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  1. #1
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    Does anyone use GPS?

    I'm GPS curious. Mostly for navigation, but also for recording trip info. Seems they do many other things as well, but I'm wondering how good they are at any of it. Seems like they could be invaluable at times if everything works as advertised. Does anyone have any experience with these?

  2. #2
    Senior Member chrisch's Avatar
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    I use a GPS to assist with navigation, but only in conjunction with a good map. I also use it to update a mapmytour.com online map so that famly and friends can keep up with me on my tour.
    TrackMyTour.com - An iPhone app for Bike Touring! See who's touring now and where.

  3. #3
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I could have used it last summer on the Northern Tier. I missed two turns which would have taken me on nice backroads, a la the ACA maps. Instead I stayed on the main, busy, shoulderless highway. I know I'm a dingdong and it's my fault, but I think a GPS would have helped.

    GPS - the solution for dingdongs?

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Their hunger for batteries is a hassle especially if you leave it on all day. I carried one for a while on the TA and mailed it home early in the trip along with the iPod and a bunch of other stuff to shave a bit of weight. I use GPS for day hiking and on my sail boat, but didn't feel like I needed it when following an AC route. I just might carry it if I were improvising the whole route.

  5. #5
    Hooked on Touring
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    What is GPS?

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    What about a GPS with a greyscale screen? Do they still make those? I know a greyscale Palm lasts 10x as long as a color one.

  7. #7
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
    What is GPS?
    Is that a serious question? If so a quick description can be found at:
    http://www8.garmin.com/aboutGPS/

    Personally I think GPS is a great technology, but I have not yet found it very useful for bike touring.

  8. #8
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    GPS Global Positioning System : Small handlebar mounted units are available that can show where you are on a street map, topographical map, or satellite image and give directions. You can program your route into them beforehand. Similar to the automobile systems but much smaller, not much bigger than a cell phone.

    I know I've gone off of my route a number of times, either intentionally, by accident, or because of roadwork and it would have been nice to have been able to get better information than what is found on most regional maps (can't carry street level maps of everywhere you go).

    Some of them have tons of features, but comparing them is difficult. Most of the reviews are written by hikers, geocachers, and very few by bicyclists. That is why I started this thread.

  9. #9
    Crazyguyonabike
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    I used a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx on my recent summer tour from St Louis to Wyoming. I bought it primarily for the "points of interest" database which Garmin includes in their City Navigator database. My idea was that since I was not going on an established route, it would be useful to be able to ask the GPS what motels, diners, shops etc were in those little dot-on-the-map towns, which would be useful for both planning and emergencies.

    I got a handlebar mount for the GPS, and it worked very well. I loaded the entire City Navigator for North America (including Canada) onto a 2GB mini SD card, which was quite amazing - so I had basically the whole of the USA down to the street level. None of that "oh crap it's full, I need to swap out this state for that state now". Also, the SD card and mini-USB interface allowed for easy transfer of the GPX trackpoint files to my Eee PC laptop. You can simply connect the GPS directly to the laptop, and it appears as a mass-storage device, so you can just copy the trackpoints as files. No special software required. Make sure you get the GPS with expandable mini-SD slot and USB interface, that is crucial for loading maps and copying trackpoints.

    I really, really like this GPS. I ended up using the new Energizer Lithium AA batteries in it (takes 2), which last more than a week, used all day long on the bike. Those batteries are more expensive, but also lighter than alkalines, and I think a pack of four would probably last a few weeks (at least two) - that's a good period of time! I highly recommend these batteries, if you can afford them obviously. They're not cheap, but for what they give you, I think they're definitely worth it. And the fact that the eTrex Vista HCx takes two AA batteries is good - I don't like proprietary batteries.

