Sunday, December 20, 2015

It's funny how things work out...for the best

I’ve spent almost 2000 hours riding mountain bikes on the local trails near where we live: Duthie, Grand Ridge, Soaring Eagle, and Tiger Mountain. I had never seen a unicycle on the trails until yesterday, when I encountered one at Grand Ridge. Today I saw another unicycle over at Duthie. What are the odds of this occurring, one in a million? 

In any case, while I was riding today, I was thinking about fate, serendipity, and how what seem to be random events can link up and determine the future path one’s life will take.

In 2009, author John Summerson sent a copy of his book The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike) to Cascade Bicycle Club:

 At the time, I wrote a monthly fitness column for the Cascade Courier, and I was asked if I wanted to write a review of the book for my column. Had John not sent the book, or if I were not involved with Cascade, I would not have become enamored with the idea of a cycling trip to the Eastern Sierras of California. In June of 2010, David Longdon and I made the trip (I returned in 2014 with John Pottle), and a few months later we did a presentation on our adventures for almost 200 people at the Seattle REI: 

Had David and I not needed to fill up the gas tank on the way home we wouldn’t have stopped in Eugene, Oregon. David had lived in Eugene, and we took some time to have lunch, and do a walking and driving tour around town. I was so impressed with Eugene, upon returning to Seattle, I discussed with Tracy the idea of a potential move to Eugene some day. The very next weekend we drove to Eugene to learn more about the area. I took a bike, and one of David’s old friends was gracious enough to show me around on a ride. Over lunch, Ian and his wife were happy to elaborate on why they were so passionate about life in Eugene.

A week later, had I not been out riding in Issaquah, I would not have had an epiphany about where we would choose to live for what we feel could be many years. As I was descending Mountain Park Blvd, laid out below me was the little downtown area of Issaquah. As I cruised by the fish hatchery and brew pub, I realized that Issaquah felt an awful lot like Eugene to me. Even better than Eugene actually, as Issaquah is nestled in the foothills, and Eugene is 3-4 miles from the surrounding hills, and of course Issaquah is close to one of the greatest cities in America. In addition, not only did we already live in the Seattle area, Washington doesn’t have a 9.9% personal income tax like Oregon! Tracy and I had lived happily in Downtown Seattle for ten years, but in late December of 2010, we were packing up and moving to a rented townhouse in Issaquah. 

After a little over a year of careful contemplation, we found a “project” property, and spent a year working with an architect and contractor to turn it into exactly the kind of house we could live in forever.

Had Tracy and I not moved to Issaquah, I would never have considered giving mountain biking a try. Now I spend countless hours (well, almost 2000 anyway) riding the local trails. So in a way, reviewing that book became a life changing experience for me.

Speaking of Tracy…

In 1998, I was distracted and preoccupied with work related issues. Had I not been, I would have taken a typical planned vacation during “tax deadline” week in mid-April. At the last minute with no previous thought as to taking a trip, I entered “solo travel” as an internet search. The first site that popped up was Club Med. After a quick phone call (it was just easier that way back then), I had made arrangements for an all inclusive trip to Playa Blanca in Mexico. 

The following week I found myself in Playa Blanca. I had always wanted to try a Club Med trip, based on its 70’s reputation for decadence. What I discovered instead was a social environment where it was easy to meet people and make friends. Had one of the guys I was hanging out with not met Tracy’s roommate and her “group,” I likely wouldn’t have found myself meeting Tracy. Had Tracy not had a little bit too much to drink that night, she might have been a bit shy when we met. The next day at the pool, I might not have noticed Tracy if she had not decided to dive in to the water near where I was sitting.

Lest I forget, had Tracy not been a teacher on spring break during the same week, she wouldn’t have been in Mexico when I was. In fact, had her girlfriend not cancelled on her for their long planned trip to Hawaii, she wouldn’t have thought about Club Med, made the call, and found her way to Playa Blanca.

It’s funny how things work out. Had I not reviewed that book in 2009, I wouldn’t have seen the unicycles riding on the trails yesterday and today. 

Had I not been too busy to think about a spring vacation in 1998, I would not have experienced the most significant turn of events of my lifetime. I wouldn’t be married to Tracy. We wouldn’t have spent the last 17 years together, and we wouldn’t be making plans to spend the rest of our lives together. Indeed, it is funny how things work out, and in this case, work out for the best.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ride Younger and Don't Act Your Age: Bad Ass Birthday Ride

October is always a rainy month, but this year has been exceptionally so. We've had about two inches of rain over just the last 36 hours. On my birthday morning, it was still raining heavily. Some people like to celebrate their birthday by "riding their age" in miles on their road bike. I prefer doing something a little more challenging, although riding on the road in today's deluge would have certainly been more than challenging, and perhaps a little masochistic!

