Author Topic: Which GPS for UK touring?  (Read 2279 times)

Which GPS for UK touring?
« on: February 23, 2012, 05:23:26 pm »
I’ve a little experience of basic non-mapping Garmin units which I use for audax using downloaded waypoints matching route sheet instructions.  On audaxes I usually carry a page from an atlas or map so that I can see where the nearest town might be if I need to abandon.  I always thought I’d buy an eTrex or equivalent Garmin whenever I decided I needed mapping and on-the-hoof route planning.  However, I’m also considering the SatMap 10 Plus with the full 1:50,000 GB maps.

I’ve not really been touring before, so I’m not sure which GPS would be the most useful, or if they’d all be more trouble than they’re worth.

From what I remember reading over the years,  Garmins might be better for navigating across towns and cities.  I think the Garmins will do satnav type of tricks, albeit unreliably at times, and also display street names which could be a handy feature, whereas the SatMap might be better to see where I am on the open road, and to plot a route to the next destination.  I’m not sure if I’d pre-plan a route at home, or just follow my nose (and the GPS) when I start off (assuming I catch a train to an unfamiliar part of the country).

I know I’d want something which runs off replaceable AA batteries.  I’m on a recumbent with ‘superman’ handlebars so handlebar space might be a bit limited if my knees get in the way (the SatMap looks quite bulky).  The SatMaps have been around for ages now, and the latest OS seems to offer quite a lot of features, and presumably most of the bugs will have been ironed out.  However, perhaps it’s a bit clunky to use.

So, I’d appreciate suggestions as to what might be a good option for a tourist with a hopeless sense of direction and poor map reading skills.

dasmoth

  • Techno-optimist
Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2012, 05:26:22 pm »
I'd suggest either a Garmin Oregon or one of the new eTrex models (20 or 30).  They're pretty similar except the Oregon uses a touch-screen with the eTrex uses push buttons.  Either will give good service from a pair of NiMH or Lithium AAs, and they're at least usable on Alkalines (although I didn't find performance impressive).

I think you'll be surprised how much map information you'll be able to see on the screen of either of these Garmins.  Not quite as much as the Satmap, but enough to plan.

Beyond that, it's mostly down to which interface you prefer.  Try both if possible.
Half term's when the traffic becomes mysteriously less bad for a week.

Feanor

  • It's mostly downhill from here.
Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2012, 05:34:02 pm »
I generally prefer the City Navigator maps for on-road navigation.

The OS 1:50k contain a wealth of detail, but it's just clutter for on-road navigation.   Also, you can't really zoom in with them to the same extent, since they are raster maps ( pictures ).

( For off-road navigation eg hill-walking, I'd use the OS maps, since CN has no info beyond the roads. )

The CN maps are vector maps, and you can zoom in to a good level of accuracy especially around complicated junctions etc.

When heading into un-known territory , I always pre-plan my route on the PC and download it into the device along with the waypoints I want.   I never just blind-trust it to 'take me to xxx'.

corshamjim

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2012, 06:30:31 pm »
I'm very happy with my Garmin Dakota 20.  It's not too expensive (I bought mine from Handtec, as it was at that time best price from them and well recommended).

It doesn't come with maps.  I'd recommend the City Navigator map too.  I've not tried the OS ones as they're so expensive.  It's easy to overlay free-to-download contours on the City Navigator map by copying the .IMG file in to the relevant directory on the Garmin.  ( download the contour file from http://talkytoaster.info/ukmaps.htm ).  The contours are nowhere near as detailed as what you would get on an OS 1:50,000 but are enough to see when you're getting to the top of a hill and such.

I tend to do my route planning on Google maps or from paper maps, and enter each point I want to cycle through as a waypoint directly on the GPS.  It's then easy to string the waypoints together in to a route.

