Garmin Forerunner 205 Review

204-1173222539.jpgI hate to admit this but lately I’ve been more of a runner than a mountain biker. I mean, I still get out on the bike as often as possible but it’s so much easier to go for a quick run than to pack the bikes and drive to the nearest dirt. As a nice side effect the running has actually put me in great shape aerobically so when I do hit the trails I can climb like a spider monkey. But I digress.

Last month I picked up a Garmin Forerunner 205 to keep track of my runs but I was also curious about how it handled on the bike–after all the Forerunner is marketed as a multi-sport device. My experience with the first generation Forerunner was less than positive on the bike and I really wanted to give Garmin another chance. In this case it turns out a few years and some serious design modifications have made all the difference in the world.

The first question most folks have about a GPS watch is, “how big is it?” The Forerunner 205 certainly isn’t dainty but even mudhunny has been wearing it on her marathon training runs and her wrist is about as thick as a #2 pencil. You won’t be making any fashion statements on the trail (other than “geek”) with this watch but obviously that’s not the point. I even found the watch to be comfortable on the mountain bike in pretty much every position I could think of. On bumpy singletrack I hardly even noticed it was there.

With the first generation Forerunner there were serious issues with satellite reception, especially in thick tree cover. I’m happy to report that I didn’t notice any loss of reception on the local mountain bike trail despite some pretty tight conditions. The resulting map seemed pretty clear with very little overlap on parallel trails. The Garmin Training Center software also did a good job smoothing the elevation plot and random spikes were fairly minimal for such tough conditions.

The map screen on the Forerunner 205 is passable but you really can’t use it for any kind of meaningful trail navigation. I suppose if you were REALLY lost and needed to backtrack you might be able to rely on the navigation screen but otherwise don’t count on it being all that helpful. In promos for the Forerunner 205 I’ve been photos of some sort of elevation plot screen but I haven’t been able to find it myself–a major disappointment for sure. The tiny screen and awkward wrist angle make it difficult to view while riding so you’ll need to be careful when tracking your in-ride progress.

One feature I found almost by accident is the ability to switch between activities mid-workout”“ like if you were running a duathalon for example. Under the ‘settings’ screen you can specify your current activity–running, cycling, or ‘other’–and the data fields are adjusted accordingly (pace for running, speed for cycling for example). When you switch mid-workout the watch resets and tracks each sport separately for you to analyze on the computer later. Nice.

Of course the Forerunner 205 also has all the features you’d expect from a GPS device–an odometer, speedometer, stopwatch, virtual training partner, etc. The only difference between the 205 and the more expensive Forerunner 305 is the 305 includes a wireless heart rate monitor for the truly serious athletes. For most mountain bikers this isn’t that important so I say skip it and save yourself some coin.

The Forerunner 205 is a solid choice if you’d like a single device to use for mountain biking and running. While it won’t help you find your way on the trail it will help you track your workouts and perhaps give you the motivation to ride a little faster.

I picked up my Forerunner 205 for just under $150 at Amazon.com. Amazon really has the lowest prices I’ve been able to find on GPS devices anywhere, check them out today! 

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