A brief overview
In the box, along with the head unit, you get the standard out front mount for 31.8mm bars, a protective case, micro USB cable for charging and data transfer, and a leash. The leash is a useful addition: although cumbersome to put on, it is harder for anyone walking past your bike at the coffee shop to help themselves to your head unit, and also makes you less likely to lose your Dash down the side of a mountain in the event of a crash.
With a 2.7" screen, the Dash is in the mix with larger display head units such as the Garmin Edge 1000 and the Wahoo Elemnt. It weighs in at 102 grams, but the out front mount adds another 25 grams to this. The look and feel is utilitarian, with raised, tactile buttons next to the screen. The Dash is designed to be used both in landscape or portrait orientation: landscape is the default mode, but switching between orientations is easy.
What really sets the Dash apart is the ability to display lots of data. The display can be completely customised to show up to 16 fields on one page. Data nerd heaven, and probably overkill, but nice to have the option nonetheless.
Weight: 102 grams
Mount Weight: 25 grams
Battery Life: 24-30 hours
Waterproof Rating: IPX7 (Waterproof up to 5 ft)
Mounts Included: Out front for 31.8mm bars
Device compatibility: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart
Phone Compatibility: Check
View Orientation: Landscape or Portrait
Sensor bundle included: No
Setting the Dash up out of the box requires a few steps. You will need to create a profile on www.stages-link.com. This is the interface through which you will create your training program and workouts, view your data, monitor the status of your power meter (if you are using one), and update the settings for your Dash. I’ll get into more detail about this below.
You will need to install the Stages Link app on your phone. If like me, you have an old phone with an older version of Android installed (5.0.1), or an earlier version of Bluetooth than 4.0, the app may not be compatible. For the purposes of the review, I borrowed an iPhone 5 to test the app.
The Stages Link mobile app simply facilitates the transfer of data between your head unit and your Stages-Link profile via Bluetooth. If you prefer to connect via USB there is desktop software that you can download called Stages Sync. You then sign in with your Stages-Link profile, connect your head unit via USB cable, and add the device by selecting the data file location. You can choose to set file uploads to auto or manual depending on your preference.
I found the mobile app to be a lot smoother and easier to use than the desktop Stages Sync and it gives you the flexibility to upload ride data without needing to be at a computer.
The out front mount is easy to install: all that is required is a multi tool to fasten the mounting bolts. One small gripe I have with this system is that it not easy to switch mounts between bikes quickly: unlike the far less glamorous but ultra-practical Garmin O-ring mounting system. If you often switch between road and mountain bike, you might need to consider investing in a second mount.
As previously mentioned, the device can be mounted in landscape or portrait orientation, depending on your preference. It clicks into place in a groove and took me a couple of tries to get it right. Once mounted, it is held very securely in place. To remove it you need to press the blue plastic lever and pop the device up.
The next step is to pair your power meter and other sensors if you choose to use them. The Dash can pair with ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart (4.0+) sensors. Adding sensors is a case of switching on the device, navigating to the Sensors page and selecting ANT or Bluetooth sensors (depending on the sensor you are adding) and selecting it when it appears. You can choose to add to all or just specific workout profiles. If you are using a Stages Power crank you will not need a cadence sensor as an accelerometer in the crank is used to measure cadence. The Dash currently does not support SRAM ETap or Shimano Di2 shifting.
Stages Link is the heart and soul of the Dash experience. This is where everything comes together: your ride data, the settings for your head unit, information about your power meter, and your training calendar or workout plans. Stages have partnered with online training platform Today's Plan to provide training plans and data analysis on Stages Link. Full access to the platform functionality requires a premium membership which costs R260 monthly or R2600 per year. You get two months free premium membership when you buy a Dash so you can try it out before subscribing.
You can use Stages Link to build a training program to target a specific event, or training goal, much like you would in Today's Plan (as explained here). Creating a program is a simple process, and you just need to fill in information as prompted. If you are new to training with power or heart rate and don't know your threshold numbers there is no need to panic: the first workout in your program will most likely be a threshold test to determine these values.
Once your training program has been created you can view it in the calendar tab, and click on each individual workout for more detail. Each workout includes a written description, workout goals, suggested terrain and equipment, as well as the required intervals. Every time you connect your Stages Dash to Stages Link (either via the app or Stages Sync) your scheduled workouts for the next seven days will be synced and stored on the device. You can also create custom workouts if you don't want to follow a specific program or are working with a coach.
