Review: Garmin Edge 520 Cycling Computer ($250 USD)
Often when a cyclist in a bike shop meanders over to the cycling computer shelf, it’s a question of, “What computer fits my basic needs?” Should a cyclist just fire up the Strava app and let it be? Is a Lezyne Macro good enough? If we are staying small, what about the Garmin 25? Going bigger means more choices. There’s Wahoo, Garmin, SRM, Stages, and Pioneer, among others. Then there are bundles, power meters, dongles and speed sensors and… you know what? I’ll just take this water bottle and be on my way. The waters of cyclocomputers are needlessly perilous.
If your calendar is dominated by racing on the road, criterium, or the velodrome, SRMs are the way to go. If basic ride tracking and minimalist handlebar space is your game, Lezyne prides itself in its wristwatch-sized devices. They also come in some pretty cool colors. The Macros connect to your phone and give you the liberty to worry about your road selection after you climb off the bike. That’s often just our game. But sometimes there’s that feeling of wanting more. Not much more; just a little bit. If that’s the case, the Garmin Edge 520 is just what you’re looking for.
With a larger screen and Bluetooth compatibility, the Garmin 520 comes ready to meet your every riding need. Open the box and slide out the device. With it comes an array of extra parts. If you want to mount the head unit to your stem, Garmin has sent you the attachment. Want a mount to put the 520 out front? Garmin has you covered with that, too. Also in the box come two manuals, a USB cable, retention leash, plus several gaskets to make everything snug. It’s like past Garmin users' voices coming out for suggested included accessories.
Let’s put the most attractive feature out there first: The Garmin Edge 520 takes very little effort to pair with devices. Within five minutes I had the head unit locating my iPhone and heart rate strap. Heading downstairs, head unit in hand, it located the Saris Hammer with no effort at all. The longest part of the whole process was downloading the Garmin Connect App so the unit could beam information to my Strava account. This was surprisingly headache free. I guess I should put the disclaimer out there that the creakybottombracket.com IT department did all the pairing (ie: The Missus, who is remarkably proficient at all things Garmin). It should be a selling point that, though I am a bit slow to understand machinery, the 520 began making sense to me on the first day.
Then as I began to mess around with the unit itself, the world began to unfurl in front of me. I reconfigured the screen to read the information I wanted to see. Because I have an old Garmin heart rate strap, I put the HRM field on my display. I put my speed, ride time, and distance traveled also on the display for ease of visibility. These fields are completely customizable. One could choose to have one display or up to five, with varying levels of information of the five displays. Another words bring a power meter to the party and swap out ride time. Add a cadence sensor (not included) and add that to the display. You thought you came here to be convinced of a Garmin 520, now we’re talking about other purchases.
In discussion boards a question arose regarding Strava Premium segments that would pop up on screen during a ride. People were wondering how to control when a segment would get displayed on the Garmin 520 screen. Should one have Strava Premium linked to a phone, the Garmin will alert you to a segment - your 'starred segment' - chosen in the app prior to the ride. If you have ‘starred’ any segment within Strava, that will get transmitted to your Garmin Edge display and alert you that a segment is about to start. Should you find this aggravating in the offseason, or you have moved on from that particular segment (or even segments in general), you can un-star all segments from Strava app and the alerts will cease. This is definitely a cool feature, with options of comparison including your best effort, a Virtual Partner, or the KOM/ QOM’s effort. Strava Beacon can be activated into your Garmin meaning a suspicious abrupt stop could notify your In Case of Emergency contact.
The screen’s functions also have ease-of-riding capabilities prioritized. Whenever a text message is sent to our smart phone, the text shows up in the lower third of the Garmin screen. The same is true for incoming phone calls. This came in handy when a bonafide emergency happened at home and I had to book it back. The screen also shows changes in weather in case a threat is looming and shelter should be sought quickly. The Garmin is considered water resistant to three meters and has a rubber gasket folding over the recharge port though I wouldn’t risk using it in a downpour. If severe weather is rolling in, we’ll try to find a coffee shop and wait it out.
Moving over the GPS capability and the Garmin builds on its dominance as a guidance unit. We have downloaded directions from event websites through the app RideWithGPS and were given turn-by-turn instructions throughout. What the 520 doesn’t have that the larger Garmins come with is mapping features to show where you’re going/ where you’ve been. The 520 gives you turn arrows to stay on course instead of a map, a feature of the bigger units. The Edge 520 is geared for the competitive cyclist more than the randonneur. Turn-by-turn yes. Giant on screen maps, no.
Along the same line as the GPS capability, the Garmin 520 is completely programmable with regards to workouts. Simply log into the Garmin Connect app and transfer your workout into the application. Online forums have stated much fandom for this feature specifically for those who have coaches looking to gain workout insight. Got a structured workout for the trainer? Load it into the Garmin Connect app where each split is called ‘steps.’ A warm-up can be as long as necessary; the rider then would go into ‘Step One’ which is the first effort, 'Step Two' is recovery or a second split and so on. This takes the structured workout off of the trainer and onto the roads where it should be.
Once the ride has finished, simply spin the unit a quarter-turn on the mount and go indoors with it. When the unit is within a few feet of the Ant+ stick (sold separately), the day’s workout can be uploaded remotely via Bluetooth. Gone are the days of having to plug the unit into the computer to force each party to talk to each other. Immediately the route is beamed to Strava through connected accounts and an email confirming the upload was successful. Just like I said in the beginning, this computer makes everything simple.
Should you decide to want all the goodies, Garmin sells the 520 Bundle (around $350 USD), which throws in a heart rate monitor as well as cadence and speed sensor. Or you could mix and match with them separately after the purchase. With a fifteen-hour battery life between charging, you’d be hard-pressed to exhaust the unit. The Bluetooth can also add Garmin Vector 3 or Power Tap P1 pedals to add a power unit. That is a lot of number crunching at your fingertips.
So after all of this, should you buy it? As stated in the beginning, this is the do-it-all cycling computer. Want wattage, distance, and average speed information from your local pick-up crit? This computer hardly breaks a sweat. Want a basic GPS system for your next Gran Fondo? This computer can do that as well. Want relative ease of access to other information such as text messaging, incoming calls, Strava, Garmin Connect workouts, and weather? How much more information is neglected beyond that? The approach to this purchase was size and amount of information offered. If we wanted a larger Garmin we could have feasibly bought a smartphone holder and saved the money for an 820 or 1030. After all this information we will definitely have to take a recovery day, which the Garmin Edge 520 will let us know when to take it. For the most versatile, compact, and information-laden computer, the Garmin Edge 520 is it. Most local bike shops carry at least one of these because of their popularity. Be sure to pick one up on your next visit.
The Garmin Edge 520 was reviewed, not the Garmin Edge 520 Bundle. The Bundle comes with a heart rate strap and cadence/ speed sensor. Ask your local bike shop for clarity when making a Garmin purchase. Further Garmin accessories can be purchased such as the Garmin VIRB camera and/ or Varia Rearview Radar.