I came up with a plan of riding my age in minutes of hard effort on the mountain bike. Given the mud and rain, I guess I could say that today's entire ride was hard, but I counted only the minutes where I was going hard physically. Going hard, but not very fast, is the best way to describe it. Because of the conditions, I decided to stay on the south side of Grand Ridge, as the north side and Duthie don't drain nearly as well. I expected today to be a solo odyssey, but I did see one trail runner. Dressed in pink, her smile told me that she was having as good a time as I was.

So the ride was almost a pure up-down-up-down-up-down kind of thing. It was either raining or "training" (previous rain shaken from the trees) for the entire ride, and the forest canopy was so dense I couldn't differentiate between the two.

Cycling has proven to be an incredible Fountain of Youth for me. Over the years, I have done a really good job of ignoring the calendar and my chronological age. It's been more difficult this year, because I have finally allowed some shock to creep in about my age. But I am riding "younger" than I ever have, and I block any thought of my real age out of my mind when I am on the bike. I am the leanest I have ever been, my fitness level is very high, and I am climbing faster on the bike than I ever have before. Most importantly, riding a bike still makes me feel just a little bit like a kid.

While I have a love-hate view of Strava, I do have to admit that it is good for several things that are very important to me. Most critically, I can compare today's me with last year's me on the same timed segments. Assuming I made a fairly consistent effort, I get a relative idea of my fitness between then and now.

In addition, with the Strava leaderboards, I don't have to risk life and limb in a race or sketchy group ride to get a feel for how I am doing compared to a universe of local riders. It's possible to see how you compare to everyone, or just the people you follow, or those in the same clubs. With a premium membership, one can also compare their times with different weight classes and age groups.

I take a look at the full leaderboards, and almost never even think to look at the age group leaderboards. After all, riding age is what counts to me, and I seem to have done pretty well at decoupling that from my actual age.

Of course it is not if, but when, I will slow down significantly on the bike. I'll fight that as long as I can, by eating well and riding smarter. Hell, I'll just ride harder if need be to keep up with last year's me:)

When the day comes that I start to look at the Strava age groups for signs of success (or an excuse for lack thereof), I will have thrown in the towel. Perhaps that day will come when I simply can no longer do well within the general universe of riders, or when I reach a certain chronological age number that I can no longer ignore.

In any case, even if I have to resort to taking a peek at the age group boards, I will still be trying to ride as young as I can. My real riding goal is to keep my riding age around 50-75% of my chronological age. Of course that is subjective, and I am the only person doing the evaluation, but I'll be honest with myself.

The importance of how strong I am on the bike will naturally diminish as I age. If all else, fails, I'll just revel in feeling a little bit like a kid when I am on the bike. After all, that is the true Fountain of Youth that riding a bike can provide.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Two Car or Not Two Car: That is the Question

Today, Tracy and I did something we have never done before. We went for a day drive simply to drive, including a visit to Camano Island, one of the rare places in the state of Washington we had not been to. We had no end destination in mind. We didn’t drive to go hiking or snowshoeing somewhere, or to shop at a Factory Outlet Mall!

We racked up 208 miles, first taking the highway to Marysville, and then driving the full loop of Camano. We stopped for a nice lunch in Stanwood, and then we went driving home on back roads that I knew from cycling to be quiet, twisty, and hilly. We took Burn road from Arlington to Granite Falls. To get to Sultan from Granite Falls, we took Menzel Lake Road, Lake Roesinger Road, Woods Creek, Old Pipeline, and Reinert Road. From Sultan to Monroe, we used Ben Howard Road. I can highly recommend all of these roads as being fantastic for driving or cycling, although there are no shoulders. I can’t comment about weekend traffic, but during a weekday there is very light traffic through this area.

What might the impetus for the drive have been?

We spent a good part of New Year’s Eve buying a new Subaru Forester Touring model with a safety package called the Eyesight Driver Assist Program. This was our first car purchase since we bought a new Forester in 2004. We now have two cars in the garage for the first time since May of 2001.

Of course, we didn’t “need” a new car at all, as our Forester is still in perfect condition and only has 85,000 miles on it. We barely have much use for even one car, let alone two! I didn’t really grasp why we needed a new car, but Tracy had always had ten years in her mind as a logical replacement time, and she drives the car 90% of the time. She just felt like she wanted to get a new car, and the safety enhancements in the redesigned 2014 Forester were the icing on the cake.

