Cycling GPS devices

Garmin gps next to the iPhone on bicycle handlebars

The sun is shining on my back when suddenly I hear a beep – my Garmin 705 is delivering its next set of instructions. Written on the screen is turn left at the roundabout with a big arrow making things simple. I’m riding on the outskirts of London following a beautiful ride and I barely have to use my brain. Perfect! There is nothing like a bit of escapism from the busy London life.

Devices such as the Garmin make following rides an easy experience. No more wrong turns and having to double back on yourself. That’s not the only purpose cycling GPS devices serve. They are also useful for keeping track of how much cycling you are doing and how you are performing. I can quite happily tell you that on the 3rd of September 2010 I rode back to my house with an average speed of 11.4 mph. I’m a little bit less impressed by my average speed a few days before that. I covered 1.77 miles and did a speed of just 10.3 mph. Must of been feeling a little tired.

Of course, I’m not someone enthralled by performance cycling and you probably won’t find me doing hill repeats in Richmond Park on a Sunday morning. In fact you’ll probably find me still in bed. However, there’s something quite encouraging having that cycling data in front of you. It gives you a gentle push in the right direction.

If you want to try out a cycling GPS device you’ll probably come across a Garmin. I’ve briefly reviewed each GPS device below and also compared an option from another company.

Garmin 800 Cycling GPS

With the Edge 800 Garmin have embraced touch screen technology and it definitely works in it’s favour. However, despite making this drastic improvement to the navigation they’ve still failed to simplify the interface. Even a simple operation such as customising a screen involves diving deep into a complex array of menus. If you put these nuisances aside you’ll be impressed with what is by far Garmin’s best GPS device for cyclists so far.

There’s a lot to rave about with the Garmin 800: faster processor, highly accurate and beautiful colour touch screen that works even with winter cycling gloves and ridiculously long battery life. The big downside: Price!

Garmin 705 GPS

garmin-attached-to-laptop-small

With the Edge 705 the big new feature added was ANT+ connectivity. Allowing the Garmin 705 to receive and store data on heart rate and from other ANT+ sensors. I’ve used the 705 extensively and it’s a great device. Whilst navigation around the features is a little slow, even after you do get used to it, it has everything you’d expect from a cycling GPS device. Including a backlit display, excellent battery life and total waterproofing.

Unfortunately, the Edge 705 still won’t make a great routing device. So those expecting Google Maps style “Get me from A to B along the best route” will be a little disappointed. This is definitely no Tom Tom. However, those wishing to track their performance and follow GPS rides will be very satisfied with this cycling GPS.

Garmin 605 Bike GPS

Garmin 605 cycling GPS instructing to turn left on Alley

The older Garmin 605 has similar basic features as newer models. Turn by turn directions, automatic route re-calculating if you go wrong and a display of calories burned, speed and so forth. It also has excellent battery life.

The main thing lacking from the Edge 605 GPS device is ANT+ connectivity which means you don’t get heart rate data and so forth – although, this is definitely not something everyone needs. Some users have also complained the device is slow to calculate directions and often doesn’t take the most logical route. Therefore, the best way to use the device is by importing a ride.

The basic model can be picked up for £163 on Amazon. However, this lacks the additional maps you’ll need to follow rides. These will need to be purchased separately.

SatMap Active 10

The outsider choice! The SatMap was heavily praised on the gadget show. The accuracy of the GPS, the fast speed of getting a lock on signal and the quality of the maps were all highly regarded. Whilst the SatMap is mainly designed with hikers in mind it’s also possible to buy an additional bike mount to strap it to your handlebars.

Cycling GPS devices roundup

Overall, these are some of the best GPS navigators for cyclists. Unfortunately, none quite offer the same “Get me from where I am now to B” functionality as you’d expect in a Tom Tom and it’s disappointing to see Garmin cashing in so much from forcing users to purchase additional maps. None the less, any cyclist wishing to discover excellent rides and follow them with minimum effort will be very pleased with one of these cycling GPS devices. They are also excellent for tracking statistics to improve your cycling.

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29 Responses to Cycling GPS devices

  1. Luca 16/03/2011 at 12:37 pm #

    I do have to ask why anyone would bother with a device such as this, when smartphones nowadays can do the same and much more? On my Android device I use Google Maps (free!) for navigation, it even suggests alternative routes to avoid the traffic, and then Sports Tracker (free or £5.99 for a pro version) to track my rides. This also lets me upload my tracks to their website, so I can view pretty maps of where I have been: http://www.sportstracklive.com/user/lucaspiller

    • chris 16/03/2011 at 12:44 pm #

      Luca,

      I use a Garmin 705 because I am planning some long term travelling and do not want to mess about with acquiring SIM cards in every country to enable data services.

