“Which way to Istanbul, please?”

garmin_edge_touringPeople ask me if I have gone completely digital for navigation. I stand back in mock horror, and whatever I say will carry the following message: “Are you kidding?”

You see, I have been trialling Garmin’s newest cycling GPS device, the Edge Touring. Its specification is absolutely perfect for the long-distance, A to B cyclist like me. It is designed to help you navigate through distant, unfamiliar territory with the minimum of fuss, and without the need of internet connection or data downloading. But after 6 weeks of testing it on my home roads, all I can say is that one day it will live up to its USPs, but only when multiple frustrated users have reported enough glitches to Garmin for it to live up to its marketing profile.

Not only did the digital displays frequently malfunction but, despite all the settings being checked to avoid unpaved roads and dirt trails, it frequently wanted to send me across ploughed fields or up stony bridleways or, in some cases, across church yards. These are sorts of glitches you can handle in your own backyard, but in the middle of Serbia or Bulgaria…………?

When I have challenged cycling friends about their use of similar devices (who, by the way, all seem happy with what they’ve got), I generally discover they are not used seriously as navigation devices. The most frequent use is to map the rides they have done and record all the statistics that will keep their racing/personal fitness instincts satisfied. In other words, they are primarily personal training tools.20140418_155924_Android

Even the one or two who have used GPS in far distant countries on long treks, I have found that their primary tool for navigation has still been paper maps, and the device has served as a back-up, or a ‘second line of defence’.

So, rather than asking people at every turn “Which way to Istanbul, please?”, I will be in my comfort zone using paper maps, and my back-up will be cached google maps on my phone for Western Europe, and Open Street Maps for Eastern Europe and Turkey. The theory is that, with the internal GPS of the phone, I will be able to see where I am without the need of Wifi or a data connection. The moment of uncertainty about what the paper map is telling me, is the very moment I turn on my phone and a little blue dot will tell me exactly where I am.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway………….

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 April 18, 2014, in Kimbolton to Istanbul 4000kms: a crusader's route and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I’ve had an Edge 800 for a couple of years and use it as an electronic compass with a moving pin over the landscape. Gave up trying to use it to guide me along specific roads a long time ago


  2. Very interesting…….most of the 800 users I know simply use them as training devices….and occasionally for downloading GPX files of routes already verified (and certified) by someone else.


  3. Thanks for the warning! I’ll wait till they get the bugs fixed!


  4. The two devices I trialled could have been from the same dodgy batch……I’m sure there are a few happy Edge Touring users out there. We just need to find them….


  5. Frank, your thoughts and findings echo mine exactly. I keep thinking I ought to put it on Ebay and get some money back.
    The only good thing about it I can say is that it does always know where it is, so useful if you can’t spot where you are on a map!
    However, the “17 hrs battery life” claimed is also way too optimistic. About 8-10 is the norm for me and others to whom I have spoken. An that’s with a new machine and therefore battery. As batteries age they are unable to hold as much charge, but to change the battery it must be returned to Garmin!

    Save your money and spend it on maps which give you so much more.


  6. Dave, I knew I was not alone……..thanks for those reflections. I had my first device replaced, but I was still so unhappy with the performance of the second, that I returned it under guarantee and got a full refund.
    As for a device being able to tell me where I am, my phone is perfect for that……..


  7. We´ve been using our trusty Etrex20 for quite a few years now, and in South America, they are proving very useful indeed. We do take a lot of unpaved roads and trails, and there´s just no accurate maps for that here. The most up to date maps we´ve found are those online from openmtb, showing a fair amount of trails. We use the PPS systems a lot, originally invented by Santiago at the Casa de Ciclistas en Quito – Pare, pregunte y siga!, but when in remote areas, the GPS is of great help. The Etrex gps is not great to navigate you to places, but as a moving, detailed map, is good. Good luck with your preparations!


  8. Thanks Alberto. You’re right, where GPS can excel is being able to tell you where you are…..which is always handy in remote places. Great to read about your SA experience!


  9. I know it’s a bit simplistic but if you just ride with it displaying the map you can essentially make sure you are heading in the right direction but make your own choices about which roads to take by looking at signposts and the types of roads. When I first bought it I spent ages trying to input courses but it never seemed to work or be worth all the effort.


  10. Good point….that is always a plus. But that can be achieved with the gps on your phone (with extra battery support, of course). But any device sold with a clearly stated specification should perform accordingly……..and I expected mine to do just that. The Edge Touring is sold to be a car-like navigational aid for cyclists…..there is still a long way to go before it can do that reliably.


  11. Bikevcar, That just about sums up my feelings about it.


  12. Sounds as though you have got it all sorted Frank. I hope all goes well on your ride and you don’t find yourself lost!


  13. Thanks Heather….. preparations on hold at the moment……. I’m with Jenny in France….. just tandemed amongst the tulip fields near Amsterdam, now in the Alsace


  14. Oh how lovely to get the chance to share your cycling experiences with Jenny. I hope you have good weather while enjoying the countryside. Cycling through the tulip fields sounds delightful.


  15. Agree with all the above on the Garmin 800. Nice toy, but little practical use:



  16. Yes and then no…..

    Relying solely on any electronic navigation device seems unwise to me – up until the point they are 100% reliable and have 10 day battery life! However my experience has been better that many reported here. I can see that if you want to plan as you go that a handheld device is simply too limited for this to work acceptably, but if you are prepared to plan your route before you go, the story is different. So far I’ve old used my mapping GPS (Garmin GPSMap62S) for cycle tours in the UK, but for this it was excellent. I would not, however, be without a paper map as well. (i) A map will not crash or run out of charge (ii) A map gives you context in a way that a 2×3″ screen will never be able to manage.

    For UK touring I have all the OS 1:50k map data installed. For continental touring I could buy more map data, but after a recent (very positive) experience walking on Tenerife I will be looking closely at the quality of OSM maps for continental Europe or further afield. Next year I hope to tour Norway. The beauty of planning in advance is access to a big screen, a reliable broadband connection and some excellent cycle planning sites on the web (which are far better than the software which comes packaged with the Garmin, and are free). bikeroutetoaster.com (recently revamped) or bikehike.co.uk are two really good examples which give you access to a variety of map data and enable you to understand the terrain / gradients easily also. Once your route is saved, this is easily sent to the GPS to overlap over the map. For those using a Garmin, ‘Tracks’ work far better than ‘Routes’ in my experience.

    Travelling anywhere without a paper map backup is clearly opening yourself up to disaster or serendipity depending on your point of view – which may thus be either positive of negative depending on your outlook on life.


  17. That’s a great overview of your experiences, and glad they were so positive.
    I have to admit to being averse to having my long journeys ‘set in stone’ by such detailed pre-planning. My preference has always been to have the ‘broad brush strokes’ in place, have a rough schedule, then allow serendipity a look in. For me it works wonders.


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