The choice to get another Forester was pretty easy, as the Forester suits our outdoors lifestyle perfectly; the one we already own has been a great car. We didn’t have any interest in something super fancy, although the Touring version of the Forester comes loaded with a lot of luxury features in addition to the safety stuff. Actually, the major reason we bought the top finish level Touring model was that the Eyesight option package was not available on the less expensive models.

We certainly don’t need a larger SUV, and we never thought about buying a regular passenger car. The fact that the 2014 Forester is Motor Trend’s SUV of the year and Consumer Reports top rated and highest recommended small SUV didn’t hurt either.

We could have opted for the higher horsepower Forester XT, which also can be ordered in a Touring version. Tracy has zero interest in more horsepower, and as previously mentioned, she is the one using the car most of the time. Besides, the XT wheels looked really ugly to us, and that just wouldn’t work! We never seriously considered the XT, and that got me to thinking about cars in general, and how I use and view them these days.

I was very fortunate to be able to “retire” from the investment business at a pretty young age:

I met Tracy in 1998, and I moved to the Seattle area on 1/1/2000. Moving to Downtown Seattle in 2001 provided the perfect scenario to test a one car strategy. I sold my remaining sports car, which had already become superfluous due to sporadic use.

At the time, Tracy drove to her full time job over on the Eastside, but since moving to the Seattle area, I have never been a commuter. We don’t have kids to haul around. On weeknights and weekends, the car remained in the garage unless we went to the mountains or have a social event outside of downtown. We walked everywhere, and I had a fixed gear single speed bike I used for both fun and errand running.

The thought of adding a second car never entered our minds when we left Downtown Seattle after almost ten years and moved to central Olde Town Issaquah. I sold the single speed, but we still walk to the town center from our house on Squak Mountain, and run errands on our bikes to the Farmers Market and a few other places. One of the major location requirements for the house was that it had to be a ten minute or less walk to town. I now ride a mountain bike in addition to riding on the road, but I ride to the local trails. We live a quarter mile from a hiking trailhead on Squak, and I still love to walk as much as ever. I walk for both pleasure and to run errands, and I hope to continue doing that (as well as cycling!) until I am a very, very old man.

Tracy is now a part time education consultant, and normally uses her car two days a week for work, except in the summer. I can use the car most other days, but I find I rarely do so. Often I will think of a destination cycling trip I would need to use the car for, consider the planning and traffic involved, and wind up just riding out of my garage.

For me, the “pleasure” of driving is gone, and it is now more of a burden…although I must admit I had a blast today on our drive in the new car. We don’t have the fantastic deserted mountain roads that I drove in Colorado, and we live in a wet climate, so there isn’t much of a reason to have a special sports car or sports bike. I’d spend more time cleaning it than riding or driving!

Cars are meant to be used for transportation, and of course that is always going to be their primary use. In my twenties and early thirties, I also drove for pleasure and sport. I lived in Denver, and had a job that required me to travel throughout the Rocky Mountain West. Rather than take puddle jumpers, I explored just about every possible paved road using high performance cars, including two Porsches. I was something of a “professional speeder,” but in those days the Rockies were full of wide open prairie roads, great mountain and canyon roads, and very few law enforcement officers. It was a great place to drive fast before traffic became overwhelming.

As I got older, I still used cars for transportation, work, and convenience. I owned two cars most of the time when I was single, normally a sports car for fun and a more utilitarian car I used just to get around. I also often had a sport bike motorcycle as well! At some point, I started to notice that instead of a convenience, cars were starting to become an inconvenience, especially two of them.

Not owning two cars for the past 12+ years has very rarely been an inconvenience with our lifestyle. In fact, not having a second car has felt less inconvenient than maintaining two cars would have been. Now that we have two cars in the garage, we have decided to take a little time to evaluate whether we want to keep or sell the old Forester. The potential lack of use is a real factor.

Since 2001, I am not sure if I could recall more than a few times when not having my own car inconvenienced me. Yes, it does mean that I sometimes ride with friends when we leave town on a cycling expedition, but it doesn’t happen often enough that I think I have been a PITA. Even if I consider “elective” times I would have driven, not having a second car just has not been an issue.

The “cost” of keeping the second Forester would not be very high, and it’s not like we have any specific plans for the amount the car would likely sell for. If we keep the car, we would likely keep it indefinitely, and I doubt it would cost much to maintain a car that we would rarely use. What is probably more significant is the psychological “cost” of keeping the car while it mostly just takes up space in our garage.

