Plus, he did it for free, because I was getting another strap for aforementioned boyfriend’s watch. (Plus I flirted, smiling and batting my eyelashes, which always helps.) I had been told to send my watch back to Polar also – so, my feeling with Polar is that they simply want to charge you money to do something that your local watch guy could fix in half the time and at a quarter of the price.

  8. Comment by monogodo | 04.2.2007 | 9:15 pm

    I’ve replaced the batteries in 4 different bicycle computers. Of course, one of them was an Avocet, which were notorious for having batteries that lasted 2 months. I still have my old Cateye Vectra from 1989. The only reason I’m not using it is that it doesn’t auto-start.

  9. Comment by John | 04.2.2007 | 9:27 pm

    Here’s my take on bike computers:

    The performance road bike has what at-the-time was a pretty hot-shot little gizmo, a Cateye 3Dx computer with cadence and heart rate. You can also wear it like a wrist watch for running, aerobic lawn-mowing, full-contact billards, or whatever. Just six months ago or so I picked up the PC docking station for it from the “Please get this crud out of store” table at the LBS because it has been discontinued for several years and nobody was going to pay $125 for a docking station. I think I paid $25 or something similar.

    Anyway, to answer your questions:
    Yes, I’ve replaced the battery in the computer.
    Yes, I’ve replaced the battery in the chest sensor.
    Yes, this is easy to do yourself.

    The touring bike has a computer too, but a fairly minimalist one. It has a Cateye Strada, and a tiny little thing it is, but it does time and mileage and that’s all I need on the touring bike. The reason I’m riding a touring bike is to get away from caring about optimal cadence or whatever. I’ve not replaced the battery but I seem to recall that it looks fairly straightforward.

    So here’s the thing: I like Cateye and I like simplicity. Thus, for example, I’m happy with a wheel sensor.

    As for GPS, I’m patiently waiting for Garmin to put street maps and routing on their bike computers. I think that would be the killer app for people like me who get lost constantly.

  10. Comment by Dave Nice | 04.2.2007 | 9:29 pm

    Kinna like the planet bike portage 9.0 cheap seems to last tells you alot in one screen…. doesn’t have all that HR and cadance stuff though….

    305’s are cool just don’t trust it for full on navigation sometimes they can be more then a little off…

    The GPS I hope to have as my xmas gift to myself is this one:


    But well have to wait till after the GDR….. A few races next year i’ll need it, i’m guessing

  11. Comment by Brad | 04.2.2007 | 9:34 pm

    I have an Edge 305 and love it! Highly recommended!

    It is really great to be able to simply unclip the computer, and clip it on the other bike. While I’m not silly (read: fit/dedicated/strong) enough to go for long rides to test the battery life, I’ve certainly had no issues (I think I’ve done 3, three hour rides without charging it). I generally take it off the bikes regularly so I can hook it up to the PC and view the data – at that time, I leave it on to charge.

    I haven’t touched the cadence unit since I put it on the bike, but when I was researching the unit, I came to the conclusion that the cadence battery is very easy to change (it’s like a watch battery).

    Charlie Brown – I believe you can change the orientation of the mount fairly easily. By memory, the out-of-the-pack the mounts were setup in different orientations, but I changed mine around so that I had the mounts on the stem for both bikes.

  12. Comment by Token Skinny Guy | 04.2.2007 | 9:42 pm

    A couple of years ago I purchesed a shiny, new Cateye with everything. It was great… for about 2 months. First the cadence sensor stopped working. Then the speed. Then the distance. Then the… You get the idea. But at least the battery lasted! I’ve since gone minimilist and don’t use a cycle computer anymore. And that has nothing to do with me not wanting to see my pathetic speed in a head wind. No, nothing at all.

  13. Comment by matt | 04.2.2007 | 10:01 pm

    I can answer yes to both the asked and the unasked questions.

    I have replaced a battery in a bike computer (water got into it and corroded the contacts, shorting things out, but not killing it), plus I’ve also replaced the battery in a Polar CS200cad.

    The CS200 I’ve got is an under-the-table-don’t-mention-the-war-review-sample that has something not quite right inside it that means the “upload your bad ride statistics via demented crickets chirping” feature just chirps away whenever it feels like it (I hit a bump, I pass a stop sign, the sun passes through the orbit of Jupiter).

    The down side (other than the annoying noise down side) is that it occasionally eats through batteries. No way am I stumping up $$ for Polar to replace batteries (well, that and they’ll see “prototype” stamped on it and take it away!)

