When it comes to investiculating bike GPS devices, this blog is a little Garmin and Wahoo heavy.
It makes sense. Garmin is the OG in the market. Wahoo is the (somewhat) young pretender, building out its training ecosystem around bike computers, indoor trainers and now pedals. The, er, epic Garmin versus Wahoo GLONASSbattle dominates the GPScape.
But what about other bike GPS device makers?
(Good question… that I wrote myself).
In this post I’m going to tickle the chops of an entirely different velo computer, the Stages Dash M50.
What can a manufacturer other than Gar-hoo (Wa-min) do in this space? Is it worth you trying something a bit different?
Let’s find out, as we go through… the GPS-hole.
- The Stages Dash M50 is a solid GPS from a well-regarded bike tech company, sold at a good price.
- The colour screen is bright and high definition but is not touchscreen.
- The M50 can be mounted in both portait and landscape orientation, which is novel.
- It can display large amounts of ride data in all the standard formats (numbers/text in a grid) as well as interesting colour widgets/graphs.
- Navigation is made useful via the detail maps that are easy to move around using the buttons on the front of the device, but it doesn’t have full on-board navigation (it doesn’t re-route).
- The Stages Link software has a lot of powerful training features, but you’ll need to pay for these after the free trial expires.
- A good choice if you don’t want to pay £100/$100 extra for the Edge 530/ELEMNT BOLT V2.
Bright colour screen.
Powerful training features.
Good value versus Garmin and Wahoo.
Who Are Stages?
Stages Cycling is probably better known to you (it was to me) as a maker of power meters. It has since branched out into smart bikes and, as we see here, bike computers.
Like Garmin and Wahoo, the company is based in the US. The Dash is made in China.
For many years Stages sponsored Team Sky, which certainly gives it some credibility (whichever way you swing on Team Sky).
Actually (now I do a little research), the 2021 winner of the Tour de France (and his whole team) rode with a Stages Dash bike computer and power meter.
Clearly this is a sponsorship arrangement and there are certain aspects that Pogacar will be less interested in (turn-by-turn directions…), but it does point to a certain level of quality and a proper level of investment having been made into the product in the first place.
What Is The Stages Dash M50?
The Dash M50 is a colour bike computer with GPS navigation.
In a big picture sense, the Dash M50 doesn’t break the mould in terms of your bike GPS expectations.
(And yes folks, that was two stinking great clichés in one sentence).
The Stages Dash does broadly the same thing as a Garmin Edge or Wahoo ELEMNT device.
In use on a ride it displays various pieces of useful data: current and average speed, distance traveled, metres ascended – amongst a 1,001* other items.
(* This might be an estimate).
Said data is displayed in a variety of formats: in a grid showing a number of different fields; line charts; circle-y pie-y type charts.
The Dash has some navigation features… but not all of them.
It comes loaded with many countries’ worth of detailed colour maps. You can upload courses to the device and the Dash will provide turn directions to keep you on track.
It doesn’t have full onboard navigation though. It won’t re-route if you go off course. If you know your GPS from your GLONASS, this makes the Dash M50 similar to the original V1 ELEMNT BOLT rather than than the V2 BOLT or the Edge 530.
Stages Dash M50: Cost Comparison Versus Other Bike Computers
In many reviews, I leave price until the end. Focus on the features. But in this case case, it’s important to note up front that whilst we (I) might compare it with the Garmin Edge 530 and the
This Stages Dash M50 was actually sent to me for free by the online cycling retailer ProBikeKit (they’re not asking me to say anything nice about it – I had a choice of any item to be sent for review and they stock other bike computer brands as well). You can check out their full range of cycling computers here.
But even if I was paying for it, the Dash M50 is a very reasonably priced bike computer for the feature set it offers.
The RRP for the Dash M50 is £209 but ProBikeKit generally has it on offer for ~£160-190. In the US, on the Stages website, it’s priced at $199.
The Garmin Edge 530 is priced at £260/$300 and the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT (V2 with mapping) is £250/$280.