    The unit does have its flaws. For example, if you go into the "Find" feature and try to find a shop by name, then that function is basically broken, because the list it comes up with is not sorted by distance from where you are currently. For example, I might look for "Lowes" locally, and I know it's in the database because I've seen it there previously when we were physically close to the shop, but when looking by name it seems to come up with places that are 1600 miles away first. Kind of stupid. And when you're looking for an address, you have to go through a form that includes entering the city name. It would be nice if the city defaulted to wherever you are currently, but no, you have to go and enter it every time, manually, using the slow alphabetical hunt-and-peck interface. Also, the "points of interest" database has some rather bizarre inclusions - for example, it is very incomplete in terms of motels and grocery stores (useful things for any traveler, surely) but then they've included things like Lumber companies and knitting stores - things that would be better relegated to yellow pages. The database is not even close to being "complete" as a yellow pages, hopefully in the future it will become more comprehensive. Frequently on my bike tour I had to call my wife at home to find out if there were any stores or motels in the little towns I was going to be passing through, since the GPS didn't have anything. Very often she would find something via Google.

    Another flaw is that when you're going less than 10 mph, the unit seems to lose its sense of what direction you're going in - the little arrow on the map ends up pointing backward or some other random direction. The minute you exceed 10 mph, the arrow snaps into the right direction. Yet it doesn't lose track of where you are - the trackpoints are just fine (most of the time - once or twice, when traveling on the KATY trail next to big rock bluffs, the unit lost where I was and had me on the map meandering out into the middle of the Missouri River, which was amusing. Turning the unit off and on again seemed to reset it).

    But regardless of the little glitches, it should tell you something that I am *very* happy with this unit. We use it all the time now in the car - we just moved to Medford Oregon, and it has proven invaluable for finding our way around new places and unfamiliar towns. It really is very neat, and useful - on the bike trip, it gave me an added degree of confidence when I was in the middle of nowhere, knowing that the little backroad I was on was in fact the right one. Also, there were many times where it *did* have the motel or shop in the database, and the routing function led me to the place in question through an unfamiliar town. Also, when I had slept in a motel off-route and then the next day needed to navigate across town to get back on route, the "find intersection" or even "find city" feature would allow me to just plug in a place on my map, and the GPS would take me through the labrynth to get back on route. There is an option to have the routing be for "Pedestrian/Bike", as opposed to "Car", and you can tell it to avoid major highways, which means it looks for backroads. Sometimes it made, um, "interesting" choices for routing, for example trying constantly at one point in Nebraska to get me off the perfectly good paved backroad and onto really rough dirt roads. Sometimes it doesn't realize that a "road" on its map is a dirt track, but it tries anyway to get you off the "highway" and onto it. The nice thing is that if you miss a turn or purposely go a different way, then it very quickly recalculates the route based on that. Most of the time, I could point to the town I was aiming for that day, and say "Go there" and it would take me on a very reasonable backroad route. It was nice being able to follow that purple line, knowing that I'm not missing small turns in the middle of nowhere and getting completely lost.

    There was one time that it failed me in terms of routing - in Lead and Deadwood SD, the addresses seemed to be very out of whack for some reason. I was looking for a motel and had the address, and it took me to the wrong street. But that was VERY rare, and probably just a glitch in the map data. The unit itself knew perfectly well where it was, I'm fairly certain it was a City Navigator data problem.

    I would definitely take a GPS on whatever next bicycle tours I do. If nothing else, it's nice to have a trackpoint file of exactly where you went that day (it stores each day as a separate file, with the date as a filename, which is very useful). I made a "trackpoint upload" feature for the Google maps on crazyguyonabike so that I could upload the file for each day and see the route displayed on the map. Very nice.

    I think GPS has progressed to the point where it's not just a toy any more - it is actually useful, and I hope they will just get better and better over time - e.g. the points of interest will presumably become more complete, presumably eventually it'll be like a yellow pages for the whole country. So you can say "Show me local motels" or "What grocery stores are in THAT town" and it comes up with the possibilities, complete with phone numbers. Very cool.

