I’ve been doing some retail therapy the last couple of months, and right at the top of my list was replacing my six year old Garmin Edge 520.
That GPS was OK in its day, but time has passed it by. The map screens were always atrocious – useless, really – they couldn’t be seen in many riding conditions. Using a route while riding drained the battery in something like four hours. If you research it, you will learn that most Garmins have problems with excessive battery drain when riding with a route. And, loading routes onto the GPS was quite the little adventure.
But still, the old GPS did its job reasonably well – when it was newer. Then, about a year ago, the GPS’ Bluetooth decided it no longer wanted to connect to my phone, so uploading rides meant connecting the GPS to a computer using a cable. Routing started getting flaky – it would tell me I was off course when I wasn’t off course, and it had trouble recognizing I was on course after restarting a ride after stopping for a while. (Which is how I ended up leading a group of riders the wrong way out of Yountville on this year’s Darth Veeder ride, and why I was asking people “now, how do you go?” as we were pulling out of Castro Valley BART on the Palomares ride.)
Then, there are the never-ending annoyances of Garmin Connect and connect.garmin.com, software that feels like it was developed 15 years ago and never got significant updates. And, there’s Garmin’s strategy of dealing with customers who have problems – “what, your GPS doesn’t work? So sorry. We’ll be glad to sell you a newer model at a discount. (But we’ll never fix yours, it’s out of warranty.)”
I decided I was tired of thinking that Garmin was the only way to go (since that’s the brand I started with), and tired of being locked into buying Garmin devices as the only path forward once my Garmin device stopped operating as it should.
I did some research and decided I wanted to give the Hammerhead Karoo 2 a try.
I’m not going to shill for the Karoo 2, but I will say that its huge, bright screen was what seduced me. I’m getting older, and, well, the eyes are going. Wait, what, I’m going to be able to see maps on my GPS again? Wow. What a concept.
The sections that follow are my experiences as I was upgrading from my low-end, six year old device to one that’s brand spanking new and higher end. So I can’t be too hard on Garmin here. But Garmin’s had close to a monopoly on the cycling GPS market for years (OK, I see you, Wahoo). It does feel good (so far) to get out from under Mama Garmin’s thumb.
I’m three rides in now, and so far, very pleased with my new toy. Here are my impressions setting the new GPS up and riding with it the first couple of times.
- Wow, the packaging is so nice. Did I buy an Apple something or a Google something, ‘cause this feels like it. Yeah, I’m superficial. Nothing like opening up a pretty box.
- Nice. This thing has a USB-C interface, just like my computer, my laptop, my phone, and everything else I have that’s less than 5 years old.
- But, oops. They’re protecting the interface with a stupid little black plastic plug? I wonder how long it’s going to be before that gets lost.
- OK, I started it. Why does this GPS take so damn long to power up? It’s taking as long as the Garmin does. Bleah.
- Huh? This is an Android device? Wait – I already know how to use Android! Less of a learning curve!
- It’s got a touch screen. Yay! Nice upgrade! (I could have had one if I had bought a more expensive Garmin than the 520, so I’m not blaming the lack of a touch screen on Garmin – more on my buying a less expensive Garmin model.)
- Oh. My. God. That screen. High resolution. Brilliant display. It’s almost as good as my MacBook Pro – at least in these indoor light conditions.
- There’s support.hammerhead.io and dashboard.hammerhead.io? Why do I need two accounts, and two sets of login credentials. Weird. Not like.
- I’m making my way through Karoo’s setup instructions on-line, and they’re pretty good. I’m well-positioned to assess that – I write this kind of stuff for a living.
- Wow, soooo easy to connect my Hammerhead account with Strava and RideWithGPS.com.
- Now I’m loading a route, in advance of doing my first ride. All I have to do is go to routes on dashboard.hammerhead.io, click Add, and then supply the URL from RideWithGPS? No “download the route, connect the GPS to my laptop, drag the route to the NewFiles folder” dance? C’mon, Hammerhead, you’re making this too easy.
- I paired the GPS with my phone. Straightforward and easy.
- And unlike the Edge 520, maybe Bluetooth is actually going to work on this thing.
- I also downloaded the Karoo 2 app, but I’m not sure why. The Internet told me to, and it seemed like a good idea.