After completing the workout and syncing your Dash to Stages Link the workout will be highlighted red, green or orange, according to how accurately it was completed. You will be able to view a summary of the ride data, the average for each lap or interval, your peak power for the ride, compared with your best values to date. You will also be able to see the time spent in each power zone as well as an overall view of your training load for a two week period.
In your account settings, you can update your profile including body metrics such as weight, height, etc. You can set email preferences, training availability and equipment, and adjust power and heart rate training zones should you wish to do so. A useful feature is the connections tab where you can set up Outgoing connections: for example linking to your TrainingPeaks or Strava account, so that uploaded data is automatically sent to these accounts. You can also set up Incoming connections linked to your Garmin Connect, Garmin Wellness, Fitbit or Under Armour accounts so that any wellness data from these accounts is automatically added to your Stages Link profile.
Without going into too much detail, Stages Link uses your power data to calculate a value for each ride based on duration and intensity as per your recorded FTP. This value is used to calculate training load and hence fatigue over time.
If, like me, you switch between N+1 bikes on a regular basis, and can't afford to keep them all fitted with a power meter, it is worth noting that the Stages Link will still calculate an estimated training load based on heart rate data, so it is useful to ride with a heart rate monitor when you do not have a power meter fitted, if you are interested in trying to keep track of your training load and fitness levels.
Last but not least: What do you get with Stages Premium and what is free? In short, most of the detailed ride analysis functions & training tools require a paid Premium membership, as does access to the workout library, custom workout creation, and training plans. The free edition facilitates data uploads, provides you with a ride diary, allows you to export data to Strava and Training Peaks, and configure your head unit and Stages Power meter should you have one. For a more detailed breakdown take a look here.
Training with the Stages Dash
Using the Dash is intuitive for the most part. Simply turn it on and select ride to start recording a session. You can choose from the various pre-configured workout layouts: such as Indoor, Power Workout (and others) in landscape or portrait orientation. You can modify or create these layouts easily in the Stages Dash tab of Stages Link. One modification I chose to make was to add the next laps field to my most commonly used workout pages so that I could check what interval was coming up and prepare accordingly.
To load a workout from Stages Link you need to navigate to the main menu and select the activity. Your activities will be labelled according to the scheduled date in your Stages Link calendar.
Once you start a workout, the Dash displays prompts for each interval including a target power range, cadence, and heart rate, as well as a written explanation of how the interval should be executed. The pre-configured layout includes power, and average power for the interval so that you can make sure you are hitting the numbers. Hitting the lap button starts the next interval, so if you are out on the road there is no pressure to get to your climb within a certain time frame.
I found the setup to be incredibly motivating when following the structured workouts. I enjoy the satisfaction of hitting targets and ticking boxes, and the Dash certainly plays to that.
In terms of general use I had a few instances of the Dash freezing after a workout, and would have to hold down the power button for ten seconds to switch it off before I could turn it on again, but this never happened during a ride. I initially connected the Stages Power meter via ANT+ and had some trouble with the zero reset timing out and throwing an error. Connecting the power meter via Bluetooth solved this problem, but this meant the zero reset values did not display on the Stages-Link Power Meter Zero Offset Graph which tracks the zero offset readings and battery life of the power meter, as shown below. This problem has been addressed by the latest firmware update and so should not be an issue going forward.
Will the Dash be of value without a power meter?
A question that will inevitably be asked by those looking to upgrade their bicycle computers, but not currently training with a power meter. The short answer is that it is not the intended function of the Dash, and you will not get the most out of the device. It will, however, do an admirable job displaying GPS, cadence, heart rate and speed data on the large screen. It will come down to individual preference in terms of size, appearance, and price.
Something to consider before rushing out to buy the Stages Dash is that it does not yet offer GPS navigation or Strava Live segments. GPS navigation is due to be released in a firmware update shortly, and so shouldn’t be a problem in the long term: but if you have a stage race that requires GPS navigation planned it will be worth checking before you commit to a purchase.
In the end
The value of the Stages Dash as a training tool, when used in conjunction with a power meter and a structured training program, is unquestionable. It is very easy to follow a structured workout using the prompts, and if you are a data nerd you will find yourself poring over workouts for hours. The Dash is ideal for riders already training with power, or someone considering training with power, and looking to take their riding a little more seriously or give their training more structure.
Training with a power meter: the ins and outs
Ensuring training progression with power
Who needs a coach anyway?
Want to buy a GPS cycling device?