      With the Garmin, I can create a route on a laptop/netbook, download it to the device and then at the end of the day, upload the GPS (and track stats) data.

      • K 16/03/2011 at 12:55 pm #

        I use a Nokia phone, which includes free turn-by-turn navigation for driving and walking. I find the latter is very useful for cycling – for example, when travelling from the Royal Docks to New Cross it directs me through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

        You can download maps and set routes before you set off and use them offline, so you don’t need data services in whatever country you’re in. And you can run Endomondo in the background, tracking your route and speed.

      • Luca 16/03/2011 at 1:46 pm #

        Hmm that makes a bit more sense (sorry if my comment sounded a bit flamey, I was in a bit of a rush!). There are a few apps that let you download maps for offline use, but they aren’t great, and I haven’t seen anything that combines that and tracking. A friend pointed out that battery life is also a lot better with these!

        • Andreas 16/03/2011 at 2:34 pm #

          True – you can always get one of those chargers (around £20-£40) to keep an iPhone or other phone going for twice or three times as long..
          So you always have options.

  2. Mike 16/03/2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi Andreas, thanks for this review. I see from your photo that you also have an iPhone clipped to your handlebars. Have you tried any of the GPS apps for the iPhone? And what mount do you use to prevent it jumping off and smashing on the road when you hit the first pot-hole?

    Cheers

  3. Kevin Campbell's Blog 16/03/2011 at 12:51 pm #

    what luca said, if anyone has money to waste on this give it to me instead as you can just buy a cheap smartphone like an android and use apps like google navigator and maps and many more great apps too like cardiotrainer

    • Andreas 16/03/2011 at 1:22 pm #

      RE: Using your mobile phone. See my iPhone posts and Android posts etc

  4. hello 16/03/2011 at 12:54 pm #

    The post is sponsored by GARMIN …. the title should be “the GARMIN cycling GPS devices”

    please complete your post with alternative devices :
    COMPEGPS SPORTIVA
    HOLUX FUNTREK
    HOLUX GPSPORT
    BRYTON RIDER

    and much more ….

    I wish that my comment will not be cancelled !

    • Andreas 16/03/2011 at 1:21 pm #

      LOL – I wish it was sponsored by Garmin! As Mr Hello said there are other GPS devices and this list is not by no means conclusive. The Bryton Rider in particular looks interesting. Info here:
      http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/go/bryton/

  5. Aggi 16/03/2011 at 2:51 pm #

    The main trouble with a smartphone I find is that using one with GPS and screen turned on permanently gives a very poor battery life. Plus, I’m yet to find a decent case for my Android phone that still allows me to use the touchscreen and is as waterproof and tough as something like a Garmin.

    I use a Garmin Dakota 10 which is more for hiking so it doesn’t have the Ant+ with cadence, etc (although does have touchscreen and a handlebar mount). It records everything like speed, distance, averages, etc though and is easy to upload to a PC. It also does Tom-Tom style routing with the route adjusted for car, bicycle, walking, etc. Decent value for £150.

    For maps you don’t have to pay for the Garmin ones (true for most of the Garmin series) but you can instead download OpenStreetMap ones for free. http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/OSM_Map_On_Garmin There are also cycling specific ones with National Cycle Routes, cycle lanes, etc with cycling routing http://www.velomap.org/

    • Andreas 17/03/2011 at 9:17 am #

      Aggi – good input – recommend people skimp on the expensive “cycling” packages Garmin offers and opt for getting Open Street Maps on their garmin (Thanks for link). I’ll checkout the Dakota 10.

  6. skippy 16/03/2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Remember reading a blog post where a “Garmin user ” was in an accident and the “garmin” served as proof of the route that this victim had been using ! Without this evidence the Police were favouring the motorist (don’t they always?) and subsequently that motorist found bother with having “misled” the police !

    Not considered using the latest technology since i rarely use a bike computer these days and given up on wearing Polar’s hrm since the last packed up .

    • Andreas 16/03/2011 at 8:27 pm #

      Excellent stuff Skippy – clever of him to use the Garmin device for evidence – why in all motorist / cyclist collisions is the cyclist rarely supported?

  7. Craig 17/03/2011 at 8:20 am #

    All this talk of smartphones and dedicated cycling computers. Has anyone really looked at the cost? A smartphone in general, by the time you have added cost of contract is about the same as the GPS devices described here. As Aggi points out, battery life on a smartphone is poor, and perhaps there is a case for Andreas to do a review comparing both iphone (which is one of the market leaders on battery life) and a GPS device for battery survival.

