In April 2023, Garmin announced the new Edge 540 bike computer alongside the solar version and the Edge 840, which features both tactile buttons and a touchscreen. As the “budget” model, the standard Edge 540 has more bells-and-whistles than I could even maximize while riding thousands of test miles. And, in the end, there’s bound to be something for every rider with supreme interoperability and coaching tools — all in a midsize form factor.
Garmin Edge 540 Features:
- 2.6″ high-contrast color display
- 7 tactile buttons around the outside for all-weather function
- Combines navigation, planning and performance tracking, cycling awareness and smart connectivity
- Multiband GNSS technology delivers excellent location tracking
- Pre-load area maps with ride-specific maps with searchable points of interest
- Configurable traffic and route warnings for added awareness
- ClimbPro ascent system automatically delivers climb-specific data based on your preferences
- Daily suggested workouts and training prompts
- Pairs with your favorite apps and platforms
- Power guide and stamina insights for recommend power targets and activity level
- Group ride and race-specific functions for messaging and competition
- USB-C charging port
- Battery life: up to 26 hours under normal use; up to 42 hours in battery saver mode
- MSRP: $349.95
Going, going Garmin
As the OG in the bike computer space, Garmin has millions of loyal fans. In recent years, Wahoo has taken a bite out of that pie, but Garmin remains at the top with their unmatched ability to leverage technology from across their vast, publicly-traded enterprise. That deep expertise comes with high expectations and the Edge 540 delivers on most fronts.
Admittedly, I’ve got a preference towards Wahoo’s bike computers. They are sleek and easy-to-use and have just the right amount of features. With those leanings, I had a bar in my mind that the Edge 540 needed to clear. And, while it is one of the most powerful and capable bike computers money can buy, the usability could be improved to make the user experience even better.
Initial setup is a combination of on-device and mobile app steps. If just using the device, you can navigate your way around, but things such as character entry will demand a Snickers bar just to prevail. Luckily, the mobile app is smooth and easy to navigate and makes quick work of configuration and maintenance. The software running on both the Edge 540 and 840 is the same, so it’s easy to see how the touchscreen gestures would make many setup functions easier. In the end, the areas where a touchscreen would be helpful can mostly be mitigated using the capable mobile app.
For my purposes, any head unit needs to work well with a variety of power meters, heart rate monitors and electronic groupsets. Everyone wants to play ball with Garmin and Wahoo, so the ecosystem of connected on-bike, on-body and indoor training devices is a mile wide. I have connected SRAM Rival XPLR, SRAM Force AXS and Shimano Ultegra R8100 groupsets, Wahoo POWRLINK Zero pedals as well as Quarq DZero power meters and a Polar Pacer Pro for heart rate tracking. Pairing is straightforward from the device or mobile app in only a few steps — with all devices except the Polar automatically connecting once paired. This has been true when primarily switching between the Fezzari Veyo SL and Open WI.DE. throughout the test period.
Of course, you can customize your profiles with your preferred data screens for each one. This is where you can determine the exact data and layouts you want or don’t want on each screen. You can choose data grids, map views or hybrid views — depending on what you want to show. And, each profile can be customized individually. Let’s say you have one bike with and another without a power meter. You can then set up your data pages accordingly.
Let’s go for a ride
At the end of the day, all the bells-and-whistles are great, but what I want most from a bike computer is reliability and accuracy. If you read no further, I’m pleased to report that both data accuracy and reliability on the Garmin Edge 540 has been bombproof. All GPS, elevation and performance data has been reliable and not a single ride has suffered any glitches. As far as reliability goes, Garmin has you covered. Their use of multiband GNSS technology delivers quality tracking on the most challenging terrain.
The system tray at the top of the unit has you covered with all the important connections and status icons. It’s easy to see at-a-glance that you have power, GPS, heart rate, lights and shifting all connected. I appreciate that as it simplifies the startup process. Speaking of starting, the Edge 540 can be configured to prompt you to start tracking or auto-start on its own. I appreciate both of those features because nobody wants to lose any precious training efforts due to forgetfulness.