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2012, 06:50:45 pm »
As a user of Garmins (several) over a number of years and a Satmap user since they first came out, I would say that if I were starting out all over again, I'd not go with the Satmap. Different people will obviously have different experiences or opinions, perhaps according to how fussy they are. My primary reasons for not going for the Satmap are:-

- it's difficult to read the screen in strong light. There are various filters and colour options on the latest software but I don't find them effective. I don't know if it's still the case but the powersave option can't be used with 100% backlight in the later software version, an insane decision;

- reading the map under an "active route" is a nightmare; the route is marked by several different forms of markers, all cluttering up the screen unnecessarily;

- mine isn't waterproof; it's failed a number of times when out in the rain. The fact that Satmap have finally brought out a silicon rubber case is an admission that they failed in the original hardware design to make it weatherproof. This case makes it even harder to read the screen and is very bulky indeed.

- you can display only one route at a time and the choice of colours available is limited and few of them contrast with OS road colours, so it's often hard to see which is a route and which is a road;

- although the Satmap handles file storage well insofar as having a Windows style folder and sub-folder structure, it's handling of user defined POIs is poor - you cannot save and store particular POI with relevant routes (I haven't checked the software updates lately so this might be out of date but I doubt it because I suspect it's a structural thing);

- build quality is average - the buttons on mine are soft and imprecise; I often can't tell if the "press" has registered; worse with winter gloves; buttons have broken in the past and have needed repair; modern examples might be better but the design doesn't look any different;

At one time, I used to say to people that the Satmap is best if you wanted to navigate on the fly just reading it as a rolling map; I'd still say it works quite well in this fashion but Garmin have made massive strides in this regard. You are correct in assuming that the "auto-routing" function in Garmins is flaky and unreliable, but it does work to a degree and provided you keep in mind its pecular behaviour, it can get you out of trouble.

I won't comment on cost/value for money because one man's cheap is another man's pricey. I'll stop now because I could bore for England on this subject. Others will no doubt be along to contradict all I've said, but that's life!

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2012, 07:11:03 pm »
I bought an Oregon for its versatility and I've been very happy indeed with it, on the bike, walking, on skis and in a car.

Some things you need to know (talking about a Garmin, others will probably be similar).

When you get your Garmin, it is very easy to prepare a route on Google maps etc, load it up and follow (I use gmaptogpx, others may use different ways of getting a gpx)

It is relatively easy to take a trace that you have made and turn it into a route (you need to reduce the number of points to 250 or thereabouts using something like GPSies) that restriction is not a real issue in practice, you can have innumerable segments, and 250 point was enough to take me from London to Birmingham without putting a wheel wrong.

The map you get has all the UK/Europe roads on, but not in a routable form, that means you cannot ask it to plot you a route from A to B without either (a) buying the addon map (b) using the free openmap - this needs a little practice to get right and you can't just say "I want the whole world map on my machine"

The garmin has a simple option that you can use which is either choose an end point or point and say "take me there" you can then follow the arrow and know you are going the right way.

Using a basic GPS is very simple. Using some of the advanced features takes a little learning and patience. I got my GPS because I was going walking in Georgia, where maps and roads are thin on the ground, and it performed faultlessly (eg http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=763358) I've since used it on the bike on long solo trips and as a car GPS on a trip to Israel, using Open Street Map which navigated me nearly perfectly through labyrinthine towns, also used for skiing although that was mostly for fun as I was never off piste.

As others have said, try before buy, and whatever you do buy don't just think it will do all it says it can without input and effort from you.

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2012, 07:18:07 pm »
I bought an Oregon for its versatility and I've been very happy indeed with it, on the bike, walking, on skis and in a car.

As others have said, try before buy, and whatever you do buy don't just think it will do all it says it can without input and effort from you.

Selective quote with which I agree.  I like my Oregon especially for the versatility.

But it's fair to say that most posters here seem to favour Etrex.

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2012, 09:34:42 pm »
I’m actually quite pleased to hear a thumbs-down for the SatNav!  I’ve been thinking about buying one for years, but I’ve read about lack of weatherproofing and clunky buttons etc which didn’t sound great.  However, the price was the main problem when the cost of the maps and other accessories was added in.  I’ve now seen them bundled at a good price, and I had thought the problems might have been sorted by now, but obviously not.

