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Garmin 520 Review

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I was lucky enough to find a Garmin 520 under the Christmas tree this year (thanks Laura) and have been using it as a key training tool for the 2016 season. With the help of this little bad boy, I have managed to close the fitness gap to the FTP beasts that I call teammates…well, mostly closed the gap.

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First impression of the unit is that it is easy to use, has nice big data screens, comes with additional sensors (cadence, speed, HR) and has multiple mounts for several bikes.

 

 

I mounted it on my Venge along with the external sensors and began the 2016 year with the new Garmin. First ride with it was great as the screen was easy to see as I set it up to display 5 separate data fields (speed, cadence, HR, timer and distance). The 520 can display up to 10 fields on the main screen (for total data junkies), with a secondary screen that can relay up to four fields of info on laps or intervals. The diversity of info that the rider can choose to display on either screen is so vast that I had trouble choosing. Apart from the basic info that one would expect, you can choose from a whole range of power, cycling dynamics, pedaling smoothness and efficiency, heading, ascent, descent and gradient just to name a few. There is actually a separate data screen for climbing that displays total ascent, gradient and maps the profile of the ride as it happens…almost too much stuff!  Lots on offer to keep the brain in the game on longer rides.

 

 

The 520 also has a navigation screen that operates similar to the car units where it has access to the multitudes of Garmin maps for when you are riding in unfamiliar places. A couple of clicks here and there and you pretty much can’t get lost anymore! Finally, if all that rider-generated data isn’t enough, you can set up the 520 to do live segments on Strava. It is a little bit of a process, but once it is set up it gives live feedback during your KOM chasing endeavours. Nothing like seeing those seconds go negative as you crush some poor commuters neighborhood KOM.

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I opted for the “in front of the bar” mount on the Venge which is quite handy as it places the head unit in plain view for those times you are chewing on the stem. This mount has the firmest grip on the head unit of the various mounts included, and seemed most likely to prevent flying Garmins. It does also come with a safety strap just in case.

 

 

The first few rides with the 520 were great as the GPS tech in this unit was far better then the tech in my old my old Garmin Forerunner. The info displayed was updated much quicker and more accurately with few drop outs and better tracking of elevation. I really liked the cadence feature as it was great training aid in detecting fatigue and keeping the legs as fresh as possible. The unit even has a backlight function for riding at night which changes the screen to illuminate the numbers in white on a black background. Very cool and very useful on those Tripleshot morning sufferfests.

 

 

As much as I enjoyed the Garmin 520 on it’s own, when I paired it to a Stages Power Meter it became a game changer for me. It was so easy to do (install Stages crank arm and hit calibrate on head unit – that’s it – now I have power) and provided even more key data for training. I opted for 3sec average power to be displayed and became completely enamored with my new toy. It was really informative to see how pedaling power and HR are not as linked as you might think. Once connected to a power meter the 520 offers some features that I found very cool. First, it can auto-calculate your FTP from hard efforts on rides and even offers preprogrammed tests to determine actual FTP. Word of warning: do not try the FTP tests on a trainer. This will be a humbling experience and will most likely short you about 50 watts from a real world measure. The 520 can also estimate VO2Max, and based on your training volume and intensity, has a recovery advisor that estimates time needed for recovery from each ride. It also indicates at the beginning of each ride your recovery status from green (go for it), yellow to red (go to bed) that helps in deciding daily workout plans.

 

 

Living with the 520 has been great. It uploads very quickly and can be linked to your phone and uploaded via Bluetooth when you are away from home. It can be linked to Strava or Garmin Connect directly as well. The battery charges pretty quickly and it does last for up to 10+ hours depending on screen brightness. I will say that running the backlight continuously does cut the battery life to about 5 hours…but that hasn’t been a problem yet. Overall I am confident to say that the 520 is an amazing training aid for the serious racer or just a super fun toy for the avid cyclist. It does carry a price premium over the 510 model which has many of the same features but does not have the live segments feature. It is significantly less pricey then the 800 or 1000 so I would say that the 520 is the bang for buck leader of the Garmin cycling computers, with the 510 being the value leader. If you can afford a Garmin 1000, I’d say get a 510/520 instead and spend the extra bucks on a power tracking system. You will get faster!

 

Eugene Hahn

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The Skinny on Eugene:

Eugene Hahn is a 40 something Victoria resident who enjoys riding both road and mountain bike but sees himself as a roadie. Eugene recently leaped back into competitive cycling in 2014 with the Victoria Wheeler’s after leaving the race scene in 2001. His love of the bike didn’t stop in 2001, he kept riding for fun and fitness while spending more time with his family.

 

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