Which GPS Should I Get?

Mary is a gadget person. Her birthday is coming up, and I know she would really enjoy a GPS for her bike. But which one should I get?

Based on my limited knowledge of GPS, I have compiled some selection criteria. Here they are:

1. History – high importance. We would like to come back from a ride, upload data from a GPS, and see the route and statistics.

2. Storage capacity – high importance. We don’t take a laptop when we tour. How much data can a GPS store? Are there GPS units that have removable memory cards? Could we track 30 days’ worth of data?

3. Directions – nice to have. This could take some of the fun out of the ride – it would be like asking for directions. 🙂 However, I do recognize it could be a useful (if infrequently used) feature.

4. Map display – not important. Not to me anyway. However, etc …

5. Usability – high importance. The basic functions a normal person would use while riding should be intuitive. Devices that require navigation to 3 levels of indenture based combinations of multiple keys held down for long or short periods are useless in my books. (Nod in the direction of Steve Jobs.)

6. In-Ride statistics – nice to have. I would expect statistics such as speed and altitude to be standard. Gradient would be highly desirable. Ideally, a GPS could eliminate the need for other bike computers. Capturing non-geospatial data such as cadence and heart rate would be very attractive.

7. Compass – nice to have. If we were traversing the Sahara with no landmarks this could be useful.

8. Waypoints – not important. We have never needed to retrace our tracks after getting lost (cough, cough). On the other hand, if we were in the Sahara ...

Thoughts, anyone?

9 comments on “Which GPS Should I Get?”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Home computer-wise, are you on Windows or Mac? (I'm gathering my thoughts)

  2. Kern wrote:

    Mac preferred but we have both platforms.

  3. Patrick wrote:

    I can only speak for mine as I've used no other. It's a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx and I like it very much. If I was buying again I'd get the same.

    Uploading data and seeing the route and statistics is easy. It uses Micro SD cards and you can take as many as you like on tour. For two weeks away, I only take one 8 gig card and that also contains the maps. I've never bothered with directions (although it will do it). The Legend HCx has a base map that rotates as you go, and your position is marked with a little black arrow you can set to always point upwards or always to point north. Mine is pointing upwards, and I bought the City Navigator NT* maps of most of Europe on one DVD. These maps are very useful as they contain all the roads not shown on the base map. It also means you can create (or view) routes in detail using MapSource: the mapping CD supplied with the GPS (which I believe only works on Windows). I really think you'd regret not having the map on tour. It's easy to read as you cycle, showing only roads, water, and placenames. This is an uncluttered vector map, the type you'd want.

    *Note that the NT maps (and Garmin MapSource) can install on any number of PCs but are registered to only one GPS unit, so if you buy another unit later you'll also need to replace the maps – a bit naughty, this, on the part of Garmin.

    In-ride statistics on screen include trip distance, odometer, speed, average speed, moving time, total time, highest speed, altitude above sea level, time of day, and probably a few other things I don't bother with. But it doesn't show gradient – not sure what you mean there. Do you mean the incline of the ground you are on? It won't show elevation gain either, but you can see that when you've uploaded your course onto Garmin Connect (assuming its a Garmin). The Legend HCx's sister unit, Vista HCx, has a more acccurate altimeter and electronic compass but uses more battery. Garry has one.

    Has compass, never used (map shows north). Waypoints standard on most GPS devices. The Legend HCx is sold as a hand held GPS and requires a separately purchased bracket to fix to handlebars. Garmin's Edge series is the cycling range and I assume they come with brackets. The Edge also has fitness data capability. Fellow blogger Mary has one of those, and Mick F (and they both use Macs).

    My unit uses two AA batteries. When touring I use Energizer Lithium Plus – very light and last for about three full days. That is unbeatable and an important factor for us.

    I hope that helps a little, Kern. More on:
    Garmin eTrex HCx cycle touring setup
    Life with a Garmin Edge 705
    ... and:
    YACF GPS forums (frankly frankie is the top man)

  4. Mary wrote:

    I use a SATMAP device, and I understand from their website that they now are in the USA market at any rate as well as UK and Europe. DOnt know about Canada though.


    The SATMAP device, although I use it all the time, LOVE it, find it easy peasy to use and to read etc. It in my opinion isnt really Mac friendly. I work with a Mac Pro computer and when I purchased my SATMAP they were not Mac compatible. But since then they are supposed to be so.

    Maybe its better with the newer SATMAP device than the Active 10 Plus that I have. But even though I had the device upgraded by SATMAP themselves when they got the software sorted, the SATMAP causes major crashing and hic cups of my laptop.

    So for everything except looking where I've been historically online, its brilliant and faultless in my opinion.

    I expect that Patrick's eTrex is where you want to be. I also have a Garmin Edge. Its great for downloading your ride, telling you how many calories etc and how long and high your route was.

    But for finding my way about with it... Na... Using the stars is more accurate! I have as yet to find a way of making a map of any sort work on it.

    Having both bits of kit means of course, that I comfortably find my way about by reading a proper OS road map, which happily directs me on the correct route to go, and showing me where I've been so I dont accidently backtrack, if say I stop somewhere for a tea break. Then when I get home I retrieve the Garmin Edge from my saddle bag, and download where Ive been.

    I seem to have managed to sort out where Im going, and now the history logging too, by choosing the most expensive route possible. (2 x bits of GPS!) I think Patricks machine, means you have both in one machine.

    The SATMAP by the way uses Map cards similar in size and shape to those you use in a digital camera. I have over 20 different routes (nearly all are 100km or more in length) stored in the memory of my SATMAP. Some I have now removed and stored on various Map cards that cover different areas of the uk. For example my Scottish trip is 1,500 km long, over 15 different routes all stored on one map card, each with 100's of way points. So plenty of memory on a SATMAP.

