Ho. Lee. Fuck.
Longtime readers may recall the trouble I had with a Garmin bike GPS device last summer and fall. They could not get me a model 510 that worked for love or money — Bluetooth connectivity (and thus LiveTrack) never worked reliably, and (worse) the device would sometimes just plain eat data. On two such occasions, it did so on rides I was doing out of town in novel places, where I couldn’t easily duplicate the track. Well done, jackasses!
Anyway, they sorta-fixed it by agreeing to let me swap the 4th or 5th 510 for the next model up, and since then it’s worked better. Bluetooth still only works about 80% of the time, but at least it’s not eating data. I declared victory.
However, as it turns out, Garmin’s aggressive Suck program has other areas of focus, too!
Bike computers of all types generally use a wheel sensor to track speed. You tell the computer how big your wheel is, and the sensor tracks rotations, which gives you pretty accurate speed and distance readings. (GPS devices can work without these with a loss of accuracy, but since they’re easy to use there’s little reason not to use them.)
If you’re really paying attention to training, then you probably also want a cadence sensor, which tells you how many revolutions your feet are making every minute. Typically, you want to pedal faster instead of mashing harder — you’ll be more efficient that way, and get a more aerobic workout.
Traditionally, both speed and cadence sensors have used a pair of magnets to capture data: one affixed to the bike frame, and another affixed to the thing that goes around. For speed, you usually see it on the front fork with the companion magnet affixed to a spoke. For cadence, you get magnets on the chainstay and crank arm on the non-drivetrain side. (Most of the time these days, the sensors require no wires to communicate with the head unit.)
I have sensors like this on my older bike. It’s obviously somewhat fiddly and visually cluttered, but they work fine.
A year or so ago, we started to see more clever sensors for both things. Garmin has a pair that attach only at single points, and require no magnet alignment: the speed sensor attaches to the hub of one of your wheels, and the cadence sensor attaches to a crank arm. Both sense motion itself, not magnetic field flux. They’re much less fiddly (nothing to keep aligned) and are drastically more visually appealing on the bike. I chose those for the new bike last fall. So far, they’ve worked fine, too — with one exception I encountered last week.
The cadence sensor is a little thin pod about the size of two quarters that you attach to the interior of your crank arm using one of three supplied (but proprietary) rubber bands. I say they include three, but they’re in three sizes, so you only get one that will actually work with your bike.
I was a little dubious of this choice on installation, and it turns out I had good reason. Last Tuesday I noticed that the band on mine was partly broken. They get credit for using a design wherein a single break won’t allow the sensor to fall off, but that’s where credit stops.
You see, you can’t just go to the Garmin web store (or your favorite retailer) and buy a pack of replacement bands. They’re nowhere. I opened a support ticket about this last night; here’s what I got back:
Thank you for contacting Garmin International.
I would be happy to assist you.
The replacement straps aren’t available through our website, but we do have them available for sale through the number below. A set of three straps is $10 plus shipping and any applicable sales tax. Please call us at the number below to place your order as we are unable to take payment information over email.
Now, note that he says “set of three.” That sounds reasonable at first, but it turns out they mean “one each of three different sizes.” In other words, they’re asking you to spend ten bucks for a single goddamn rubber band when the first one didn’t even last a year.
When I pointed this out somewhat firmly, the dude I got on the phone offered to send me a set (again, of which two are useless) gratis, which arrived on Saturday.
What’s the over/under on how many times I can shame them into replacing the band for free?