Words by Harry Bradbury
So what do you do when you’re offered a day’s training with the Garmin Fenix watches at Bike Park Wales?? Grab your bike, dig out your kit and RSVP as a big fat yes please. Luckily, this is exactly what we had the opportunity to do. Greg from Dalesman, who is one of the largest Garmin distributors in the UK, had previously mentioned the possibility of bringing the steeds out of winter retirement and heading out for a day with Garmin’s ever-expanding Fenix range.
Friday came around - bright eyed and bushy tailed we arrived at Bike Park Wales early to do that bike-related faff thing and get signed on. Greg presented us with a different variant of Fenix each; Ben took the 5S, Rich took the 5 and I strapped on the 5X, Garmin’s full featured model from the range, naturally. A briefing consisted of a simple set up, entering the relevant user information (weight, height etc) and securing our GPS location. The Fenix works by using a dual-satellite system (GPS and Glonass), so even in the Welsh valleys, we weren’t short of signal. We soon discovered the Fenix range is packed with tonnes of features which are discovered self-intuitively. A couple of minutes flicking through the various features: heart rate, GPS location, grid reference, compass, recovery periods and scrolling through the vast amounts of pre-set sport modes we were soon familiar with our new toys. I had my Garmin bike mounted GPS so was keen to see the difference in results from the day's antics between devices.
The first uplift soon appeared and during our journey to the top, we were all eagerly glued to the screens of our watches prepping for the first run of the day. We had all selected ‘MTB’ mode which gave info on the distance covered, speed, average speed, elevation and current location to name a few. The 5X gave access to TOPO mapping which gives full European maps at the touch of the button – it’s Similar to Garmin’s hand-held devices but with the ease of access through a watch. These showed various POI’s, contours and other geographical features, which if riding / running or hiking removes the need for a traditional map. Bike Park Wales routes are well sign posted so hopefully, I wouldn’t be relying on this feature too much…
Much like Skiing, the runs at Bike Park Wales are graded Green, Blue, Red, Black and Yellow based on the severity and gradient of the trails. We opted to start with the Blue, just to familiarise ourselves with the conditions and avoiding any calamities this early in the day. As it turned out it was an incident free day (RARE). We shot off on the first decent in convoy fashion smashing through the undulating terrain through jumps, rock gardens and berms. The terrain varied from open, dry hard-packed trails to deep wooded root sections. This gave the satellite positioning a good test but none of them skipped a beat. We stopped at the bottom of the first trail to catch a breath and compare. All watches show a breadcrumb trail which all seemed to match up fine, except for mine where I had forgotten to press PLAY on the watch. Whoops! I didn’t make that mistake again. We shot off down the next trail, now familiar with the conditions and getting a positive feel to the bikes beneath us. First run complete we re-grouped to compare notes again. With the watches now paused until we got back to the top, we were presented with multiple readings. Our descent data all gave similar readings and the distances between all 3 devices were consistent. The only anomaly… the heartbeat!
We smashed out a few more runs throughout the day, increasing our degree of difficulty and fully familiarising ourselves with the interface of the Fenix and how to efficiently view the relevant data. 1 O’clock struck and we were all on the same page, the BPW burger. Lunch gave an ideal opportunity to de-brief from the morning’s antics and get stuck into some discussion about the watches. Everyone agreed that the ease of navigation through the watches interface became much easier when you had a play through unguided. Navigation between watch face, sports modes, navigation modes and post-activity data became clearer and searching to find specific features became second nature. Lunch also gave a great opportunity to pair the device with our mobile phones through the Garmin Connect app. This shows you an in-depth review of HR zones, a map of the activity, info on elevation gain and loss, speeds and distances but also calories burnt. It also gives the option to sync with apps such as STRAVA which will allow you to publish your activities for others to view and compare times/records etc. Connection to the app took only a matter of minutes and enables a whole host of data to dive into post-activity.
The afternoon session gave similar results and gave everyone some more time to familiarize themselves with the units and improve their speeds and times. Comparing the data in the afternoon we could see where we were becoming quicker on sections of trails and where we needed to improve. With the session drawing to an end, the Fenix watches gave a final reading showing our averages and totals for the day. They also provided a recommended recovery period relevant to the amount of exercise exerted. We were lucky enough to keep hold of the Fenix watches for the week or so following the trip to BPW. This proved especially useful as they could be used over a variety of other activities throughout the week; walking, running and road cycling. This also gave the rest of the staff an opportunity to increase their understanding of how these technical marvels worked. Something which is often hard to gain without real world use in anger.
This was a great opportunity to get some proper hands on experience with the 3 models and provided a greater understanding of the benefits of a wearable GPS device. The only hardship was having to hand them back…