As I said, our pleasure drive today was the first that Tracy and I have ever done together. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember a single drive just for the sake of a drive after I moved away from Denver in 1994. When I was growing up, we always had two cars. My father loved cars, and every year we would trade the car that was two years old in for a new car. Every Sunday my parents would take my sister and me for a drive. Suzy and I looked forward to this treat. It was a pure pleasure drive that always involved a stop at a Dairy Queen. For many years, I drove cars for pleasure. But when I moved to Dallas where I lived for six years before coming to Seattle, driving for pleasure ceased. There isn’t a whole lot of reason to get in a car and explore the Texas countryside, and you have to search far and wide for the curvy and hilly roads on which to use a sports car.

While I had always thought any second car, would be a fun car, if I ever do get another sports car, it wouldn’t be a new one. I’d be looking for a rare 1967 Porsche 911S. There would be no air bags or air conditioning, and the windows would be crank powered. Or maybe I should get one of these, especially if horsepower were important, as either option would have more horsepower than our new car:

I doubt I would use a 911S or sport bike more than once or twice a month, which is likely about the same as I would drive the old Forester. I am left to wonder whether there is a perfect equation that will help us determine if keeping the old car is worth it for very occasional use, or if it would be more of a burden just taking up space in the garage.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014: Starting Where I Finished…

Climbing on my bike. I kicked off the year by racking up 3228’ of the “up stuff” on a mountain bike ride from home over to Duthie, around the cross country circuit, and then back over Grand Ridge to High Point. I had 66,368’ of climbing last month, which made December my biggest climbing month of 2013. I have now climbed over 500,000’ for seven years in a row, and 2013 was the first year I broke through the 700k barrier, finishing with 706,466’. I do love going uphill. What goes up must come down, and I love going downhill as well, although not to the same extent.

Normally on major holidays I like to ride my road bike on the blissfully deserted highways and byways. But just like on Christmas Day, I felt the foggy New Year’s Day weather was better tailored to riding the mountain bike. As I expected, the trails were a lot more crowded on a relative basis than the roads would have been. Not that sharing the trails with quite a few people was a burden at all.

The trails were in super shape, I felt great, and I rode very well. Winter is never a time for going fast on the MTB anyway, and certainly not with crowded trails, so I decided to focus on something else. My goal for the ride became greeting every person I met with a unique salutation. Instead of simply saying, “Happy New Year,” or “Have a great one,” blah, blah, blah, I cooked up something different to say to every single person or group I encountered. Of course, most of the time I did start with “Happy New Year,” but otherwise I went with whatever struck me at the moment. It was a lot of fun to say things like, “You will be in the sun at the top,” or to a child at Duthie, “That is a cool looking helmet,” or, “Those are very handsome dogs,” or, “This beats watching football!” In any case, the most fun part for me was coming up with something different every time.

Today’s project on the trail reminded of several times I have used a similar tactic to distract me from being really fatigued. Saturday June 9th in 2007 was the fifth and crux stage of a cycling tour I was on. The tour was following the spine of the Pyrenees Mountains. We were using the Raid Pyrenees route (plus some bonus climbs) from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean. The fifth stage was particularly arduous, starting in Bagneres-de-Luchon, and ascending the Col de Peyresourde, the Col d’ Aspin (for which one of our cats is named), and then the mighty Col du Tourmalet. From the top of the Tourmalet, it was pretty much all downhill to Argeles-Gazost, the pretty ski village where we would be spending the night. I say mostly downhill…unless you added the optional HC climb to the ski station of Hautacam. This climb was immortalized in 2000 when Lance Armstrong stormed up it in an EPO powered rage and rode into the yellow jersey, just as Bjarne Riis had done when he demoralized and cracked the entire peloton in the 1996 Tour de France. Adding Hautacam to the already steep (no pun intended) agenda for the day brought the total mileage to 91, with 14,000’ of climbing. Of the 17 riders on the trip, I was one of only three who tackled Hautacam.

The turn for Hautacam came precariously close to the day’s final destination, where food and a cozy room awaited me. On top of that, it was an up and back unsupported climb. There was no compelling reason to make that right turn and head up towards the sky again. At this point, I was riding solo, but there was never any doubt in my mind the entire day that I was going up that sucker. Well, maybe a shred of doubt as I crested the Tourmalet in the rain.

It was 3600’ of climbing at an average grade of 7% to the official top, but damn it anyway, I decided to add 200’ of additional very steep climbing up to the upper parking lot that was at the top of the bunny slope rope tow! Sometimes I wonder just what it is that makes me do these things, especially when there is not another soul around.

