Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review: Garmin 705

One of the reasons I started this blog was to avoid some repetitive email responses to questions such as 'how do you like the Garmin 705'? In summary, this device has revolutionised my training on the bike and has opened up a world of navigation possibilities. I've been using it for 9 months now - my main points are as follows:

Recording Data:
The beauty of the Garmin is that there are no unreliable wheel sensors required and it works whether you're road riding, mountain biking or running / hiking. I have it set so it will auto start / stop so you only record ride time and not coffee stops. The other key benefit over Polar etc. is that you have 8 (customisable) data fields on the main screen which means you can see everything, including gradients and elevation, on one screen. There is a 2nd screen accessable by the toggle that I use for lap functions. If you want / need to see the map, you scroll through to it and, again, it's customisable in terms of what you see there. Also, the Garmin HR monitor is much more reliable than the Polar. If you're lucky enough to have a wireless Powertap / SRM then the Garmin will also sync with that- nice to know.

Analysing Data:
Here is where I find Garmin has some work to do- the software supplied is a bt chocolate teapot. Far more functional is Sportracks, a bit of freeware that far surpasses Garmin fitness etc. When used in tandem with plug-ins such as Training Load, this is a set up to rival TrainingPeaks etc. Just upload your rides and the software does all the hard work. If you do a ride where you don't go anywhere, such as a turbo trainer session, or if you forget the Garmin, you can enter it manually. If you're on a mac I gather 'Ascent' is your best option. I'll do another post on Sporttracks / Training Load in time.

Having lived in Hong Kong almost 2 years, I know most of the rides I do and don't need a GPS to navigate them. Having said that, I've still been in scenarios where it's useful to know where you are... i.e. when lost. Where the Garmin really kicks in is on trips abroad where being able to navigate uploaded routes. An example of this was our recent trip to Nankunshan in China, where we knew there was nice riding but no maps were available, we didn't even know where our hotel was and no guides could be found. Having done some research on the web I managed to download a .gpx file off some random website and luckily enough one of the routes started just down the road from the hotel. We followed a pink line very effectively even with no base map and did a fantastic ride (photos here) that we'd never have done otherwise. It's also cool to say 'Go To' and search for the nearest town and let it take you there (on road). On the negative side, there were some occassions mountain biking in the Pyrenees (photos here) when the Garmin got confused and turned itself off. We think the issue may have been power line / countryborder related. Whatever, it's certainly more comfortable on road than off. If you want the most capable off road navigation device the Oregon is a better option.

One issue in Hong Kong is that, unlike the UK, there are no topographical maps available (that I know of). The card for S/E Asia is also a bit of a challenge... I've seen it on fleabay but I managed another solution that I can't really discuss on the web. Suffice to say this wasn't easy. I bought it as a bundle with the Europe SD card which is useful in Europe.

It's tough, it seems waterproof so far, it looks OK, the battery lasts >15hrs, and it weighs 100g- no big deal. The only real negative is the mounting brackets don't last that long (maybe 6 months).

In summary, the 705 is a great unit that's revolutionising riding bikes in the 21st Century. You have to put some time in to get the most out of it, but you will certainly reap the rewards. It's the best few hundred pounds (I paid less than the below- would recommend wiggle - post free and VAT free = 15% off)  I've spent on biking gear in quite a few years.