I’ve had the Garmin Edge 510 for just about a year now. Long enough that I know exactly what I like and dislike about it for reals — as opposed to the things I thought I’d find awesome when I got the thing (Full Disclosure: of the two Garmin Edge 510s The Hammer and I own, we purchased one; the other was given to us at no charge by Garmin).
And there are a lot of things I do — and don’t — like about about it.
Me as a Use Case
I should probably give you an idea of what kind of Garmin Edge 510 user I am. That’s pretty easy: I use it on pretty much every ride — mountain, road, and TT — and I ride between five and seven times per week. And before I used the 510, I used the 500 for a few years, and loved it.
And while I use the GPS itself all the time, I don’t use any of the things it can wirelessly connect to. I don’t connect to any ANT+ devices like a power meter or speed/cadence sensor. I also don’t use a heart rate monitor.
So I’ve been using Garmin bike computers for a while, and I use the 510 a lot. And that brings a point that needs to be underscored before I start picking at nits: Garmin is making bike computers that are really light, easy to read, and — above all — reliable. I have rattled the 510 through a huge number of miles on chipseal, over hundreds of miles on sandstone, in the rain and snow, and have crashed my bike with it mounted an untold number of times.
And this bike computer has never stopped working.
Even when The Hammer’s 510 broke free of the mount at around 35mph, tumbling on pavement until it (eventually!) came to a stop, it still kept working — the rubberized casing looking a little beat-up, but still functioning perfectly.
The only other electronic device I’ve ever had that is so real-world resistant is Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting.
So huge kudos go to Garmin for building a bike computer that seems capable of being mounted to any bike and being used on any terrain, in any weather, without shorting out. Phone manufacturers could learn a lot from the bombproof behavior of the Garmin Edge 510.
Battery Life = Amazing
So, apart from reliability, what do I love about the 510? Well, first and foremost: battery life. I’ve ridden with it for more than seventeen hours on a single charge. That’s impressive.
And I love the size of the screen (1.7” tall, 1.4” wide). It’s big. Big enough so you can fit a ton of information on the screen for when you’re in the mood for knowing everything:
Or — for when you just want the basics you can set up the view to be nice and big, making it easy to find what you need to know at a glance:
And as long as I’m showing you what my screen setups are like, here’s the one I use when I’m racing — the one that shows me what I need to know and only what I need to know, and is easy to read instantly, even when I’m standing and pedaling at my absolute maximum effort:
In case you’re wondering what my main memory of the Leadville 100 will be in just under two weeks, you’re looking at it right there: how far have I gone, and how long has it taken me?
Doing the Normal Stuff
The 510 has an outrageous number of features; if you want to do something with a GPS, it probably has the capability built in. And the menu can feel like a labyrinth when you’re trying to — for example — set it up to let you race against someone else’s best effort on a Strava segment. (Yes, it can be done, but it’s not easy.)
That said, the stuff you need to do often, like starting, stopping and saving a ride, are very easy to do. Switching between how much is shown on the screen is as easy as swiping your thumb across the screen (I have mine set up to let me cycle between the three views you see above just by swiping).
More Good Stuff
The 510 has some really nice little touches, too. If you’re riding at night, the GPS just knows and reverses out the display, so it doesn’t blind you with too much light when you tap on the screen to turn the LED on to look at it.
It also — if you’re willing to take the time to learn it — is able to become really personalized. For example, I’ve disabled the “turn off after inactive” feature, since I’ve had it turn off moments before a race starts. And I’ve set up alerts so it lets me know every ten miles I’ve ridden, as well as every half hour — an excellent trick to remind you to eat every half hour of a race.
And maybe best of all is how fast this thing acquires a GPS signal. Unlike in the old days, when you had to wait a few minutes after turning on the GPS before it knew where it is, the Garmin Edge 510 is ready to go usually within fifteen seconds of turning it on. That’s pretty awesome.