    You can pick up a basic road GPS for £100 ish. When cycling off-road a GPS is relatively inaccurate in positioning and unable to even place you on a bridleway, Consequently, I am left wondering if there is any need to splash out on anything but a basic GPS device as a navigation aid?

    • Andreas 17/03/2011 at 9:27 am #

      True – but I guess with a smartphone the big difference is that you already have this device anyway.

      I don’t know if I could pedal enough to run down a Garmin device – they seem to have lasted epic distances! Where as I can tell you my old iPhone on a 4-5 hour ride will be 100% dead. (Unless I’ve done some major battery conservation)

      It does seem that a road GPS is better suited for the job – only considerations then are: 1. What happens when it rains? 2. How to mount to handlebars? 3. Off-road cycling (+cycle routes?)

      • Craig 17/03/2011 at 3:59 pm #

        Well I know you can get mounts for bicycles to carry most of the “car” GPS versions, so I guess some waterproofing is also available.

        Off road – dunno, but my guess is for basic use most riders will want to know where they are and how to get home or to a destination. I’m sure a push by cyclists would improve the level of mapping. Most “car” GPS have walking and cycling modes.

    • Will 17/03/2011 at 2:22 pm #

      Dedicated GPS devices might be slightly better, but a smartphone is massively cheaper, even if you don’t already have one.

      If you have a contract then pretty much anything except the iPhone can be had free of charge (even as low as £20 per month or lower) and even if you want to go down the PAYG route, decent smartphones with GPS are now available for under £100 and will do more than a dedicated GPS costing twice as much.

      Battery life can be an issue, but this can be resolved with spare batteries, bigger batteries or plug in chargers and to be honest, how often do you go on a 6+ hour ride?

      Finally; Waterproofing. Waterproof bar mounts are available, or can I suggest perhaps a waterproof phone: http://www.motorola.com/Consumers/XW-EN/Consumer-Products-and-Services/Mobile-Phones/MOTOROLA-DEFY-XW-EN

      If you are a hardcore cyclist with money to burn then sure, a top end dedicated GPS is the best option; For the rest of us, just get your phone out!

      • Craig 17/03/2011 at 4:01 pm #

        £20 per month for at least 18 months is still more than £100 Will :). True you get some free calls and txts and get to use it other than on bike days. And I agree it is better than buying a GPS for the sake of it.

  8. Ciarán 18/03/2011 at 10:33 am #

    Is there a smart phone app that gives voice instruction over bluetooth?

    So I can have my phone in my pannier or rucksack and just be told when next to turn, rather than having to look down every-so often to find out what’s next.

    I’ve not seen a need to own a smartphone yet, but that would be a “killer app” for me, and save me a lot of time and hassle.

    • Andreas 18/03/2011 at 11:46 am #

      I believe you’re looking for Bike Hub (iPhone & Android) – only problem is its not loud enough to be heard. (Unless you put in headphones which is dangerous)

  9. Bluenose 18/03/2011 at 10:47 am #

    I have a garmin etrex legend, an older model but robust one purchased for walking. It also works just as well for cycling. Screen is smaller than modern devices but it is really really really robust and of course fully waterproof.

    I doubt if phones are that robust and even the modern GPS units may not be that robust either.

    I use rechargeable AA batteries in it.

  10. Tim 18/03/2011 at 11:04 am #

    I wrote a review for the Garmin 800 for the Evans website and earned £250 worth of vouchers which helped a lot with the cost. I love it but as you say it costs.http://blog.evanscycles.com/customer-review-of-the-month/garmin-edge-800-enduro-pack-customer-review-of-the-month/

  11. Aggi 18/03/2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Are there any Android apps with offline mapping and routing which also allow you to upload your route, speed, elevation into something which allows you to keep track of your distance, routes, etc. I looked last summer and struggled to find anything with decent offline capabilities.

    An issue I aslo find in the winter is that most phones have capacitive touchscreens which don’t work with gloves.

  12. Gaz 18/03/2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Don’t forget that these GPS devices provide information that is not avaliable elsewhere if you are involved in a crash. You can proove which direcition and how fast you are traveling just before someone pulls out in front of you. No more rubbish that you where going to fast or you sped up etc..

  13. John Benson 18/03/2011 at 2:38 pm #

    I’m currently cycling through The Americas & belong to a google group for riders on the route.

    A consensus through a significant number in the group would be for a Garmin eTrek Vista HCx for not only long distance touring but any touring that involves a distance where use of the GPS is needed.

    Amazon had them at practically half price a couple of months ago – don’t know if this is still the case.

  14. Gavin Smith 05/04/2011 at 8:16 pm #

    I use the 705, i generally know the areas where we are cycling and only really use it to track my progress afterwards.

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