Deep Dive – Garmin Edge Alerting

Introduction

Second post today! I thought it was about time I added some additional content. I’ve just bought the Edge 130 for my commuter bike and was messing about when I noticed some things I’ve not seen or used before, so figured I’d write them up and see if you like them. Please comment below if you would like to see more stuff like this on the blog in addition to the regular updates. This isn’t a review per se but does compare several Garmin devices and shows one specific capability in more depth than you’d usually see it covered.
Before we dive in to the main alerting deep dive I’d like to highlight that all devices were on current firmware. Now a lot of reviewers will tell you what a total pain it is to update everything and get things charged ready for testing. What I’ve never seen mentioned is how utterly totally crap Garmin updates are. I’ve spent a lot of time getting my bike profiles just how I like them, with all of the screens I want. Following the update for this post on the Edge 820 my Road profile disappeared. Gone. All that effort and time is now lost to me. It also scrambled a bunch of other things, but that was the biggie. It also broke Bluetooth. Now Garmin may not think this is a big deal, it’s a few minutes to set these things back up after all. That’s not the point though. The point is that I can’t rely on this device from one day to the next to just do what I asked it to. I never know if I’ll see the data I need to see, or some fun assortment Garmin have chosen. I never know whether I’ll see miles or Kilometres, and that’s a fun one when you’re trying to pace on a bike. And no, I still don’t want auto-lap enabled after a decade of switching it off EVERY TWO WEEKS!!!

What is alerting?

Am I really writing a whole post about alarms? You bet! In training and racing there are a variety of reasons you may want to be made aware of a status change. There are simple timers, of course, but there are also much more powerful alerts for things like heart rate, cadence, power and calories.

Simple Timers

Simple timers are just a beeper to remind you of something. Into this category goes time and distance. These will either be one-off or recurring alerts. An example of the one-off timer is the turn around alert found on the Edge 1030. This enables an “out and back” type ride scenario for those not wanting to use navigation. Set the alert for 20 miles, and it’ll beep when it’s time to come home to complete your 40 miler. It’s a bit niche, given that it’s only available on a device which has about a thousand other, better, ways to achieve this goal. The obvious example is asking it to plot a 40 mile out and back route!
Recurring timers will just bleep at you every x minutes/miles/km. They are quite fine grained, so you can set one for 1:32:23 if you wanted an alarm every hour and a half and a bit. Sometimes in software it’s “because we can” rather than “because we should”. In real life you’ll set it to round numbers in 5 minute increments or something like that because people are just like that. Anyway, these alerts are useful to keep you aware of progress. Realistically they can also be used in place of some more specific measurements like an eat alarm. The main difference is what it says on the screen and the logo shown alongside. If you can work out that you need to eat based on the below screen grab (from an Edge 820, which doesn’t support Eat timers) then this is good enough. The “Eat timer” just puts a different message up, and on the Edge 130 a different logo too.

The timer has reached 1 minute

Timer alert for 1 minute

Specific Timers

OK, so maybe these are still just simple timers, but they give more information while also leaving the simple timers for other uses since you can enable them all at the same time if you like. Here we have timers for turn around, eat and drink. These are more important than you may at first assume. While basic in functionality, these can have a drastic impact on performance and training. It’s well known that the body uses liquids, salts and calories while training. It’s also pretty well known in what quantities we’re able to take on more of these things and how much we use up. Everyone is different here, but as part of your training program you should be experimenting to find the right mix for you. Pro teams sometimes share their feed patterns with the press, one of which once said that each rider gets two bottles on a ride – one with a salt tab and one without. The plain water can accompany foods or gels while the one with the tab can replace salts used in sweat. Anecdotal evidence suggests that keeping up hydration and salt intake can reduce cramps, while keeping up food intake can extend endurance and reduce fatigue. Both of these can enhance your recovery too since the body is less depleted of resources at the end of the activity. I’ll leave you to do your own research on these topics – I’m not a doctor so won’t give you any advice there. I can tell you though that if I take one gel every 40 minutes I can extend my ride by a couple of hours without fatigue. For this reason I use the eat timer to make sure I remember to take on food regularly. With liquids I don’t personally need an alarm, I get thirsty and I drink. I do go for the two bottle one salt tab routine though and that works nicely for me. I can see scenarios in very hot weather where it might be prudent to set a 10 minute drink alarm. For time trialists who get extremely scientific this may also be of use to keep a constant and small flow of drink coming in. Waiting for thirst may cause a larger intake in one go which could in theory hurt performance as the body deals with more liquid.

Calories

This is a “more scientific” version of the eat timer where you could replace calories as they are used. I’m not sure I’d use this but may experiment in the future. The reason being that eating isn’t to replace what you’ve burned, it’s to ensure a constant flow of new fuel for use. These are subtly different things. Fuel burned can come from many sources including fat stores and what’s already present in muscles and the bloodstream. During exercise we’re just trying to keep the bloodstream source topped off and reduce the effort for the body to get more fuel. As such it would certainly be a risk to eat 100 calories for every 100 used. I guess with trial, error and most importantly measurement, you could come up with a ratio of what you need to take in for an amount burned. As I mentioned, this is more scientific than just eating every 40 minutes as I do so with sufficient study and planning could be a much better method. For easy rides it may also reduce intake of unnecessary calories where weight gain is an issue.