Stuff I Thought I’d Love, But Don’t
I use the color touchscreen on my phone constantly, every single day. And it works great.
But this ease of use doesn’t translate to the Garmin Edge 510.
I thought I would love having a touchscreen for a Garmin. And I thought having a color screen would be awesome.
Well, the color screen is all but meaningless. During the actual ride, you don’t get much color. And in fact, when talking about the pros and cons of the 510 with The Hammer, she was surprised when I told her the 510 has a color display.
When you’re riding, all you care about is contrast. Color isn’t any kind of advantage.
As for the touch screen, well…I hate it. Here’s why.
As a cyclist, I tend to sweat. And thanks to gravity, I tend to drip a lot of sweat onto the 510 screen, to the point where the salt deposits render the screen opaque.
So I go to wipe the screen off…and suddenly, by me wiping sweat off the display, I’m at a different screen altogether. Worse, there’s a good chance that I’ve actually changed the settings on the 510 somehow — like modified the unit of measurement so it’s cubits or something.
This gets annoying for me, but it’s a full-on horror show for The Hammer, who doesn’t love technology as much as I do. She’ll try to clean off her screen and suddenly find out that she’s reformatted the Garmin as a Unix computer and has furthermore initiated the launch sequence for a manned mission to Mars.
“How do I get back to the main screen?” she’ll ask.
“I don’t know,” I’ll answer.
[Update: A few people have let me know that this feature already exists. You tap the power button, then press the “lock” icon in the lower corner of the screen. Thanks for letting me know! - FC]
Software Enhancement Idea for Garmin: a “screen lock” feature that makes it so you can wipe off your screen without causing all sorts of shenanigans.
Screen-Cleaning Tip for People with Touch Screen Garmins: Wipe your screen off using a right-to-left swiping motion. That way you’ll just cycle through your activity screens, instead of going deep into the arcane menu system.
Bluetooth: No Thanks
Probably the biggest disappointment to me in the Edge 510 is the Bluetooth capability. Where Garmin could have made it so the GPS would talk with your phone or computer and upload to Strava, it instead limits Bluetooth interaction to its own walled garden of apps.
I don’t use any of those, and so the Bluetooth capability is entirely worthless to me (plus it drains the battery of both your phone and GPS). I’ve disabled the Bluetooth on my 510.
For Entertainment Purposes Only
So that’s the good and the bad. Garmin has a couple of features that are — essentially — just silly. Specifically, I’m talking about the Gradient feature, which allows you to show how steep your current climb (or descent) is.
Which is fine, except…have you ever actually used that feature on a 510? The gradient changes every single second. And not by a tenth of a percent, either. No. It goes like this: 3%…5.7%…-2%…4%…9%…1%…6%….
Which would be fine — if you were riding a roller coaster.
The other thing about the 510 that cracks me up is the thermometer. I’m not saying it’s not accurate, because there is some correlation between what the 510 reports and how warm or cold it is outside. It’s just that there seems to be random number between one and ten that the Garmin chooses to either add or subtract from that temperature. And I know for sure that The Hammer and I have never, not even once, ever had the same temperature appear on our bike computers, in spite of the fact that we’ve spent the entire ride within three feet of each other.
Should you buy a Garmin bike computer? Well, if you like seeing, recording, and otherwise quantifying your bike rides, then absolutely you should.
The question is, which?
Honestly, there just isn’t a lot of new functionality in the 510 to warrant the $130 price premium over the Garmin Edge 500. For $200, this smaller bike computer has essentially all of what I love in the 510, but with a much smaller price…and without the negatives in the 510.
What I would love for Garmin to manufacture, really, would be something between the 500 and the 510: just the functionality of the 500, but with the larger screen (but not touchscreen, and just black and white) of the 510. Maybe use some of the extra space for a larger, longer-lasting battery and make it the most perfect cycling computer ever.
Call it the 505, Garmin. And put me on the pre-order list for a couple of them.