I was already deep in the Hurt Locker when I started up Hautacam, and about halfway up I was having serious doubts as to whether I wanted to continue. When you start wondering what the point is of what you are presently doing, you know you are starting to pop! At that stage of the climb, I started to see signs festooned with the image of a cyclist announcing the gradient for the next kilometer. These signs are common and normally entertaining on many of the famous European climbs, but it was pure torture to see the 8%, 9%, and then 10+% numbers on the steeper second half of the climb. To change my focus and outlook, I decided that every time I went by one of those signs for the next kilometer I would think of some really special moment I’d enjoyed with Tracy, who is now my wife. Kilometer by kilometer, the thought might have been something sweet that she did for me, or a fun trip we had taken together. The thoughts in my head helped to click off the kilometers, and before I knew it I was done with the climb.

Another time I was reminded of on today’s ride was my ascent of the Stelvio on Tuesday, June 17th of 2008. I was on a nearly three week cycling trip of a lifetime with my friend Tim W. Tim’s wife was accompanying us and essentially driving sag support for us. Sweet! The Stelvio remains the single greatest climb that I have ever done, and it was an almost mystical experience that day. We started the 16 mile/6000’ vertical gain/7.1% average grade climb in a drizzle, but that didn’t last long. Soon we were in a steady downpour, and by the time we reached the top of the col at over 9000’, it was snowing. Perhaps the arduous conditions and the lack of traffic on a rainy Monday helped to make the Stelvio the most incredible climbing experience I have had. In any case, it was a hard climb. No, make that a VERY hard climb. Day after day of 10,000’+ of climbing might have had a little to do with that, but even on a good day, the Stelvio is a monumental piece of riding. Just ask the pros who ride the Giro.

It was a stunning climb, but nevertheless, at some point, I knew I had to dig deep and find some kind of bonus motivation to keep me going. The Stelvio is made all the more special because it has 48 numbered switchbacks that zigzag back and forth up a very steep face of the mountain:

Switchback #48 is low on the climb. In general, the higher you go, the closer the switchbacks get. There was a lot of distance between #48 and #47, and it gave me plenty of time to devise a strategy to make the climb more enjoyable (survivable?). On the Stelvio, I tried to reconstruct each year of my life that corresponded with the number of the switchback. As the climb got harder as I rode higher, it became more and more difficult to fill up each kilometer with specific memories, but I gave it my best effort, and it really did help. It was an odd situation in that I wanted the experience of the climb to go on forever, but it was a hard climb and I needed to take my mind off of that as I also focused on enjoying the moment and my surroundings. At around age 5 I gave up, and just focused on the matter at hand.

Today I wasn’t trying to distract myself from any unpleasant sensation. I was simply sharing how much I enjoy riding my bike with everyone I encountered. It was fun being creative, and hopefully as a sidelight, I added a little positive vibe to the image of mountain biking. So once again, I found myself starting the New Year where I left off the previous year…on my bike.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


As I stare out the window into the early October mist, I am reminded as to just how frustrating it was to implement a consistent strategy for riding last winter. I design training plans for the athletes I coach based on their available hours, experience, goals, patience, and a myriad of other factors. Unfortunately I can’t control the weather, and the weather is often the most variable determinant of whether or not a training plan will yield the results we are looking for.

Last winter I taught a training plan clinic for High Performance Cycling team members:

During the clinic, I discussed how to build the classic periodization style plan for the cycling year. Later in the spring (while winter was still raging), I came to the realization that I wasn’t even close to following the plan I had laid out for myself. Given my flexible time to ride and the possession of a “rain bike” (and willingness to use it), I knew that my athletes wouldn’t have much chance implementing the plans I had written for them. What good is a plan if it can’t be completed?

Normally our winters are mild enough for year-round cycling. Even so, there is enough variability that following an outdoor riding plan is challenging. This winter I'll be developing a HIT (High Intensity Training) program for people who realistically can ride between 4-6 hours per week (expandable with nice weather) with a maximum of four rides per week. The hard intervals that are part of a HIT plan can be done outdoors, but doing the workouts indoors makes a lot of sense.

A traditional volume based plan breaks down below ten hours a week. There simply is not enough training stimulus. At eight hours per week, a volume style plan can produce moderate fitness…and keep you there. In other works, the athlete plateaus and often gets frustrated with the lack of progress.

For people willing to tough it out through the winter weather for 10+ hours per week, I'll use a traditional periodization plan. Personally, I’m going with a HIT plan. Coming from someone who has spent a total of one hour on the trainer over the last three years, this commitment to indoor riding is quite a concession. I plan on doing a lot of hiking and snowshoeing over the winter, and spending less time on the road bike. I’m not sure how I’ll account for muddy MTB rides in my plan, but I’ll work around it.

In case HIT is copyrighted, I could call it HAT (Hard Ass Training), FIT (Fervently Intense Training),FAT (Fairly Aggressive Training), WIT (Winter Intense Training), or WAT (Winning Attack Training). On second thought, I’ll use HIT and run the risk of copyright infringement.