  5. Patrick wrote:

    I forgot to mention OpenStreetMap. I believe that these free maps can be used on a Garmin instead of the City Navigator NT maps you have to buy (and which are only registerable to one GPS). Never tried them personally, and I don't know if they can be brought into Garmin MapSource, but they are free.

  6. Mick F wrote:

    I think Patrick has said it all.

    The link – above – to my post about life with a Garmin 705 would be rewritten these days. I'm far happier with it now and seem to have learned everything I need to know. The firmware has been re-issued and updated now. There's quite a saga about the wretched firmware!

    Mine came with v2.9 which was ok. Then came v3.1 (what happened to v3.0?) which wasn't that good and some folk reverted back to v2.9. Then came v3.2, and what a load of rubbish that was! It actually broke some 705s! Most people went back to v3.1 – including me, though there were certain aspects of v3.2 I liked.

    Garmin finally brought out v3.3 which IHMO is great. Some riders with the PowerTap rear hubs – hubs that "talk" to the 705 and provide the rider's power information – say that the 705 gives wrong speed and distance, so they've reverted to v3.1.

    Sorry if this all seems a bit complicated, but although the 705 is a solid and reliable bit of kit, the firmware leaves a great deal to be desired. It seems that Garmin may have got it almost nearly approximately right-ish now!

    Now, back to the questions:
    The 705 – and it's newer stable-mate, the 800 are primarily fitness and performance orientated. They will navigate, you can upload routes and courses to follow, you can install maps – even topographical ones, and they will record absolutely everything. I create my routes on-line and download them as a TCX then transfer them to my 705. All very easy.

    The 705 is 1Gb capacity and has a MicroSD card slot, but the 705 won't save data onto it automatically. It isn't an extension to the memory, rather a separate storage area that you can access manually.

    The 705 can be added to with a HR monitor strap – but the heart rate isn't used in the 705 for anything, it's just recorded. Ascent.app uses HR in it's calculations so is a great boon to assessing energy output, it also computes power.

    Also, a Speed/Cadence unit is available too. This records cadence – and with the newer firmware v3.3 is the preferred input for speed and distance. The GPS units all suffer under bridges or trees so to stop the delay of the switchover from GPS to S/C, they leave it at S/C. If you don't have the S/C unit, the 705 obviously stays with GPS.

    Basically, in a nutshell, if you like the idea of a unit that is both about you AND your ride, the Edge is the one to get.

    If you want a unit that is only about the ride – buy an Etrex.

    I love the way I can see how hard I've worked. I love to see my stats, how many calories I've expended, and how my average heart rate falls as I get fitter. It's all a part of my riding now, and I can't imagine going out without it.


  7. Garry Lee wrote:

    I have a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx
    I had to use gasket maker stuff to restick the rubber after about two years. That aspect is unsatisfactory. It, like all GPS devices is a very complicated device to learn. When I had mastered it it proved to be very satisfactory. What it is particularly good at is recording a cycle, giving you distance etc. etc. and height gained. Programming a ride into it is fiendishly complicated and about as much fun as eating your leg.
    What we need is a system where you have a touchsceen computer and can draw lines on maps on the screen and these will be automatically transferred into a track in your GPS.
    If you have a track, like we had for the two times I've done the CTC Lejog, it's brilliant. No-one got more than slightly lost at any stage. The one downside is that you were cycling through villages and towns and you often didn't know where you were, except that you were where you were supposed to be. Often the name of the place would not be on the screen area you were looking at.
    The GPS is a device awaiting the hand of Steve Jobs or some similar chap, to simplify it.

  8. Patrick wrote:

    Mick F wrote: Basically, in a nutshell, if you like the idea of a unit that is both about you AND your ride, the Edge is the one to get.

    If you want a unit that is only about the ride – buy an Etrex.

    I agree with that. I've seen on TV that scientists investigating earthquakes use eTrex, either Legend or more likely Vista. They are hand-held and need the extra bracket for handlebars.

    Garry wrote: Programming a ride into it is fiendishly complicated.

    Here's essentially what you do:

    (1) Create a course using Bike Route Toaster. Easy. Just click on the map. The Control options are in the sidebar.

    (2) Click the Summary tab and either download to File, or Garmin GPS (GPS needs to be connected to computer with USB cable – with this option the job is done).

    (3) If you downloaded to File, open the file in MapSource. I don't think MapSource is supplied with the Edge [correction: seems it is] as it is with the eTrex.

    (4) In MapSource, click Transfer / Send to Device. If the Garmin is connected via USB this will load the course. Job done.

    You can also create courses locally in MapSource. The process is much the same as on Bike Route Toaster.

    The Legend series does have a limitation compared to the Edge. It will only store 500 trackpoints / 250 routepoints per course. However, a course with more than those numbers can be filtered down to 500 or 250 max in MapSource, plenty for a day's cycling. For a multi day tour you would create each day's course then transfer them all to the GPS to be used one by one.

    The fiendish bit is setting up the GPS as a navigation aid on a ride (or tour). There is a learning curve and it's worth knowing the difference between tracks, routes, and waypoints, and knowing how to set the various menus on the unit itself. If it's only being used once per year, it's hard to remember, but a gadget person using one regularly would soon have it covered.

  9. Kern wrote:

    Whew! That's a lot of information to take in at once. Thanks folks. I'll keep you posted. I saw the Garmin Edge 800 sitting on the shelf at Bertrand's yesterday, but Mary was with me so I couldn't explore.

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