Garmin Edge 1040 Solar review: the GPS that never dies

I got ahold of Garmin’s new top of the line bike GPS just in time to do a really big ride. Like the biggest I’ve ever done. I was upgrading from the Edge 1000 which has given me many years of happy use but was getting long in the tooth. After three rides and 563 kilometres, I think for me buying it was a good decision.

The Edge 1000 served me well for years. I remember being thrilled that it had Wifi, how much easier the maps were to read than on the Edge 800, how much better the UI was. Its touch screen was better. And Garmin was good to me when problems arose. Their tech support is knowledgable and responsive. They stand by their products and are prepared and willing to fix them on very reasonable terms.

But my unit was falling apart. Its battery was aging — ‘full’ meant less run time every year —and the on/off/reset button cover had got stove in from too much use. So I had to tuck a paperclip under the silicon case, peel the case back and use the pointy end to poke the internal switch.

I could have probably lived with that for a few more years but the Edge 1040’s promised battery life was mouthwatering. And I had a big ride planned. And the 1000’s promised 11 hours (more like eight or nine) wasn’t going to cut it.

The Edge 1000 will accept an external battery. But you have to connect it via its micro USB port. Which for me meant attaching a short cord to a battery pack and taping the pack to the underside of the stem. Which is a bit bodgy and could well have had unfortunate consequences in enough rain. Then you have to unravel the whole mess to recharge and do it up all over again to go the next day.

Petty? Tiny irritant? Perhaps. Am I a spoiled brat? Most definitely. Judge me if you will. But if this is also you, feel free to read on.

The GPS that never dies

The 1040 also has connectors for Garmin’s battery pack built into the mount so attaching an external battery is a lot more elegant. But you probably won’t need to.

See, the Garmin 1040 Solar never dies.

The claim is 35 hours in normal mode. You can do things to boost that (turn off Bluetooth and Wifi, use fewer GPS satellite networks, dim the screen yadda yadda). They also have a special ‘battery savings mode’ which does a lot of this for you as well as reducing the datapoint sampling rate which will get you through the route but would, I imagine, make tracking and things like power measurement less accurate. How much less I know not. It will, on average, take the battery life from 35 to 70 hours.

This would be useful for multi-day bike-packing rides etc where you didn’t want to sacrifice storage to a battery pack or solar charger.

And speaking of solar, the 1040 Solar uses two small panels above and below the data screen as well as the screen itself to collect solar energy. It turns the black background of the display a dark orange when it’s working. On my long ride, which had an average solar intensity of 55%, it earned me an extra 3 hours and 32 minutes of run time over the course of 12:18 elapsed time. The unit spent a fair bit of time in the shade of my head. I expect that’s why a day of full sun rated only 55%. What exactly I would have done with that extra three hours run time I know not. Certainly not more biking. But after 12 hours’ use it was 83% charged.

The day before, with 27% solar intensity, it gained 14.25 minutes over the course of a two hour, early morning ride.

How do I know this? The unit tells me. It gives me stats on the solar performance along with mine. Seem only fair.

Data screens like you like them

You can add whole new data screens. I don’t know if there’s a technical limit to the number of screens you can add but I can tell you there is a practical limit. There’s only so much swiping you want to do while not-looking-at-the-road trying to find the perfect data screen for the moment.

Also you can do some tweaking to the unit’s hard-wired displays — like the climbing display, the workout display etc. You can’t change their layouts, and you can’t change all fields on all of them but I was able to swap current elevation for three second power on the climb pro display, which, for me is much more useful.

If Garmin is reading this, they should know that my grand ambition around this is to be able to display a secondary target on the workout screen, to be able to show cadence on the workout screen along with three second power.

The unit is very capable in the data department. Like there are so many possibilities it’s a bit overwhelming. They’ve doubled down on their view that ‘more is more’. I find this page on their website to be a good explainer of what all the fields do.

They’ve added graphs as data fields. They’ve added data fields to shore up and elucidate a lot of the physiological training data they collect and derive. And more.

My strategy has always been to invest some time up front to put together screens that align with what I’m doing and then forget about it: when I’m on a course, when I’m training, when I’m ‘just riding’. Of course that never totally works. So this next point is big for me.