There have been a lot of studies over the last several years that demonstrate how effective a HIT strategy can be. Will it work as well as a classic plan built around volume of 12+ hours a week? Well, no, I don’t expect it to, but I suppose if you had no idea as to what to do with those 12 hours HIT very well could be more effective. Depending on the athlete, the goal for a HIT plan could be to prepare for a spring cycling tour or big event, Cycle U Chelan Camp, or to ride strong on group rides. For information about the science of HIT, search the internet for “cycling high intensity training.”

I think the key when time or weather limits training time is to maximize the quality and value of the riding that can be accomplished. With plenty of time for recovery, I intend to make every minute on the bike count this winter. Come spring, I’ll be doing those longer rides that I used to grit my teeth through over the winter.

Hey, if we get a week of dry 65 degree weather in the middle of winter, I’ll throw HIT out the window…for a week. I’ll get back to HIT when the next tsunami of rain hits, and I bet I won’t have to wait long.

Monday, September 23, 2013

2014 S-Works Tarmac SL4 Contador Edition

I named this bike ACE. A is for Alberto, C is for Contador (C could also stand for Clenbuterol, something nobody had ever heard of until he tested positive for it), and E is for the fifth letter of the alphabet, which is appropriate since this is my fifth S-Works Tarmac. Shortly I will post an article that discusses the differences between the bikes.

 It's not like I am a big Contador fan, but I just love the color scheme, and the fact that this bike has fewer Specialized logos than any of the bikes I've owned.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Faceoff: Garmin Edge 510 vs. Garmin Edge 500 review

People who ride with me say that I have a GPS inside my head. I’ve ridden just about every road one would care to ride not only in the Seattle area, but in the entire state of Washington, as well as a fair amount in Oregon and California. My “GPS” has been pretty effective, at least in King County. So I wasn’t looking for GPS help in the form of maps or courses.I started using a Garmin Edge 500 a little over a year ago, almost entirely so that I could try Strava. I quickly realized that I really didn’t know much about either GPS devices or Strava. Strava is an interesting subject unto itself, and I intend to voice my many opinions about Strava, both good and bad, in a future article.

I was hoping that my Edge 500 and Strava could help me by simplifying personal data collecting and record keeping for me. For over ten years, I have timed myself on various local area climbs. My goal has always been to compare today’s me against yesterday’s younger me, and tomorrow’s older me. This is a great way to monitor both fitness level and/or the effects of ageing, and I encourage my coaching clients to do this. With Strava, I figured that I could construct segments on these climbs, and then I would no longer have to do manual split times. There would be no more trying to remember if I stopped timing at the mailbox on the right, or the speed limit sign near the top of the climb. Even better, I learned that if I wanted to, I could make these segments private and catalog only my results, so I would have a quick at-a-glance reference data base. But for this to work, I would need reliable and consistent GPS data.

If you only use your Edge for road riding, go ahead and skip this whole next section on GPS accuracy, because it is most applicable to mountain biking in dense cover.

In the 90’s, what is called “Selective Availability” was used for national security purposes to intentionally degrade GPS signals that consumer devices received. This practice ended in May of 2000. I remember reading that consumer GPS in theory would be just as accurate as military GPS. The official jargon was that “Users in the U.S. and the rest of the world would now be experiencing the same basic GPS accuracy of 10-20 meters or better.” That’s great, but not good enough for what I wanted to do, and quite frankly, not good enough for Strava in general.

I read on and learned that “The actual accuracy users attain depends on factors outside the government's control, including atmospheric effects and receiver quality. Real-world data collected by the FAA show that some high-quality GPS SPS receivers currently provide better than 3 meter horizontal accuracy.” Now we are talking! Of course, the military still has the good stuff: “Higher accuracy is available today by using GPS in combination with augmentation systems. These enable real-time positioning to within a few centimeters, and post-mission measurements at the millimeter level.” OK, I don’t even want to know how much that costs taxpayers.

In a nutshell, my 500 worked pretty well on the road, but not good enough to eliminate my manual split times, and not good enough for totally reliable Strava data. In defense of Strava, Strava can only be as accurate as the data that it uses to do its comparison calculations. It is on the mountain bike that the 500 let me down big time, with so much GPS tracking error that my device was transmitting very erroneous information at times when I downloaded files to Strava. Who knows what kind of results people using phone GPS are getting, although based on files I have viewed, I suspect it is in line with my Edge 500.

