The Garmin 500 is fast becoming the premiere bike computer for racing types. It’s small and unobtrusive with an intuitive interface you can master in a day or two. And once you’ve learned to use it it just disappears and does its job – it’s not one of those gizmos you want to chuck in frustration. Downloading files is a cinch as well – it simply shows up as a drive on your computer, and you pull your files off it just as you would any USB drive. Strava loads rides directly from it. It’s becoming so ubiquitous people are making aftermarket mounts for it. So if the Timex Cycle Trainer 2.0 GPS wants to unseat the 500 from its throne, or more likely grab some market share, it better do everything the 500 does and offer something more.
You might say the CT 2.0 is a Garmin 500 clone. It’s nearly identical in size (though clunkier in shape), and its four buttons perform the same exact functions. Unfortunately they’re a bit harder to locate by touch and harder to press. The CT 2.0’s mount is a bit taller than the 500’s so it sits higher than the 500. The mount interface is a bit loose and the unit wiggles slightly on it.
The CT 2.0’s firmware is pretty similar to the 500’s with a few key differences. You can custom configure 4 screens with 2-6 fields of data. Just about every metric is available to display, averages and maxes of speed, cadence, HR, power, pace, slope and more, with the notable exception of lap average power, a very useful number for interval training. Timex says this is coming in a firmware update, but with no ETA for the update.
Unfortunately, you can’t specify the number of screens, so with its 4 data screens, time of day, GPS, and optional map and compass screens, there are 8 total. I’d rather just have 2 or 3 and not have to cycle through so many screens to get back home.
Unlike the 500, you can navigate with the CT 2.0. You don’t get road maps, but your route is drawn as you ride, and you can input waypoints as you go. At the very least you can always find your way back when you’re riding in a new place.
There’s also a magnetic compass, which, strangely enough, needs to be calibrated while the unit has a GPS signal in order to work properly. It also seemed less accurate when the GPS signal is weaker.
Finally, you can’t save multiple profiles on the CT 2.0, so if you have multiple bikes with power meters you’ll have to re-pair the CT 2.0 each time you switch bikes. This is a relatively minor oversight, but it does mean you’ll have to walk 30 feet away from other bikes should you need to pair your sensors. Once again, multiple profile capability is planned for a future firmware update.
Generally speaking, you really have to read the instruction manual carefully to get the most out of the CT 2.0. If you’re not the type to read manuals, the 500 is far more idiot proof. My first ride with the CT 2.0 was a comedy of errors.
Timex have partnered with TrainingPeaks for ride analysis – purchasing the CT 2.0 gets you a free account with TrainingPeaks. So unlike the 500, the CT 2.0 doesn’t appear as a drive in your finder – you’ll need to download TrainingPeak’s Device Agent software to access files. While this is slightly less convenient, Device Agent does allow you to input your preferences on your PC and load them to the CT 2.0, a much quicker process than punching numbers in with the device’s 4 buttons.
Device Agent lets you upload your files to TrainingPeaks or save to PC. The files are .pwx files (TrainingPeak’s file format), which (sort of) open in Golden Cheetah but are not supported by Strava or RidewithGPS. You’ll have to upload to Golden Cheetah and export to .tcx if you want to play on Strava or RidewithGPS. Increased Strava compatibility is planned for a firmware update (also no ETA).
The CT 2.0 doesn’t log GPS speed or distance in its .pwx files, so that has to be calculated later by your ride analysis application using GPS coordinates. Golden Cheetah doesn’t do this, so files appear in GC as 0 miles ridden, and many other metrics are gibberish as a result. Mileage does appear correctly in TrainingPeaks, and once exported to .tcx and opened in Strava or RWGPS. If you’re a GC user, you’re SOL with the CT 2.0.
Timex has stated that they’re not tied to TrainingPeaks and are open to other partnerships. My hope is that future firmware updates will use more universally supported file formats such as .fit or .tcx instead of TrainingPeaks’s .pwx. As it stands now, if I want to load a ride onto Strava, I have to connect to Device Agent, save the file to disk, open in Golden Cheetah, export to .tcx, then upload to Strava. This hack is a nuisance for a geek like me and likely a dealbreaker for normals.
The CT 2.0 has two GPS options (the 500 has just one): normal (accurate within 15 meters) and the more precise WAAS/EGNOS (within 3 meters). Because it is more precise, getting a fix takes longer with WAAS/EGNOS – I had to leave the buildings of midtown Manhattan before I could get a lock. Since I’m not directing any drone strikes (that you know of), I chose the normal setting (WAAS/EGNOS is the default setting). Even on normal the CT 2.0 often took longer to get a fix than the 500, so its ride files started later than the 500‘s. This, of course, is not an issue if you don’t live in an urban canyon or under a forest canopy.
The flip side is that once locked in, the CT 2.0 was more precise than the 500, even in normal mode. The CT 2.0’s trace is on the left in the two screengrabs above. The top map was recorded in normal mode, the lower shot in WAAS/EGNOS. For the most part this is a trivial distinction, that is until the day you kill yourself to win a KOM on Strava only to find out later that you never crossed the segment’s start line due to GPS drift.
The CT 2.0 gets its current time from GPS data, but doesn’t save that time for long once it’s shut off. It reverts to 2/14/09 8pm as its current time until it gets another GPS lock. Since I normally start my ride timer as I set off in midtown Manhattan and let the GPS lock in on its own, my ride files were all dated 2/14/09 until I figured this out. This needs to be a firmware fix, or all indoor trainer rides will be dated ’09.
The CT 2.0 usually recorded a higher max power than the 500. Both were set to 1 second recording. Other metrics (average power, max and average speed and HR) matched up.
The 500 comes two ways, $250 for the unit alone or $350 for the unit with HR strap and speed/cadence sensor. The CT 2.0 is $250 for the unit with HR strap, and you can find it for $185 online. If you’re a Quarq or SRM owner you won’t need a cadence sensor, and you can get speed data via GPS, so for some a speed/cadence sensor is unnecessary. Considering that ANT+ HR straps typically run about $50, we’re talking about a $135 computer, and that’s enough of a savings to consider the CT 2.0.
Remember when we used to buy things and expect that they’d be perfectly functional out of the box? Now we buy things that we think are good enough now and hope they’ll be bug free and more capable with software and firmware upgrades. The CT 2.0 came out just last September, and its firmware is a work in progress. The good news is that its hardware seems solid, with a superior GPS chip. If its bugs are worked out, and if it adopts a more open platform than TrainingPeaks, it could be a viable alternative to the 500, with the advantage of rudimentary navigational capabilities and a lower price.