Heart Rate

Heart rate based alerts can be useful to keep you within a certain zone while training against heart rate. While HR is falling out of favour compared to power, it’s still as useful as it was in the 30 years athletes used it before power became a (very expensive) thing. It’s worth pointing out here that HR alerts are much more useful as part of a structured training plan, so workout targets are probably where you should look rather than here. That said, some devices don’t support workouts, and a steady state training using a single zone might be all you need. Heart rate zones can either have a minimum and maximum (tends to be the higher end devices) or can be based on a single HR zone. In both cases, the unit will alert you if you pass those thresholds. The lower end devices may end up annoying here as you have to have both ends of the zone active so it’ll probably beep more than you wanted it to as you work up towards your upper target but not yet above the lower target. Once you’re going though, all will be good and it’ll keep you “in the zone” as long as you need to for the session. This is most useful for lower zones in endurance training since you’ll maintain one zone for a long time.

Cadence

Keeping cadence up puts strain on your cardio rather than muscles and is widely accepted as the better way to train. If you push big gears at low cadence you’ll end up with sore muscles on a long ride. You will build strength in those muscles though, so training for that is sometimes a good thing. This works similarly to weight lifting, do a few reps on big weights to build muscle and lots of reps on smaller weights to build endurance. With cadence alerts you set upper and lower boundaries depending on what you’re training for. 90 and above is generally the aim for cardio and endurance so if training for that then set the minimum to 90 and maximum to 120. You’ll probably bounce around a bit at higher RPM until you improve, although beware this also could be due to incorrect saddle height. For strength training maybe go for 60 minimum and 80 maximum. With these limits set, go for a ride. If the unit beeps you’re either too low/high or you need to change gear. After a very short period of time you’ll start to change your habits if you try to increase cadence.

Power

This is a tricky one, and again likely to be used more during a structured workout. Thanks to hills, wind and other factors setting a range and riding to it may be a challenge. Probably most useful for keeping a low power and being alerted when you go too high for this basic alerting since maintaining high power output for a long time is difficult and also doesn’t really train you for anything. Low power will train endurance over time, but building raw power is probably best done with interval training using a workout.

Workout Targets

Workout targets are simply alerts linked to phases in a structured workout. The image below shows a workout in Garmin Connect where we do a warmup followed by some intervals. This brings in timer alerts and HR alerts as and when they are needed and you don’t need to manually set any of these, they just play out for you as the workout progresses. I’ll do a future deep dive on how the various workouts can be used, but won’t dig into them now.
HR Run workout in Garmin Connect

Custom

The Edge 1030 also brings in “custom” alerts. These are still basic alerts really, based on time or distance, but they allow you to add your own title for the alert so they offer a lot of flexibility. You could, for instance set an alert at 4.54 miles with the title “watch out for the Emus!” if you always pass a field full of those angry and aggressive beasts. More importantly though, you can add multiple of these on the device so you’re free to get more alerts as you deem necessary. This just gives you more freedom on the setup and freedom is always a nice thing to have.

Devices

Edge 25

The Edge 25 is a very basic unit indeed. It’s fine for commuting and those who just want to Strava a ride without digging into details. I did find one single alert in the menu though, and that’s for heart rate. From the main screen, press the start button once to get into “ride” mode. You’ll see “wait for GPS”, “Ready”, or “Start” depending how long you wait. You’ll also see “Ride Options” and a down arrow. Hit down twice to get to HR Alert and press enter again. Here you can choose off, a set zone, or specific min and max alerts which can be enabled individually. Once set you’re good to go.

Edge 130

From the main screen, press and hold menu until you get the main menu, then choose ride settings and alerts. Here you’ll find the following options:

  • Time (timer)
  • Distance (distance)
  • Heart Rate (pick one zone)
  • Calories (Calories)
  • Eat (Time)
  • Drink (Time)

Edge 820

The Edge 820, despite being a higher end device, lacks many of the options present in the Edge 1030. It does have the all important Workout Alerts though, which is realistically the one you want to go for. to set up your alerts, on the Edge 820 main screen press Menu, Settings, Activity Profiles, select your profile, then Alerts and you’ll get the following options:

  • Time (Time)
  • Distance (Distance)
  • Calorie (calories)
  • Heart Rate (min and max, can be different zones but will be based on a zone min or max)
  • Cadence (Min, max, in 10rpm increments from 40-140 min or 50-150 max)
  • Power (min, max based on zones)
  • Workout target alerts (based on current workout)

Edge 1030

The Edge 1030 really has all bases covered when it comes to alerting and has almost full customisation. I am a little confused as to why custom alerts can only choose from time or distance though, it seems like a trivial thing to enable calories, power etc. for all alerts thus giving complete freedom to choose and add more alerts. Oddly enough I also noticed that the menu works differently to the Edge 820, which has an extra layer of “settings” to get to the profiles. This is weird given how similar the interfaces are, and suggests Garmin are reworking more code than you’d expect to port between devices – perhaps the reason why so many bugs creep in during development. A more standard code base may improve things there, like Wahoo seem to use.

On the Edge 1030 main screen press Menu, Activity Profiles, select your profile, then Alerts and you’ll get the following options:

  • Workout target alerts (based on current workout)
  • Time (time)
  • Distance (distance)
  • Calories (Calories)
  • Heart Rate (min and max, can be different zones but will be based on a zone min or max)
  • Cadence (Min, max, in 10rpm increments from 40-140 min or 50-150 max)
  • Power (min, max based on zones)
  • Turn around alert (distance)
  • Eat (time or distance)
  • Drink (time or distance)
  • Custom (time or distance, add as many as you need)
Disclosure
I bought all of the devices featured in this post. I don’t get loan/preview/test units from any manufacturer and have no links to them.

2 Comments

  1. For hydration I tend to take a sip every time I notice the time-of-day ending in either 0 or 5. There are definitely times I get distracted on the ride and miss a scheduled drink opportunity, but it generally works okay. I do use the Edge custom timers set to 80 minutes to re-apply sunblock.

    • Thanks for the comment. Being UK based I hadn’t thought about sunblock timers as we don’t usually have enough sun to need re-application!

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