However, with all the buttons around the bezel, it’s easy to get confused. I have admittedly bumbled my way through the menus and functions — hitting the wrong thing on almost every ride. With that, I prefer the on-screen dynamic button labels Wahoo provides because I shouldn’t have to think when all I want to do is save an activity or dive deeper into the settings. In addition, the button placement on the Edge 540 can be problematic since there are matching buttons on either side of the unit. To avoid inadvertently popping the device out of the mount, I typically place my thumb on one side and push the opposite button, but it doesn’t always work out. Luckily, for the most part, the only side buttons necessary during a ride are the Up/Down buttons on the left side, which come in handy for navigating through the different screens and dismissing notifications. Still, I prefer not having a button on the opposite side of the bezel, ever.
Speaking of notifications, I appreciate the granularity provided as I can turn on/off phone, text, social and other notifications individually. But, whether it’s an on-device notification or one from my phone, they don’t auto-dismiss, so those side buttons come into play. The most frustrating notifications I’ve had to deal with are bike light network failures. Using the Bontrager Ion and Flare bike lights, the light network will often fail and I have to dismiss it constantly. This is particularly annoying when configuring the device in the house as it constantly beeps and warns that the light network has failed. I guess the unit is doing its job, but it can get annoying. While it is nice to have the bike lights controlled by the unit, I think I’ll disconnect it so I don’t get that warning message.
My primary data screen consists of 6 metrics that I like to see at a glance. Be aware that the screen will auto-scroll during a Strava live segment or if a climb is detected. I appreciate both of those, but didn’t find the ClimbPro super useful except on unknown climbs. If you’re familiar with the terrain, it’s not as helpful, but on unfamiliar terrain, it’s very useful and encouraging — guiding you to the top. Either way, you can configure the screen not to auto-scroll to those views should you wish. Something not all devices support is the ability to change the data screens mid-ride. You can do this both on the device and the mobile app without stopping your activity. This is particularly helpful when adding a new sensor and forgetting to add that data to the layout before starting a ride.
On both road and gravel rides, the data and layout I’ve chosen is clear and readable. But, some of the small notifications and labels on other screens are difficult to read in the saddle. Granted, my eyes are getting old, but keep in mind that some of the text can get pretty small. The color highlights on the screen add contrast and clarity, but the screen does become difficult to see in direct sunlight. The highly-reflective screen could be improved by going with a little more matte finish that would reduce that glare.
When connected with any electronic groupset, the device beeps when you’ve topped or bottomed out the gearing. It’s a nice feature that I appreciated for the most part. But, all the beeps sound pretty much the same, so it’s sometimes hard to tell what the beep means without looking. I’d suggest more distinct sounds for the various warning types, which could be more helpful.
Of course, since it’s a Garmin, there are mounts available for any type of bar or stem on the market, so mounting options are as wide as the day is long.
I really dig how fast the Edge 540 starts up. I’m not kidding that it’s ready to go faster than I can even think and is automatically searching for connected sensors. Surprisingly, it does seem to drain battery a little faster than I had hoped. After leaving it idle in the garage for 2-3 days between use, the battery would be drained more than I would expect.
I didn’t take advantage of the turn-by-turn mapping and directions, but did find the navigation to be superb with the little use I gave it. Regular map updates and improvements should keep that function running well now and into the future.
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The Bottom Line
As the leader in bike computers, Garmin has a ton of loyal fans. And, it's impossible to ignore their vast ecosystem of features and connectivity that provides value to both the advanced and novice riders alike. The Edge 540 is a new unit in the lineup and it has proven reliable and capable in all aspects. I can connect anything to it and the built-in training and navigation functions are fantastic. However, I'm not a fan of the button placement and clunky menu structures. For the most part, everything else can be configured to your personal tastes.
- Very reliable platform
- Awesome array of training and performance features
- Just about everything can be configured
- Companion mobile app is a lifesaver
- Can modify the viewable data mid-ride
- ClimbPro is nice for unfamiliar terrain or encouragement on known climbs
- Connects and re-connects to sensors in a jiffy
- Regular updates will keep it relevant for years to come
- Screen glare can make it hard to read in bright sun
- Battery life is lower than expected
- I'd love some variety on the myriad of warning beeps to be more useful
- Button placement and menu structure can be maddening
- Notifications should auto-dismiss
- GPS Accuracy
- Elevation Accuracy
- Screen Viewing
- Buttons & Menus
- Battery Life
- Mobile App
- System Updates
- Sensor Connectivity