    I really should get myself an Edge 305, but practically everyone I know that has one has at least one ride recorded where they’ve crashed their brains out. Eeek!

  14. Comment by elfie | 04.2.2007 | 10:05 pm

    I have the Edge 305 w/cadence + hr and it rocks. Haven’t checked out the motionbased software, but even the Garmin Training Center program that comes with the Edge is pretty cool.

    There are some discrepancies in altitude readings due to how many satellites it’s seeing at any given time (the error factor is commonly about 25 to 35 ft. For the most part though, it works quite nicely.

    The other aspect that is less than perfect is gradient. You can be going up a hill that you know to be say, 6% and see the display bounce around between maybe 0 and 16%. Usually you will get a number that keeps appearing amidst all the random readings (-7%!!? I thought I was climbing!?) and you can have a pretty fair idea of gradient. The wild random numbers seem to get thrown out by the software at some point, because when you download your ride data the profile ends up looking like something a human could ride.

    There is a software update available on the website, so maybe that will straighten out the gradient thing — haven’t tried it yet.

    The battery lasts for about 12 hours before it needs a recharge, and it can be plugged into the wall or recharged through the USB connection to your computer.

    Another great thing is that you have two screens that you can customize with the data fields that you want, and toggling between them while riding is easy. Anyway, it provides some entertainment when slogging up a long hill.

    I briefly owned the CicloSport HAC4 which promised cadence, gradient, hr monitor, etc. but never got the freakin’ thing to work at all. CicloSport’s remedy was for me to ship it to Germany for repair. My remedy was to take it back to Performance and upgrade to the Edge.

  15. Comment by DeeperSouth | 04.3.2007 | 12:02 am

    No doubt a GPS based system is the way to go for mountain biking, but if you really want to travel down the dark path with coach Lofgran (whose name after all has a distinct whiff of sulphur and orcs) can I suggest you get a power meter?
    I have a powertap pro on my road bike which induces absolute, and usually very depressing, honesty in training. It also enables no end of geeky fiddling with software that tells you just how weak you are over 5 seconds, 5 minutes, and 5 hours.
    Of course the trouble is that when people see that fat, distinctive hub they expect you to be fast enough to justify the cash you’ve laid down on it, and that can be depressing too. But hey, pain and hate are crucial to the special bliss of road riding.
    The newer powertap sl comes in a wireless version, and you can build up a pretty light wheel around it. The batteries get chomped quickly, but they are cheap and easy to replace.

  16. Comment by Daniel S | 04.3.2007 | 2:54 am

    You already have a GPS you like, so why not just grab a cyclecomputer with cadence to get that bit of info. I would strongly recommend Sigma computers (in my limited experience). They have big clear displays, are very easy to operate, and don’t appear to die easily. I’m on my second one, only because the first was on my old bike when it got stolen :(

  17. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 04.3.2007 | 3:07 am

    Why doesn’t anybody ever admit to owning a cordless Shimano Flightdeck?

    I’m onto my 3rd (3 bikes, not 2 dead flightdecks). I have changed batteries in the senders after about a year and the head unit every 2-2.5 years and they all have o-ring seals that are user ummmm… useable. Never a leak. Never a problem.

    Just get yourself a cheap HRM and a Flightdeck and be done with it.

  18. Comment by Tg | 04.3.2007 | 4:02 am

    Fatty, Check your local watch shop at the mall. The one at my mall, called It’s About Time, had the batteries and were able to change my Polar. However, the problem still persists. I have to change the batteries about once a month.

  19. Comment by Wayne | 04.3.2007 | 4:03 am

    I have the 305 w/cadence. I get about 8-10 hours battery life per charge on the computer unit.

    I have now replaced the batteries in both the heart rate strap and the cadence sensor (both lasted about 6 months for me). They are very easy to replace. Go to your local grocery store and pick up a CR2032 battery (flat disk used in a bunch of things) for less than $2 and use a quarter to open the cover on the unit. Literally takes 30 seconds or so.

    I really like the unit. Haven’t had any issues other than the small altitude issues that others mentioned.

  20. Comment by slip | 04.3.2007 | 4:23 am

    dudes, i totally have one too. it’s the jam.

    especially considering i picked it up at an rei scratch & dent for $99 w/ cadence and heart rate.

  21. Comment by bikemike | 04.3.2007 | 4:25 am

    I’ve worked in a bike shop for the last 19 years and it is amazing the number of cycle-computers that have come and gone. Not going to bash any particular one, but there are too many choices. Everybody and their brother has a computer, helmet,glove.

