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  1. #1
    Vegan on a bicycle smasha's Avatar
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    Bicycle navigation (GPS) that doesn't suck?

    most of my rides are back and forth over familiar territory, but when i go to new places i'd like to not get lost. some recent trips only took 3-4 times longer than they should have... everything from missing street signs and directions that were less than good, to "operator error". a good sat-nav system could have helped tremendously.

    what do i need in a navigation device? i think...
    * display that works in sunlight
    * display that works at night
    * weatherproof
    * works with riding gloves
    * audible alerts would be great
    * ability to make/change routes without a computer
    * 8+ hours battery life
    * affordable
    * linux compatibility
    * expandability (ANT+) would be nice, but currently not needed

    most of all, i want something that doesn't suck. that might be the deal-breaker.

    from my recent research, it seems like smart-phones and small android tablets don't have good displays for daylight, and they don't work well with gloves... but the apps are as good or better than anything available in a dedicated unit and they now work well even without cell coverage.

    it seems like the dedicated units are expensive, require windoze/mac to use/access all of the features, and most of them seem to charge extra for maps. despite some of the proprietary features, it seems like the actual utility as a navigation system is almost as good as the android apps.

    is there anything i'm missing? or should i just sit on the sidelines until a clear winner emerges? right now i don't have disposable income for this type of toy so if i can't get it right the first time, i'd rather wait.
    "When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race." - H.G. Wells

  2. #2
    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    I think you hit most points. Existing cycling GPS units are all far from perfect. They have very small low res screens so don't work well as maps (can't see enough detail and range at the same time). They also don't permit laying out routes. An Android smartphone with a large screen might be used for laying out routes using various websites, saving the files, and then transferring them to the device with an OTG host adapter (I do it with my Galaxy S4). Garmin units are all buggy to various extents and depending on how you use them so might not meet the your criterion of not sucking. As far as being affordable, that's a question of price and what you can spend. Linux with a browser should be fine for laying out routes and transferring route files and history files to/from appropriate websites, though I haven't tried it. Most all Garmins have ANT+, though the new thing is Bluetooth LE (aka Smart).

    Smartphones can work well with aux batteries, and many newer ones talk BTLE. Some, like my S4, even talk ANT+. Some of these phones are weather proof, though I don't know how that would work with an aux battery plugged in. As you know, smart phones aren't cheap either, though might be viewed as affordable as part of a service plan, though a service plan (data or voice) is not needed for one to work as a satnav.
    Ride more. Fret less.

  3. #3
    Vegan on a bicycle smasha's Avatar
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    thanks. if i do go the android route, i'll have no immediate need/desire/incentive to use the device as a phone or get any kind of data plan. my dumb-phone works fine (as long as i don't need to read the screen in daylight) and i hardly ever use it... battery lasts about a week.

    if the phone has wifi, i can update maps at any library or cafe, without a data plan.

    the prices i'm looking at, it seems like a dedicated GPS navigation device would be 2-3x the price of a weatherproof android phone... which would probably be worth it, if it were indisputably "better".

    edit: that last paragraph is wrong, i was confusing prices in USD and NZD. it looks like the prices would be roughly comparable.
    Last edited by smasha; 01-19-14 at 08:34 AM.
    "When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race." - H.G. Wells

  4. #4
    Senior Member dougmc's Avatar
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    Smart phones tend to have sucky battery life -- if you're running a GPS app, they'll generally be dead in a few hours. They also don't have ANT+ compatibility that I'm aware of. But external power sources are an option. Get a basic Android pay as you go phone (do make sure it has a GPS, though most do), don't actually pay for service, install osmaps (that's the name of the package), preload local maps ... you're good, for a few hours, till the battery dies.

    Car GPSs would work great, and they're cheap as well (good ones can be had for under $100, just make a mount of some sort) -- but they tend to have even worse battery life, being designed to work with 12v power available. Which is a pity, but of course they could be given external power sources as well. No cycling specific features, however.

