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Garmin eTrex Vista HCx + City Navigator?

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Garmin eTrex Vista HCx + City Navigator?

Old 03-17-08, 10:44 AM
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NeilGunton
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Garmin eTrex Vista HCx + City Navigator?

I am curious to find out what people think about the combination of the Garmin eTrex Vista/Legend HCx and the Garmin City Navigator maps for bicycle touring. It seems that you can now load the entire USA and Canada street-level maps onto a 2 GB SD card, which means you can now just take the GPS with you on a coast-to-coast tour without having to constantly re-upload map sections. Also, the model mentioned above appears to have over 30 hours of battery life, and takes AA batteries, which makes it a bit more friendly to long distance tourists than some others (which have internal batteries and last half that time).

I've always been more of a fan of paper maps, but the City Navigator electronic maps have me wondering. It looks like they have built-in points of interest such as services, post offices, gas stations... is this true? Or is it only for highways? If I follow an out-of-the-way route, will it still be useful in telling me where potential services are? If so, then I could see a benefit of using this on a tour where you were following your own route rather than something like the Adventure Cycling maps (which have handy icons for services). The one thing that paper maps don't really provide at all is any indication of where there are motels, gas stations etc.

Can anybody confirm whether the Garmin City Navigator maps actually provide this information in a useful way?

How does the eTrex HCx model work in practice for cyclists? Is it ergonomic and sensibly designed?

Do you need a Windows PC to define routes beforehand and then upload them to the GPS? If that's the case, then it seems a bit less useful as I will only have my Asus eee with me, which uses Linux and anyway has no DVD drive. Is it possible to define routes on the unit itself?

Or, I guess another option might be to define your entire route before you leave home, and just save them all on a big (2 GB?) SD card. Not sure how possible that is. I saw one review on Amazon which said that, with relation to biking, he tried uploading a route to the GPS but it then ignored his route and tried to get him onto a freeway.

Many of the reviews out there seem to be quite shallow, written perhaps 2 minutes after unpacking the unit, successfully uploading the software maps and then marvelling at how sensitive the unit is. But I know from bitter experience that there are usually glaring "gotchas" with GPS units which you only discover after using it "for real" (rather than walking around your neighborhood). I've already been burned once by my purchase of a Magellan SporTrak Topo back in 2004. Man, that thing was a piece of junk. It was slow as hell to capture satellites, horrible display, and always showed us traveling about 50 feet off to the side of whatever road we were on. I'd be curious to hear what real bicycle tourists think of this latest Garmn GPS/map combination in practice.

Thanks!

/Neil
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Old 03-17-08, 11:28 AM
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I used a vista cx (precursor model) with the city navigator maps for the Pacific Coast last summer. The battery life is truly excellent, if you run with the backlight off (in midday, that shouldn't be a problem). I think I only had to replace the AA batteries once, maybe twice--and I ran with it almost the entire ride.

I used the points of interest once or twice, but they were useful: I could browse through available restaraunts quite intuitively, or find a city library, etc. The gps would then route me to it, like google maps.

The only thing negative I can say about touring with a gps is that you tend to look at it a lot while riding... the ride becomes more focused on "how long this next segment of road is" or "how fast am i going" rather than enjoying the scenery. Your sensation of time changes as well, because you are ever-aware of it through the GPS. I turned it off a few times to forcibly "zone out."

I never did any PC routing so I can't speak to that, sorry!
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Old 03-17-08, 11:38 AM
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NeilGunton
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Thanks! The services aspect is one of the most important points for me. So it actually has lists of restaurants, that's very interesting. I would guess that it probably also had gas stations and motels, am I right? If it does that for out-of-the-way areas then I think this would make a strong argument for the use of the GPS as a useful adjunct to paper maps. When you're making your way via backroads, it can often be a bit of a hit-and-miss as to whether that little black dot on the map actually has any food stores, or is just a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. That can be an important distinction on tour! Particularly if you prefer to stay away from the busy sections of the country.
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Old 03-17-08, 11:56 AM
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Neil,

I've used my Vista Cx & City Navigator NT while riding and driving. You don't need a PC or to pre-define your route. You can do so as you go along. However, if you want to really get detailed about where you are going planning a route on your PC is easier than entering a complex route straight into the GPS.

One problem with restaurants and other services is that they are only as accurate as the last update. The farther off the beaten path you travel the less accurate the information is likely to be. You'll end up navigating to a business that might be closed or has moved and you'll also be totally unaware of other businesses that are either new or were not included in your software database. Roads and other features that don't change as frequently should be fairly accurate even in mote remote spots, but of course there will be less detail provided as you leave high traffic areas.

Something else to consider is that the GPS does not remember a precise route from your computer or between way points you enter. It navigates between them using a set of parameters you enter. This means you can get variances between a computer plotted route and what the GPS tells you. You can minimize these differences by ensuring the settings in your GPS match those in the PC software as closely as possible and by add extra way points in spots where you want to take very specific route and there are a number of possible options.

Over all I think a GPS can be really useful on some tours, but just like a map it is only a tool that needs some judicious use of common sense in how you use it. I determine if I am going to use my GPS on a case by case basis. On many rides/trips I think it would just add more weight/complexity that doesn't add value.

If you do decide to get a GPS and use it on a tour I'd recommend you buy it with lots of time to play around and learn how to use it. It isn't overly complex, but getting the most from it will take some time and experience. Doing so at home without any pressure and access to the net will be a lot nicer than trying to work things out on the road.
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Old 03-17-08, 12:12 PM
  #5  
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Thanks, Vik. Someone else mentioned to me that the "points of interest" such as restaurants etc included phone numbers, which sounds very useful. That would seem to be a good way to confirm whether a crucial store was still in service or not.

I'm not exactly sure how I would use the routing functionality. I'm probably going to be doing a trip from St Louis over to Washington or Oregon this summer, going via backroads and not on any established route (John Egan over on crazyguyonabike is helping me with the route). So it would be useful to be able to tell whether that little black dot on the map is actually anything worth counting on for things like food, water or shelter. To me, the points-of-interest feature is the really interesting aspect that starts to make this worth considering for me.

I might just use the paper maps for run-of-the-mill everyday routing, but bring out the GPS for cases where I need to make a decision about how much further to go, or which route to take. I certainly wouldn't depend on the GPS solely for my mapping.

I think I may go for this... the local REI has a Vista in stock, and I have some REI dividend to spend. Shame that they exclude GPS units from their March 20% off coupons.
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Old 03-17-08, 01:24 PM
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If you have predefined a route you can absolutely use a PC and upload the whole thing before you depart. Otherwise you can use the routing capabilities as you go. I love my Garmin GPSMap60Cx. Vista + Navigator would give you same capabilities.
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Old 03-17-08, 02:25 PM
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Has anybody ever made up a map on www.mapmyride.com and uploaded it to a Garmin Legend Hcx
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Old 03-18-08, 09:42 AM
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Does anybody have a handle on whether the City Navigator only has the major chain motels in its database (e.g. Super 8, Holiday Inn Express etc), or does it also include the little mom and pop places in the middle of nowhere? Does it include small diners and bars in the back of beyond?
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