    Garmin seems to be the new flavor and it looks like they’ve done their homework,especially in the simplicity of set-up mode. That’s one of the biggest problems I see with most of the other systems. Not only do you have to look at fourteen other languages in the manuals, but it would appear that the translation runs through all of them just to get to english.

    Just wait until next year when FSA comes out with their new road componet group and we get to figure out which chain and cassette, from company A works with companies D’s group.

    More choices are always better, right?

  22. Comment by Smeghead | 04.3.2007 | 4:56 am

    SRM, Ergomo, Powertap are the only computers you will ever need…
    The new Polar RS800 with GPS tracker is nice too…
    Garmin is of course very nice stuff..

    Switching batteries in HR-straps has happened… very easy on the latest Polar ones… Switching batteries in a Powertap hub … not that nice… but still ok.

  23. Comment by SyracuseStu | 04.3.2007 | 5:27 am

    I don’t even bother with cycle computers anymore. The only true message I ever got from them was the message that I haven’t ridden FAST or FAR enough! After a while is sucked the fun out of riding for me.

  24. Comment by william | 04.3.2007 | 5:29 am

    I have the 305 and it is very good, battery seems to last about the same as your forerunner thingy but you have to remember to charge it. If you have the sensor kit you can turn off the GPS and the battery lasts much longer, then works like a normal bike computer.
    I replaced the battery in my shimano flight deck computer 3 or 4 times over about 6 years until i got bored of it, so some of them are more robust than others (i did replace the mounting kit once though)

  25. Comment by ScottR | 04.3.2007 | 5:30 am

    I have the edge 305 with all the trimmings and really like it. Get about 6 hours of battery life on main computer (rechargable). I have not had to mess with the cadence sensor or the chest strap, but they have batteries that are designed to be replaced by the customer. No big deal. Plus motion based is really cool.

  26. Comment by nathanv | 04.3.2007 | 5:31 am

    i have the 305 sans cadence kit. i like mine lots.
    you would like it too. and yes you will be mocked.

  27. Comment by BklynNick | 04.3.2007 | 6:16 am

    I have replaced the batteries on my cyclocomputer… it’s a cateye astrale, and it started having a hard time with picking up the magnets after a few years. The display was also a little bit dim.

    New battery, ten seconds to replace it, and it’s good to go again.

    I used to have wireless, but just got frustrated with having yet another battery to replace, and the interference from RF sources was a little odd (95 mph anyone?)

    The only gripe I have with the astrales is that one of them (two computers on two bikes) snapped the retention tab off after a ride in the cold… the plastic just got a bit brittle and gave out when I removed the comp.

  28. Comment by Weean | 04.3.2007 | 6:21 am

    I’m with SyracuseStu on this one.

    When I was a younger man I used to have a big bit of masking tape over the main bit of the display so I could still practise spinning a nice 90-100 cadence without getting depressed about just how slow I was going (this was before programmable displays).

    I did try having the display in metric so it looked like I was going faster, but I was only cheating myself.

  29. Comment by Al Maviva | 04.3.2007 | 6:42 am

    Powertap is the way to go on the road bike, Fatty. I hate to say it, but there it is. Yep, I’m saving up for one. The SL, if you must know. Everybody I know who rides with one has gotten faster, probably due to the day-to-day, extreme humiliation that comes with them. Get better, or start riding an Electra Townie, knawatamean?

    As for the going slow part – a couple of my friends ride with powertaps, and on slow days, they ride slower than I do, even though I’m training with an HR monitor… ‘I’m keeping it at .7 IF, dude…” If you can’t handle getting passed by grannies and (seriously, by non-bicycling standards) fat dudes when you are riding recovery and feel compelled to hammer until you pass them, then you shouldn’t be racing because you don’t have the discipline to become a good racer, and riding with monitors is just a waste of your money anyhow.

  30. Comment by deepersouth | 04.3.2007 | 7:01 am

    Of course if you are wearing Assos and dragging a Powertap behind you then you are practically begging everyone else on the road to drop the hammer on you at the earliest opportunity. It takes the utmost fortitude to stick to recovery pace when you are bathed in shame. I’m not sure if a Reese’s jersey would mitigate the situation, but it might.

  31. Comment by Anonymous | 04.3.2007 | 7:28 am

    i have the polar 720i and am constantly jacking around with the HR strap to get it to work correctly. it’s constantly telling me my hr is at 210 when i’m resting or 72 when i’m going crazy in spinning class.

    and yeah, i’ve changed the battery in both the strap and the watch. just a couple of bucks to do it. i had to get the battery off ebay because, in Polar’s infinite wisdom, the watch battery isn’t the standard CR2035 or whatever. it has a little indentation that prevented a normal whatever battery from fitting. grrr….

    so after 3 years of jacking around with the silly thing, spending hours getting the wheel sensor exactly right on my fork, and applying gobs and gobs of spit to the chest strap in vain attempts to get the stupid thing working while i’m riding or spinning, i think i’m going for either the edge or forerunner 305.