    The Garmin Edge 6**, 7** and 8** models cover everything you asked for except for "being able to make routes without a computer" (and I'm not sure what does cover that, though if you just want it to take you to an address or point of interest, they can do that without a computer) and "being affordable" (though the 605 and 705 are findable used relatively inexpensively.)

    Linux compatibility depends on what exactly you want to do, but I can access my 305 (which has no navigation, so you probably don't want one, just to be clear) and 705 (has navigation) and read my history from them via Linux without too much grief. (The 705 is easier, as it's seen as a mass storage device, so you can copy files directly.)

    My Edge 705 is very slow at calculating routes -- you tell it where you want to go, and it'll take a minute or two to find a route if it's across town. And it has to recalculate when you get off the route it's assigned. But it does work.

    It does not have a touch screen, so it works fine with gloves. The 805 has a touch screen, so you'll need to take the gloves off or use one of those pens, or just get gloves that work with capacitive touch screens (they do exist.)

    The Garmin Edge devices are water resistant -- rain will not hurt them, even a downpour. They say they'll survive 30 minutes of complete immersion in one meter of water -- but I'm not testing that. But even hard rain, for hours? No problem.
    Last edited by dougmc; 01-20-14 at 12:25 AM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    Look at GPS units for motorcycles. They will certainly handle weather/gloves & full navigation. What they won't have is the cycling stuff like ANT+ type stuff, so you won't get anything more that just speed.

    Considering your typical riding profile, a standard computer plus smart-phone back-up is a more affordable option. Why get a unit optimized for a feature that you rarely use.

  6. #6
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    I think my Garmin 200 fits your criteria except for expandability.
    You don't read my signature anyway, do you?

    Tom Reingold, noglider@pobox.com
    Residences: West Village, New York City and High Falls, NY
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  7. #7
    Senior Member dougmc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    I think my Garmin 200 fits your criteria except for expandability.
    He didn't explicitly mention it in the bullet point list of desired features (though he did say "navigation device" right before), but it seems that his primary purpose for this is navigation -- the Edge 200 doesn't have maps.

    Unless "Garmin 200" refers to another device? Something handheld?

  8. #8
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    Well I know this probably isn't what you had in mind. But, it's what I use… an Garmin Oregon 500. It mounts on the hb via a ram mount. I't s a little heavy vs an edge BUT it has the bike features plus trail ones even some auto ones. You can use all most any map set and display 4 data fields as well a full maps at the same time. I also use a Tempe to record temperature.

  9. #9
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dougmc View Post
    He didn't explicitly mention it in the bullet point list of desired features (though he did say "navigation device" right before), but it seems that his primary purpose for this is navigation -- the Edge 200 doesn't have maps.

    Unless "Garmin 200" refers to another device? Something handheld?
    As Emily Litella said, "That's different. Never mind."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3FnpaWQJO0
    You don't read my signature anyway, do you?

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  10. #10
    Si Senior dbg's Avatar
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    I'm still a huge fan of the garmin etrex 20. Very nice and very cheap. You'll find my ravings in the discussion below.

    http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...light=etrex+20
    David Green, Naperville, IL USA "The older I get, the better I used to be" --Lee Trevino

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Looigi View Post
    I think you hit most points. Existing cycling GPS units are all far from perfect. They have very small low res screens so don't work well as maps (can't see enough detail and range at the same time). They also don't permit laying out routes.
    Not sure where you get that. You can easily lay out routes using any number of online tools that create .GPX files for export. You can also just enter an address in an Edge 705 and later and it will navigate you to that and will even have a separate screen that will show you upcoming waypoints and your distance from them.

    I'd go with the Edge 705 on the used market or the 800. Personally, I don't find the need to have Bluetooth linking with a cell phone for live tracking to be a big selling point. But if you do, you want the Edge 900. Also, DO NOT buy the map card. Get your own microSD card and download the maps to the card yourself using the Open Street Map files.

