The Chainlink

I haven't seen much discussion in awhile on the current state of GPS units and am soliciting opinions.

I'm mostly concerned with navigation, not all the performance metrics of which these things are capable.

Referencing DC Rainmaker, the best of the lot in price/performance, according to him, is between the Garmin Edge 520 vs. the Wahoo Element Bolt, with the caveats of the recently announced Garmin Edge Explore hitting the same $250 price point when it releases in the fall and the Kickstarted Hammerhead Karoo being delivered/user beta-tested at present, albeit at a much higher price. Lezyne also seems to be introducing new units that better deliver on navigation. Finally, Garmin also has higher priced 820 and 1000 that highlight navigation but come with higher prices and waning value.

use case scenario #1:

Want to ride in an area to which I've never been, i.e. far Northwestern Illinois "Driftless" area. Find a route somewhere online with a downloadable .gpx file. At present, I can get that map on my phone via RidewithGPS or Garmin connect but not sure if those apps will work without a paid subscription to follow the course, and/or have turn-by-turn navigation if I had a GPS unit. In the event that cell reception is non-existant, are you better served by a dedicated GPS unit? And in that case, do you need a paid subscription to a 3rd party application to receive directions?

And that's just with roads....

use case scenario #2:

Want to ride a mountain bike trail in boonies somewhere, let's say Pisgah North Carolina. Assuming no cell reception exists, does anyone have experience with using a GPS unit that overlays maps from another source like mapmyride, ridewithGPS, or MTB Project?

Sorry for the ramble question but any thoughts, experiences, opinions are appreciated. Thanks!

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Look at the areas with Google maps while you have a connection and it'll remember the area while you're there. I use this feature at rallies in some remote parts of Missouri and Michigan where 2M radio communication is a challenge, let alone cell coverage or data.

I don't use navigation instructions, but your phone should remember those, too, if you plug in the trip.

Paper maps and a written route never hurt, either.

I basically agree with Tricolor. Notice in his reply he does not even mention dedicated GPS units. It is all cell phones and possible paper back-up. I use the word iPhone to specify my experience with specific models. You could probably substitute any decent smartphone. 

I carry an iPhone SE with active cell service. I use Google Maps and an app, “”.  Before going on my trip I open maps-me and zoom in on the areas I will be in then download the files. The files are OpenStreetMap files which in my experience are kept up to date better than proprietary Garmin street maps. All of Illinois is four files. It is very easy to save certain landmarks ahead of time in For instance, I rode Le Tour de Shore this year. I saved landmarks for all the rest stops. I think you can save routes but I never bothered, besides my actual routes are subject to change. The charge in my iPhone will not last a day with all services and active tracking turned on. It likely will die in half a day with screen active watching the dot move over the map. I set it in low-power-mode in the settings/ battery section. I rode the two-day tour with no charging in that mode. I carry an unactivated iPhone 4S as a back-up. When out of wifi Google maps and maps-me work nicely even on an unactivated iPhone IF you saved your target areas an offline map while on wifi.

I still own a few GPS units. My iPhones get a location fix quicker than any of my older GPS units because iPhones use GPS and cell towers for their location. Ten years ago I would use a GIS program to draw a shp file from georeferenced tiff tiles. I think I used gpsbabel to convert that to a GPX file. Then I would download GPX into the Garmin. The Garmins can also save a track that I could download and examine times and speed. An iPhone will do that but it sucks battery. Now I just use the iPhone to take a picture of my Cateye cyclometer. I can load the picture to see where it was taken at what time and it shows elapsed distance.  This my experience in navigating roads and bike paths.  Last time I did wilderness off-trail hiking I used topo maps and a Brunton. 

Yes, paper backup. I carry a few 4x6 ruled index cards and a sharpie. If I have route notes those are laser printed on cards before the trip. Inkjet printed cards when damp with rain or sweat make nice abstracts but are illegible.


See you on the road, Elwood

I  have found DC Rainmaker  to be a  reliable source for reviewing and  comparing these  products.  I  bought a  Suunto Ambit 2 watch in 2015 and it  was great for plotting  routes via the website, sending to the watch and then  following them.  I  have  recently upgraded to  the Spartan Sport and so far  it is also quite good for  navigation. I use an  inexpensive bike  computer  that has  only a handful of functions on my handlebar. You  have  to  figure out what  works best for you.



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