  32. Comment by Uncadan8 | 04.3.2007 | 7:33 am

    I have the Edge 305 with Cadence and HR. I have found that the unit gives me an average cadence reading of between 2 and 7, so either I am really slow or I coast a lot. Maybe I need to adjust something, I don’t know. I have also noticed the discrepancy between ascending data and descending data. It isn’t usually much, but it is there. The data I get on the Garmin Training Center matches up with what I get on the Garmin, but Motionbased gives me all different kinds of numbers. For instance, MB will give me an average speed of 16.5 mph when the GTC gives me an average of 17.2 (like I had on my last ride).

    I have not done a long enough ride yet to tell whether it lasts 11 or more hours, but the length of charge does seem to be related to how often I change the screen and how many data fields I have on the screen. Basically, the less you play with it, the longer it lasts.

    I have replaced a battery in a HR chest strap before after about 3000 miles. It is easy to do, and any electronics shop will have the batteries. I got mine at Radio Shack.

  33. Comment by Chris | 04.3.2007 | 7:36 am

    OK, I only have the Garmin 205 (no HR or Cadence), but I still love it. Sure I’d like the $305, but the price is a bit steeper. I’d just like to recommend Garmin in general though. Quality product and very easy to use. Go for the 305, you won’t be disappointed.

  34. Comment by neil on wheels | 04.3.2007 | 7:38 am

    fatty, for what its worth, a single battery charge on the edge 305 got me through a 135-miler. I’ve also ridden a few centuries; the battery has never failed me.

  35. Comment by LanterneRouge | 04.3.2007 | 7:52 am

    “It takes the utmost fortitude to stick to recovery pace when you are bathed in shame.”

    deepersouth, that is the most profound thing I have ever read on this site.

  36. Comment by Al Maviva | 04.3.2007 | 7:52 am

    >>>It takes the utmost fortitude to stick to recovery pace when you are bathed in shame.

    True dat, but if you are into roadracing, then you understand it’s *all* about humiliation and shame. If you can’t chow down on little nuggets of shame and embarassment, then you shouldn’t be roadracing. As for getting dusted on recovery rides and shame baths… Why take a shame shower on the weekly hard group ride, when you can take a bath? Dostoyevsky said something about this that is worth thinking about when you wonder why serious roadies are mostly jerks:
    [T]he enjoyment was just from the too intense consciousness of one’s own degradation; it was from feeling oneself that one had reached the last barrier, that it was horrible, but that it could not be otherwise; that there was no escape for you; that you never could become a different man; that even if time and faith were still left you to change into something different you would most likely not wish to change; or if you did wish to, even then you would do nothing; because perhaps in reality there was nothing for you to change into.
    Ahh, yes. I love being a roadie. What was that you were saying about taking a shame bath?

  37. Comment by Anthony | 04.3.2007 | 8:03 am

    Fatty —

    My wife bought a Forerunner 305 with heart rate and cadence, uses motionbased.com and loves it. She’s not super-techy either. The only thing is that the cadence and speed sensor is a total PITA. I spend about 40 minutes trying to get it set up right.

    She uses it for running, cross-country skiing and cycling (on two different bikes) so the wristwatch format was perfect for her. If you’re at all considering just keeping the unit on one bike, I would think that the Edge 305 would make more sense.

    Personally, I use a Garmin eTrex Vista in a shock-absorbing mount. But, I don’t need heart rate or anything like that, I just need something to record tracks, distance and most importantly help me find my way out of the bush.


  38. Comment by John | 04.3.2007 | 8:06 am

    This whole discussion makes me want to Powertap on a $150 Wal-Mart special and then go on a club ride. Seriously, embrace the shit.

  39. Comment by Adam | 04.3.2007 | 8:37 am

    For those who have problems with the Polar HR strap you might want to look at using a pinch of salt on the sensor plate after you wet it. That improves conductivity. Some of us don’t perspire enough and our spit isn’t as conductive as you might want either so you get wierd readings. Using the salt gives a good connection until natural perspiration gets things going. I think I’m going to beg a little of the goop they use on EKG patches, though, in a small plastic bottle.

    Since I’ve started using the salt I’ve no more anomolous readings.