I don’t really need OS mapping, and I wouldn’t want contour lines, so the City Navigator DVD would be fine for me.  Handtec sell “City Navigator DVD Europe NT 2010” for £59.88.  Is that the one I’d need?

As for the Garmin unit – I’ve been there before, but now there’s even more choice!  I’ve got a Foretrex 301 (for audaxes).  It’s basic but excellent for doing the waypoint stuff.  It’s also wearable on the arm or wrist, which is quite handy on a recumbent.

I’ve also got a retired Edge 305 and an Edge 500 which is what I use most days for ‘training’. 

I’d consider an Edge 705 or 800 for all the nice bike related info.  The only downside to those as far as I can see is the internal rechargeable battery.  I tried external battery packs with the Edge 305 and it was a nightmare on audaxes.  However, perhaps it’d be less of a problem with touring where I’m likely to have time to charge it overnight (possibly from a battery-powered USB charger if camping).  Are there any other disadvantages to the Edge units compared with the non-cycling dedicated units? 

As for the AA powered units, the original Etrex HCX range still looks a good option to me, so it’d either be one of those or a new Etrex.  Frankie put me off the touch-screens of the Dakota or Oregon, plus the battery life isn’t as good.

I’ve never been in an outdoor shop which can demonstrate GPS units, so I don’t think it’d be possible for me to try before buying.

It’s interesting to hear that it’s still best to plan a route before setting out.  That being the case, I could still get away with the Foretrex and a paper atlas or the maps built into my Nokia phone if I needed a wider view. However, a mapping Garmin would probably be more convenient.  So, I think the decision is down to either an Edge or a ‘walking’ GPS, and then button-operated or touch-screen.  Hmmmm...


Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2012, 09:04:40 am »
Nashd – some more of me thoughts….

Re. the Edge – I have a 705 which I use for “training” (ha!) and the occasional Audax. I find it very irritating that I cannot suppress the road and street name labels, which obscure the map with irrelevant info just as I’m approaching a junction. There is a setting to show “less detail”, which reduces this but unfortunately it also causes the small roads and lanes to disappear too, at least until you’ve zoomed in very closely (and then lose the “overview”). In practice, I find the Edge a pain to navigate with in areas which I’m not familiar with.

The power duration is an issue with the Edge but others have managed very well with external power packs. I haven’t tried these and I’m cynical about my ability to rig something up which is weatherproof. It’s also more clutter on the bike and more vulnerability to vandalism if you want to pop into a shop or café and don’t feel comfortable leaving the kit on the bike.

If you decide to go for the City Navigator, be careful. I THINK that if you obtain the mapping via a download or on a DVD, when you install and activate it with Garmin it gets permanently locked to whichever hardware you have; thereafter, you cannot transfer it to a replacement unit even if it’s also a Garmin. The way to get the mapping is to buy the pre-loaded microSD card, which can be transferred between (Garmin) units. (I believe I have this correct but PLEASE do your research and check this out before buying; get it wrong and you may have to repurchase the maps if you change units in the future.)

More skilled individuals sing the praises of Open Street Map and similar open source freeware. I have no experience of any of this, so cannot comment.

I don’t believe any unit is perfect yet for cycling in that it will do all the “bike computer” (performance data, heart rate, cadence, etc.) whilst simultaneously delivering good navigation (big screen, rolling OS mapping, car satnav auto-routing that works for a bike).

From the way you’ve spoken, it looks to me as though the Extrex is the way for you. Your budget will determine whether you go for the modern OS mapping capability or not. For me, I wouldn’t be without it; the ability to see on an OS map the classification of the roads ahead (red, brown, yellow, etc.) beats the City Navigator hands down; on the City Navigator, all roads are just brown lines, whether they're A-roads or bridleways. With the OS mapping, when I zoom out, it changes to the 1:250,000 road map, so I get a usable overview when navigating on the fly. When I do that on City Navigator, all the small roads disappear and I’m lost; it’s just not workable comfortably. If however, you are happy to continue to do part of your navigation with a paper map, then the City Navigator can be used for the job.

