An Expert Guide to the Different Garmin Cycling Computers

Want to track your rides with a cycling computer? Cycling Expert Adam L. explains the offerings from Garmin, and what each situation each is best used for.

Cyclists navigating a trail

Photo by Miguel Saenz de Santa María

Garmin is perhaps the foremost name in cycling computers. All of their computers (or head units, as they’re also called) come equipped with features ranging from GPS tracking to connection to external devices that use Bluetooth or ANT+ protocols such as heart rate monitors, power meters, Garmin Varia lights, trainers, and more.

Garmin computers also connect to cell phones and can display incoming calls, texts, and other notifications. You can choose what notifications come through, so a text from your wife is displayed but a news app notification is not. These computers give you the ability to upload rides to Garmin Connect or a third-party service like Strava to analyze your performance and share it with others.

Each unit also has customizable ride profiles, so you can set up specific data screens and other features for different riding styles, including but certainly not limited to road, gravel, mountain, and indoor riding. Within ride profiles, data screens and fields on each screen are customizable, so you have just the info you need easily accessible.

The Garmin Edge Explore 2 is one unit with slightly different features, as it’s designed for touring riders, but full information on the Explore can be found at the end of the article.

One of the features shared by the Edge units is Crash Detection, which uses an accelerometer to determine if a crash has occurred and notifies your emergency contacts with your coordinates. Crash Detection really helps my peace of mind on solo rides, but it’s super important to note that notification requires a connected smartphone that has cell service. If you’re out of service, Garmin won’t be able to send a notification.

Now that we’ve covered some of the basic shared features, let’s dive into the full breakdown of each unit. These descriptions can get lengthy, so I’ll include a brief “Best For” summary at the end of each model. If you have any more questions about finding the right computer or other gear, reach out to me or another Cycling Expert and we’ll help get you set up!

Edge 130 Plus

Product image of Garmin Edge 130 Plus Bike Computer

The 130 Plus is the smallest and lightest computer in the range. It has a black-and-white screen and button controls. Routing is done with a “breadcrumb” track, not a map, so it isn’t the best choice for navigation use but should help you follow a course in a pinch. The 130 Plus has Bluetooth, ANT+ (a wireless communication protocol used by training devices), and USB cable connectivity. The max battery life is 12 hours, and there is no Battery Save Mode to extend its life. It does have an onboard accelerometer to record MTB dynamics, as well as Crash Detection. The 130 Plus also has ClimbPro, which displays a graphic with climb statistics when following routes. ClimbPro is great for pacing efforts on hilly, long rides as well as knowing just how much suffering is left in your ride.

Due to its small size and lightweight, I’ve seen World Cup mountain bike racers using the 130 Plus during their rides so they can save a few grams while still recording data in races.

  • Best For: Riders who want GPS and performance tracking in a small and value-priced package but don't need map-based navigation.

Edge 530

Product image of Garmin Edge 530 Bike Computer

The Edge 530 is what I ride with and it strikes a great balance between cost and performance. It comes with a full-color screen and button control. While buttons are not as convenient for navigating the map, they are reliable in wet weather as well as when wearing gloves. Garmin Cycle Map and Trailforks for off-road riding come standard and the 530 displays turn-by-turn directions for preloaded routes. Having trails on the Trailforks screen is helpful when mountain biking in a new area and it has greatly reduced my number of intersection stops to consult a map on my phone.

The 530 also adds a slew of training features that are usually exclusive to higher-end units. These features include Garmin Training Metrics (Training Effectiveness, Vo2 Max Estimation, Recovery Time) as well as automatic Hydration and Nutrition Alerts that use effort and temperature to tell you when and how much to eat and drink. I haven’t found the automatic alerts very useful, but I do like setting an alert to remind me to drink every 20 minutes or so on longer rides.

The 530 also adds a barometric altimeter for elevation measurement and WiFi connectivity so it can sync without a phone or computer. There’s also a Bike Alarm that sounds an alarm tone if the bike is moved without entering the correct pin. It’s not much, but it helps with peace of mind at café stops and will probably make a thief think twice. The device’s battery life maxes out at 20 hours in Battery Save Mode, which turns off the screen until an alert is displayed.