Change data screens on the fly

I love the ability to change data fields on the fly. I used to fuss about with my Edges (the 1040 Solar is my third) at home, off the bike, wondering what the ideal data screen would be. But then I would get out on the road and realize that I didn’t actually care about VAM and what I really wanted to know at that moment was my cadence. But by the time I got home, I would forget all about it, too busy trolling the fridge for snacks and ignoring the need to clean my bike. But now, I can — mid-ride — double tap on the useless field in the data screen and swap it out for anything on the (quite long but well organized) list of data fields. This is more easily done climbing at 15km/h than descending at 70, I should add.

Also worth noting: you can edit your data screens using Garmin Connect on your phone. I’m not a big fan of how this works — it looks a bit like paint by numbers — there’s a jump between where the layout is and where the information about the what field is in what layout square that introduces some cognitive dissociation. But it’s a big improvement all in all.

The display typeface is different and it seems it can grow and shrink on the fly. On my 1000, in certain layouts, the numbers would just round up when they ran out of room. If you hit 100km, for example, the unit would only show 1km increments. Which can be a pain navigating and can be morale-sapping if you like constant feedback about how far you’ve come.

Also it took me a couple of rides to figure out the timer data field. Seems they have changed it to make the hour marker really small. So it looks like a superscripted number, but on the wrong side to be a footnote. So instead of reading 2:34:34, it will read 234:34 (more or less). Middle-aged me has to squint to see it but that’s only an issue on rides long enough to have forgotten how long I’ve been going.

Climb Pro works but it helps to have real hills

Climb Pro is new to me. It’s been out for a while but the 1040 Solar is the first unit I’ve used that has it. It’s also available on the Edge 130 Plus, Edge 530, Edge 830 and Edge 1030/1030 Plus. When it works it’s great. I live in a river valley with hills worn down by the passage of time. Sure we have names for some of our hills but they’re not the stuff of legends because in point of fact, they’re all very small.

Knowing this, I tried Climb Pro on the Gatineau Park Loop. For me this is a 2.5 hour course that has about 860m of elevation gain. I created a course for the loop (Climb Pro only works when you’re following a course) and set off. I configured Climb Pro to ‘show all hills’ and it more or less produced gibberish. End points, the elevation profile, etc all seemed complete chaos. Plus the unit throws up a blank screen marked ‘This screen intentionally left blank’ before every hill.

I can see the issue from Garmin’s perspective, though. There are a lot of hills out there and really, the hill is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s hill would pass unnoticed beneath the wheels of another. How do you handle undulations? Short, steep ramps? What’s the threshold? Is Dave’s Hill part of Penguin? Where does Fortune start?

But on my long ride yesterday, I set it to ‘major climbs only’. Garmin picked out five over the course of a 348km and 2800m elevation route. That gives you a pretty good idea of how big a hill has to be to count. On those climbs it worked brilliantly. The hill’s start point and end point were situated accurately. The elevation profile definitely matched what I was feeling in the moment. And it was truly useful to know what was coming and how much was left — especially for efforts where I couldn’t see the end of the climb.

Update: I tried my Gatineau Park Loop course with Climb Pro set to show only medium and large hills. The Gatineau Park Loop has, according to Garmin, three hills.

  • From the bump just south of Gamelin to the top of the Warm-up Hill
  • Pink Lake
  • Back-side Black’s

Obviously Climb Pro cares not a whit for local lore or Strava segments (of course, you can get Strava segments on your Garmin Edge 1040). Apparently Never-Ending (from the Champlain Parkway Gatineau Parkway ‘T’ junction to just before P5 aka ‘Penguin’) and Fortune don’t count. I have no idea why. Since words are cheap I will speculate that Fortune might be omitted because technically it involves two intersections: Meech Lake Road and Dunlop. But Never-Ending is at least big as Back-Side Black’s. I don’t get it.

The fitness data: more and more like a digital coach

Garmin has also invested heavily in the physiological data it collects and derives from your rides. It seems their units are becoming more and more like virtual coaches with every iteration. With a power meter, a heart rate monitor and some superlative data about the rider (age, height, weight) the unit can tell a lot about you and what that ride was for you.