    I recommend a Keep It Simple approach: a simple HR monitor and the basics in a bike computer. Do you really need GPS? Maybe but mostly it’s speed and cadence and a record of how long etc. And HR is HR so find a unit that does that job well and you’ll solve your problem.

    Doesn’t it seem odd that we have these battery issues with bike computers? Seems like there’s enough vibrations etc going on so they could recharge themselves just off road bounce like a self-winding watch.

  40. Comment by will | 04.3.2007 | 8:42 am

    Bike Computers I’ve known:

    Schwinn star ratchet: loud, not calibrated, would double count when moving faster than around 20mph. Still, the coolest thing ever until I discovered the…

    Huret odometer. Other than occasionally losing the rubber drive belt when I took the wheel off of the bike, I liked this one. Quiet, no wires, waterproof. Replaced it with the….

    Avocet. Given to me by my parents when Avocet first started making them (1984?). It worked, ate batteries, and traveled from bike to bike until it left the collection when my beautiful Columbus SL bike got attacked/stripped/damaged beyond repair. It had all (but one) essential features of a cyclocomputer: speed, odometer, trip meter, and its sensor was silent. No backlight. Why don’t all cyclocomputers include a backlight? They aren’t expensive or new tech. I suppose most folks don’t want to read their odometer at night which is when I actually want one for navigation…. Many years later, I got the

    Cateye Astrale. It was a (thoughtful) gift. I don’t like having all the wires going to the back wheel (it is useful for winter gerbil-wheel training, though). I found the user interface to be, ah, unintuitive, and I spent far more time worrying about my cadence than watching the world around me. Once the battery died, I took it off of the bike. I still have it and may mount it to my road-racing bike next winter for Gerbil Season. The wheel revolution sender is a magnetic reed switch, activated by a magnet mounted to a spoke. It makes noise. In fact, the “ting” noise from the reed switch may drive you mad. One “ting” per wheel revolution. All cyclocomputers I’ve known other than the Avocet and, I suppose, GPS-based units share this design.

    Specialized Speedzone. It was another (thoughtful) gift. I must look like I need to quantify things while riding. It periodically went blank and required a reset, which I found to be suboptimal performance for a widget designed to record mileage. The battery would have been easily replaced, but not worth it. I recycled it (gave it away at a swap, with a warning). Removed with prejudice.

    Sigma bc1200. I actually paid for this one. Replaceable batteries (2Xsr44, last around 2 years of moderate to heavy use), reliable sender, readable screen, and so forth. It works fine. The mount has sharp-ish edges. The plastic battery cover is a bit fragile. Heavy-handedness with a jeweler’s screwdriver will split it. I fixed mine with silicone. It has traveled from bike to bike, and I’ll likely use it on my randonneur bike, which is not normally encumbered with such fripperies, come May.

    VDO MC30 or some such: My first foray into Wireless Bike Computers. It had a great user interface, was waterproof, and the batteries were easily replaced (both sender and head). It reset itself from time to time, usually 2/3 through a brevet. No thanks. Removed with extreme prejudice one wet night.

    Polar S720i: Not a gift. My wife still thinks I’m nuts for paying over two hundred USD for a bike computer. It has nearly everything under the sun–recording unit, altitude, speed, backlight etc, wirelessly downloaded to your computer. Optionally one can add power and a cadence sensor.

    I originally got it to close the tech-gadget-gap with the RacerBoyz in the office. I used it until I ran the battery in the head down (6mo), having discovered in the interim that I don’t really need to know too terribly much about my lunch rides. I do love plotting the data later, though. Replacing the batteries in the watch head requires a steady hand and a small screwdriver. Replacing the battery in the HRM strap is a medium sized hassle. Replacing the battery in the speed sender? I haven’t had to do it yet (3 years so far), but I bet it is a PITA to get into the sealed unit.

    I broke down, replaced the batteries in the head and strap, and put it back on my racing bike to simplify riding in the UMCA Year-Rounder program, which requires either a recording cyclocomputer or detailed receipts and witnesses for every ride. And for the joy of staring at a little box obsessively to see how hard I’m working. It requires a (proprietary) IRDA interface to rip data from the head. Overall, it is a full-featured HRM and an adequate cyclocomputer. I prefer the USD20 sigma or even the Cateye for basic use.

    You can measure how fast you go, the Power you put to the wheel, and how fast your hear beats, but what is the point? The best instumentation cannot measure the desire in your heart. Yet, anyway.