So you can potentially pick up a Dash M50 for up £100 or $100 less than competing products from Garmin and Wahoo. As I say, this significant price difference is an important factoid to keep in your brainoid as we go through this review.
First impresssions: the M50 is a solid unit. You might go so far as to call it heavy.
[Mont digs out the kitchen scales and determines that…]
It weighs 95g – a jumbo 20-25g more than the Edge 530 and the
Which is nice and somewhat irrelevant as a purchase decision factor, unless you can (honestly) say your body fat percentage is less than 10%.
There are four buttons on the front of the device, which are either below the screen if you’ve got the M50 in a ‘standard’ portrait orientation, or to the right of the screen in landscape.
(More on which way up it goes in a minute).
The buttons on the front are somewhat easy to press. Which is fine if you’re messing around with the Dash off the bike. More of a pain when the device doesn’t register a press as you gallop along on your bike.
There is an icon above/next to each button. I found the them intuitive – the Dash generally did what I expected when I pressed each one.
In landscape mode, the Up/Down button icons point left and right, which caused my micro velo brain to go a bit haywire to begin with. By the end of the first ride, I seemed to get the hang of it.
The Dash M50 has one button on the side. It’s mainly used to turn it on and off, but also to pause mid ride and to access the ride data screens before you actually want to start recording proper.
I found this side button somewhat harder to press. You need to make sure you get ‘good purchase’ and push your finger or thumb directly down on it in order to register the press.
This might of course be a good thing. Have a hair trigger on the on/off button is probably a recipe for peak irritation.
The screen is 2.2″ in size, which puts it broadly in line with the ELEMNT BOLT. As an additional comparison, the Edge 530 has a 2.6″ screen
It’s a colour display and Stages describe it as an ‘EverBrite (TM) screen’ (whatever that means). Monty describes it as a ‘ReasonablyBright screen’ (no (TM)).
Actually that’s not quite true. At it’s highest setting, it’s very bright, certainly compared to other bike computers. This is all good, but it does make me wonder how much battery juice it is gulping when on full bore.
The auto brightness setting seems very sensitive. It can sometimes flick around between levels as external lighting conditions change.
The definition seems very good. Maps are readable, even when they take up just a portion of the display (other data fields are also shown on the navigation page). I’ve had no issues reading whatever text and other visuals, whatever the lighting conditions on the ride.
As a general point, text and other graphics are all quite small. Stages likes to cram a lot of information onto each screen. Whilst this means a lot of detail can be shown all at once, it makes the M50 more of a challenge to use if you prefer large clear text and images.
Stages doesn’t state how many colours the M50 can display (unlike Wahoo with new BOLT (64) and older ROAM (8)). The fact that it has a colour image as the background to many of the pages does rather imply that Stages has not been inhibited by a paucity of hues.
The screen does have slight inward beveled edges. The screen display is a couple of mm below the glass face of the device. I did have a slightly concern that this could cause shadows, impacting readability. In fact this turned out not to be an issue. So we can move on.
Attaching The M50 To Your Bike
The Dash M50 is supplied with an out-front mount that attaches to your handlebars and holds it, er, out in front of them. So far, so normal.
Less common (indeed I’m not aware of anyone other than Stages that do this) is that the M50 can be mounted either in ‘portrait’ or ‘landscape’ orientation.
Portrait is the standard vertical orientation that you’d expect (with the buttons below the screen as you look at it).
Landscape has the device rotate 90 degrees anti-clockwise (‘counter-clockwise’ for the vocabulary-challenged). The buttons are then on right hand side of the screen (and obviously everything displayed on the screen is also rotated by 90 degrees).
All the other bike GPSs I’ve used have employed a cleat on the back that twists into a circular mount.
The Dash M50 has two slots on the underside of the device – one at the bottom edge, one on a side edge. The end of the mount clips into one or other slot, depending which orientation you’ve chosen.