  12. #12
    don't try this at home. rm -rf's Avatar
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    If you find an older Garmin 705, if the battery is old too, it might only last 9-10 hours instead of the 15 hours when it was new.

    My Garmin 705 works great for navigating a downloaded .tcx "course". I use Open Street Maps. It occasionally shuts off in the middle of a ride, but powering it back on and hitting Start continues where it left off. I trust it enough to not bring backup paper maps any more. Here's a post I made for downloading the maps.

    The 705 works great in bright sunlight, and also has a backlight for dusk or night riding.

    Using the maps to follow a .gpx Route:
    I've never had consistent luck using the .gpx Routes. The navigation often shortcuts or chops off the route. It's frustrating.

    Instead, I always make a .tcx Course, using ridewithgps.com. It has to be copied to a "Courses" folder that needs to be created on the main 705 drive. Then the course is followed by selecting it from the Training button, not the Where To button. It works great.
    Last edited by rm -rf; 01-23-14 at 07:50 PM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    Techical point: There's a difference between GPX routes and GPX tracks. GPX route files comprise a relatively small number of route points, which are essentially waypoints or destinations, and the device chooses roads to get between them. GPX track files are breadcrumb tracks with 10x or more the number of track points. When navigating these, the device matches these up with roads as best it can and then follows the track giving turn instructions based on the roads it matches up. If your track points go off any road in the database, it will follow them instructing to you turn off road. Neither of these work perfectly or flawlessly on the 705 in my experience, though GPX track files work well enough, IMO. On occasion it will plot a straight line between two points rather than following the road but this is almost always evident on the display and easy to deal with by just following the actual roads.

    Courses are similar to GPX tracks but based on TCX files. The 705 doesn't "navigate" these per se, but shows the track superimposed on the map. It doesn't give turn instructions unless they were embedded in the TCX file when it was created. If you deviate sufficiently far off the track, it alerts you and tells you which direction the track is, but doesn't "navigate" you back on to it. You have to look at the map and figure out how to get back on it. RWGPS, Bike Route Toaster, and other sites do insert turn instructions in TCX course files created on them. You can create TCX course files on the Garmin Connect site but last I tried it didn't insert turn instructions.
    Ride more. Fret less.

  14. #14
    Si Senior dbg's Avatar
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    All the routing and mapping features combined with free OSM maps and RWGPS online route generation and sharing capabilities makes etrex 20 less than $160 all in --new. Used/refurb even cheaper. Hard to beat that price. I'm getting more for the family. (I'm done raving now)
    David Green, Naperville, IL USA "The older I get, the better I used to be" --Lee Trevino

  15. #15
    Senior Member dougmc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rm -rf View Post
    If you find an older Garmin 705, if the battery is old too, it might only last 9-10 hours instead of the 15 hours when it was new.
    You can buy replacement batteries for as little as $10 from what I can see, and while I haven't tried it, I doubt it's that difficult to replace.

    Mine was down to about six hours of battery life, and then I cracked the screen and sent it back to Garmin for repair, and got a refurbished unit with a new battery, so I haven't tried it.

    It occasionally shuts off in the middle of a ride, but powering it back on and hitting Start continues where it left off.
    That's a pretty big problem if you want to record your rides. I had that problem too way back, and I fixed it with a firmware update. Though I've heard that there's a separate problem where a bump could cause the battery contacts to come loose for an instant and you could fix that by opening it up and cleaning them and pulling them out a bit so they push harder on their pads. (Though maybe that problem was with the 305?)

    I trust it enough to not bring backup paper maps any more. Here's a post I made for downloading the maps.
    That is a great post!

