Long a popular computer choice among athletes across disciplines, Garmin has been busy the last few years launching new cycling computers and updating existing ones across its price spectrum.
Last year we reviewed the Edge 130, which is a compact, entry-level computer for those new to tracking metrics and recording rides with GPS.
Another computer Garmin unveiled was the Edge 520 Plus, an updated version of the Edge 520. According to Garmin, the primary new features on the Edge 520 Plus are updated rider navigation, rider alerts and increased connectivity via a smartphone.
With mapping an essential part of navigating remote gravel roads, I obtained an Edge 520 Plus and put it to the test to see if it is a worthy companion for gravel adventures while also tracking training rides and even riding the trainer indoors.
Plus Version Basics
Garmin offers cycling computers that range from the compact Edge 130 up to the Edge 1030 that features a large screen and features galore. The Edge 520 Plus packs its features into a unit that is similar in size to the discontinued—but still popular—Edge 500.
The unit measures 1.9″ x 2.9″ x 0.8″ and weighs 62g. The screen measures 1.4″ x 1.9″ and the map is in full color.
The Edge 520 Plus is compatible with Ant+ devices and also has FE-C functionality for controlling smart trainers. It also pairs with smartphones via Bluetooth, which allows use of its live tracking function. The Edge 520 Plus offers GPS and GLONASS tracking for maximum accuracy and just GPS for increased battery life.
The Edge 520 Plus has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a battery life up to a claimed 15 hours.
The base package comes with the computer unit, an out-front mount, stem mounts and a USB charging cable. Speed and cadence and mountain bike packages are also available at an additional cost.
The base price for the Edge 520 Plus is $280.
Mapping on the Edge 520 Plus
I received the Edge 520 Plus at the start of gravel season, and so with the updated mapping features Garmin put on the device, I was obviously interested to see how it would help with navigation. After all, gravel is all about riding roads less traveled, right?
The Edge 520 Plus comes with color, cycling-specific maps loaded on it, including one for North America. You can control the amount of detail and level of zoom you want on the map using the settings menu.
Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for both desktops and smartphones to build and export route maps to the device.
To create a route, you can either map it in Garmin Connect or import a .gpx or .tcx file and save it as a new route. Routes from external apps can be synced by downloading add-ons through the Connect IQ store.
Once your route is saved in the app, a sync with the Edge 520 Plus loads the route the unit.
On the road, navigation with the Edge 520 Plus is straightforward. The Garmin Cycle Map has most road names loaded, and the computer gives you audio and visual warnings that turns are coming up.
An arrow shows you which way to go when the turn arrives.
Seeing the route as you are riding it might take a little bit of testing out different colors, with the route and your ridden path colors able to be customized.
The advanced mapping features of the Edge 520 Plus also allow you to set a route back to the start if you are lost or want to cut a ride short, and if you miss a turn, the map attempts to guide you back on track.
Training with the Edge 520 Plus
Some of us are lucky to have endless gravel roads to explore all the time, but for most of us, a cycling computer is likely to get use for training on roads we already know. The data recording functions on the Edge 520 Plus are set up with this in mind.
The Edge 520 Plus offers three profiles—Indoor, Train and Race—that you can customize based on your specific needs for each type of riding. Each profile allows you to customize each of 6 display screen for up to 10 data fields. Whereas I found the Edge 130 a bit lacking in the options available for metrics such as power, the Edge 520 Plus is fully stocked with metrics for power, heart rate, cycling dynamics, cadence and more.
In the past, I have typically used 7 data fields for ease of reading with computers, but I found even with 10 fields loaded on the screen, all of the values were pretty easy to read. If you want a data overload, the Edge 520 Plus wants to help you get your fix.
All changes to the display are made via the unit and not an app. I would say the Edge 520 Plus menus are not super-intuitive, and they took some time to get used to.
For training outside, the Edge 520 Plus allows you to create workouts with power, power zone, heart rate, speed or cadence targets that you can. The workout displays your metrics and the time or distance remaining for each interval. Intervals can also be controlled using the lap button.
Inside on a smart trainer, the Edge 520 Plus is Ant+ FE-C enabled, which allows you to control the resistance on the trainer or set the power using erg mode. The default setting for indoor rides turns the GPS and auto pause off, so you can also record your workouts for upload to Strava or other training apps.
Strava Live Segments
We might be past peak Strava segment hunting (question mark?), but segments are something many of us still incorporate into our riding. The Edge 520 Plus offers live segments via Strava that help you pace your efforts in real time.
To select segments to target, “star” them in Strava and then sync your Edge 520 Plus with the Garmin Connect app. The next time you ride, they will be ready for the hunting.
The Edge 520 Plus gives you audio and visual cues that a chosen segment is approaching, and when you hit the start, it lets you know it is Go Time.
During the effort, the display compares your progress to either a personal goal, a rival you follow on Strava or your own personal record. The default displays are in that order, but you can change your target during the effort. You can also change your target ahead of time by using the settings to go into each segment and select either your closest rival, PR or QOM/KOM as your target time. One change to this that would be nice to see is a universal option instead of having to go into each segment to make the change.
