To be steered by a satellite?

Is this man going soft? What’s wrong with traditional paper maps and following your nose/instinct/wind direction, or even being guided by the sun? Is this just a bid to clutter up the bicycle handlebars with yet more junk, and find that on long journeys I have to carry yet another charging cable?

I have side-stepped the inevitable for several years now. I have watched my club mates progressively acquire their Garmins over the years, progressively become more dependent on, and attached to, the stats, and now find that they can’t find their way around the Sunday morning route without the directional promptings from their handlebars. In fact, they can become so dependent on satellite navigation that, if the device begins to malfunction, they are lost……….I mean, absolutely and completely lost. Do I really want to be like them? Dependent on stats and navigational hints?

Garmin Edge Touring

Garmin Edge Touring

Well, the short answer is a resounding “no”! So why get one (you might ask)? Well, I suppose I could use the excuse that I found it, quite by chance, at the bottom of my Christmas stocking……… but then I would be hiding the fact that I used my cyclist’s discount to get 20% off in my local bike shop (Grafham Cycling). OK, so I had a hand in it.

I could say that I didn’t want to appear different from anybody else, to be able to join in with the stats comparisons and join the Strava road wars. I mean everyone at club level wants to be a Strava warrior (see their website for details). But I have to confess that none of the above is really me. The only stats of any interest to me are distance and, very occasionally, time lapse. But all that could change. If it does, I hope it will be subtle and in line with my kind of cycling.

As many of you know, my cycling terrain is in the long distance, endurance stuff. Nothing can beat a good 8-10 hours on the road, whizzing through open landscapes, visiting new towns and villages, meeting people from different countries and places. The Garmin Edge Touring (as the name suggests) is a navigational device for the long-distance rider, who may be riding through unfamiliar terrain. This is an opportunity to become unhitched from the soggy paper map, to have a neat little device that can feed me more information about my immediate surrounds, and give me directional hints as I negotiate tricky places like city centres or outer suburbs when directional signposting disappears altogether.

So, will I get rid of paper maps? Not likely. I will always carry some, probably deep inside a saddlebag, to serve as a handy reference and, of course, to substitute the flash Garmin which will eventually suffer any one of several adversities: break, run out of power, suffer a technical glitch, get lost or stolen…….. or just simply give up the ghost.

We do, of course, live in an imperfect world.

About Frank Burns

My journeys around the world are less about riding a bicycle, and more about what happens when I get off the bicycle. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on January 7, 2014, in Cycling UK and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Keith Watkins

    I’ve had the same feeling about a Garmin. It was intensified when I tried one three years ago. Within the first month, it began to malfunction, so I gave it to a friend. He downloaded new firm ware and made it work. I too am an open road cyclist and there are things about what a Garmin will do that I would very much enjoy. I hope you post reports of your early experiences with it.


  2. It's all about a bit of this and that.

    I love my Garmin, but like you I am not wholly dependant on it. I still have a trusty map as back up. I personally like to plan routes for when I go on holiday, saves buying a map for that area 🙂


  3. I just use my trip meter and, if it’s a new area or ride, my iPhone on the stem. I have OS 1:50,000 for the whole South and Midlands so if I’m unsure I can just switch it on (I have a little dangly rubber stylus so I can do this with gloves on), then I can get a fix and check-out the options. I don’t leave it on all the time but just use it as reference, as with the GPS running continuously the battery only lasts about 3 hours. My helmet cam also has a GPS so if I’m filming the ride, the route is automatically plotted onto a Google map.


  4. I certainly will, Keith…… both the good and the bad.


  5. The planning of the routes is all part of the fun…… and I have to say, on maps. Can’t imagine it will be half the fun of a 3″ screen.


  6. Yes, Bob, I considered my smartphone as a navigational device, but then I’ve come across one or two people whose phones were damaged (by rain, falling off the bike etc…). So pied for the dedicated device…… and of course, the Edge Touring is cheaper than the 500 or 850.


  7. swessonswesson59

    Frank, I have used a Garmin for many years and would not be without one BUT it has to be used sensibly: 1/ I always plot my route using maps then download it to the Garmin rather than relying on its own (useless) routing algorithms). 2/ I will usually carry a map, though maybe just a large-scale overview, so that I have some context within which to check that what the Garmin says makes sense. 3/ I will often decide to over-rule the suggested route if the Mk 1 Eyeball suggests that it is unsuitable (or a better alternative is obvious).
    For me some of the primary benefits of the Garmin are not actually navigation: 1/ Even if I know where I’m going I often daydream and the turn beep has saved wasted miles countless time 2/ On very long climbs the altitude information is invaluable – pacing oneself based on height gained rather than distance covered is much more meaningful. 3/ When arriving late and tired in a new town the ability to say ‘show me the nearest hotels’ is worth its weight in gold!
    On the downside, Garmins are incredibly unreliable (a fact supported by the lack of fuss with which the manufacturer replaces duds) , the maps are expensive and date quickly and it is yet another thing to charge from the only power socket that many hotels deem to be the ration.
    By the way, Google Maps now supports cycle-specific routing in many countries. The map will show all know cycle lanes/paths and use bike-friendly algorithms when calculating routes. I recently used this to plot a new and greatly improved route across Auckland! Converting the result into a .GPX file is another thing entirely – I am working on it!


  8. I wouldn’t feel safe unless I had hard copy backup.


  9. Just the kind of observations I needed Steve. Thank you for going to considerable trouble and time to put that posting together. Great advice!


  10. I agree Heather. I think all long-distance cyclists always carry a back-up anyway….. it’s in their nature.


  11. I have been a Garmin addict for a few years now, as you probably know from my blogs. You can be selective about what information you are shown on your device.
    I like to download my rides to the Garmin Connect site and diagnose them afterwards, but I also make a lot of use of the course planning facility there under the ‘Plan’ tab. You can plan a route, know the mileage, see the profile and download it to your device.. In fact I think this probably the most useful part.


  12. Glad to hear from you Brian, knowing of your attachment to the Garmin. I like to play the cautious sceptic and tease some of my club mates. It’s always tempting to take the attitude “if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it”, but, of course, I can see lots of the benefits of this little device on my handlebars. Thanks for your observations.


  13. I post the email from my American friend, Bob, whom I met in deepest New Zealand last February:
    Hello Frank—Just finished your latest post and had to write back. I too, have entered the electronic realm with a Garmin Edge purchase earlier this fall. I love it, though more for the stats than the mapping or turn by turn directions function. My iPhone is much better and easier for that. But I also purchased a German made “Son” dynamo hub and had a front wheel built for my touring bike (not the pino). With that power generating hub I use a Busch and Mueller Luxos headlight and tail light and, most importantly, an B&M E-Werk charging station. The E-Werk is wired directly to the hub and has a standard USB connection to charge the Garmin and/or iPhone while riding. I’m not super tech-savvy and I certainly don’t like to encumber the bike any more than necessary, but charging is a must nowadays. Many cyclists use the E-Werk or similar to charge a backup power source to be used at a later time (end of the day or evening). Either way, I’m finding that connectivity is made much easier with the onboard charging hub. I refer you to Peter While Cycles here in the US ( which is a great resource, but Im sure you have plenty of local UK sources as well. Please disregard this message if you already have installed a similar product!


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