The clip has worked ok so far. There isn’t always a satisfying click to tell you it’s locked in place. Sometimes you just have to push hard and hope for the best (it hasn’t popped off yet).
Releasing the M50 from the mount involves pressing the clip in and then sort of levering/pulling it off. Again, not the most ergonomically-satisfying action. Over time I’d be concerned about wear and tear.
Bluntly, the clip-and-mount design doesn’t (to this distinctly uninformed industrial non-designer) seem as good as the tried and tested twisty cleaty type mounts used by virtually everyone else.
But then I suppose it allows the dual display orientation, so perhaps it’s worth it…
Dash M50 Data Sensor Compatibility
The M50 can connect to both ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors. And seemingly not just the basic ones.
The Dash connected to my Garmin Varia RTL515
Not only does the M50 then alert you and track overtaking vehicles (including bikes) via a bar on the left hand edge of the screen, it can also control the light settings (full beam > half beam > flashing).
This ANT+ smart light control is something that Garmin Edge devices can do (the Varia is after all a Garmin smart light as well as a
As you might expect (from a maker of power meters), the Dash can connect both to ANT+ and BLE power meters. It can also connect to smart trainers using the ANT+ FE-C protocol and, as of a firmware update in May 2021, it can now control said trainers via various methods (e.g. ERG mode, workouts)*.
(* Although since I don’t have a smart trainer, I haven’t tested this aspect).
Connecting The M50 To Data Sensors
Connecting devices is pretty straightforward. From the relevant ‘Manage sensors’ item in the menus, the M50 had no problem detecting my various speed/cadence sensors and my heart strap. I haven’t had it fail to find sensors added previously.
You can set up different profiles for each type of riding you do. Under each profile, you can attach to different data sensors and display different data screens, to suit that style of riding (e.g. training/heart rate focused; commuting; cruising to Nandos).
Helpfully for those of us that are lazy (or just don’t care quite enough), you can simply select one of the ‘Smart’ profiles (portrait or landscape, depending on how you have it attached) and the data screens and fields shown will update to reflect whatever sensors you have attached.
So if you connect a power meter, the Dash will update to show a selection of power data fields.
The Dash has its annoyances though. It took me ages to work out how to connect a new sensor (or do anything faintly settings related) once I’d started a ride.
As I write, I can’t recall exactly how to do it. Some combination of menu selections, button presses and flamboyant hand signals.
The fact that I couldn’t easily work it out (after a reasonable amount of
messing about experimentation) demonstrates that usability on the Dash is lower than on equivalent Wahoo and Garmin devices.
That said, if you’re reasonably au fait with slightly quirky tech, the breadth of sensor compatibility and the stability of the connections once made is a tick in the positives column.
Setting Up the Dash M50
Setup was pretty straightforward. First you install the Stages Link app on your smartphone and then create your Stages Link account (there’s always an account…).
If memory serves, a QR code (image?) displays on the Dash when you first turn it on. You scan this from within the Stages Link app and the device sets itself up in a fashion that must have been sufficiently intuitive that I’ve now forgotten how it played out.
The lack of painful memories should be taken as a positive.
Looking back, it seems I tried to make some notes for when it came to write this review.
My notes are barely incomprehensible. It seems I felt it was important to tell you that I had to change all the display settings from imperial to metric.
So there’s that.
Smartphone App (That Isn’t Limited To A Smartphone)
All good bike GPS devices have an accompanying smartphone app. In fact they probably all do, not just the good ones.
The Stages app is called ‘Stages Link’. And in addition to having it installed on my iPhone, there’s a website version as well.
And the website and iPhone versions of Stages Link:
- do virtually all of the same things; and
- can be used to update all of the settings on the Stages Dash, including tailoring all the data screens, without having to scamper down the rabbit hole, nay warren, of menu options on the device itself.
This latter point is a major plus versus, say, the Garmin and Wahoo app-roaches.
Garmin Connect is pretty similar in terms of features across the phone app and the website, but the settings you can change on your Edge device, via either version of the app, are fairly limited.
