Published by Andrew on 4 October 2022
Bob Zeller reviews the Garmin Edge Explore 2 to see if its extended battery life makes it a better option than its predecessor.
When I reviewed my Garmin Edge Explore GPS for Freewheeling France readers (April 19, 2019 and an update September 15, 2021), I said that in my opinion, it was as good a navigation tool that I would ever need for touring.
With it, I could download routes I had planned on any one of the many routing services such as Cycle.Travel, RideWithGPS, Strava or the GPS unit itself and then the route would play out on the GPS as I was riding it. However, I had one worry: battery power when the unit was new was sufficient for about 12 hours of cycling – more than enough my usual touring day. But as batteries get older, they start running out of juice sooner and sooner. Much like my knees, I suppose!
Declining battery capacity is a regular complaint – so much so that when your battery reaches the end of its life, Garmin will exchange the complete GPS unit for one with a fresh battery. This costs £60 in the UK, but many people would say that's a bit excessive when it's only the battery that is failing.
Some mobile phone shops will replace the failed battery for about £20, but no matter what state the battery is in, I always seemed to be worrying about battery power and whether I might get caught out 10km before the finish of the day's leg. That actually happened when touring in France I stupidly forgot to plug the thing in overnight and then the next day had to plug it into a battery pack in my handlebar bag. It worked OK that way, but thankfully it wasn't raining as the connecting cable would have got wet.
Not long ago, however, a solution appeared in the shops: the Garmin Edge Explore 2. Note the '2' as this is a much more advanced GPS than the still-available basic Edge Explore, the one I have used until now.
Garmin says the new one will provide 16 hours of 'demanding' use, 24 hours if you switch on the battery saver option and, if you cut out the navigation and just record the metrics of your ride, it will last even longer – as long as 32 hours, they say.
For me, navigation is the whole point of GPS and getting 16 hours would be more than enough of a boost. Mind you, at the cost of £249 for the new unit, it is an expensive boost, but at least I'll get lots of miles in before the battery will need replacing.
However, if this still isn't enough battery, you could consider getting a Garmin Power Mount Bundle, which consists of the GPS and a battery pack that will give an advertised additional 24 hours of use. It will also link with some (but not all) e-bikes for a power boost, though according to a Garmin rep I spoke with, there could be changes to this, so it is best to have a conversation with them should you want to use this feature.
At £339.99 for the package combining the GPS unit, the power bank and a handlebar mount, you might also want to think about just how many hours you really do need. It might just be that a small portable power bank that you can pop into your 'bar bag for emergencies could be all that you need.
The Garmin Edge Explore 2: Is it any good?
Whatever you decide about power needs, you will get a great deal more than just more battery power with the new Edge Explore 2.
Not all the features and changes would be on my wish list, although they might be on yours, but many are fabulous.
Consider the 3-inch screen. It's the same size as the earlier model, but it is now in full colour and has entirely new displays and graphics. Even the fonts have changed. And what a difference the changes make. Now, a glance at any one of the screens can give you much more info than before. And when you want to jump from one screen to another, it just needs a flick of your finger, even when it's raining or you're wearing gloves.
Another bonus is that if you make a change to your planned route while you're on the road, it can be done right on the screen. So if you meander off your route, or you decide you need to find a cash machine, a restaurant, a bike shop or whatever while you're on course, you can do it with just a few finger taps. And then when you have your cash, or whatever, the GPS will get you either back on course or suggest a revised route if that makes more sense. The old unit was meant to have been able to do that, but it almost always wanted to take you back to where you first came off course before rejoining the route and, in doing so, it often confused the situation – and me as well.
Other upgrades include using an internal barometer to get more accurate numbers for climbing and descending. In fact, when it comes to climbing, you can now call up a brilliant on-screen diagram with graphics showing your climb as it is in progress – and what misery still remains. I tend to think of it as a pain predictor coupled with after-the-fact bragging rights.
There is also an alarm that will set off what is said to be a blood-curdling shriek if someone tampers with the stationary bike after the alarm has been set. Then, if you have set the unit to do so, should you while riding the bike, it will message someone your location.
There are over 50 different data functions on the Edge Explore 2. I mostly use the following but when touring, and depending where (ie if there is a lot of climbing), I would likely make changes to reflect the different terrain.
I mostly use:
Elapsed time (total time)
Distance to final destination
Distance from start
Time to next final destination
Time of day
Other on-screen data in regular use
Garmin Varia radar (see below for more Varia details)
ClimbPro (a graphic showing climbing data)
I have yet to do a long tour using the Edge Explore 2m but I imagine I would make some changes to the data I'd want on my screen. And for those riding an e-bike, there are other choices, but you must have a compatible bike. When you should change gears is one and the distance still available for the e-bike battery is another.
You will note that I don't really use the training options, but there are many. Some require additional equipment like heart rate meters, power meters and similar. And while to me the number and variety of training data fields is quite large, Garmin says if you really want to train at the highest levels, there are other GPS devices better suited to that.
Nor is the Edge Explore 2 a replacement for maps, as good as the new map graphics are. No GPS unit is so I always consult my paper maps both when planning, as well as when I'm on the road. But it will give you a route from A to B using algorithms that Garmin Connect (a free routing service from Garmin) thinks are suitable. But, I don't think that Garmin Connect understands my idea of suitability ie 'quiet roads' as well as Cycle.Travel does so I use C.T to plan my route on my laptop and then download the C.T route onto the GPS. There are many other route planners, of course.
Lastly, the Edge Explore 2 will partner with Garmin's Varia radar unit to tell you if you are being followed by a faster-moving vehicle. See below for a few words on the Varia.
So is the Garmin Edge Explore 2 good value at a current UK price of around £250? Will it make my touring better? Yes to both.
The price, of course, is expensive. But the actual unit does an enormous number of things that I think make a tour even more enjoyable. Many would disagree. That's one of the joys of touring, there are all kinds of choices. Very little is regimented the way other sports and activities often are. GPS, for me, is a bonus. It gives me options and allows me choices, especially when under way. That's the number one benefit for me. But for many others, there are other benefits. And for others, no benefits at all. That's what I mean – choices.
A few words on the Garmin Varia
The Varia is a brilliant combination of rear-facing radar unit and tail light that is mounted onto the seat tube.
The radar constantly beams down the road behind you (it reaches about 140m). When it detects anything that is moving towards the bike at a speed greater than the bike is travelling, it will signal with three beeps and a graphic app on the Edge Explore 2's screen. But you don't need to have a Garmin product to use it – it is compatible with some other Garmin units, as well as different brands.
The Varia works a treat on country roads where I live but in cities, where traffic speed is usually the same as a cyclist, it doesn't have the same value.
The Garmin Varia comes in three different models.
Varia RCT715, £349.99: Includes radar, tail light and rear-view camera.
Varia RTL515, £169.99: As above but without the camera.
Varia RTL315, £129.99: Just rear radar.
About our contributor
Bob Zeller, a now-retired UK-based Canadian journalist, spent much of his professional life covering major European and North American professional cycle racing for the (Toronto) Globe & Mail, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Winning Magazine and others. His beat included the spring and autumn Classics, the Tour de France and world championships. While he has enjoyed just about all types of cycling – sportives, audax and just riding his bike to the shops – it's touring that he has always loved the most. And it's touring in France that he enjoys the most of all.