It will tell you how hard that ride was, how much time you need to recover from it and it will tell you when you’ve reached a new threshold (distance, time fitness — as measured by VO2 Max). This is true of a lot of Edge units. But the 1040 Solar goes a bit further. It tells you how much and what sort of training effect you got from that ride — whether anaerobic or aerobic. It tells you when you’ve been training too much or too little. If you tell it how much you ate and drank during the ride, it will tell you whether that was enough.

Quite beyond just telling you how it went, the 1040 Solar can also tell you how you should go. Give it a route, set a time objective and it will take what it knows of your fitness and give you targets for how hard you should hit the hills and what power and speed to hold on the flats.

It also measures stamina. As in, how much you’ve got left in the tank. Which is potentially useful but also a little disconcerting. It measures it both in terms of a percentage and in terms of how much more time or distance you can ride before you’re toast and, given how fast you’ve been riding, how much further you can go.

Yesterday it wasn’t what I needed: learning that I only had energy for 45 more kilometres when I had 150 to go was not helpful.

It will take me a while to see how accurate it really is. Maybe it learns from past rides.

I should also say that, impressive as it is, it’s not AI. It’s still just computer reasoning so it lacks context. It will tell you your rest days are unproductive and not producing fitness improvements and you should go ride today. It doesn’t account for races or events where you’re expected to bury yourself. It scolded me about yesterday for overtraining, for example.

Update: It does look like the unit ‘learns’ from past efforts. When I started my 348km ride, the Edge 1040 calculated my stamina distance at 220km with 100% stamina remaining as I toodled the first few km at family ride pace. This morning as I started out — 100% fresh — it put my stamina distance at 320km. Your stamina distance drops dramatically as your effort increases. It dropped to 64km from about 110km after an energetic effort up the Fortune Parkway, for example. Stamina distance rises if you ease off and speed up.

Another update: And with enough soft-pedalling you can even get back a few percentage points. But it’s always on something of a downward arc. Also, it uses what it knows about your previous day’s efforts to set your start point. After five days of mostly Zone 2 riding, for example, my stamina started out at 93% for my ride back into town yesterday.

Getting going

The upgrade/switchover process is really good. All those data screens? Paired sensors? Ported over to the new unit with a single tap. For me, this was huge.

The bare unit comes with excellent, sensible accessories like an out-front mount that doesn’t stick up like the dork rack of yore and a silicon case that was mandatory on previous models but you had to source and pay for elsewhere. There are also strap-on mounts for all your other bikes.

It has a slightly longer form factor than the Edge 1000 which wasn’t a problem for the bikes I use it on, but if your mount is in really tight, it might make the start/stop and lap buttons harder to get at.

All your old mounts will fit. Only the Edge 1040’s twist-lock connector is aluminum, not plastic. I like this very much. Once upon a time my 1000 flew off the bike on Farmer’s Way when part of the plastic flange of the twist-lock gave way.

The touch screen is much better behaved. So far. Haven’t ridden in the rain with it yet.

Its connection port is USB-C, not Micro USB.

Miscellaneous ‘me’ issues

The Wifi on my Edge 1000 was always a bit hit and miss. ‘Auto upload’ was never really automatic. Usually I had to connect to Wifi manually, then start, stop and then delete a bogus, one second activity for my actual activity to upload. When I upgraded the Wifi to a MESH network, it stopped working altogether. I had to set up a separate ‘old school’ network just to upload my rides.

The Edge 1040 still doesn’t ‘auto upload’ reliably. I’ll have to observe this for longer to see if there are any patterns to success and failure

Since I’ve been using the 1040, the fitness statistics from my Garmin watch (an Instinct) have failed to sync. Typical activity tracker data — step count, floors climbed, calories etc — doesn’t mean a lot to me, but I do want the sleep data back as well as the stress levels. Again I will need to observe this and see if it, in fact, has anything to do with the competing data from the Edge 1040 or if it’s just an issue with the Instinct.

Update: the Instinct data and the Edge data are now both landing as expected in Garmin Connect. I didn’t do anything. It just started happening.

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