In the 1980s, the world was a fundamentally different place. Berlin was divided by a wall, the USSR seemed indomitable, the professional peloton was on more steroids than Schwarzenegger, and your “portable” cellular telephone came with its own briefcase. And if you wanted to know how fast you were on the bike, to record your ride, monitor heart rate, monitor power, and still be able to move under your own power, you’d have needed a motorcycle crew pacing you to haul the fifty pounds or so of gear all that would have required. In 2014, according to Garmin, all you need is their new VIRB Elite, which combines your Edge cyclocomputer with an action camera into a single 6.26 oz. package. Progress is a wonderful thing.
The VIRB Elite is billed as a true two-in-one device, with GPS, ANT+ connectivity, 1080p recording (at 30fps, more on that later), 1.4” Chroma display, and around three hours of battery life for all your group ride and sub-Iron distance needs. It will connect with your ANT+ speed and cadence sensor, power meter, heart rate monitor, and smartphone over private WiFi for remote operation via the VIRBEdit app, should you decide you want to do that sort of thing. Out of the box, it comes with a cradle for the unit itself, as well as a dual-pivot 3M sticky pad-style mount that is better suited for use as a dash-cam than a bike cam, so be sure to add the bar mount to your list when purchasing. It’s worth noting that no mount comes with an extra cradle, and it is a bit of a pain to swap the cradle between mounts, as it secures via a ratchet mount and screw setup. Therefore buying an extra mount turns into buying an extra mount and cradle.
We mounted our VIRB up for some peloton riding to get a sense of how it would handle rapid accelerations and normal conversation. However, right away we noticed that the recording settings have an interesting omission: it does not support 60fps (frames per second) at 1080p. You can record 1080p at 30 fps, or 720p at 60fps – we opted for 720p. You can see our results and judge for yourself below. While we wish we had the option, we didn’t have any significant problems with being limited to 720p for full-speed recording—especially considering we got solid two-and-a-half hours of recording time while connected to our power meter, HRM, and speed sensor with GPS (all running off the VIRB). You have to give a little to get a little, or in this case, a slightly lower resolution recording for some impressive battery life.
The next thing that happened is that our VIRB went missing. Well, missing might not be the best term. Devon, our Technical Editor, also likes to race cars. So he dropped the dash mount into his car and did a few laps on a banked oval track. It was then that we noticed something odd – the GPS sensor, when being relied upon to provide speed data, gave some very interesting numbers. Like 28mph to 114 mph with no data points in between. We went back and looked at our ride data and found discrepancies as well. Although the discrepancies were all in distance, not speed this time. Garmin has informed us that a software update (3.7.2) was available and that it might fix the issues we reported to them, so we’ll keep you updated as we continue testing.
There’s a lot to like in this action-cam and cyclocomputer combination, chief among them the inclusion of a 1.4” display on the top of the unit, which is able to display speed, heart rate, power, cadence, compass, or the current capture from the viewfinder… but only one at a time. The screen is not backlit, which means that you’ll still need your Garmin computer for twilight rides, but having a data display at all on an action cam is a definite step towards the “all-in-one” we’re all looking forward to.
We like the VIRB Elite so far, despite having a few flaws. It is a great first step toward a single device for all of your racing needs. What’s more, Garmin is continually refining the firmware and desktop software to add functionality and reduce bugs, which means that the behavior we’ve seen should resolve itself soon enough. What we have in the meantime is a great little action cam that does light duty as a cyclocomputer, and that’s still pretty good.