GPS Navigation for the Transcontinental Race

I had a number of problems with my navigation in 2014 which hopefully will not be repeated for 2015.  In the  hope that others will avoid those issues, here is what I’m planning on doing … subject to the next six months of testing!

Routing

I will use www.RideWithGPS.com for the routing. This time I will pay less attention to the elevation data because it was so unreliable last year. I will also look at the sections carefully with the satellite view. I’ve written more on this here.

Garmin 800

My Garmin 800 will still be my main navigation tool. But I learned several things from 2014:

  • Do not have GPX segments longer than 500 km. It just slows down the unit to the point where it is unusable.
  • Under no circumstances rely on the ‘Auto Routing’ option when you get lost. You will end up on a ‘Tour de Garmin’ which will add many unnecessary kilometres to your ride.
  • Even using the Garmin Street Maps, the detail when you get lost is not sufficient to find the best way forward. The scrolling of these maps in high detail is painfully slow as the unit is just not able to process the data.

So in other words, while I will use the Garmin as much as possible, I have a backup system on my Android phone(s).

Phones

I will have with me my Sony Xperia Active which is on the handlebars, and my Sony Xperia Z1 Compact in my pocket. Why two phones? The Active is my redundant navigation system and the Z1 is for phone calls, photos, etc. These are the best phones for cyclists as they are completely waterproof and very robust.

Navigation App

There are quite a few navigation apps for Android out there but when you start looking at the needs for the TCR they narrow down quickly. My favourite app is the one from RideWithGPS.com, but it has one very serious problem—it does not have offline maps. This is the key to any backup navigation app as you don’t want to be dependent on a data connection. So there were were two criteria for the app: (i) it would have offline maps; and, (ii) it can load in a large GPX file to be followed.  There are a few apps which meet these criteria:

  • Orux Maps. I just find the interface and system too difficult to use.
  • Locus Pro. Like Orux, feature rich but hard to use.
  • BikeComputer Pro. My final choice!

I liked the simplicity of BikeComputer Pro. It found the OpenGPS street maps I had downloaded earlier, and has it’s own feature for downloading maps. It also found my test GPX. Just a case of loading the test GPX and riding.  Unfortunately it doesn’t have ANT+ capabilities so will not display my power or heart rate, but as a back up for following the route seems ideal. Going to do a lot more testing of this in the months to come.

Location Context

One of the biggest problems I had last year was when I found myself lost was lacking any location context—i.e. where was I? What were the options for moving forward? Where were supplies? The map detail in the Garmin 800 was just too slow for scrolling to be usable. I have two apps that I’ve found which are great for helping out:

  • MapFactor Navigator
  • Navfree

Both are much better than the 800 when it comes to scrolling through an area, looking for alternative routes, and locating ‘Points of Interest’.  Like the 800 their autorouting navigation leaves a lot to be desired (takes you on main roads when there are shorter back roads), but they are so much easier to use that I’m confident of having a lot less problems than in 2014.

Synching Data

One of my frustrations in 2014 was that I lost some days of my riding due to a glitch in saving the data. I plan on doing regular backups to Garmin Connect and Strava during the ride using my phone.  Let me share how I’ll do this.

The first step was to get an ‘On-The-Go’ (OTG) cable. This connects the phone to the Garmin as shown below.

DSC_0002

While Garmin has an app for accessing Garmin Connect, of course it isn’t designed to upload files.  For that I got the Garmin Connect app.  It works brilliantly.

Screenshot_2014-12-25-19-57-26
Start the App

Screenshot_2014-12-25-19-57-37
Select the Ride

Screenshot_2014-12-25-19-57-55
It Appears in Garmin Connect

 

I use the Garmin Connect app to give a name to the ride (and yes, I did a 3 hour ride Christmas Day—before we had a large lunch!).

Like most engineers, I’m a data guy, so I also use Strava and RideWithGPS. To keep them all synchronized I use Tapiriik (www.tapiriik.com). I pay $2/year and it keeps all my data automatically synchronized between these three sites (it’s free for manual synchronization).

image

As mentioned above, I’ll be testing the above systems over the next months but they hold a lot of promise to improve on my navigation over 2014. Here’s hoping!

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6 responses to “GPS Navigation for the Transcontinental Race

  1. This is all good advice, and I’d like to add something about my experience with the Garmin Edge 1000. I would say that the biggest functional difference between the Edge 800/810 and 1000 (all three of which I’ve used extensively) is that doing manual route-planning on the go is WAY easier on the 1000. One reason is because of the larger and higher-resolution screen on the 1000, another is the easier-to-read formatting of the maps on the 1000, and the last is the better processing that allows zooming and panning to happen much faster on the 1000. I agree that it’s barely possible to manually route-plan on the fly with the 800/810, but doing so with the 1000 is actually OK and I’ve successfully done so many times in all sorts of types of location.

    Another advantage of the 1000 over the 800 is that it can connect to a cell phone with Bluetooth for rides to be uploaded to Garmin Connect without needing any cables (although this is also true of the Edge 810).

    Of course, having a backup device is always a good idea, but I’ll only be using it if my Edge 1000 dies and not because another device can do some navigational tasks any better.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the update on the Garmin 1000. The ability to plan on the fly is a great improvement. Any idea if they have also improved their auto-routing or does it still take riders on what appears to be on a random ‘Tour de Garmin’?

  2. HI Chris, where did you buy the cables for Garmin and Sony Xperia? Very nice tip!

  3. This post makes me want to do the TCR purely just to test out all the technology! Seriously, good luck and may your nav work better this time round. By the time you have it perfected I might be in a position to join you 🙂

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