The only feature missing from the 530 is point-of-interest routing, so you can’t create a new route on the fly to a coffee shop or other destination. Generally, I ride with my phone and prefer looking up new locations on Google Maps anyway, but it’s a consideration. That being said, if you get off a set course the 530 will route you back to the course.

  • Best For: Performance-minded riders who want a mid-level computer that has loads of features but doesn’t break the bank.

Edge 830

Product image of Garmin Edge 830 Bike Computer

The Edge 830 offers a similar size and features to the 530, with the major difference being it has a touch screen, although basic functions including power, start/stop, and lap is still handled by buttons. Besides the screen, the 830 has improved route calculation, including searching points of interest and navigating to them, as well as calculating entire routes based on user requests (distance, terrain, etc).

  • Best For: Riders who want a mid-level computer that provides a compact display, touch screen, and on-device route calculation abilities.

Edge 1030 Plus

Product image of Garmin Edge 1030 Plus Bike Computer

The Edge 1030 Plus is very similar to the 830 but has a longer battery life and faster route processing. It has a life of 24 hours in standard mode and up to 48 hours in Battery Save Mode. The larger screen is great for navigation, making the 1030 Plus ideal to use on routes with a lot of directions and turns, though the larger size and heavier weight might not make it the favorite computer for racers.

  • Best For: The 1030 Plus is a great choice for riders who want a high-level computer and prefer a large screen for displaying data fields and easy-to-read map navigation.

Edge 1040

Product image of Garmin Edge 1040

The Edge 1040 is the latest and greatest version of Garmin’s top-level computer. It’s a similar size to the 1030 and also has a touch screen, but has several software advancements and a few physical changes. It includes all previous features, as well as a new user interface that’s easier to use and is compatible with the Garmin Connect mobile app to edit training screens. The processing time for routes is much faster, and route calculation of an existing course, new course according to parameters, or route to a POI is lightning-quick compared to the 1030.

New training features include dynamic training plans that take into account current fitness and fatigue to suggest daily workouts, as well as a Power Guide that takes in course and fitness data and suggests a power-based pacing strategy.

Physical updates include a metal computer mount (instead of the typical plastic mount) as well as a USB-C cable connection. There’s also an updated multi-band GPS antenna which makes the 1040 more accurate and quicker to locate satellites.

  • Best For: Riders who want the latest technology and will use the advanced training features.

Edge 1040 Solar

Product image of Garmin Edge 1040 Solar

The Edge 1040 Solar adds solar panel charging to the impressive specs of the standard 1040. In favorable conditions, Garmin claims a massive 100 hours of running time in Battery Save Mode!

  • Best For: Endurance riders who need a top-level computer with extreme battery life riders, or for those who hate having to charge their computer.

Edge Explore 2

Product image of Garmin Edge Explore 2

The Edge Explore 2 is a unique model that’s designed for riders who are more focused on touring than performance. It has a large touch screen similar to the Edge 1030 and includes Garmin Cycle Map as well as the ability to create routes on the device.

It’s not designed for riders focused on performance, as there’s no ability to use Strava Live Segments and no support for connecting power meters, running structured workouts, or unique activity profiles. The Explore 2 also includes Incident Detection.

  • Best For: Cyclists who are focused on touring and not on performance but still want a large full-color head unit with sophisticated mapping capabilities.

I hope this overview has helped explain the different Garmin cycling computer models. Whether you’re a serious cyclist, just getting into the sport, a bike tourist, or some combination of all of the above, Garmin has a model that will work for you. If you still have questions or would like to discuss the best computer for your needs, please reach out to a Curated Cycling Expert!

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Cycling Expert Adam L.
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I've ridden and raced bikes all across the country, from my hometown on the East coast to big alpine trails in Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. Cycling is my favorite way to exercise while also enjoying all of the natural beauty the outdoors has to offer.

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