You pays your money and you makes your choice, as ever! Good luck!

fuaran

  • rothair gasta
Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2012, 01:12:14 pm »
Note the eTrex 30 / Dakota 20 / Oregon 450 will work with heart rate or cadence sensors.

If you decide to go for the City Navigator, be careful. I THINK that if you obtain the mapping via a download or on a DVD, when you install and activate it with Garmin it gets permanently locked to whichever hardware you have; thereafter, you cannot transfer it to a replacement unit even if it’s also a Garmin. The way to get the mapping is to buy the pre-loaded microSD card, which can be transferred between (Garmin) units. (I believe I have this correct but PLEASE do your research and check this out before buying; get it wrong and you may have to repurchase the maps if you change units in the future.)
Yes, that is correct. Though note the microSD card version has some disadvantages: It is locked to the specific card, so won't work if you copy it onto another one. Plus you can't use it for plotting routes in MapSource. And its more complicated to combine it with other maps, eg OSM or contour maps.

Quote
Your budget will determine whether you go for the modern OS mapping capability or not. For me, I wouldn’t be without it; the ability to see on an OS map the classification of the roads ahead (red, brown, yellow, etc.) beats the City Navigator hands down; on the City Navigator, all roads are just brown lines, whether they're A-roads or bridleways. With the OS mapping, when I zoom out, it changes to the 1:250,000 road map, so I get a usable overview when navigating on the fly. When I do that on City Navigator, all the small roads disappear and I’m lost; it’s just not workable comfortably. If however, you are happy to continue to do part of your navigation with a paper map, then the City Navigator can be used for the job.
This may depend on what device you are using, some seem to be better than others at showing the City Nav maps. You may be able to adjust the map detail, so it shows more roads when zoomed at.
Or you could use OpenStreetMap maps with a custom style. There are some which show the roads in colours/styles similar to OS an map.

corshamjim

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2012, 01:42:28 pm »
Though note the microSD card version has some disadvantages: It is locked to the specific card, so won't work if you copy it onto another one. Plus you can't use it for plotting routes in MapSource. And its more complicated to combine it with other maps, eg OSM or contour maps.

On the Dakota 20, it's easy to combine the free contour map with the CityNavigator map on MicroSD card.  I just copied the contour file in to the relevant folder on the Dakota 20 itself and selected both maps.  Hey presto the contours appear on top of the Navigator map.   I think some Garmin GPSs allow you to have more than one .IMG file and some don't.  Another disadvantage with the map bought on SD card is I don't believe it's possible to buy an upgrade -  you have to buy a whole new SD.  Having seen the cost of upgrading the map on our Nüvi I'm not sure that's a dis-benefit actually when the SD card isn't vastly expensive anyway.

I updated the software on my Dakota 20 yesterday.  It now includes a photo viewer app.  I can't say as I'm likely to want to view photos while I'm cycling along but you never know ...   ;D

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #11 on: February 24, 2012, 02:11:15 pm »
I updated the software on my Dakota 20 yesterday.  It now includes a photo viewer app.  I can't say as I'm likely to want to view photos while I'm cycling along but you never know ...   ;D

You can put whatever picture files you want on from the PC though, and zoom in and scroll about them.   Notes about something?  Scans of routesheet just in case?  Scanned/screenshotted list of campsite phone numbers?

Regarding using it for touring: I have an Oregon, and it worked great for UK touring in combination with some torn out road atlas pages.  Peruse the paper map to plan ahead more easily in camp, then use the GPS as you travel.  If you already plan your holiday before you set out this probably makes less difference, but we like to stay moderately flexible.


Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #12 on: February 24, 2012, 02:24:51 pm »
I've got both an Edge 705 and a Satmap here. I find the Edge is best for navigating when I pre-plan a route on my computer (e.g. audaxes and planned long rides), the Satmap is better for sightseeing and random touring (i.e. following your nose with a loose plan of where you want to get to). When riding down a road looking at the 705, you'll only see large features - maybe some green for forested areas, blue for water etc. (using City Navigator). On the Satmap you'll see that there is an interesting ruin just out of sight to the left but accessible up that track, or a nature reserve, or whatever - the difference between passing through an area and visiting it, if you see what I mean.

frankly frankie

  • I kid you not
    • Fuchsiaphile
Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2012, 02:28:41 pm »
Well put Matt.  Yes I find riding with a GPS is a bit like canal-cruising, you can get a sort of tunnel vision.

So, I think the decision is down to either an Edge or a ‘walking’ GPS, and then button-operated or touch-screen.  Hmmmm...

Well that basically is what it all boils down to, since all Garmins are more or less equally capable -
Big screen/small box, touch screen yes/no.

Although on the whole I've come out against the touch screen types, that was based on the Dakota which is a small one - with a bigger screen I expect it all makes more sense.  And the 'new' Garmin UI as used in all the later models is definitely touch-screen-oriented, it really doesn't work as well if you have to navigate it with the little front joystick thingy.

My review of the Etrex 30 if you haven't seen it, is here (nb acrobat file).
That was mainly written last November and I will say that I feel a bit less positive about it now than I did then.  I'd recommend it for a new adopter but since you are used to older Garmins I'd suggest considering a Legend or Vista HCx while they're still available, and at a very decent price too (as I write, £125 all inc. for a Vista HCx from Amazon).
It's not dark yet but it's getting there.

corshamjim

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2012, 04:10:31 pm »
You can put whatever picture files you want on from the PC though, and zoom in and scroll about them.   Notes about something?  Scans of routesheet just in case?  Scanned/screenshotted list of campsite phone numbers?

Neat ideas there! I think I'll add a little diagram reminding me which screw on the derailleur is for the high adjustment and which is for low.  :D

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #15 on: February 24, 2012, 09:04:49 pm »
Thanks, everyone.  There’s much to mull over!  Matt’s comments about the SatMap made me think it might be the better option for touring.  However, there are downsides to it, as explained by Pedro.  The Vista HCX also sounds appealing at that sort of price.  I’d always thought I’d end up with one of those, and the battery life is a major benefit.  Like Pedro, I found external battery packs with the Edge to be a total loss – I have enough problems feeding myself on an audax, never mind a GPS.  So, I’m back to the two I’ve been dithering between for years – the flawed SatMap or the functional Vista.

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #16 on: March 06, 2012, 09:14:48 pm »
I've got both an Edge 705 and a Satmap here. I find the Edge is best for navigating when I pre-plan a route on my computer (e.g. audaxes and planned long rides), the Satmap is better for sightseeing and random touring (i.e. following your nose with a loose plan of where you want to get to). When riding down a road looking at the 705, you'll only see large features - maybe some green for forested areas, blue for water etc. (using City Navigator). On the Satmap you'll see that there is an interesting ruin just out of sight to the left but accessible up that track, or a nature reserve, or whatever - the difference between passing through an area and visiting it, if you see what I mean.
Yes, & if (like me & Mrs B) you do any off-road cycling or walking, a road-only GPS is useless much of the time.

I've heard stories of leaky Satmaps, but mine (a present from Mrs B) has often got wet over the last three years, sometimes very wet indeed, & has worked perfectly. I've not had problems with the buttons, either. Visibility in bright light? Yes, a weakness, though on very sunny days just switching the backlight off completely works fairly well. Bulky & heavy, & I'm not too keen on the R&K handlebar mount, but I like the OS mapping, & I can ride all day without worrying about battery death.
"A woman on a bicycle has all the world before her where to choose; she can go where she will, no man hindering." The Type-Writer Girl, 1897

Re: Which GPS for UK touring?
« Reply #17 on: March 07, 2012, 07:43:59 am »
my satmap has just been serviced and upgraded by satmap for reasonable pennies after a gps road interface moment . good as new and great customer service :thumbsup:
the slower you go the more you see