The Garmin 520 was introduced in July of 2015 and packed a whole range of changes and improvements compared to the previous 510. This did come at a small cost as the battery is only specified to last up to 15 hours.
Update Januari 2020:
With prices changed and availability sparse, if you’re buying a new device, I recommend buying the Edge 520 Plus: for $214 on Amazon or the bundle version for $294. I have not updated this review any further, but the Plus has a couple of new features, or have a look at the Edge 530 – You can find a feature compare here.
The Edge 520 & in the Box
In the box you’ll obviously have the device itself, and if you buy the bundle it comes with a heart rate monitor, speed and cadence sensor. Regardless of your purchase you will receive three mounts. Two standard ones, for mounting directly on the handlebars or stem and one ‘out front’. You also get a little strap you might want to attach. The photo is further below, but all the parts are black so it’s pretty hard to see.
The Garmin 520 comes with two bar mounts and an out-front option. Plenty of options and it will obviously fit all previous Garmin mounts (except watch mounts that are not turnable). So if you have multiple bikes, this is great. With the supplied rubber bands you can even mount it on your tri bars if you have a very aero set. The out front option has two rubber adaptor to fit most normal handlebars.
Navigating through the menus is pretty simple. On top of the device you have little icons corresponding with the buttons.
The whole flow is pretty standard Garmin and intuitive. I always see if I can figure out the settings without consulting the manual. I have some experience with these devices so it might not be the same experience for you, but I only had to consult the manual writing the review to double check my facts. I never read the manual.
As it’s Garmin supported sensors work via the ANT+ protocol, Bluetooth is only used for live broadcast and synchronisation using your phone. If you have existing Garmin sensors you can keep using them. The Garmin Edge 520 supports heart rate, cadence, speed, power (including Vector, obviously).
It has a built in thermometer and barometer. The first of which saved me once, when I thought it was a lot warmer than it actually was. I wondered why I was so cold and when it told me it was just above actually freezing I made the call to turn back home. I was shivering and almost unable to brake as I arrived! If you link it up with your phone you can get weather alerts, but I have yet to see this in action.
It can also use GLONASS next to GPS to increase the accuracy of your location which does affect the battery life. If you have good GPS coverage, you can stick to that. If you use the 520 on a track, you might want to enable GLONASS too.
When you have a turbo trainer with ANT+ control support (like the Tacx Smart trainers or Wahoo Kickr) you can control the trainer from the Edge 520 and see the current information and set the resistance too.
Well known in running and triathlon watches, you can now also create custom workouts for cycling too. You can create complex workouts with numerous targets (hr, power, cadence, time, etc.) online at Garmin Connect or quickly start an interval training on the device itself.
The Garmin 520 also has a built in Functional Threshold Power test. This requires you have paired a power meter and set your profile information. With the FTP you can see what you are able to deliver in power while not building up lactate acid. Very useful information for time-trials and races as you can go for a goal power, not a goal time. Power is not influenced by hills, wind or anything.
If you use a heart rate monitor when cycling you can enable the recovery advisor. This is a calculation based on your profile and the last effort which gives you an estimate on how long you should wait until your next session to get the optimal result.
You can customise datapages based on profiles (max 10). So you can have a race profile, a mountains profile, time trial profile, etc. On the datapages themself you can select up to 10 fields of data. The list fields you can display is long. And by long I mean it’s about “two pages in the manual“-long. Luckily finding the right one is done via categories and you don’t have to scroll through all of them.
VIRB, Radar & Varia Lights
If you also have a VIRB camera or the Varia Radar or lights you can control them from the 520 which makes it a bit easier to start filmping if you mounted the camera to the rear or something. It’s just a little bonus.
Connected with the Garmin Varia Radar you will get feedback on the Edge 520 when cars approach you from the back. It will light up with an orange overcast and will go green when the car has passed. But even with this, please look over your shoulder when you move out of your path.
Courses & Navigation
In my previous post you can read how you can install detailed bike maps on the Garmin Edge 520, with these maps it’s a lot easier to ride a course. You can obtain courses in three ways. You go out cycling and when you’re done you save it as a course and ride it again later. You can also search for courses online and the last option is to create a course yourself. This is done rather easy on Garmin Connect.
Creating a course
Just log in to Garmin Connect and click on Courses and choose the ‘create a course’ option. Move the map to where you want to start and create the route by clicking where you want to go. You will see the site create a line which you can adjust if needed:
On the right you have some neat tools to help you figure out the course details. If you fill in our estimated average, you’ll get an estimated time (see the small picture). Note that the course plotting doesn’t take in consideration if it’s OK to ride a road with a bike. keep your wits about you and maybe a second tab with streetview to see if the road is legally (and safely) accessible by bike.
After you’re done, just give it a name and be sure to click ‘send to device’. This will trigger the start of the Garmin Express app to send the file to your device. Once connected via USB they are stored and available to ride. (you can find them in Garmin/Course/***.fit files if you want more control).
Cycling a course
Riding a course is quite simple the only thing you have to keep in mind is that directions only show up on the map data page. During the course you some information in front of you. obviously, the line of the course showing where it’s going and big white arrows when the course changes directions or you have to make a turn. Furthermore the speed you used in creating the course is used to plot a ghost (indicated by the gray triangle). Since it’s an average speed it doesn’t consider climbs or turns.
The datapage after the map (push down button) will give you the distance between you and the ghost. It’s nice to see how small or big a gap actually is when you think about the gaps in the Tour de France.
Brand new is the integration of Strava. If you’re not familiar with Strava… well, get an account! Strava segments can be uploaded to the device and you can get real time information on your performance on the segment. So if you want to try and get the KOM or QOM you will get the information during the ride and during the segment on how you are doing.
Once you have connected the device via USB and mounted it as external drive you can also add a custom welcome message. This is nice when you are trusty of the kindness of people when you lose it. In the Garmin folder you’ll find a file called ‘startup.txt’. Open it up with a simple text editor and you can add a personal message (e.g. your name and phone number).
<!-- Edit this file to display a message while your unit is powering on --> <!-- Allow one full power cycle after editing for your message to be updated --> <!-- Set the display number to the minimum number of seconds your message is displayed --> <display = 2> <!-- Type your message on the next line --> OneManEngine +14155552671
Overal & price
The only thing lacking in the Edge 520 is to navigate while you are on the road. Going back to the start or a POI is just a direct line and you’ll have to figure it out by yourself, which is a bit of a pity. Maybe it comes with a firmware update in the future. Overall it’s not a huge distraction from everything that makes this device awesome. I haven’t had any issues and it ticks all the boxes for cycling in my book. If you want to buy the Garmin Edge 520, please use one of the links below, as I get a small fee for your purchase which helps me maintain this blog and write these reviews!
Or have a look at the Edge 530 – You can find a feature compare here.
Just a note about the “links to buy” in this article, as they are sponsored. I do look for the lowest price I can find at the time of writing in a handful of stores, but by using the links I earn from qualifying purchases made through these links.