I remember chatting to a mate a number of years ago, who at the time was racing for a continental team in Europe. Our conversation fell to the topic of what happened to riders who got dropped from the peloton, especially in big races where team resources would be dedicated to those who remained in the main pack.
“The first thing we do is try to find a Milram rider, because we know they’ve all got a GPS on their bike, and we can use them to find a shortcut back to the hotel,” he told me. I thought it hilarious.
These days, GPS computers are no longer simply the domain of professional cyclists trying to find their way through a maze of Belgian backroads. They’ve become a key part of most cyclists equipment lists, and a battle ground for manufacturers. Magellan, who established their reputation in automotive GPS units, have joined the fray by targeting the multisport market with their range of Switch computers.
What’s in the box?
The Switch Up is supplied with a head unit which can be attached to either a bike or wrist mount (both supplied with the unit), providing a solution for biathlon, Xterra or triathlon competitors. The latter disciplines’ swim legs are aided by the unit’s waterproof design, which is rated to 50m water resistance. The Switch Up does indeed appear well sealed, and proved to be in both pool and open water testing.
Our test unit included a comfortable heart rate strap, however Magellan offer it with or without this accessory. The Switch series are ANT+ compatible, and accordingly can be paired with a range of accessories such as cadence sensors and foot pods – Magellan don’t sell these, but you’ll be able to find plenty of 3rd party suppliers.
It also included a USB cable, which clips to the back of the unit and does double duty as a source of charge and for data transfer. A good supply of a variety of rubber bands for attaching the bike mount to your stem or handlebars.
Touch and go
The Switch Up was used throughout the test period on the bike, running, swimming, and rowing (the latter unexpectedly providing further opportunity for swim testing). The Magellan’s head unit is relatively compact; the expected size for an on-the-bike GPS computer, but is certainly bulkier than a watch when clipped into the wrist mount, which sat comfortably on my wrist.
In spite of it’s size, the screen is surprisingly small. As a default Magellan have limited the screen to 3 pieces of data per screen. Time, distance and speed information are grouped together, with heart rate information and lap information given their own screens (the layout can be modified to show the data you prefer). Screen size appears to have been a key design consideration in Magellan’s soon to be released cycling-specific Cyclo Series.
Aiding visibility of readout data on the Switch Up is the negative (white-on-black) appearance of the high-resolution screen. I was concerned this would make reading information difficult during early morning or evening sessions, but a back light (via the on/off switch) quickly allayed those reservations.
The head unit features 4 operational buttons and a separate on/off button. Once out of it’s packaging, it took less than 5 minutes to have the basic functions set up, including heart rate and connection to satellites.
Given their pedigree with in-car systems, I wasn’t too surprised that the Switch Up’s GPS tracking proved reliable. In fact, during the testing period it proved impeccable. It connected to satellites quickly, and, as subsequent downloads proved, held signal in all but the most GPS-adverse environments, in other words: tunnels.
Tracking in water, on runs and on the bike provide reliable throughout the test period.
Battery life lived up to expectations. GPS units are inevitably thirsty, but the Switch Up proved itself good for a number of 6+ hour sessions with moderate interaction with the unit (claimed life of 8hrs, which one assumes is best case, no-button-pressing conditions). Magellan offer a battery extender pack for around AU$40, which they say adds 16 hours of charge. Clever idea, especially for those who anticipate being out on an Xterra or Ironman course for some time more than the 1st placed competitor.
The unit includes a range of activity profiles, which include most disciplines of bike racing (mountain, road, crit); running (road, marathon, trail); and swimming (open water). The additional ‘multi’ setting allows users to specify their events (and their order) in a multisport race, with the option to detect transitions, so that the mode of the Switch Up will adopt your preferences for whichever leg you’re on.
Dealing with the data
GPS computers like the Switch Up are much less about mapping on-the-go as they are about data collection for later review. As is often the case, session data is relatively limited when viewing it in situ, however Magellan provide users with the Magellan Active online portal, where data can be uploaded for more detailed information and analysis.
The online software provides an overlaid map of activity routes, as well as speed, distance, heart rate, temperature and altitude. The portal also provides software updates for the unit, which can be carried out as part of the same process as uploading data.
Magellan employs .fit files, so Strava users can rest easy knowing they’ll be able to keep their KOM’s via manual file uploads.
At an Australian retail price of AU$329, the Magellan Switch Up offers good value amongst the current crop of multisport computers. Its array of features provide detailed (and importantly, accurate) data we’ve come to expect of GPS computers. They’ve come a long way from helping lost pros find their way back to the hotel.
For additional information about the Magellan Switch Up, visit here.