Once you finish the effort, the unit displays your time for the segment, which allows you that instant gratification—or disappointment—from knowing your segment time during the ride and not when you get home and upload the activity.
The Garmin Edge 520 Plus has other features that demonstrate the modernity of cycling computers and smartphone connectivity. Most of these features work when the Edge 520 Plus is connected to your smartphone and the Garmin Connect app is open, meaning they will have an impact on your phone’s battery in addition to that on the computer.
LiveTrack allows you to create a link to your ride in real time, with those watching you able to track your progress and data from Ant+ sensors. If others have LiveTrack and GroupTrack enabled, you can see them on your Edge 520 Plus and even them send messages.
A final connectivity feature is Incident Detection. Garmin allows you to set up to three emergency contacts to receive a text and/or email if you have an “incident.”
The Garmin Connect IQ store allows you do download additional apps such as a weather tracker and Trailforks and additional data fields created by third parties. If you train with power, a built-in functions calculate your VO2Max, and another calculates your functional threshold power when paired with a Vector power meter.
The Edge 520 Plus in Action
Obvious comps for the Garmin Edge 520 Plus are the Wahoo Elemnt I reviewed last year or its smaller cousin, the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. I wanted to evaluate the Edge 520 Plus on its own merits, but it was tough to not compare it to the Elemnt throughout the review.
Overall, I was happy with how the Garmin Edge 520 Plus performed. I liked that there were three different activity profiles so I did not have to switch functions such as Auto Pause on and off depending on whether I was riding inside or outside.
There were plenty of data display options for riding outside with a heart rate monitor and training inside with power on my smart trainer. Power and heart rate numbers on the computer seemed to be correct when compared to both the display on Zwift and other computers, giving me a high level of confidence in the values.
Recording rides with GPS worked as it should, though I had a couple of minor issues. Dating back to my old Edge 500, Garmin units have sometimes been slow to lock onto the satellites to record a ride. Waiting for satellites for a few minutes is not the biggest deal for a long ride, but at the same time, I would expect a GPS cycling computer to do well at locking onto the satellites.
I am a noted Luddite when it comes to life, but after using the Wahoo Elemnt that uploads rides to its app and Strava immediately after a ride when connected to WiFi, the extra step of having to open the Garmin Connect app to upload seemed unnecessary.
Out on the road, the Edge 520 Plus mapping function was easy to use and kept me on my routes, even if it took a bit of changing the colors to find ones that were easy to see. The turns were easy to prepare for and follow even when I turned the audio off (the Garmin beeping can get annoying).
One thing that flummoxed me at first was the default is set to a low level of detail for the map, making me think it did not work at first. Changing the detail level fixed that.
Once I upped the detail, zooming the map out too far also reduced the usefulness of the map. This appears to be one drawback of having detailed, color maps. For maximum flexibility, the black and white of the Elemnt seemed to work better.
The function to recalculate a route back to the start worked fairly well, but the re-rerouting function when you miss a turn was more hit-or-miss. On one ride, I skipped a turn because a bridge was out, but the Edge 520 Plus wanted to re-route me by having me turn around and go back to the road with no bridge. I kept riding down the road, hoping it would re-route me to a new road, but the Edge 520 Plus continued to tell me to turn around.
Battery life is obviously important for gravel and long training rides. During my use, battery life with a heart rate monitor and the battery-saving GPS feature selected was about 12-13 hours. Without sensors attached, the battery likely starts pushing the 15 hours claimed by Garmin.
If you want to use the Edge 520 Plus for cyclocross or mountain biking, it is relatively compact, and with the stem mount, it should not be too distracting while riding while staying on during minor crashes and falls.
It is worth noting that about two months ago, James Huang of CyclingTips started a thread on Twitter asking Garmin users to document their issues with Garmin devices. Despite the quibbles I have documented, I did not experience any major issues with the Edge 520 Plus and scanning the thread, it appears Garmin may have fixed some of the known issues with the Edge 520 Plus.
The Garmin Edge 520 Plus worked as advertised for long-distance exploring, training rides and indoor trainer riding. The display is easy to read, the data fields available are plentiful and the mapping function helped me stay on track for long rides. At $280, the Garmin Edge 520 Plus is competitive based on its features and functionality.
It has been said before, but with cycling computers embracing smartphone connectivity, Garmin’s software is what is holding its computers back from what they could be. My issues were minor, but if ease of use is important for you, other devices might have the increased functionality you are looking for.
This post has been updated.
Garmin Edge 520 Plus Specs
Weight: 62g (actual)
Dimensions: Unit: 1.8″ x 2.7″ x 0.8″; Screen: 1.4″ x 1.9″
Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion
Battery Life: Claimed: 15 hours; Actual: 12-13 hours with sensor
Sensors: GPS, GLONASS, Barometer
More Info: garmin.com