Stages Dash L50
An in-depth review of the Stages Dash L50 and it’s supporting infrastructure.
When I was riding this summer, my friend asked me if there were any upcoming products I was excited about. I immediately responded that the Stages Dash L50, and Dash M50, were some of the most exciting and interesting products I had heard about all year.
Is the Stages Dash L50 good enough to change the industry?
The cycling GPS headunit market has stagnated. Existing brands aren’t innovating the way they once did, and a new player is exactly what the industry needs. It has to be good, though, otherwise it’ll be another also ran in the shadow of Garmin and Wahoo. The question is, are the L50 and M50 any good?
Stages-Link plays an important support role for the Dash L50 as well as offering tons of functionality not related to the head unit.
Before I get into the hardware, it’s important to look at the larger picture. Stages has been smart enough to release more than a couple of head units. Along with the Stages dash head units there is also the Stages-Link website. Stages head units take advantage of the website as another way to do the setup, but you can use the Stages-Link website no matter what head unit you have.
I actually started using the Stages-Link website months before the L50 was available for review. My time there has completely changed my training, as well as allowed me to change what services I use.
It doesn’t matter what GPS head unit you ride with the Stages-Link website provides tremendous value.
The Stages-Link website has a lot of sections and functionality. The biggest place you’ll spend time is the calendar. In the calendar section, you will see both your scheduled rides as well as rides you have completed. Click on a completed ride, and you’ll see an activity summary with info such as speed, time, heart rate, power, and a map. There is also extensive analysis available if you want to dive deep.
The Stages-Link website is a freemium model. Many of the features are free, and if you want to see power based analysis, that is a premium option. Heart rate based training analysis is free. Also, part of the free features are tracking of your CTL (chronic training load), ATL (acute training load), and TSB (training stress balance) over time.
You won’t find any proprietary terms used on the Stages-Link website. If you want to learn more it’s easy to search for the info you need.
Today’s Plan handles the training data on Stages-Link. That means the terms used, and tracked, are industry standard. There is no need to cross reference a new set of terms against the available data out there. Search for the terms used on the site, and you can find all the info you’d ever want.
For me, I’m finding a lot of value in the TSB score. TSB, or training stress balance, is an objective measurement of how tired I am for the day. I love to ride, and I frequently ride more than I should. When I’m feeling tired TSB is another opinion of just how tired I actually am. At the same time, the load chart is revolutionizing my training. Looking out over the year, I can see how much I was emphasizing volume over quality.
A paid membership of $20 per month, or $199 for the year, will get you the deeper analysis I mentioned earlier. More importantly, it’ll allow you to build structured training plans based on the goals you set and the available training time you have. I’ve been using them and spending a lot less time in that middle zone of training stagnation.
Another section of the website that has great potential is the mapping section. It’s a bit hidden, but it allows you to import the courses you’ve built in Ride With GPS as well as build maps in Stages-Link. These courses can then show up on your Dash head unit and are available to download. Right now, the functionality is pretty basic, but this strikes me as something that could shake up the industry.
You can track your rides on Stages-Link but you can also create routes in the mapping section.
There is potential for using Stages-Link to replace lots of other services out there. If you don’t like Strava, you can easily set Stages-Link up to be your primary tracker of rides over time. Looking for a past ride is a lot easier on a calendar than it is in a list of rides. If you don’t like Ride With GPS, you could do all your map building in Stages-Link. Any lag in features will likely change soon.
The Stages-Link calendar view makes finding old rides easy.
A quick note for anyone that wants to replace Strava. Zwift and Wahoo can both be set to automatically upload to Stages-Link. When setting up the link, choose Today’s Plan as the service you are connecting to. Once selected, there will be an option to choose a Stages-Link account. I record data through Wahoo head units, Zwift, and sometimes through the Strava app on my phone. The only change I had to make was to switch from the Strava app to the Wahoo app on my phone. Rides upload to Stages-Link as soon as I stop recording.
Stages-Link has the functionality to replace every other website I use in relation to cycling.
Management of your head unit happens in the “Stages Dash” section of the site. This doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation. In this section, you can change settings for the Dash as well as check for updates. It’s convenient and logical. The Wahoo app approach to setup feels somewhat similar but Stages does it through a website instead. Unlike Wahoo, you can also make changes on the head unit. When you do sync the unit, it’ll figure out which change was most recent and update that setting everywhere else.
In case it’s not clear, I love Stages-Link. Anyone who cares about tracking their rides and training by the numbers should start using it right away. This review is about more than Stages-Link, though. There is also the L50 head unit that I’ve been testing.
Stages-Link works just as well even if you ride without a power meter.
Usually when I write my reviews, I try to use things the way that comes naturally. I figure there are enough people like me that it all works out. That can be tricky with a device as capable as the L50. Taking that approach can leave important details out.
Functionality of the Stages Dash L50 is a little different than what I usually look for.
One of the things I tend to do is spend a lot of time on Ride With GPS pre planning routes and saving them for the future. You can do that through the Stages-Link website. You could also do it through Ride With GPS and upload to Stages-Link. It turns out, though, that when Stages investigated the space, they found a lot of people prefer to do things with less pre-planning.
The maps page on the L50 is a good companion if you like to explore. It has an extensive list of OSM tags including bathrooms, food, and bike shops and will help distinguish road sizes and bike lanes or multi-use paths. Even if you do a lot of pre-planning, these are useful features. You might get things wrong when planning at home or you may need something you didn’t plan for. The ability to move around the map lets you see if there’s a better way to handle a particular section or find services you might need. The feature works without cell service and is unique compared to the competition.
That functionality is great, but it’s not what I was most excited about. When I saw the first images of the L50, what I saw was the big dial that shows power. It’s a bit like a speedometer showing your power zones, and it’s what I miss on other devices. It’s difficult to hold a number range in your head while pushing hard on the bike. As I get more tired, I tend to lose concentration, and it’s difficult to push as hard as I want to. That big dial with colored zones changes the way I ride. It’s easy to make sure that I stay in the color I want to be in.
There are so many details I could dive into that it would be easy to get lost. That’s not what I bring to the table. What I try to share is what it’s like to actually use a product and how it can fit into a regular person’s riding. I’m serious about my riding and training, but I’m not particularly exceptional compared to lots of other serious cyclists. The Stages-Link website is a service everyone should be using.
Stages-Link tracks your training with, or without, a power meter.
For those who hate Strava, it gives you a way to migrate away but still keep track of your riding over time. If you don’t mind Strava, you can continue to use it. Stages-Link will be the first stop for your ride data, and from there it will push to Strava. You can use Stages-Link even if you only train with heart rate. You can choose to pay for functionality, or you can use it as a free service. Definitely start using it right away.
In terms of the L50 hardware, I’d be lying if I didn’t mention there is some missing functionality at this point. I am confident Stages would say the same thing. Everything I felt was missing is on the product roadmap. Stages is pushing lots of updates and is getting everything you’d expect into the product. As it stands right now, the retail price of $299 gets you a big, bright, color screen with unique functionality. No one else lets you so clearly see what power zone you are in, and the mapping features are unmatched. The ability to pan around the map, even without cellular signal, is a huge advantage.