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.
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………….
Having dithered about a departure date for my big ride to Istanbul, Jenny is now delighted that it is set in stone, and the serious planning can begin. The first leg of the 2000 mile journey will be the 100 miles to Harwich, setting off early on May 6th, to catch the evening ferry to the Hook of Holland. So by the end of day 2, I should be pitching my little tent somewhere near Eindhoven in Holland, and expect to reach Cologne by the end of day 3.
Cologne is generally regarded as the starting point of the People’s Crusade back in 1096. Pope Urban II had whipped up the frenzy and enthusiasm for a march on Constantinople, initially to go to the assistance of the Byzantine Christians in modern-day Turkey, but ultimately to ‘rescue’ both Constantinople and Jerusalem from Islamic control. The huge assembly of some 40,000 aspirants was a vast and unruly mob, and as they tramped their way across Europe, they wrecked havoc along the way. But all of this is a story waiting to be told………
My immediate concerns now are to begin the route planning. I had imagined that this might be my first sortie into serious GPS navigation, using the new (and largely untested) Garmin Edge Touring. But my early experiences have not been reassuring. My first device had to be replaced by Garmin because of many and varied malfunctions. Sadly, my second device has been little better.
The advertised strengths of the Edge touring include satnav navigation (just like a car device), round trip planning, and a subtle distinction between three types of cycling: Cycling (road), Tour Cycling (road of trail) and Mountain Biking (mainly trail). However, none of these functions have been reliable. I have tested it daily over three weeks, on roads I know in my locality, and not a single ride has been without a glitch. So my answer has been to go back to the tried and tested paper maps.
And where better to find and study the plethora of maps available? None other than the iconic Stanfords in London. In the world of maps, what they don’t have, probably doesn’t exist. So I cycled to my local station, took a train into London (with bike), spent several hours pondering the possibilities and asking lots of questions of the assistants, and when I came to check out, I asked if they did discounts (after all, I was spending some serious money).
“Are you a member of London Cycling Campaign?” I was asked. “No” I said “but I am a member of the CTC”. “Oh well, that certainly qualifies you for 10% discount. Are you going far”. “Just to Istanbul” I said. There was a pause for thought while she calibrated this in her mind……. “What d’you mean ‘just’? That’s kind of a long way, isn’t it?”. I said “Kind of….but now I’ve got the maps, I should get there alright…….” She seemed strangely amused.
The other side of this ride is, of course, the raising of funds for the Motivation Charitable Trust. And I am delighted to report it has got off to a solid start. We are already 9% along the way towards my notional target of £5000, and that is largely because we have received a few very generous donations (of £140 each) to sponsor complete wheelchairs. I always find the generosity of people a great spur for completing these cycle challenges, and I am looking forward to raising a large sum on behalf of Motivation.
You can sponsor me securely on-line at: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns2
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?
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.