  41. Comment by dug | 04.3.2007 | 8:50 am

    this is the funniest thing you’ve ever said:

    “People will call me a huge nerd for having not just one GPS bike computer, but two.”

    um. really? you don’t think people are calling you a huge nerd anyway? uh huh.

  42. Comment by deepersouth | 04.3.2007 | 8:58 am

    Al, that is an exceptionally apt bit of Dostoyevsky.
    I once tried to explain this in cycling terms to a general newspaper audience (see http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=199345&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__sport/) but I’m not sure anyone followed me past the first paragraph.
    Patrick White’s Voss is another literary road racer, driving himself to his death in an epic journey of exploration across Australia (perhaps BikeMike can sympathise).
    I’m not Saris would see any of this as a desirable endorsment for the powertap, but then neither was Floyd’s ride to Morzine, measured on a powertap, but fuelled by fear, failure, and maybe a little something extra.

  43. Comment by fatty | 04.3.2007 | 9:05 am

    “you don’t think people are calling you a huge nerd anyway?” said dug, fondling his fourth elective (ie, acquired because of technolust, not because of need) mobile phone in the past eight months.

  44. Comment by Eljimador | 04.3.2007 | 9:52 am

    When my cycle computer appears to need new batteries I just clean the contact points where the computer snaps on to the mount. I haven’t changed a battery for almost four years now.

    A little water from riding in the rain or washing the bike is all it takes to corrode the copper contacts. Just take a little fine sandpaper and clean them up. Works wonders.

    It also helps to remove your computer from the mount and dry off the underside and the base after a rainy ride.

  45. Comment by GenghisKhan | 04.3.2007 | 10:37 am

    I like to keep it simple–I use the Clayton-Pratt two-gear roadometer. Simple and elegant, though splinters can sometimes be a problem. Still…

  46. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 04.3.2007 | 11:01 am

    Hey fatty, the Presbyterians taught me this one: Whack a bike rider with your van such that the biker becomes lodged, then you can readily report to the cyclist their speed, distance covered etc.

    I don’t use a computer, instead I carry a spare wheel and fork with me and while I’m riding I roll the extra wheel along while holding the fork. It’s the simplest thing to find out distance: I count the wheel revolutions and multiply by the linear distance covered by each rotation. Average speed is determined by dividing the distance by the elapsed time. The Mormons taught me that one.

  47. Comment by axel | 04.3.2007 | 11:05 am

    buy lots of these things. We, in the semiconductor industry need that.
    wireless preferred, sells more chips. GPS – even better, another chip.
    Then again, I think the battery people make the most money of this…

    Me I just listen to my heart and enjoy the scenery.

  48. Comment by the weak link | 04.3.2007 | 11:49 am

    About the Edge — you can download courses onto it, and that’s cool. I get cue sheets, map out the course with Course Creator 2, transfer it to my Garmin, and off I go. I still get lost, but it’s not the Garmin’s fault that my cerebral blood flow drops to about zero on long rides.

    Helpful hint — take your cadence sensor off before you ride the trails. It’s not built to take that kind of abuse.

  49. Comment by T1mm0 | 04.3.2007 | 11:52 am

    I’ve had my Edge 305 + HR/CAD for over a year now and love it. The one problem I did have was promptly solved by Garmin sending me an entire new unit from Taiwan to New Zealand so I certainly can’t fault their customer service.

    I love the Motionbased website to be able to share rides with folks and then if you get a windtrainer like this you can upload your outdoor rides to it and ride them again indoors.

    And then the ability to mashup your helmet cam footage with your ride data into something like this is just too cool…

    ~ He who dies with the most toys wins ~

  50. Comment by dpcowboy | 04.3.2007 | 12:48 pm

    I am going to write this and vow never to read Fred-like stuff ever again.
    Reading all of this hurt. Ow.
    You don’t need a cycle computer. You don’t need cadence sensors and heart monitors and all you really need is to know that Axel is right.

  51. Comment by Eufemiano Fuentes | 04.3.2007 | 2:11 pm

    did you hear the news? and did you see the picture in Velonews? holy crap, he hasn’t been eating the grapefruit

  52. Comment by Tg | 04.3.2007 | 2:20 pm

    Fatty, we are anxiously awaiting a for a Fat Cyclist Fake News Report on Der Kaiser and his DNA turning up in the OP blood.