The Wahoo ELEMNT app can be used to change all the settings on your ELEMNT BOLT or ROAM (indeed it has to be used for some things) but there is no website version.
The Stages Link app/website looks pretty old fashioned in terms of design and overall feel – I found it more usable on a large desktop computer monitor rather than with my phone – but it does make it easy to tailor the Dash to your needs.
This is certainly the case when playing around with the design of my data pages. On the Dash device, using the buttons, setting them up is a pain. On the iPhone app the process is…okay.
On the website, editing the Dash’s data pages is a pleasure. You can tweak each one to your heart(rates)’s content and, bestest of all, see all the pages lined up next to each other, so you can check that you have all your (data)bases covered and no esoteric pedal smoothness field has been left off.
The app isn’t perfect though. The app/Dash syncing process seems always to be via the phone app, even if you’re making changes on the website. I seem to have to open the phone app to complete the sync.
A minor annoyance right now, in the iPhone app, is that when I go back a screen (for instance after I’ve changed the layout of a data page), the previous screen doesn’t display. It’s just white. I have to come out of the app and go back in, which in most cases fixes things.
This could of course be caused by my aging iPhone but I note that said aging iPhone doesn’t have any issue with Strava, or the Garmin Connect and Wahoo ELEMNT apps….
Finally, I should mention in this section that the Stages Link software does more than tweak your settings and twiddle your firmware. It’s a fully featured training platform (with workouts, programmes, performance analytics and other such sophisticated fandango).
If you want access to more than the basic ride-tracking features and a few workouts and plans then you’ll have to pay a not-cheap £15 a month / £149 a year. Which I’m not doing.
Connecting To Other Apps
Like many riders, I operate in a number of online cycling ecosystems (with immediate effect, I christen this the veloverse).
The Stages Dash purports to have me covered.
Via the Stages Link website, the Dash can theoretically connect to and then upload ride data files to Strava, TrainingPeaks, Ride With GPS and Under Armour (the artist formerly known as MapMyFitness). You can also send Strava routes back the other way, for use on the M50.
Your Stages Link account can also receive data from other platforms (Garmin Connect, Fitbit, Polar, Suunto), for analysis and tracking using the website’s training performance tools.
Right now, none of the connections are working. The link with Strava used to function. And then, a few weeks ago, it just stopped. Which is frustrating.
I haven’t been able to connect any of the following either: Ride With GPS, Garmin Connect, Fitbit. I think the software that Stages uses to connect with other platforms is, er, broken.
Molto frustatus maximanus.
Since I remain a committed Stravaphile, I’m having to manually download the ride data files from Stages Link and upload them to Strava.
In some respects, I don’t mind this too much. I am someone that likes pottering on my computer. Manually adding the ride to Strava can prompt me to engage with it more than when it happens automatically (I don’t systematically review all my ride data).
But for those seeking maximum convenience, this is hardly ideal.
One quick positive experience to come out of this though.
When I finally submitted a help request on the issue, it was picked up and responded to in a very timely 30 minutes. Stages were aware of the problem and hoped to have the features restored over the weekend.
Now this hasn’t actually happened yet (it’s Monday morning as I write), but the speedy response from Stages tech support puts a big tick in the ‘Pros’ column for the Dash (and Stages products in general).
What Is The Dash M50 Like To Use?
Actually, I’ve found it surprisingly enjoyable.
Surprising because, on first glance, the user interface… seems a bit old fashioned and clunky. Enjoyable because, well, I was looking for a word to denote enjoyment…
As you’ve probably inferred (because I haven’t mentioned it), the Dash is not touchscreen. Operating the device is via the buttons on the front and then delving through all the menus as you need to.
When you first switch it on, there is a quickstart menu, which allows you to start a ride, select which profile to use and view your ride history.
Or you can select the ‘Main menu’ option, which takes you deep into the belly of the device (select a workout, select a route, change all the settings, etc).