  16. #16
    Senior Member 01 CAt Man Do's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dougmc View Post
    Smart phones tend to have sucky battery life -- if you're running a GPS app, they'll generally be dead in a few hours. They also don't have ANT+ compatibility that I'm aware of. But external power sources are an option. Get a basic Android pay as you go phone (do make sure it has a GPS, though most do), don't actually pay for service, install osmaps (that's the name of the package), preload local maps ... you're good, for a few hours, till the battery dies....
    I guess it depends on what app is being used. When I use my Google navigator app ( when in my car ) the app does drain the battery, particularly when the screen is left on....two hours is about right. When on my bike I use the "Cue Sheet " app which seems not to drain the battery as much...then again I turn the screen off unless I need to look at the map. Most of my 2.5 hr road rides I get back to the car with about 50% power left to the phone. For longer rides I would likely carry a back-up battery.

    I think the OP had the right idea when he was considering buying a phone but not the service. That can work. The RWGPS site now offers downloading the complete maps ( to use with Cue Sheet app ) to go with the route you are planning. I've not tried this option yet but I updated my version of Cue Sheet to work with this new feature. The only thing not covered here is the ANT+ availability. Newer updated versions of Android should be able to work with BTLE devices. Ant+ I'm not so sure although there are probably a couple companies that make an Android device that works with Ant+.

    Other things to consider if going to a phone navigation app. Having your smart phone enabled to access the net is a nice thing to have while exploring new territory on the bike ( although not necessary as has been said ). The only down side is that it is still a bit clunky in that it takes up some room on the bike's cockpit area. Undoubtedly some people don't want a large smart phone messing with the look of their $5000 road bike. ...there in lies the issue of choices....If you want bells and whistles and aren't worried about aesthetics you go smart phone plus GPS route planning app. If you want a cockpit without clutter you go Garmin ( and try not to cuss when you need to look at the map... ). When riding in unfamiliar territory I want the bells and whistles. Heck, for that matter I carry the phone anyway even if I'm not using it for navigation.

  17. #17
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    I'd like to get the Garmin 810 -- never had a GPS unit before. The only concern I have with this unit is that the screen resolution is very low. I hope that Garmin can make a better screen for the next update.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Solid_Spoke View Post
    I'd like to get the Garmin 810 -- never had a GPS unit before. The only concern I have with this unit is that the screen resolution is very low. I hope that Garmin can make a better screen for the next update.
    Does anyone here have the facts on what a "retina" resolution screen would add to the unit price in the quantities that Garmin would buy for a cycling GPS? I expect that the cost of phone screens are part of either a high monthly contract price or a high upfront purchase price, further offset by spreading the development costs over more units than Garmin sells.

    In other words, would a high resolution screen drastically increase the cost of cycling GPSes? (not to mention the additional processing power and electrical drain to show and refresh so many pixels)

  19. #19
    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    800 and 810 screens have low resolution, but the bigger problem, IMO, is poor contrast and visibility in daylight. The older 500 and 705 units are much better in this regard. I've used small hiking/geocaching GPSs that are much better in both resolution and contrast.
    Ride more. Fret less.

  20. #20
    Si Senior dbg's Avatar
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    You'd want a transreflective version of "retina" resolution. Not sure what that would take. But "smartphone" and "outdoor" are completely different usage scenarios. Smartphone displays are much better at everything except bright sunlight --where they are terrible.
    David Green, Naperville, IL USA "The older I get, the better I used to be" --Lee Trevino

  21. #21
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    I've been using a Garmin Edge 810 since last spring. I'm happy with what I have now that I've spent enough time with it. While Garmin itself doesn't support Linux (at all), the unit is still accessible in Linux as mass storage device. So as was said above, you can create routes in a browser and save them to the device - just don't rely on Garmin Connect to put them there for you nicely. I guess there's a plugin you could try, also.

    I got the package with the heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor, so now I'm accustomed to using that data. As far as visible during sunlight - yes. Probably better than a phone. Visible at night? Yes. But the backlight turns off to save battery, so you'll need to tap the screen to wake it up (unless your rigged for charging capability with a hub dynamo).

    Garmin did come out with a Garmin Edge Touring over the course of the year for touring cyclists. From the reviews, it is basically a stripped down version of the Edge 810. It is not ANT+ compatible (no HRM, speed/cadence or power sensors), but if navigation is what you're after it is priced significantly lower and is advertised to have a longer battery life.