    Neil

    p.s. Incidentally, the screen on the eTrex Vista HCx is VERY tough - it seems to be made of a material that doesn't scratch at all easily. I have one single small scratch on mine, after weeks on the road. That scratch was caused by an abrasive nail board which I foolishly left loose in the handlebar bag along with the GPS. Otherwise, it's still as smooth and scratch-free as the day I bought it - very impressive. It does fine in the rain too, no problems there.

    p.p.s. If you go Garmin, then try to get the HCx models - the "H" stands for "high sensitivity", which is worthwhile for the speed of satellite acquisition and ability to hold the signal in woods and valleys. The "C" stands for "color", which is very useful for distinguishing map lines and features (black and white tends to get very cluttered very quickly), and the "x" means "eXpandable" via the mini-SD memory cards - essential in my book, you can just buy a 2 GB card for $30 and put the whole country on, and never worry about swapping out maps to make room for others. If you buy City Navigator, then try to get the DVD version rather than buying it on the SD card - the latter is vulnerable to loss, if you lose it or the SD card gets corrupted then you've lost your $160 maps completely. But with the DVD, you can just buy another card and re-load it from your laptop. The City Navigator software unfortunately requires Windows (I'm a Linux guy usually) but I run VMWare so I could do that. And finally - Garmin has put in new restrictions on their maps so that you can only use it on the one GPS unit, which is not great but until someone comes up with a worthy competitor, Garmin is pretty much the best thing out there, so it's worth it.
    Last edited by NeilGunton; 09-29-08 at 01:36 PM.

  10. #10
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    I plan on using my next phone as my bike computer and GPS. It will be an Android ("Google phone") and i might have to hack some software together to meet my needs. I will hook it to a USB-equivalent power regulator on a front hub dynamo and it will basically meet all my ICT (information & communications technology) and media needs.

    That's my fantasy, anyway.

  11. #11
    J E R S E Y S B E S T Jerseysbest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flandry View Post
    I plan on using my next phone as my bike computer and GPS. It will be an Android ("Google phone") and i might have to hack some software together to meet my needs. I will hook it to a USB-equivalent power regulator on a front hub dynamo and it will basically meet all my ICT (information & communications technology) and media needs.

    That's my fantasy, anyway.
    I've been thinking about that, seems like a likely progression to have a phone, GPS, and Bike computer all in one.

    I've read of applications for the Iphone that are basically a bike computer, but I'm sure there's some also some GPS nav software out there somewhere.

    I'll always carry maps with me, but I'll always carry a phone and a bike computer, so it can't hurt to through in a GPS unit into the mix too.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jerseysbest View Post
    I've been thinking about that, seems like a likely progression to have a phone, GPS, and Bike computer all in one.
    The problem with that idea is that a smart phone uses more power than a GPS, a GPS uses more power than a run of the mill phone, and a phone uses more power than a bike computer. The average battery life of an iPhone 3G, for example, is 5 h 38m talking time, 300h idle time. The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx that Neil mentioned has 25h. I don't have figures, but bike computers probably last thousands of hours on a tiny battery.

  13. #13
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    But a smart phone that is also a GPS, bike computer AND cell phone and is charged with a hub dynamo is still sweet.

    Hypothetically speaking.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Skyler_WA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NeilGunton View Post
    I used a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx on my recent summer tour...
    Neil,
    Thank you for your thorough description of your experience with the eTrex Vista HCx. Do you know enough about the features in the Garmin Edge 705 (their bicycle-specific GPS) to compare and contrast the benefits of one vs the other for the navigation and points-of-interest usage that you described?

    I don't need training guides, heart rate monitors, or cadence monitors, so I'm trying to decide if the Edge 705 is worth the extra money or if I would be just as happy with a less expensive all-purpose unit like the eTrex Vista.

    The one other feature that I am interested in would be the ability to load pre-planned routes for doing organized event rides.

    Thanks in advance for any insight you (or anyone else who can chime in) can provide!

    Skyler

  15. #15
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    I just got back from my pacific coast tour. Brought my Garmin 705 edge and didnt have a problem keeping it powered by plugging it in at campgrounds while I was brushing teeth, etc.