- Uh, oh, hardware problem. The Karoo 2 comes with an attachment that you can put on the GPS that makes it compatible with Garmin mounts, but the mount has to be far enough away from your handlebars so that the GPS will fit on your bike. Mine didn’t. So I was either going to have to get a new Garmin-compatible mount or use the Hammerhead mount. I opted to take the Garmin mount off the bike and replace it with the Hammerhead mount. Took me all of 5 minutes, and y’know, I’m klutzy with that kind of stuff.
- Holy crap. I can actually make out what’s on the screen. In bright sunlight, in shade, and everything in between. With or without my sunglasses.
- The screen resolution is AMAZING.
- I don’t even mind dark mode on this thing. I’m not a fan of dark mode for everyday work, but it works well with this GPS.
- Routing worked flawlessly. No “off course” warnings when I wasn’t off course. And it started up right away, no delay at all.
- Needless to say, I forgot to click start, to tell the GPS to start capturing ride data. It’s a tradition when I get a new GPS, and I forget to do it even when I’m well-acquainted with my GPS.
- Holy crap again. I can actually see the maps. Maps are useful on this GPS? What a concept.
- I can see how much battery power I have left. Nice. And I even know where to go look for it, because it’s Android and I know how to use Android. It’s in the upper part of the screen, just like on my cell phone.
- The climb feature is REALLY cool. The screen shows me how many climbs I have to go on my route, and once I’m on a climb, it tells me how much longer the climb will be, and what the grades ahead are going to be. Sure could have used this on Morgan Territory Road the other day, when I was swearing at the grades and wondering how much more of that damn climb I was going to have to suffer through.
- So, no more “let’s see, Mt. Diablo is about a 3,600 foot climb, and Camino Alto (which I’ve done a million billion times) is about 300 feet, therefore, the climb ahead is going to be 12 Camino Altos. OK, David, you can do 12 Camino Altos if you pace yourself…down to ten Camino Altos, you can do it…halfway there, so only 5 Camino Altos to go…one more Camino Alto, you can do one Camino Alto…” Yeah, that’s me.
- Uh, oh. Cadence and power are not registering. I must have done something wrong when I set up the device. Back to the drawing board on those.
- Hey, this thing uploaded my ride to Strava, just like my Garmin used to do before Bluetooth crapped out. And I can even change the ride title right on the GPS to something other than Morning Ride? Sweet.
- My three hour ride’s done, and I still have 75% power, even though I had routing on the entire way. Nice. That’s the kind of battery life I was hoping for in up a new GPS.
After the First Ride
- What!? This thing uploaded my ride to RideWithGPS, too? But I only use RideWithGPS for creating routes. Guess it’s OK. I don’t want to take the trouble to figure out how to suppress the uploads.
- Goodbye Garmin Connect, you piece of crap. So nice to delete you from my phone and my computers.
- OK, I am able to clean the screen on this thing. I hope that lasts. Seemed like I could never get the Garmin screen clean, I think it had a small amount of moisture in it or something.
- Apparently I need to set up a ride profile so that I can see cadence and power data, so I set one up. It wasn’t trivially easy. But with the touch screen, it was way easier than doing it was on the Garmin once, (Serves me right for buying the lower-end Garmin.) I got the hang of it.
- Multiple ride profiles (different sets of screens) are a nice concept. I don’t know that I’ll ever use any other profiles other than the main one I set up, though.
- Oh, dang, the touch screen doesn’t work with long-fingered gloves. Oh, wait, yes it does, I just have to press a little harder.
- My ride profile was not well set up. The information I’m getting about turns and climbs ahead are covering up other data fields. I’m going to need to redo my ride profile.
After the Second Ride
- Revised my ride profile after my first ride. Way easier to work with the second time around.
So there you have it. Two rides in and so far, I’m pretty happy with the new gear. If you’d like to see it in operation, join me on a ride sometime, and I’ll be glad to show it to you.
Update (Apr 18, 2022)
I just discovered a major problem with the Karoo 2, which is that it needs a WiFi connection to upload rides. That means that even though I’ve established a Bluetooth connection from the device to my phone, rides don’t upload. That’s a downgrade from almost every Garmin, including my low-end 520.
You can either wait till you get home, when the Karoo 2 will connect to your WiFi and the ride will automatically upload, or you can start a hotspot on your phone. Neither is a great option. I’m going to try the hotspot after my next ride, but I’m not real happy after finding this out.
There have been many complaints about this on Hammerhead’s support forum, but so far, the Karoo 2 hasn’t been updated to provide this capability.