    As far as "bicycle navigation that doesn't suck"? Well, if I plot my own routes and upload them, I'm happy. If I'm just relying on the unit to tell me where I am, I'm happy. I'm not very happy with letting the unit auto calculate my route, though (I don't think it realizes its a "bike" GPS when it comes to choosing roads).
    I ♡ Dynamo hubs & have these in my stable: Schmidt SON28 (x2), SA-Sun Race X-FDD, SP PV-8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Looigi View Post
    800 and 810 screens have low resolution, but the bigger problem, IMO, is poor contrast and visibility in daylight. The older 500 and 705 units are much better in this regard. I've used small hiking/geocaching GPSs that are much better in both resolution and contrast.
    The 500 is monochrome. That's much easier to make work (the monochrome screens on the 800 work OK). It's interesting that the 705 seems better.

    One issue with the 810/800 screen is that readibilty is strongly related to the orientation (relative to the sun) of the unit. It's easy to move a hand-held device (so much so, that you might not notice moving it to make it more readable). The 810/800 unit is often stuck in one position. When I used the rubber-band mount for the 810/800 unit, I could move it around to get a better angle. (Keep in mind that most handheld units are not used "continuously" like the 810/800 are.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Lex Fati View Post
    Garmin did come out with a Garmin Edge Touring over the course of the year for touring cyclists. From the reviews, it is basically a stripped down version of the Edge 810. It is not ANT+ compatible (no HRM, speed/cadence or power sensors), but if navigation is what you're after it is priced significantly lower and is advertised to have a longer battery life.
    There is a "Touring+" that supports ANT+ heart rate. It doesn't support speed/cadence/power meters (otherwise, it would be the same as the 810!).

    In terms of hardware, I believe the Tourings are very similar to the 810 (that's expected). There are navigation options for the Touring that are (rather) different than the 810/800. (I'm not sure but) It seems that you can't just follow a track on the Touring (like you can on the 810/800). If that's true, it would not be good.

    Quote Originally Posted by Athens80 View Post
    Does anyone here have the facts on what a "retina" resolution screen would add to the unit price in the quantities that Garmin would buy for a cycling GPS? I expect that the cost of phone screens are part of either a high monthly contract price or a high upfront purchase price, further offset by spreading the development costs over more units than Garmin sells.

    In other words, would a high resolution screen drastically increase the cost of cycling GPSes? (not to mention the additional processing power and electrical drain to show and refresh so many pixels)
    The 810/800 are the result of engineering compromises (like any device is). The 810/800 have as design goals (among other things): good battery life, usability in sunlight (without a backlight), small size. While one could argue about how well they managed to meet those goals, it seems clear that they put some effort into doing that. I suspect that the "retina" displays would either not work in sunlight or use too much power (more pixels typically use more power).
    Last edited by njkayaker; 01-27-14 at 11:53 AM.

  23. #23
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    BTW, I did try out the Linux plugin, and it does work with Garmin Connect (at least on Ubuntu 12.04LTS). It is a shame that Garmin doesn't support the OS directly, though.
    I ♡ Dynamo hubs & have these in my stable: Schmidt SON28 (x2), SA-Sun Race X-FDD, SP PV-8

  24. #24
    Senior Member antimonysarah's Avatar
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    I got a Garmin Touring for Christmas, and so far it does the job for me. I have a mac, but a mac with an OS too old for the current version of Garmin Communicator (and I haven't found anywhere to download an older version), so I'm doing direct file-system transfers, like one would do on any unsupported OS, and it works fine.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by antimonysarah View Post
    I have a mac, but a mac with an OS too old for the current version of Garmin Communicator (and I haven't found anywhere to download an older version), so I'm doing direct file-system transfers, like one would do on any unsupported OS, and it works fine.
    Look at http://software.garmin.com/en-US/gcp.html#compatibility and see whether the legacy Mac version available there would be compatible for your Mac.

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