    Anyhow, I found it extremely useful, not only so I could navigate detours and through the city (not to mention not having to tear pages out of my book), but also to find grocery stores, bike shops, laundromats, etc. Also good for calling a dozen motels as it gives phone numbers when you arrive in a town late and want to sleep in a bed. It definitly paid for itself in convenience of those things...

  16. #16
    Senior Member 12bar's Avatar
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    I have an old Garmin V mounted on my LHT it works great and the batteries will last about 15 to 20 hours depending on how often the back light is used. You can also down load routes and maps up to about 20 MB which is pretty handy on a bicycle. I originally had it mounted on my motorcycle but moved it to the bicycle when I got a 276C for the motorbike.
    "It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for someone you love". Blazeman, Warrior Poet

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  17. #17
    Crazyguyonabike
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skyler_WA View Post
    Neil,
    Thank you for your thorough description of your experience with the eTrex Vista HCx. Do you know enough about the features in the Garmin Edge 705 (their bicycle-specific GPS) to compare and contrast the benefits of one vs the other for the navigation and points-of-interest usage that you described?

    I don't need training guides, heart rate monitors, or cadence monitors, so I'm trying to decide if the Edge 705 is worth the extra money or if I would be just as happy with a less expensive all-purpose unit like the eTrex Vista.

    The one other feature that I am interested in would be the ability to load pre-planned routes for doing organized event rides.

    Thanks in advance for any insight you (or anyone else who can chime in) can provide!

    Skyler
    I have not used the Edge 705, but I just took a quick look at the specs on REI. It looks like a nice unit, it has color (most do nowadays) but I don't know if it's as fast to acquire or as sensitive as the eTrex Vista HCx model. It is also expandable via SD card, which is again essential, and appears to have the USB interface, also useful. Of course it also has all those cycling-specific functions, which are just gravy!

    About the only downside is that it seems to use a proprietary internal lithium battery, which has only 15 hours before it needs to be recharged. On the road, I don't like being forced to find electrical outlets to recharge stuff, and 15 hours is only about two days (if that). No word on how long it takes to recharge - but since the battery is internal and proprietary, I assume it's more difficult to simply swap out a new battery or stop at a Wal-Mart and pick up new ones. That's what I like about the AA batteries in the eTrex - you can buy them just about anywhere. The Energizer Lithiums are fantastic, very light, and you should be able to carry enough (8 or more) to last literally months on the road with daily use, but in a pinch you could just use any old alkaline AA's from a gas station and you're good to go. That may be a major factor for anybody who's touring - again, I hate being tethered to electrical outlets, and none of the solar chargers I have seen seem to be much good yet. So if you don't care all that much about the cycling-specific functions, perhaps the eTrex will do the job - it has a handlebar mount as well.

    People seem to like the Garmin 60CSx, but I don't have any handle on how it differs functionally from the eTrex. I think these things are all still on the steep upward part of the performance curve, where the unit you buy this year is really noticeably and functionally better than the one you got last year. So expect "new version envy" in 6 or 12 months no matter what you get!

    Neil

  18. #18
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    My research has found a strong competitor for the Garmins, the DeLorme PN-20. It compares favorably spec wise and comes with a good package of maps including topographical and other accessories like a 1GB SD Card.

    http://shop.delorme.com/OA_HTML/DELi...&section=10106

  19. #19
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    I use a Garmin GPSMap 76. When I am not touring I use it at home, I point the bike in a direction and go. My electronic friend helps me find my way home.

    When I am on tour I use it to keep track of my progress, confirm for sure where I am, use it when I get lost, find alternate routes or side trips and find places to eat and sleep.


    I also use it to track where I have been. When I get home, I download the tracks to Google Earth and with the pictures I have taken, relive a little bit of the tour.


    The things I see that are wrong with it that it tries to be a nanny when set to bike mode. It took me a mile or two out of my way to find a hostel, on my last trip.. It was at the end of a long day and I guess the human brain was not working 100%

    It also finds the nearest places to sleep, eat etc. Which might be behind you. It knows the direction you are tracking, it should be able to only pick what is in front of you.

