Friday, December 18, 2009

Garmin Edge 305 Review

This has been a long time coming, but I've finally logged enough miles and found enough time to write a review on my Garmin Edge 305 GPS cyclocomputer. There have been plenty of debates about the value of biking computers. Many find that riding without a cognizance of speed yields a more enjoyable experience than pouring over the minutiae of elevation and heart rate zones. An equal number seem to find great value in tracking their numbers over time. I fit into the second half. I'm not a racer but that doesn't mean I don't want my riding improve. It's tough to improve when you don't know where you're starting from. Having some numbers to compare from ride to ride has made a big difference in my cycling.

The 305 has an easy to read screen with plenty of information

The 305 comes in four different packages. The one I chose came complete with heart rate monitor and cadence sensor. Installation was a breeze. Since everything runs wirelessly, once all the components are mounted you're ready to ride. The toughest part was lining up the spoke and crank arm magnets with the cadence sensor. The 305 is fully featured, tracking the most important statistics a cyclist cares about. What separates it from it's big brother, the 705 is a lack of turn by turn mapping and power meter compatibility.

The 305 has a very compact size that fits well on a road bike stem. The screen is easy to read and all the buttons are fully accessible while riding. One of the big benefits of the 305 is the ability to customize the unit to exactly what you want. The main display can be changed to show up to six of the statistics the unit tracks simultaneously. If you still need more in-ride information, there is a second page that can also be fully customized.

The Garmin cadence sensor was the hardest part of a simple installation process

If you need a feature on the 305, it is likely there. In all fairness there are many which I don't use such as Virtual Training Partner and cadence alarms. However, I would like to highlight some of the features I find most useful. The first is the ability to program interval workouts into the computer based on either time or distance. Once programmed, the 305 makes an audible sound that signifies the beginning of each rest or effort interval. The inclusion of GPS also allows the user to set an auto-lap point which marks a new lap each time it's crossed.

Looking over my data over the past few months, I've seen both my average speed and cadence increasing steadily. Now that I can accurately measure laps and time, challenging myself to complete my home loop in faster times has pushed my fitness to higher levels. The ability to measure my cadence while climbing has helped me settle into a gear which strikes a balance between spinning and power. I can clearly see the improvement in my riding ability and I can feel the difference in my lungs and legs. Perhaps my improvement is due to more cycling experience, but either way I can now physically measure my improvements and that has been a help.

The entire Edge 305 package

Garmin provides an online data tracking system which users can download their ride data to. Garmin Connect is a website that allows Edge users to store their ride data and provides telemetry such as speed, heart rate, elevation, and cadence tracking. It also allows users to generate reports and see the routes other Garmin users are taking. Although there are other comprehensive data programs (such as Ascent and Sport Tracks) Garmin Connect is a great service that's free to Edge owners.

The 305 isn't without its faults. The lack of power meter compatibility means that if I want to add a system to measure my power output, I will need to upgrade to either the Edge 500 or 705. Since power is not measured, the calorie counting algorithms grossly exaggerate the calories burned by as much as 50%. Any discussion of the 305 would be remiss without mentioning the battery issues many users have faced. The message boards are full of owners wondering why their Edge 305 shuts off mysteriously mid-ride. The problem seems to be narrowed down to loose battery contacts and poor case design. To their credit, the Garmin folks have resolved these issues for the most part, but when spending close to $250 on a computer, it's a hassle that any prospective 305 user should be aware of. For the record, I've had my 305 for five months and over a thousand miles without a single issue. Buyers currently in the market for the 305 are in an unique position. Garmin has just introduced the Edge 500 which incorporates the 305's features into a smaller computer that's now compatible with power meters. The emergence of the 500 is a strong indication that the Edge 305 is probably on the way out. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing since it means the current 305 can likely be had for a deep discount.

The 305 is an outstanding entry into the world of GPS based cycling computers. As long as you're content to train without a power meter and ride familiar routes, the 305 is an exceptional value compared to the Edge 705. The bottom line, the 305's easy installation, the ability to download data to the computer, and precise gps measurements make it an outstanding bike computer. If you're interested in seeing your current ride numbers and how they change over time, there are few options better than the Edge 305.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Where Do You Feel Safest Cycling?

Safety is of particular interest to me. I'm typically a solo rider thanks to an ever-chaning work schedule. Since I often work weekends, group rides are out. Although I take a cell phone, I live alone. So whom would I call in the event of an emergency? I do take all possible precautions. I ride with all my necessary equipment and know how to perform just about all basic bicycle repair. I never ride my bike at night. Nothing about riding at night seems particularly compelling to me. Cycling is unique in that cyclists actually share the road directly with drivers. There is no separation provided by a sidewalk. For this reason, many cyclists seek out deserted roads that receive little to no competing traffic. Should the worst case scenario happen such as mechanical failure, health issue, or serious fall, how safe is a deserted road?

