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Tech & Wearables

Stages Dash L50 GPS computer first ride review

The EverBrite screen with cycling-specific base maps elevates the power-nerd training tool.

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After its original Dash focused completely on power-based training, Stages Cycling’s new Dash L50 GPS unit brings in a few more features like a cyclist-centric map that highlights not only bike paths and bike lanes but also things like coffee shops, bike shops, and restrooms.

Basics: $299, 126g, ANT+/Bluetooth, 2.75in/68mm color screen
Pros: Bright, crisp screen; 12hr+ battery life
Cons: Not yet as smartphone-friendly as Wahoo’s Elemnt

Stages Cycling’s roots in indoor training and power meters come through in its latest GPS unit, the $299 Dash L50, with color-coded wattage infographics and a plethora of rolling analytics. But the big news here is twofold: an EverBrite screen lives up to its name, and the OSM-based maps doctored for cyclists allow you to wander with confidence without a preset route.

After initial setup, the Main Menu steers you to the two features used most: Courses and Workouts. Note the toilet-paper icon at right, indicating a bathroom along the route.

On the road

To demonstrate the new unit, Stages hosted a few journalists for a ride from their Boulder, Colorado headquarters. We followed a route on the L50 with both our path on the map and on the elevation profile color coded. Turn-by-turn directions and a route can be created in a variety of ways, including importing a route from Strava or RideWithGPS, or another GPX, TPX, or FIT file. To get the elevation color coded by gradient, you have to build the route in Stages’s Link software; otherwise you still get the elevation map, but in a single color.

The L50 has four main buttons plus a power/start button. Tactile sensation is positive and the menus are largely intuitive. Zooming in and out on the map, however, takes a few button presses. Compared to a Wahoo Elemnt, this is slower and clunkier. That said, you can move the map side to side and backwards, which you can’t do on an Elemnt.

When paired with a phone, the L50 delivers the on-screen notifications that you’re probably accustomed to seeing on your iPhone or Android. Whether on Stages or Wahoo or Garmin, this is a feature I appreciate for incoming texts and calls.

The Dash L50 screen is quite configurable, but most of that work has to be done on a desktop or the unit itself. The initial smartphone setup gets you up and running quickly but doesn’t dive deep into screen setup.

Riding on local roads, I wasn’t depending on the L50’s directions, but I was surprised to see things like bike shop and toilet icons popping up along the route. Both could be handy! That said, there is no way to search for either while riding; you can only see what is on the map.

When routes are built in Stages’s Link, the elevation profile is color-coded by gradient. Using a route or not, the map highlights bike paths in green and on-road bike lanes in pink.

EverBrite, indeed

It’s hard to convey in web images, but the screen is bright, noticeably more so than a normal bike computer. You can set it to auto, which adapts quickly to ambient light, or set it as a percentage of total brightness, or put it on low power to save battery.

Speaking of the battery, Stages claims 11-15 hours of run time on a full charge, and my testing seems to bear that out. After running it for five hours with navigation on, at full brightness, my battery life still showed over 50 percent.

Battery-life claims from GPS companies are all over the place; often the top numbers claimed are without navigation on, and with the screen dimmed. So kudos to Stages for offering a realistic number.

Stages has a variety of mounts to accommodate aero bars, TT bikes, stem mounts, and more.

Nuts and bolts

The L50 weighs 126g and has a 2.75in/68mm screen. Size-wise, that puts the $299 L50 on par with the 2.7-inch Wahoo Elemnt Bolt Roam ($379) and the 2.6-inch Garmin Edge 830 ($399). There is also the M50, which has all the same features but with a smaller form factor and slightly less battery life.

You can mount the Dash in portrait or landscape, although the button configuration is best in landscape on the L50. The stock mount works on round bars, and options exist for aero road bars, stem mounts, and under-the-bar spoon-style mounts. Stages has been through a few iterations of the mount, as early versions weren’t always super secure.

Our test ride took in about 15 miles of gravel. I had no problems with my computer, but two other journalists realized their mounts weren’t sufficiently tightened out of the box. A bit of wrenching with a Torx T6 and we were on our way.

Gravel roads are always a good test for mount security.

Smart phone cans and can’ts

The initial set up can be done with your phone: connecting power meters and heart-rate monitors, as well as inputting your training zones, if you know them.

Specific page layout has to be done on the unit itself or with a desktop computer.

Completed rides can be uploaded to Stages Link—and then passed on to Strava or TrainingPeaks—via your phone. (In initial testing in early September I found it took 20-30 minutes for a completed ride to get to Strava. Stages said this was a problem with the Strava API, which has since been addressed. In a quick test on September 30, I found the completed rides to go from upload on Link to Stages in a second or two.)

The new and free Stages Link app is fairly robust, drilling into analytics of each ride as well as total training load data.

You can’t get routes from your phone to your Dash, though. You have to connect the unit to a desktop, or at least use the desktop software to import a route, and then use the phone app to get said route onto the unit.

The new Dash Link app gives a good overview of rides, comparing individual ride data against user-selected historical data.

Adaptive and prescriptive

Stages set out to make training with power more accessible to a broad cross-section of riders. The new adaptive training zones is an example of this philosophy. If you don’t know your threshold number nor care to test for it, you just ride (with a power meter), and the Dash will approximate your training zones based on your output.

New PRs at various durations will be used for three months as the high water marks.

If you want to test for your Functional Threshold Power, the Dash L50 can walk you through that test.

And, of course, you can do power workouts on the L50, which comes stock with a host of interval workouts preloaded. Color-coded bar graphics, similar to what you see on TrainerRoad or Zwift, help you visualize the workout. And Stages designed the workout functionality for the real world, meaning intervals won’t auto advance, so you won’t feel compelled to blow a stop sign or do something stupid because your computer is telling you ‘Go!’ Instead, you just hit the lap button when you’re ready for the next interval.

This is the smaller Dash M50. It has the same built-in workout functionality as the L50.

Bottom line: A bright training tool with a cool map

The Stages Dash L50 won’t unseat Garmin or Wahoo from their dominant positions as GPS players. But the EverBrite screen and the color-coded, cycling-centric mapping are progressive steps for bike computers. And for the training minded, the L50’s detailed focus on power makes it a useful tool.

Sensors can be connected via ANT+ or Bluetooth. Navigation prompts pop up when a turn is approaching, regardless of which screen you’re on.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.