July 21st, 2003 01:11 PM
Anyone got any solid recommendations for really good GPS units that would be good for biking and trail running?
July 28th, 2003 03:12 PM
I really like my Garmin eTrex Vista. I've used it hiking, biking on and off road, flying, boating, you name it. The screen is a bit small for driving, so you don't want to choose this unit for lots of driving. I use a Garmin eMap in the car, as it's screen is much larger.
The Vista includes 24MB of map memory, an electronic compass (so you can find direction while not moving), a barometric altimeter, in a waterproof, compact package. This is a complex unit and will require some time to master, but with experience, using it becomes second nature.
The only downsides of this model are the lack of an external antenna connection, and a slightly less sensitive antenna than larger units. To use an external antenna with any GPS in the eTrex series, you'll need a re-radiating antenna. This type of antenna receives a signal from outside a vehicle or building, and retransmits it inside the car, so no physical connection is needed between the GPS and external antenna. I have not needed an external antenna while biking or hiking with the eTrex Vista, only in a vehicle or train. The eTrex series of GPS receivers uses a slightly smaller internal antenna than larger sized units. I have not had problems with the eTrex antenna in over 2 years of use.
No matter what GPS unit you eventually get, know this: Garmin and Magellan GPS units can only accept downloaded maps from each brand's own software. To install maps in the unit, you'll need to obtain the mapping software sold by your GPS' manufacturer. Most units will accept waypoints and routes generated by 3rd party programs.
All brands of GPS can download to programs like Topo! TopoUSA, Street Atlas, and Maptech Terrain Navigator. This will enable you to view, print, and edit tracks, waypoints, and routes. Some 3rd party packages can also develop altitude profiles and 3D trail maps.
My favorite GPS web site is <http://www.gpsinformation.net/>, Garmin vendor <http://www.tvnav.com>
July 28th, 2003 03:32 PM
I also have an eTrex Vista.
While it is nice, and I have few complaints, it is more of a toy IMO than a real tool. It will maybe help you if you get horribly lost, but it is far from perfect.
1) (I have a hardtail) The eTrex will not work on the garmin-supplied bar mount. Any rocks, roots, whatever transmits vibration up to the handlebars and causes the eTrex to shut off. I had read about this online, it is caused by the battery terminals vibrating off the battery. I had the same trouble trying to use it on my motorcycle, rev the engine and it would shut off. I suspect it wouldn't matter what kind of bicycle you have. If you ride any rough "real" trails it's going to shut off. The aftermarket motorcycle mounts are huge and ugly and look like they would break fast on a MTB.
2) It won't get a signal in many of the deeply wooded singletrack areas. If it is winter or you are riding in areas where the trees have been cut it will probably work. I wouldn't even count it to work on a fire road though. It can even lose signal on paved roads sometimes.
So you can stick it in your pocket and if you get lost you can find a clearning and hopefully use it to get home, but you can't stick it on your bar and get an accurate readout of your ride as a path, track speed, distance, etc..
I have never gotten lost to the point where I didn't know where I was going, so it is just a toy for me. Guess I just haven't gone trail riding far enough out in the middle of nowhere. Everywhere I go you can just follow a trail till you get to a road and then I know where I am.
I have found it somewhat useful in car trips.
July 28th, 2003 03:53 PM
The Etrex Vista is a great tool. The reception is flawless if you keep it upright in your hydrapack. If you get lost, just pull it out of the pack and check the on screen map. The best part is that at the end of the day you can upload your route into any of the popular topo programs (check out expertGPS, itís very cool).
I disagree with benbís suggestion that the Vista is more of a toy than a tool. It is actually an amazingly sophisticated tool. This spring used it to navigate bringing a 33í sailboat 1200 nautical miles from West Palm beach, Florida to Hyannis, Massachusetts. The boatís onboard GPS had no cockpit readout, so the Vista was what was used almost all of the time. Since we were well offshore and it rained pretty much the whole time, the Vista and dead reckoning were our only tools for navigation. The electronic compass is great, unlike most GPS units you can still get an accurate compass reading when standing still. The barometer was interesting, as I could watch the pressure continually drop; bringing storm after storm to torment our passage.
As for biking, itís light, compact and has everything you need built into it. When Iím not using it on the boat, I fill the memory up with Topo maps. I can get all of Connecticut and Massachusetts into the 24 Meg memory. The only thing I donít like is that when you use the wrist strap, the unit hangs upside down. When the unit is upside down it looses GPS reception. Also, donít put it in your pocket and crash as this causes the LCD screen to shatter. Thank goodness for Eastern Mountain Sports liberal exchange policy.
July 28th, 2003 03:55 PM
There are two Garmin GPSII+ units with external antennas floating around CTNEMBA. We've used them in conjunction with Topo!GPS. Rarely loose signal (if at all) due to dense tree canopy cover (when using the external antenna -- slap the antenna on top of you helmet with velcro and go.). We have experienced the referenced battery problem and find that the problem seems to be oriented to Duracells (though AA's all manufacturer specs vary slightly. Maybe all that is needed is to expand the terminal springs a bit.). Oh and the reason for the GPSII+ units, we simply do not require on-board maps since we download onto map files. The big chore is post recording map work. Simply having a continuous track log line overlayed onto a topographic map is not useful. You need to spend to time editting the map to generate a comprehensive trail plan. Our best example resides on the Res Patrol page, http://home.comcast.net/~bnemba/res_map.htm
July 29th, 2003 03:46 PM
Vista problem solving 101:
eTrex Vista vibration problems are EASILY solved by wrapping the batteries in a single layer of tape, or inserting a thin piece of foam between the back cover an the batteries. The problem usually only shows itself with certain, ever so slightly undersized brands and types of batteries. A "AA" cell is sometimes not a "AA" cell!
This fix is as well documented online as the problem. I have done 70 mile road rides on chipsealed roads and 18-20 mile offroad rides with the tape, with zero shutoffs. New eTrex handlebar mounts include the foam.
Reception in the woods...
Have you tried shutting off WAAS? Garmin states in the manual that WAAS is only to be used in areas where the unit has a clear view of the sky. Attempting to use WAAS in the woods can cause the unit to lose lock, and take longer to reacquire. Also, make sure the unit is running in NORMAL mode, not BATTERY SAVE, as it will read the satellittes more often. This also helps the unit smoothly move through heavily forested areas.
August 12th, 2003 12:08 PM
Good advice GadgetGeek
I have also found that a thin layer of foam or even kitchen paper placed in the battery compartment solidifies the cover and pretty much stops the vibrations. Since doing that, I have not had a single shutdown on the handlebar mount.
I have a Vista upgraded from an Legend - same trick for both.
August 12th, 2003 01:33 PM
Garmin 76 has better internal antenna and ext. ant. connection. Check specs - patch antenna will limit use in canopy, etc.
I have never put much value in the internal mapping capabilities of handheld gps. Maptech is good stuff for up/download and if you have an iPaq check out the Navman sleeve and pocket navigator.
An older Garmin off ebay is a possibility too. The 48 that I have seems to perform well.
August 15th, 2003 12:41 PM
I just ordered the next model down from the Vista, called the Summit. It has everything but the memory and high-res screen. I figure it will tell me how much I've climbed, and it will get me out of the woods if need be. Mapping is neat, but knowing myself I would use the eTrex as an excuse to start spending more $$ on electronic maps even though paper makes for a pretty useful map. Both Summit and Vista can be had on Amazon for good prices.