  53. Comment by Ben | 04.3.2007 | 2:26 pm

    yep, forerunner 305, 2 cadence sensors, 1 on road bike, 1 on tri bike. Have to rescan when switching bikes but that takes all of 5 seconds. Had to change the battery on one of the cadence sensors when it arrived (supposedly they installed a bunch the wrong way round but this one was actually dead). No hassle other than keeping the right batteries around. haven’t had to change the hrm strap battery yet. Love the forerunner. But the screen did die on my first one, just got a new one under warranty, lost all my training center data as it made me create a new profile and hosed the old one. Not too upset about this though as had copied the data to elsewhere as expected this to happen.

    Also have a cateye cordless 7 on each bike that predate the garmin. No cadence. I hate wired ones and the wire is always where they crap out so the cordless is fine and relatively cheap, especially if on offer from performace etc.

  54. Comment by Kristina | 04.3.2007 | 2:41 pm

    I LOVE my Shimano Flight Deck cyclometer. It shows cadence as well without an extra kit as it knows which gear I am in from the shifter. I have had it since 2001 and have replaced the batteries twice. Only one battery to replace and I can get it at any drug store (like Bartells). It works consistently and is not affected by the Seattle rain.

  55. Comment by Mrs. Coach | 04.3.2007 | 2:54 pm

    Good heavens, the techies are a passionate bunch aren’t they, they come out in droves. I couldn’t even read all the comments this time becuase I didn’t know what the heck anyone was talking about.

    FC- If you really want the polar to still work (yeah, i get the irony) email Bob and he might be able to just take care of it for you.

    Botched- what the heck is the fork for?

  56. Comment by MTB W | 04.3.2007 | 3:05 pm

    OK, I must be the only dork who got a Polar S150. I originally got the S120, which is essentially the watch with a HR monitor but the HR battery went dead within a month. Then, stupidly, I “upgraded” to the S150, which includes the basic bike functions, however, you have to tightly attach the watch to the bike so that the connects tightly to the wire to the wheel sensor. I have never been able to get the stupid watch to attach tight enough (every time hit a bump or a cloud passes overhead, it stops keeping track). I now just use the watch as, well, a watch. I have no idea how far I go or fast (or lack thereof) but sometimes its nice not to have to constantly think what my hr is or how fast I am going, but just enjoy the ride. And yeah, I make no pretenses that I am a true racer. I ride b/c I enjoy it.

  57. Comment by Jeremy | 04.3.2007 | 4:13 pm

    I bought the Edge 305 with HR and Cadence as a Christmas present for myself. I (somewhat) patiently scanned ebay until I got a great deal ($160 including shipping) on a brand new unit. I haven’t had any problems in 4+ months with the HR strap or cadence sensor batteries, though changing the batteries isn’t that difficult. I am definately the battery charging Nazi when it comes to the GPS itself, and since my longest ride of the year has only been 2.5 hours I can’t speak to battery life on it. You also have to keep in mind that the altitude data comes via a barometric altimeter, so changes in air pressure will make your readings vary: It’s very common that my start/finish point will be as much as 20 feet different even though it’s the exact same spot on my front porch. From my experience, if you are at least a little mechanically inclined you can handle installation, etc. Besides, having all that data at your fingertips is really cool!

  58. Comment by Al Maviva | 04.3.2007 | 5:31 pm

    MTB, I’m sure you’re not the only dork with a Polar S150. I bet all the dorks have them. (PS – one of my collection of HR monitors is an S150. I don’t even try to do the bike functions with it.)

    DeeperSouth – thanks. I think Dostoyevsky may have been a stage racer. The phrase that paragraph puts me in mind of is “prisoners of the road,” the Londres essay on the 1924 Tour, when the doped up Pellisier brothers and their friend Ville abandoned due to a capricious rules change / enforcement choice by promoter / madman Henri Desgrange. They later denied the doping and said Ville was just joking, and they made up with Desgrange. That pretty much sums up racing – goofy promoter / official decisions, doping allegations, denial of doping, and the riders are prisoners of the road. I like that phrase, it sums up the compulsion to ride.

  59. Comment by IndoorRolyPoly | 04.3.2007 | 6:40 pm

    Funny you should write about this today. I was just looking at the forerunner and the edge tonight. I’m starting to take my roadie outdoors a bit more and figured it might be a nice upgrade to my CS200cad that I have been using for the past year. Granted I haven’t had the problems with my SC200 batters and I absolutely dig that polar unit. I still figured it would be cool to have the GPS.
    after weighting the pros and cons I figured I would probably destroy the Garmin with my MTB skills or lack there of. I also still like and ride my rollers far more then “real” road work.(It’s hard to get the GPS speed option to work in a static state.)