On my night time run, a thought crossed my mind about cycling safety. While running, I often venture onto empty and deserted streets with little fear during the day. At night, I restrict my running to well lit but busy streets. Besides the protection of light, my thought is if a careless driver takes me out, I'm more likely to receive aid and some witnesses on a busy street. Obviously there is a point of diminishing returns where a street becomes so busy that it's dangerous. However, a consistent stream of cars at night adds a level of comfort during my night time runs.

I have two "home" routes I typically ride. The first is a simple two lane ranch road without a shoulder that dead ends after 4 miles. The second is a farm road that varies from a two to four lane highway with a wide shoulder that goes on for as long as you can ride. The shoulder-less ranch road is typically deserted. A car might pass by once an hour if you're lucky. The highway is busy enough that cars pass by frequently. I'll typically see one every ten minutes or so. The wide shoulder provides a safe buffer against vehicles that can reach 80 mph, and there are plenty of law enforcement officers passing by.

The ranch road is short enough that even if I'm at my furthest point, I'm only 4 miles away from my car. So even in the worst case scenario I can walk (or limp) back home. The highway has enough traffic that should I need help, I feel like it's just a matter of time before a good samaritan (hopefully) stumbles upon me. All things considered, I feel my usual two routes are very safe, and they've bolstered my confidence riding and dealing with traffic. Where do you feel safest riding? A deserted road? A busier one? What do you do to keep cycling safe?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Perspective on the Importance of the MS-150

Times are tough... There are reminders everywhere of the economic crisis we're enduring. Turn on the TV and stock tickers race by with plummeting markets. A trip to the store takes you through empty foreclosures which have turned bustling neighborhoods into deserted canyons. People everywhere are struggling to maintain the basic necessities of food, water, clothing and shelter. Yes, it's very difficult for individuals these days.

However, the difficulty of the individual pales in comparison to the challenges faced by the medical research community now. If people consider healthcare costs to be outrageous, they would be floored to see some of the price tags laboratories have to deal with. A simple order of restriction enzymes, the most basic of molecular biology tools, can easily top $10,000. By itself, this isn't a major issue. However, as researchers we are intrinsically tied to the grants which fund our research. I'm sure you see where this story is going - the money for research is drying up faster than the Sahara.

First a bit of background. If you're not sure what multiple sclerosis is, you're about to get a crash course in exactly why it's so important to find a cure for this disease. Our nerves are covered in an insulating material called myelin. This insulation makes it possible for nerve impulses to travel from our brains to move our toes without delay. In patients with multiple sclerosis, this insulating myelin is destroyed by the immune system. Since our nerves control our bodies, the demyelination of nerves lead to symptoms which range from nausea, weakness, muscle spasms, blurred vision, depression, and headaches. After the initial onset it is almost impossible to predict what symptoms a victim of MS may face or when they may go into remission. The symptoms can flare up without warning and go into remission just as quickly. It is uncertain as to exactly why that is. Although there appear to be genetic predispositions to MS, the basis of the disease is not purely genetic so it is difficult to predict whom it will strike. There is no cure and there are few treatments for this disease. Whether it is doctors trying to treat the disease or patients struggling to live with it, the only certainty with MS is uncertainty.

This is why events such as the MS-150 are so important. Charitable organizations such as the Livestrong foundation and the National MS Society provide a vital source of additional grants which make research possible. Twenty-six cents of every dollar raised during the MS-150 rides goes directly to funding MS research (overall $0.82 from every dollar directly funds MS related activities). As a researcher, I can tell you first hand that every penny obtained makes a major difference in the amount of work a lab is able to accomplish. However, fundraising in the MS-150 isn't measured in nickels and dimes. Last year, the Frisco to Ft. Worth MS-150 raised over $2 million. The BP MS-150 from Houston to Austin raised over $17 million.

But the MS-150 isn't simply a fundraising event. The ride itself helps bring important attention to the cause as well as the people who bravely fight this disease every day. There is no greater source of inspiration than folks like Rodney who live with MS and undertake the daunting task of pedaling over 150 miles. That's the reason why I ride the MS-150 and am working towards raising money for it. For all the talk of scientific theories and dollars and cents collected, the real reason why the Bike MS rides are so important are people like Rodney who have to confront the uncertainty this disease creates every day but find ways to shine through it.