Early this year, Garmin released the 510 and 810 devices with touchscreens. My initial reaction was that I would be so distracted by a touchscreen that I would end up in a bad accident. After all, I don’t even carry a “smart” phone. After talking with Garmin in June about my accuracy issues with the Edge 500, I realized that I had to give the 510 a try. In addition to the US GPS system, Garmin has given the 510 the ability to use GLONASS, which is the Russian satellite system. GLONASS has the same global coverage and precision as the US system:

Using both GPS and GLONASS enables the 510 to “see” twice as many satellites as the 500 at any given time. When I asked Garmin about increased accuracy, I was told, “Well, you basically have twice as many satellites and twice as good of a chance of getting reliable data.” In reality, the 510 has been more like ten times as good in terms of accuracy, especially when riding my mountain bike. I would have considered a Garmin 810, but for some reason Garmin chose not to incorporate GLONASS into the more expensive 810 that features full color mapping. I have a feeling I know why, but more on that later. While I don’t use maps or courses on the road, the 810 could be really helpful while hiking or mountain biking…if it had GLONASS to enable it to be accurate enough for courses and maps to work well under heavy tree cover.

On my road bike, my 500 would normally display accuracy of 20-40’, which worked well about 75% of the time. I would sometimes have odd GPS track results, and friends I ride with shared similar experiences. On the mountain bike, the typical accuracy value for the 500 was 50-80’, which yielded decent results at times. At other times, however, the 500 would get “confused”, displaying accuracy numbers north of 200’. My resulting GPS tracks on days like this might have well have had me riding in the next zip code. I showed up on bizarre Strava segments, and more importantly, many segments I actually rode were not even picked up.

My 510 displays accuracy of 10’ or less a high percentage of the time when road riding. I can’t say how much less, since the value is set with 10’ as a minimum, but it’s pegged on 10’ a lot of the time. I can’t recall a single disappointing road GPS track since I have been using the 510. While I still will do my manual splits for my most important climbs, I am finding that I am getting Strava data accurate enough for me to make valid comparisons. It is on the mountain bike, however, where the difference in accuracy between the 500 and 510 is quite dramatic. Typical 510 accuracy values are 15-20’, no matter what kind of cloud or tree cover I am under. I don’t believe I have ever seen a higher number than 30’, and I have been obtaining outstanding GPS data as a result.

What this boils down to is that if you use your Garmin on a mountain bike and want consistently reliable data, the 510 is the only way to go. If you only ride on the road, the increased accuracy is nice, but individual results can vary, and I know plenty of people who are happy with their 500. If it were me, knowing I was getting much more reliable and a higher level of GPS accuracy alone would justify a 510 for road only use. But what if we forget about GPS accuracy and mountain biking, how strongly would I recommend the 510 over the 500? Very, very strongly is my answer.

First, the negatives from my perspective:

  • I had read complaints of poor user interface, false alerts, and touchscreen inconsistency. I have not experienced any of the functionality issues early adopters initially complained about, so I have to assume that they have been corrected with firmware updates.
  • The 510 is slightly bigger than the 500 and weighs 23g more than the 500 (80g vs. 57g). I actually prefer the larger size, as it gives me more flexibility in terms of number of display lines, and text size. I don’t think I will notice the 23gJ
  • Even though the 510 has a claimed 20 hour battery life vs. 18 hours for the 500, the “effective” life of the 510 may be quite a bit lower, depending on how the device is used. I don’t know if the color touchscreen sucks a lot of power, but using two satellite systems at once (GLONASS can be switched off, but why would I do that) and the back light full time (see below) does. This is why I think Garmin didn’t design GLONASS into the 810. I have to figure that color maps would be too much of an additional power drain.  Here are the battery life numbers: GPS use only: 20 hours, GPS and GLONASS: 15 hours, and worst case scenario of using GPS and GLONASS, with the backlight on full time at the brightest level: 6 hours. Not a problem right? Well, it could be…
The big negative and the one that could turn off potential buyers is that the 510 is not as easy to read in certain light conditions as the 500. I think battery life must have limited the type of display they could incorporate with all of the new power consuming features of the 510. While I have never experienced any problem even while using the backlight full time, reduced battery life could be an issue if you are a winter commuter who frequently rides six hours or more at night, uses the backlight full time, and uses GLONASS as well as GPS. I can’t imagine many riders fit that profile.

I leave the screen on full time while mountain biking, but I don’t do six hour plus MTB rides. Other users have reported issues in bright sunlight, but I have no problem at all seeing the screen in bright light without the backlight, so I don’t normally use it. In certain light conditions for short road rides, I sometimes leave the backlight on, which works well. At other times, I set the backlight to remain on for 15 or 30 seconds any time I touch the screen. In any case, shorter battery life or a more difficult to read screen has never been a problem for me at any time.  I actually find the 510 easier to read overall, since the larger screen results in a larger font size compared to the 500 when using the same number of data lines. Of course, I have not yet used my 510 on drab lighted middle of the winter road rides, but since the light works perfectly for me in the darkest of woods, I don’t foresee a problem. If you are a heavy screen watcher, you will want to make sure to take the 510 outside and try it with and without the backlight before you buy it.