  60. Comment by IndoorRolyPoly | 04.3.2007 | 6:55 pm

    and by the way you can get a new speed senor for about 30 bucks. (it’ll save you 15 bucks just on shipping, or 45 bucks on service charges)
    The battery on the back of the head unit can be accessed by using a coin.
    and I have never needed to turn my CS200 off. it has always turned off on its own. I wonder if you got a unit that was sitting on the shelf at the store for a while.

  61. Comment by Debamundo | 04.3.2007 | 9:21 pm

    I have a Cateye Astrale 8. It has cadence, you can change the battery yourself, it is simple to use but has everything you need, and it rocks! It is not wireless. A skilled installer can make the wires nearly invisible. My bike shop guy does it for me. My husband had some fancy schmancy wireless computer, an expensive one that would do everything, and it was more trouble than it was worth. He ditched it for the Astrale 8 and loves it.

    Polar sucks. I have two Polar HR monitors that are dead because they need sent in for batteries. I’ve sent them in many times. They seem to last a year or less and it’s a huge pain in the butt. I agree that a boycott of Polar is in order.

  62. Comment by Rekkert | 04.3.2007 | 10:48 pm

    My wife has a CS200cad on her bike, functionally it’s a great computer, but I share your annoyance with the battery arrangements. I have changed the battery in the main unit but the sensors are sealed and have to be returned to Polar. My other issue is that the data can only be downloaded to the Polar web site.

    As for the Edge 305, I have one of those – the GPS tracking along with the MotionBased site is very good, and there a quite a few features which though entertaining are of questionable real value. There are also a lot of bugs.

    If you believe in value for money, you will expect that an expensive unit like the Edge should do what it claims to do – accurately and reliably. This is not the case, and you only need to go the MotionBased forum to get an idea about this.

    There are those on the forum who are willing to forgive the many problems, but a perfectionist such as you Fatty, will be really pissed.

  63. Comment by Dopey | 04.4.2007 | 9:45 am

    Your problem is you have a Polar. Polar thinks you are an incompetent boob (well, maybe their right) and can’t change a battery or O-ring yourself, plus they think their crap don’t stink. John was pretty much correct with his comments. I have changed batteries in my Sigma, Cateye, and Mavic (wireless cadence and speed) with zero problems. I do envy your Garmin.

  64. Comment by Sprocketboy | 04.4.2007 | 12:23 pm

    This is an interesting discussion as I have been looking for a fancy new computer for my new bike. I wanted cadence and altitude for training purposes and was thinking how nice it would be to have power indications as well. You can’t really get everything together but I thought that the Garmin Edge might be the ticket. Having read the comments here and on amazon.com I am not so sure and just might wait until at least the battery life is improved. I have also been watching the iBike website as new features are added but there seem to e some other issues with this computer as well. Cadence is now available but no HR. I have used Cateye computers and a separate HRM for years on my various bikes with great success. I presently have a wired Mity 3 on the bike I keep at the office for lunchtime rides, a wireless Mity 8 on my touring bike, and a CC-HR200DW, which has a HRM built in, for my time trial bike. They all work very well and no problem changing batteries.

    On my new go-fast bike I have for the time being taken the Ciclo434M that was on my old go-fast bike. This is a nice unit that includes an altimeter. It is German and therefore has 55 functions, meaning it is not so user-friendly. It is supposed to be downloadable but in five years I have yet to figure out how to do this since the instructions are so vague and unhelpful. It has three batteries which last exactly one year and are easy to change. It has been discontinued but I have just found a cadence attachment for it on E-bay and will try this out.

    Although I am quite happy to just go and ride my bike it is fun to see how the training is going and use the Internet sites that let you track your activities. I think Garmin should give Fatty a 305 so he can give us a graphic report. I would like to read about the iBike even more but I don’t think it is suitable for mountain biking.

  65. Comment by amy | 04.6.2007 | 9:05 am

    I picked up an edge 305 with cadence last week (don’t b slap me I got it at Walmart.com – but now see the same price at amazon).
    Its really cool and fun to download to motionbased. I’m a mac user so waited until the software was available – also trailrunner.x is another cool gps program to download it to if your a mac user.

  66. Comment by trust but verify | 08.11.2007 | 11:26 am

    I too had adopted Fatty’s ‘buy a cheap one because it’ll break anyway’ philosophy. Then that bastard Landis convinced me I really had to know how bad I was by getting a powertap 2.4.


    I am not looking back. (a) it works (b) no wires (c) it stays on even when descending bumpy stuff. I expect it to last long enough to need to change batteries, but no need yet after about 2000 miles.

    I am not totally sold on the free Poweragent software, but I’m a professional geek and picky.


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