Quick Update on Stages Dash L10, M50, and L50 Bike GPS Units (First Test Ride)

2019-01-06 13.51.14-1 While most of the cycling focus this week may be on the Tour Down Under in Australia, the reality is that most sports tech companies are busy cookin’ away trying to get products ready for the spring, when most cyclists (aside from Australians) wake up from hibernation and see what the non-Watopia world looks like (feel free to insert your own world switching joke here).

For some of these companies, it’ll be getting things cooked prior to announcements in the usual Sea Otter timeframe in April. But for Stages, it’s trying to get last year’s Eurobike 2018 announcements out the door. You’ll remember the company announced a trio of cycling head units . Rather than recap that entire post and all the features/details/specs once again, I’m going with the super-quick bulletized version here (and then eventually an in-depth review once they get to release point).

So squished into my CES schedule last week in Las Vegas, I headed out for a first test ride on some near-final devices.

If you’re new to the Stages 2018 bike GPS game, here’s the three versions:

Stages Dash L10: $149 – Basically the previous Stages Dash that’s far more powerful and can now do courses. Black & white display.
Stages Dash M50: $249 – This is the mid-sized unit, kinda like a Wahoo BOLT or Edge 520 Plus. Color display, maps/courses.
Stages Dash L50: $349 – This is the largest of the units, sorta like a Hammerhead Karoo in size. Color display, maps/courses.

All of the units have the same feature-set, save the L10 which doesn’t have the full set of detailed color maps (breadcrumb style). So you’re essentially paying for the screen size you want.

From a mapping standpoint, the unit’s are akin to the Wahoo ELEMNT/BOLT in that they follow routes sent to them by the phone/computer, but can’t re-route on the fly. So it’s a bit less in terms of mapping capabilities than a Garmin Edge 520 Plus or such. However, Stages has more mapping detail than Wahoo does, in that they also leverage the color to make it clear what are lakes/rivers and even interstates on the maps. So it’s kinda straddling the line between what Garmin is doing and what Wahoo is doing. Roughly.

From a structured workout standpoint, the company continues to dominate this area, in terms of the exact steps given to someone out riding that structured workout. I talked about this when it first launched on the previous Stages Dash units almost 18 months ago – and most of it remains similar today, except now there’s lots of color-coding for zones. But more on that in a minute.

And lastly, the big ticket key to all these units is that you can configure all three unit’s data fields from all three places: The unit itself, the phone, and your computer. Nobody else in the industry has this today. For example, Garmin’s are configured on the unit itself, whereas Wahoo is with your phone. Sigma is close in that you can configure the ROX 12 with a desktop computer and on the unit itself, but not a phone app.

Not to mention the crazy number of display fields that Stages can do on their screen. Like, you can basically have a separate data field for each mile of your bike ride. It’s kinda nuts. But, configure as you wish – options are great for everyone.

Again, all the boatloads of unit specs are in my previous post on it . Processed with VSCO with au5 preset Just over a week ago I met up with Stages in the desert in a deserted parking lot. It was pretty much how most cartel body disposal meetings go down. Though, actually, we first met in a small coffee shop to walk through all the software platform features. And I got to see the final retail boxes. None of which I thought to take photos of. I was still a bit jetlagged from the day before.

Nonetheless, all of it looked good. The boxes were pretty, but more importantly the mobile app was looking really slick, with a bunch of features added into it that make it one of the most capable smartphone app companions out there. Far more detail than Wahoo provides in their app, and a different level of detail than Garmin. I say different because Stages clearly has tons more cycling-specific info in their app, whereas Garmin has more holistic info (stuff like activity tracking, etc…). Same-same, but different.

Still, what I came for was the ride.

Back in that parking lot, we loaded up my bike with three head units. Two on the bars, and one in my pocket for later. The two that people (mainly, me) cared about most were on my bars: The Dash M50 and L50. These being the two color units. I also had some watches along as well for recording the GPS tracks. Pat (the Stages guy I was riding with) had pre-loaded the routes onto the unit. For this day we’d selected what was essentially an out and back. Except we decided to dork things a bit by taking a slightly different path on the way out (read: we missed the turn leaving the parking lot and I was curious to see what would happen, so we went with it).

Since this post is more of a super quick look into where things stand, I just want to briefly touch on the new bits. Again, down the road a full review once the units are ready. If you want this all in video format, then just click play below: Individually though, here’s a brief look at the new pieces. First starting off with the course bits. Since we were out in the desert, there wasn’t much in the way of dense urban goodness to look at around us on the map. Whereas at the coffee shop we were near suburbia and plenty of interstates. So there was tons of stuff on the map. Still, what you see below is that the darker blue is where we’ve been to date, whereas the lighter blue line ahead is where we’re going. They said they’re still looking at the colors a bit, so that may not be final.

Note: All of these in-ride pics were shot in video, and then screen-clipped. As such, the quality is iffy at best. It looks prettier in person. Again, I wasn’t really thinking this post through mid-ride unfortunately. Additionally, you see the elevation profile displayed as well. The greyed portions are where you’ve been already, and the gradients are displayed in different colors. All you really need to know is that the color red hurts. You can zoom and pan on the map by hitting the lower left button.

For reference, here’s what the PowerPoint back at Eurobike showed for more dense mapping areas, and I can say it looks pretty much exactly like this (except the shading is slightly different now on the elevation graph): If you go off-course and then return to course some time later, it’ll correctly skip to the next portion of the elevation profile (as we did). So that was nice.

Since the units were first introduced, one of Stages’ big marketing focuses has been the brilliance of the display – which still manages to get 15-18 hours of GPS-on time. The display itself was apparently chiseled out of a lighthouse, as it’s mind-bogglingly bright. Back at Interbike you’ll remember how horrible all my photos came out indoors . It’s really tough to shoot.

But now out in the desert, it definitely shines. As you can easily see in the video – it’s increda-bright. In fact, the company says one of the things that they’re working on prior to release is decreasing the backlight at night (or in tunnels). They say they’re still hitting their previous battery targets of 15-18 hours for the M50/L50 (the L10 is at 24-30 hours GPS-on time). One of the big-ticket items is the implementation of a new color-coded power target gauge. This carries over from their indoor cycling bikes where folks in clubs are just trying to aim for a specific color that corresponds to a given zone. So you can set up these zones ahead of time to your liking, or, you can let it try and determine the zones based on your power efforts during actual workouts. Similar to how some apps/devices/platforms determine your FTP.

Notice how on the lower right side my total ride power is in the yellow zone, whereas my current power at that moment was in the blue (easy) zone. Also notice how there’s secondary color-coded zones for heart rate. That’s useful for some structured workouts that may specify to maintain a given power until HR reaches a certain threshold, at which point you terminate that set. When it comes to the structured workout bits, we switched that on mid-way through the ride. The core of that workout engine is as before, except now it’s going to give you color-coded zones for everything. In fact, […]


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