There’s only so much that a GPS manufacturer can do to make navigating around a device using physical buttons intuitive. It gets harder as the rider is offered more features and greater tweakability of those options.
Once I got used to what is where, adjusting the Dash to my needs was pretty straightforward, even if it did require a fair number of button presses. With the profiles set up to my liking, less work was required from my digits on each ride.
That said, if you are going to undertake some substantial changes to your settings (creating a number of different data screens, fr’instance), I’d recommend you do it via the Stages Link software rather than on the device.
Using The Dash M50 Whence Riding
The Dash M50 seems to work solidly when you’re out riding and recordin’.
As far as I can tell (I’m not techno-GPS-iontologist), the Dash accurately tracks my rides. It’s straightforward, using the buttons, to cycle through the various data screens.
I’ve alluded to it above but I’d avoid trying to adjust too many settings once you’ve started your ride. Intuitive it is not. Time consuming it is.
There’s nothing quite like the frustration of frantic button presses to change one particular data field when all you really want is to get on and ride your bike.
The Dash appears stable in terms of stopping the ride recording and saving my data file down. Said ride data then finds its way, via magik und stuff (Bluetooth), to the Stages Sync app for further analysis (if that floats your sports science boat).
Until recently, once uploaded to Stages Sync, my ride details were then automatically sent to my Strava account. This worked fine… until it didn’t.
Fingers crossed that Stages get the connected app linkages re-instated asap.
A key attraction of the Dash is the variety of more interesting (and unusual) fields that can be displayed as part of the traditional grid that you tend to see on data pages.
You can display all the standard text and numerical fields that you might expect (speed, time, distance, ascent, etc) plus a large number of training-focused metrics (particularly if you are using a power meter and heart rate strap).
More excitingly (if this floats your bateaux) you can display a number of different graphs (heart rate over time, workout bar chart, speed over time) and ‘widgets’ (being four different types of colour wheel – heart rate and power-based – and, er, a map).
The Dash provides extreme levels of flexibility in terms of how many data pages you want to set up (provided it’s less than a more-than-adequate 9) and what data fields you select to display on each page.
If it tickles your taint, you can display a map showing your route on three quarters of the screen then have some esoteric metric below it (Torque effectiveness anyone?)
For those seeking a life involving fewer choices, there are also a number of standard preset pages (Navigation, Elevation), which means you don’t have to go into the menus and build each one from scratch.
The Dash M50 will really suit a rider that wants to display more complex training-focused data and likes to set up their GPS device ‘just so’ – neither of which is particularly me at this point in my cycling ‘career’.
That said, I do really like the tweakability provided by the Stages Dash, along with the charts and colour wheel widgets in particular. It makes for a more interesting set of pixels to stare at as I chew my handlebars up a particularly taxing climb…
The navigation features of the Dash work quite well.
The map screen is clear and easy to read. The maps are detailed and colourful. Panning and zooming is made fairly intuitive by labels on the screen next to the relevant buttons.
The Dash flashes up turn directions, providing the route you’re following has them. The device quickly identifies when you’ve gone off course.
Unlike the (more expensive) ELEMNT BOLT V2 and Edge 530, the Dash M50 does not have full onboard navigation. If you go off course, the Dash won’t recalculate you a new route.
However, the clarity and detail on the map does mean you can do this yourself more easily than, say, the original BOLT (where the maps were, er, high level).
Getting the routes (or ‘Courses’ as Stages refers to them) onto the device in the first place is a faff.
You can create a route using the Stages Link software, which is fine, if basic. This has to be on the web version of Stages Link rather than the smartphone app and is only available if you’ve subscribed for premium access (which I don’t think is right for a basic feature like this).
Once the route is showing in your library of courses (in the smartphone app this time, as well as the web app), you need to ‘favourite’ it to send it to the Dash device the next time it syncs (always be syncing…).
You can manually add a course, either via uploading a GPX file to the Stages Link website (again a premium feature) or via the USB cable to the device itself.
