There was a time when options for cycling computers were extremely limited. Garmin dominated the market but people started to fall out of love with what was being offered. The battery life wasn't great and it often didn't live up to the spec, and software crashes were increasingly common. Wahoo came onto the market with an intuitive product and the exodus from the Garmin ecosystem started. The race to create the best cycling computers took a strong leap forwards, and it's taken a few generations but Garmin is firmly back. Wahoo has stagnated and Garmin is pushing hard to bring unique features to the table.
The Garmin ecosystem represents products such as the Garmin Varia tail lights and the Garmin Charge Power Pack - products that no one else even attempts to compete with. The Garmin 1030 plus is an incremental upgrade but when combined with everything Garmin is offering, it's a unique proposition. If you haven't considered Garmin in a while it's time to start paying attention again.
Design and aesthetics
The 1030 Plus represents Garmin's flagship model. It's the largest in the brand's cycling range with exterior dimensions of 4.5in tall, 2.3in wide, and 0.8in thick.
Bezels on cycling computers remain far from the standards set by modern smartphones but the 3.5in screen, with a 15:9 ratio, takes up most of the front of the unit. Covering the screen, and bezels, Garmin has opted for a standard, glossy, screen cover.
If you are familiar with other Garmin cycling computers, the design language employed isn't going to be a surprise. The 1030 Plus uses the same black-on-black colour scheme that other recent Garmin computers have adopted. The base of the unit is where you'll find a micro USB charging port, hidden under a protective cover, and space for the included lanyard.
Image 1 of 3
Image 2 of 3
Image 3 of 3
The RTL515 is Garmin's radar-equipped tail light. The top of the unit is the actual lens location. The main lens is a one-inch diameter circle and there are also lenses on either side. You'll find the power button at the top and most of the unit consists of an unremarkable black plastic where the radar unit lives. Around back is a Garmin quarter-turn mount as well as another micro USB charging port.
Image 1 of 5
Image 2 of 5
Image 3 of 5
Image 4 of 5
Image 5 of 5
The last piece of the Garmin ecosystem I took a look at is the Garmin Charge Power Pack. The Charge is almost exactly the same size as a Wahoo Elemnt Roam. The top of the unit consists of an interface to the out-front mount and the power connection for a head unit. On the side, there is a button to check the remaining charge. Underneath there is a USB port that allows for charging something besides a Garmin head unit as well as a micro USB charging port.
One of the headline features of the Garmin 1030 Plus, as compared to the regular 1030, is a usable 24-hour battery life. Garmin achieves this not with a larger battery, as both the 1030 and the 1030 Plus use the same 1900 mAh battery, but instead with a more efficient processor. The benefits of a more efficient processor aren't limited to battery life though. Power-on is faster as well as route calculation.
Adding the Garmin Charge Power adds 132 grams and gets you an extra 3100 mAh of battery power. Both units sport an IPX7 weather rating, which holds true even when in use together. This ability to charge while retaining an IPX7 weather rating is unique on the market. It is also possible to charge the RTL515 light, or another USB device, using the Charge Power Pack, although this requires opening the protective flap on the USB port, removing its weather resistance.
The RTL515 carries the same IPX7 weather resistance and it can both charge and operate at the same time. Like the Power Pack though, it requires opening the protective charge port cover. The RTL515 does not keep it's IPX7 weather resistance while charging but a single charge for the RTL515 can last up to 16 hours.
Image 1 of 6
Image 2 of 6
Image 3 of 6
Image 4 of 6
Image 5 of 6
Image 6 of 6
The Garmin 1030 Plus has all the features you'd expect from a top-end cycling computer. Navigation features detailed maps and the touch screen makes it easy to move around the map mid-ride if you need to. That same touch screen makes it quick, and even easier than Wahoo, to adjust data fields or switch screens. All the typical features of a cycling computer aren't what set the Garmin 1030 Plus apart though.
What Garmin is offering is more than a high-end cycling computer. Garmin is offering a virtual cycling coach. Record your rides with power and heart rate, and Garmin will give a detailed analysis of every ride. The analysis offered is far beyond what anyone else is offering. It will give a window into every ride to tell you when your training is effective, and how, as well as when it's time to take a break. Turn on the Edge 1030 Plus and it will present you with a suggested ride for the day.
Not only can the 1030 Plus act as your virtual coach but if you want to tackle the big rides, its battery life stands above the competitors. With normal usage, and without resorting to tricks like turning off the screen, the 1030 Plus can run for 24 hours. Add in the Garmin Charge Power Pack and you can double that without even stressing the unit. Even if you aren't planning to pedal for 48 hours, having that battery available can change your entire packing strategy.
Similarly, the RLT515 is more than the obvious. Everyone thinks of the alert to an unexpected car while on a lonely back road. What the RLT515 does is way beyond that. It's actually a rearview mirror. Those times when you are riding on a back road and a car chooses - wisely - not to pass immediately, you can keep an eye on what they are doing.
The capabilities of the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus are far beyond what I can cover here. There are other head units that do things differently than Garmin but there is nothing more capable than the Edge 1030 Plus. Gone are the limited battery life and frequent crashes that plagued early Garmin units. Instead, the user experience is now so vast that you could spend years riding and never even touch the full functionality. The touch screen works well as does the operating system and the companion app. If you want to leverage all the features you can run your entire training regimen without purchasing anything additional.
What the Garmin 1030 Plus offers to me is a feature set that changes how I pack for ultra-endurance and bikepacking rides. The exceptional battery life means I no longer have to dedicate limited space to chargers and extra batteries. I can carry the Garmin Charge Power Pack on my out-front Garmin mount and charge the head unit in a downpour. At the same time, the training features the Garmin offers help me make sure every ride is advancing my goals and the RLT515 helps keep me safe.
The Garmin ecosystem is not only competing with the best available, it's offering products no one else does. The RLT515 has a battery life that exceeds the competition. It offers a similar flash to other market leaders and it has radar. There is no other light on the market that offers that feature set.
The only question is do you need the capabilities Garmin offers and are you willing to pay for them?
- Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth, WiFi
- Companion App: Yes
- Navigation: OpenStreet Map
- Claimed battery life: 24-hours
- Screen: 3.5in/89mm diagonal, full colour, touchscreen