    I wish the auto routing would include elevation change. Sometimes it is easier going 5-10 miles out of your way rather that following a "straight line".
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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  20. #20
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    I bought a Garmin HCx for backpacking but decided to load it with city maps and use on my 4 week bike tour this summer.

    My initial plan was to run it the entire time I was riding using the routing and tracking features. After using up 2 sets of alkaline batteries in less than a week I decided ‘always on’ was wasteful. You do get tracks of where you are for every minute of your ride but realistically that’s too much information. As far as routing is concerned if all you’re doing is following a road it’s also overkill.

    I ended up turning it off most of time and only using it when I was riding more complex (turn-wise) sections of my tour. I also did use it to save some “track points” for places I camped and picture locations. A set of batteries lasted for almost three weeks in this mode.

    Obviously it’s fantastic if you’re at all confused about where you are, however it’s poor at giving you the “big” picture of your location. Paper maps and Google maps are still superior in this respect. Although it’s possible to eliminate paper maps I prefer to have both.

    The Garmin HCx is an excellent device that does work as advertised, however (IMHO) the user interface is horribly designed.

    I recently got the new iPhone and was hoping it would be usable as a touring GPS along with Camera/Phone/Emailer. Unfortunately the GPS is useless when you’re not near enough to cell towers. Plus the battery life is SHORT, although the interface is KING.

  21. #21
    Crazyguyonabike
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    It also finds the nearest places to sleep, eat etc. Which might be behind you. It knows the direction you are tracking, it should be able to only pick what is in front of you.
    Excellent point! Something I too have wished for - that when looking for motels, it didn't just search outward in an ever-expanding circle based purely on distance, but rather took account of what direction you are going in (or, even better, if you were able to give it a hint as to what direction you'd like to be going in from here, since that may not always be the same as where you've been going up to now). That would be a really useful feature.

    Neil

  22. #22
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NeilGunton View Post
    Excellent point! Something I too have wished for - that when looking for motels, it didn't just search outward in an ever-expanding circle based purely on distance, but rather took account of what direction you are going in (or, even better, if you were able to give it a hint as to what direction you'd like to be going in from here, since that may not always be the same as where you've been going up to now). That would be a really useful feature.

    Neil
    Even better, if you chose a route, why not limit the search to facilities X miles off of your route and also those in front of you.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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    You were talking about device giving elevation gain. According to the specs the DeLorme PN-20 allows you to toggle between 3 views, street map, topography, and satellite image. I think the topography maps would be handy to determine elevation changes, and those maps even come free.

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    I'm just back from a tour in the Himalayas (pictures to follow!), where I used a Vista HCx (and the Energizer Lithiums!). Unfortunately the best map that's available for that part of the world is the MapSource 'WorldMap' which, as you can imagine, has very little detail, but I was able to plot some important destinations from some desktop software before I left the UK, and this was all I really needed while travelling.

    My original plan was to keep the unit switched on all the time I was moving, so it could record the entire route and I could superimpose it onto Google Earth (etc) when I got back home. BUT... the flippin' thing would freeze every few hours, and I'd have to restart it, and that scuppered my plan to keep an accurate record. Bummer. I did still use it from time to time, just for fun, but I mainly relied on a map, compass and Suunto Core altimeter watch. When comparing the altimeter readings from the Suunto and the GPS (to the printed elevations on my map), I think the Suunto was more accurate, which surprised me - I thought the GPS would be capable of some satellite triangulation kung-fu in addition to its barometric system, but apparently not.

    On the whole, I was glad to have it along because it's an interesting gadget, and the Lithium batteries alleviated the weight burden somewhat, but I certainly wouldn't rely on it 100%.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Skyler_WA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LetDiceFly View Post
    My research has found a strong competitor for the Garmins, the DeLorme PN-20.
    Thanks for the info, LetDiceFly. The PN-20 looks like a really nice package. However, I see from the Delorme web site that the new PN-40 is coming out next month and it's going to have faster processors and more memory:
    http://blog.delorme.com/2008/06/25/a...rthmate-pn-40/

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