Wednesday, June 23

Bottom Fishing

B&W Map is OK for the Bike
One cool thing about the Internet is sometimes people prompt interesting ideas. For instance, I decided to wh..., er, complain about my worthless French bike computer here. THAT got me looking at possible alternate bike computers. Well, THAT prompted me to inquire about GPS bike computers. Voila, Chandra, of "Green Comotion," made a post about his Garmin 705 bike computer, here. That computer does it all - sort of a combo satellite navigation system and every imaginable bike parameter wrapped up into one screen. Apertome, of "Ear to the Breeze," separately sent an email talking about his own GPS unit, which happens to be a Garmin eTrex. Since he indicated he probably wouldn't be able to make a post about that unit, I'll reproduce elements that might be of interest, below.

I probably won't have time to do a full blog post about it, but here are a few thoughts. The GPS I have is NOT cycling-specific. It's a Garmin eTrex Venture HC: I think I spent $129 on mine, a year and a half ago or so.

Mine is a general outdoor unit, intended for hiking, boating and such. They do make a handlebar mount for it, which I use. I mostly use it for recording data, I do use it for navigation but the screen is small and hard to read in some light (though it's better if you turn the backlight on) and perhaps more significantly, it does NOT have auto-routing features. This means I have to plot out a route on my computer first, then transfer to the GPS. I can't just enter in a destination and have it take me there. Plotting routes can be a little cumbersome but to me it still beats printing out maps and cue sheets and trying to deal with them.

I can download routes from MapMyRide or whatever, and load them in the unit. This works but I just have to visually watch the map and make sure I follow the route. With the routes I plot manually it will beep telling me I have to turn, and things like that.

I had to purchase separately street and topo maps. These work pretty well.

Battery life is great, I've never needed more than 2 AAs for any ride. I think I did swap to a second pair of batteries on the second day of an S24O once, but that's it. AAs are super convenient, I use rechargeables and always have a backup pair waiting to go.

It's certainly not the highest-tech GPS on the market, but what can I say? It was cheap, and even if it doesn't do everything I'd want, it does most of what I need. However, I would have to say that generally, I would not recommend if you want something hassle-free that does everything for you. It requires a certain level of fiddling to get it to do what I want. I'm OK with that, but not everyone wants to deal with that stuff.

Hmm, now our bike GPS has dropped from spendy to $129. HOWEVER, as the infomercial says, "There's MORE!"
Conveniently enough, the eTrex was a contemporary with a unit Garmin called the eMap. I HAVE an eMap, including an old "Mapsource" CD. I originally bought it for Jaguar rallies. What's more, handlebar mounts for the eMap are under $10. Hmm, under $10 for a GPS bike computer that can interface with my computer certainly seemed like an attractive proposition. In response to a follow-up inquiry, Apertome responded:
I'm not familiar with the model, but based on a quick search, It looks like you could do most or all of that with your eMap. It looks like the eMap can do routes and tracklogs, which are the main features I use. It also says it's compatible with Mapsource maps.

I will say that I had an older Garmin before the high-sensitivity kind came out and it was definitely inferior. It was a lot less accurate, and it tended to lose track of the satellites under dense canopy. However for road riding it would probably work OK. It also took longer to find the satellites when you first turned it on, but once you're rolling that shouldn't matter. It'd at least be worth experimenting with it. You could always throw it in a pocket or clip it to your belt so you can try it without ordering a mount for it first.
That last paragraph certainly describes the eMap. So, why might this interest anyone other than myself? Well, currently on eBay, there are eMaps available for "buy it now" prices under $70. Some careful auction watching could net a frugal cyclist a working bike GPS computer with all the map and computer interfaces for about that amount. They also occasionally show up on Craigslist. Now I have to refamiliarize myself with how all that navigation stuff actually works and take a few test rides. GPS bike computer for less than the cost of two fancy Starbucks drinks.
If you see me do a GPS track of my commute, you will know it works. For trial purposes, I can use my SPI Belt, bringing my total "see if it works" cost to the very attractive amount of zero. Bike stuff doesn't get any cheaper than that. Ain't the Internet great?


cycler said...

hmmm, That makes me wonder if I could use my garmin running computer to measure my speed (in case I want to know exactly how slow I'm going!)

I was at a bike nerd event this weekend, and people were commenting on how the interference between a part of my chainring and the dust cover of my hub causes a lot of extra resistance. I said, yes, it's my quad building program. I'm a little bit curious how fast I could go on a speedy road bike given that my legs are used to propelling 40 pounds of steel and accessories.

Apertome said...

Hey, glad I could help. I hope it works out for you!

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