You can also (theoretically) upload routes created in Strava and RideWithGPS.
When my Strava link was working, all of my Strava routes automatically appeared in the courses library (ready to be favourited and synced with the Dash).
(As we all know!) Strava routes don’t contain turn-by-turn directions. If you see directions on a Strava route pop up on your Garmin or Wahoo, that’s because the device has essentially re-calculated the route and added them in.
The Stages Dash doesn’t do that. When I follow a Strava route, the Dash doesn’t show any turn directions, nor does the cue sheet data page show up.
Route files created with RideWithGPS do contain turn-by-turn directions (the main reason I use it over Strava) but in the 4-5 months I’ve been using the Dash, I’ve not been able to connect my RWGPS account. Which is frustrating.
And even if I could connect it, I am not sure the connection works in that direction.
I think Stages Link will send ride files to RWGPS but I’m not sure the information flow works the other way (which it would need to in order to import route files).
Anyway, I obviously can get navigation to work. There are many ways to skin a GPX file. I can still get courses onto the M50 and when they’re on there, following them on a ride is straightforward.
It’s just a bit clunky and at times unsatisfying versus, say, the experience of uploading routes to a Wahoo device.
I’m not going to write a lot on this (oo-rah!) because, bluntly, I don’t really do them. One day I’ll undertake a structured training programme. In the meantime I’ll just keep cruisin’.
Workouts and training support are two arenas where the Dash appears to do very well.
You can use Stages Link (I’d recommend in the website version) to craft a sophisticated training schedule and then sync that with your Dash device.
This aspect of Stages Link is a rebadged version of the dedicated training platform, Today’s Plan.
There are libraries of individual workouts and training plans over time, both of which can be dropped onto the calendar. With this info, the app then calculates the training load you’re due to apply and, in turn, effectively predict your fitness in the future.
I strike two notes of caution (very much as a lay person).
Firstly, although you get a free trial to start with, after buying the Dash, you will end up having to pay for Premium access in order to get the most out of Stages Link as a training platform.
As mentioned above, in the UK, that’s £15 a month or £149 a year. This is not cheap if you simply an enthusiastic cyclist that just wants a little extra data (but is probably reasonable if you’re a committed amateur athlete undertaking ‘proper’ training).
On a related note…my second note of caution.
You probably want to gen up on your training science to get the most out of the platform.
Acronyms like CTL and TSB abound. The list of workout categories, when first presented, seems to comprise random (maybe) pro cyclist names and single word half-descriptions.
The overall look and feel of the site, particularly in the sections relating to training, is quite technical.
The Stages Link training platform is certainly more at the ‘busy and complicated’ rather than ‘clean and minimal’ end of the looks spectrum.
For all it’s quirks, I actually rather like the Stages Dash M50. It is a very capable bike computer at a competitive price point.
I like the way the device can be mounted in portrait and landscape orientations. Whilst I’m not convinced about the mounting method, the Dash M50 itself feels very solid (a flimsy, plasticky device it is not).
The user interface and experience (UI/UX, as I’ve resisted calling it until this point) is neither particularly intuitive nor modern.
Perhaps that’s part of the appeal – the Stages Link (rebadged Today’s Plan) software looks technical and sophisticated. If you can get to grips with it (if you want to get to grips with it), the Dash + Stages-Link software is a powerful way to support your training on the bike.
My current travails trying and failing to reinstate the link with my Strava account are frustrating. But since I like messing around on my desktop PC, it’s not a problem to connect the Dash via USB and start moving files around, uploading them to websites and… er, stuff.
If that’s not you (just a smartphone-first kind of guy/gal), then integration misfires like this will be annoying.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Dash M50 is a powerful little device at a good price. It’s materially cheaper that both the Garmin Edge 530 and
So, all in all, worth checking out.
(As mentioned above, this Stages Dash M50 was sent to me by ProBikeKit so that I could review it. They’ve had no input on the review content).
Bright colour screen.
Powerful training features.
Good value versus Garmin and Wahoo.