Sunday, December 16, 2012

Garmin 305 vs 500

garmin 500 with BarFly
My Garmin Edge 305 cycling GPS thingy has been having some odd behavioral issues lately. More importantly, all the cool kids have Garmin 500s, so clearly exploring (read "buying") the newer model is in order.

My 305 seems to crash regularly when I try to upload to Strava, and the battery occasionally goes dead when I think I've charged it . When I ride with the 500 crowd my climbing figures are always higher. A lot higher. All this, plus promised longer-life battery charges, faster boot up time, lighter weight (OK, that really didn't matter,) temperature recording (is that cool or what?) and a big sale at finely pushed me over the edge (Garmin Edge 305, Garmin Edge 500, get it?) Plus, I can use my existing heart rate strap and cadence sensor. And, when I get a Power Tap power meter from Santa or some local charity (hint hint) it will handle the ANT+ signal from that and display it. Sure, I'll never really have a Power Tap, but just in case.... Anyway, I bought the 500.

I was also happy to discover that the mounting system for the 500 could be replaced by a nifty third-party item called a "Bar Fly" that puts the unit out in front of the handlebars and is just way cool. I was less happy when I found out it cost almost $40. I got all happy again when I found one on eBay for $19, which seemed like a fair price for something that should only cost $6 in a more reasonable world.

When I unboxed the Gramin and started setting it up, going through the endless beep-beep-beep of pushing tiny buttons a zillion times to navigate through myriad screens I discovered an oddity. On my old 305 I could set my maximum heart rate right on the unit with those annoying buttons. With the 500 I had to use Garmin Connect, their online tool for logging rides. Naturally this entailed downloading updated versions of Garmin Connect and Garmin Web Updater to my Mac, then creating a (thankfully) free account for a service I'll never use, plugging in the numbers on a web page then downloading the info to the unit.  In the end it worked, (I think) but what a pain.

Another issue I know I'll have to face is that of a battery extender. My 305 runs about 8 hours, which works for most rides. But double centuries at my speed need more that a 8 hour window. I bought a Minty Boost external battery pack (blog entry on the Minty Boost) and have been very happy with it. With a couple of high-end AA batteries in it I can get through a 19 hour ride with power to spare.

Apparently the Garmin 500 has some weird "feature" that causes it to drop out of it's functioning GPS mode and into a charge-only mode when connected an external power pack. Endless searching on the web suggests that adding a resistor between specific pins of the USB charging cable solves this problem, but that level of electronic and soldering magic is beyond my meager skills. There are third-party battery packs, but the descriptions are annoyingly vague on whether they will power, or merely charge a Garmin 500.

Fortunately, the 500 has a claimed 18 hour battery life, so I won't need anything extra unless I attempt another double, which wouldn't be any time soon anyway.

After waiting out the weather and finally getting a ride in I discovered the BarFly is flippin' great. I holds the computer out in front of the bars where it's a lot easier to see. Plus, it just looks totally cool. I'm really glad I got it.

The Garmin 500 seems to have a couple of key differences from my 305.

  1. It records elevation gain lower than the 305. Really, it may be right, or not. Elevation gain is really a philosophical issue as much as a physical issue. What counts? Every bump, or vibration, or only changes of more than 6 inches? Or a foot? Or three feet? It relates to the age old question: How long is the coast of Britain? I'm not sure but I know at least my numbers will match all my Garmin 500 friends, even though my stats will be lower than with my 305.
  2. It records temperature. It responds slowly, and I know 500 units set next to each other read differently, but it's something fun to look at.
  3. It transfers data a zillion times faster. At first I thought it didn't transfer. It was so fast I didn't see progress. I thought it didn't work, but no, it was so fast I didn't see it happen.  I'm good with that. The 305 sometimes seemed like it would never finish.
I haven't tried setting the screens to page by yet, and I haven't tried "courses," which claims to provide some sort of minimal navigation help. I'll test these features sometimes when the weather is less wet. As they say on TV, "Film at 11:00."


  1. I likewise found that the 500 records a lower elevation gain than the 305 -- at least 20% lower. Which I suppose only matters if you're doing some sort of elevation gain challenge thingy.

  2. I like the 500 too, although occasionally it inexplicably won't attain the satellite and has to be rebooted. Went to the website to figure that out. Also with the 305 the Garmin software would autostart when the unit was attached via usb, but this does not occur with the 500.... strange!


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