Here are the positives:

  • Significantly increased accuracy give a rider peace of mind that his lung bursting effort will indeed be picked up by Strava and the segment rendered correctly. As I mentioned, I don’t use courses, but if I did, I would think the 510’s higher accuracy would be valuable. Related to this, the 510 has the ability to zoom in on a course, and according to friends that is a nice feature.
  • Much faster initial satellite acquisition thanks to GLONASS, normally a few seconds instead of up to a few minutes with the 500. 
  • Now this next one is a surprise to me. I far prefer the touchscreen (which works with gloves) to the four small buttons on the sides of the 500. It is much easier to swipe the screen without taking my eye off of the road (or trail!) with either hand than to feel for those small buttons. The 510 does have three buttons (including the power button), but the two most important ones (lap split and timer) are located on the top of the unit, where they are much easier for me to access. With the 510, you can swipe to move from a screen in either direction, as opposed to using a button to move in only one direction with the 500. This means that if you are using three screens, you can access any of them with only one swipe. In my opinion, the touchscreen alone makes the 510 a very worthwhile upgrade. The color screen and night and day screens are nice, but not a hugely important feature for me.
  • A rider can have ten different bike profiles, but here is a biggie for me: the 510 can store five different “Activity Profiles,” and you can customize data pages and lines, auto-pause, auto-lap, heart or power training zones, page color, alerts, etc, for each profile. For example, I use road, road with heart rate, mountain bike, mountain bike with heart rate, and hiking profiles. I love this! No more rearranging data fields when I decide to ride my mountain bike instead of my road bike, or use my heart rate monitor. This is a great feature. I also think I would get a 510 for this feature alone.
  • Many new programmable data fields have been introduced with the 510. An example of two that I particularly like is the ability to display your last lap time, last lap heart rate or power, last lap distance, etc. With the 500, I would get done with a hard climb, set a lap split, and then try and read a tiny number that displayed for 10 seconds. That was a problem if I happened to be approaching an intersection, or jamming down a trail. Now the info remains on the screen in a font size I select, and I can look at it any time I want to until I set a new lap split. For someone who frequently uses the lap timer, this is a huge safety feature. There are some new course related data fields as well.
  • Not a factor at all for me, but for some it will be: both the 510 and 810 can be connected via Bluetooth to a smart phone. You can invite people to view your GPS ride track real time on Garmin Connect, and after you are done riding, they will know you are finished, and you can have them over to watch paint dry. Seriously, I do understand the potential safety benefits of this, especially on the MTB. Just how long would my “dot” have to remain in one place before someone called out the posse? You also can automatically post an update to your favorite social media site to announce that you have left your garage and are on your way. You can get weather updates on your 510, and it will automatically send your file to Garmin Connect (but not Strava). You can also download courses from Garmin Connect via the Bluetooth connection. I can’t imagine that the connectivity feature would be reason enough to buy a 510, but if you are already carrying a smart phone when you ride, the safety feature by itself might be really important to you.
  • Included with the 510 is a lanyard that you can install to connect the device to your stem, or wrist if you are running or hiking. While I never had to look in the weeds for my 500, I know people who have had to after they fell off of their mountain bike. Besides, I will be a lot less likely to drop the 510 onto my driveway when I remove it from my stem. This provides a little peace of mind, and peace of mind is important.
  •  I no longer use a power meter, but if I did I would appreciate the 510’s much improved and more numerous (22!) available power data fields including real time TSS/ IF, and right-left leg balance
  • If you are into this type of thing, the grade and vertical speed number accuracy has improved, no doubt due to the increased GPS sensitivity with GLONASS.
  • The 510 is fully compatible with standard Garmin mounts, the GSC-10 speed and cadence sensor and heart rate belt; as well as the nifty K-Edge out front mount. Garmin will sell you the 510 head unit individually.
  • The workout and training plan features have been improved.
  • There is a largely worthless “Personal Records” display. Perhaps this will be improved with a firmware change down the road.
What’s the bottom line? Whether you ride road and/or mountain bikes, the Edge 510 is a very well thought out device. If you don’t already own an Edge, the only reason to even consider a 500 is if you find it more readable in the light conditions you usually ride in. If you already own a 500 and ride exclusively on the road, I’ve given you several reasons to consider a 510. If you ride both road and mountain bikes like I do, in my opinion upgrading to the 510 is a no-brainer.