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Thread: do you need a GPS computer?

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    Default do you need a GPS computer?

    I have access to about 100 miles of XC singletrack just off my driveway and I've ridden all of it so regularly that I have no trouble navigating it but for a few spots. I've been exploring a bit more and finding some wild trails that are very difficult to navigate. no signs, no maps, no markings. easy to loose sense of direction under the oak and ashe juniper canopy. even the well-mapped trails in state and country parks have me wishing I had a more easily accessible map. some people strap their phone to their bike for this and that's a hard NO from me. I keep is safe in a pocket or pack.

    my solution has been to load GPX files into Dynamic Watch and use that third-party app on my Garmin Vivoactive watch. but that puts a single line on a small round screen on my wrist, which is only marginally useful because there are no clues other than a thin line, and the display is on my wrist where it's difficult to see while navigating rocky trails. I'm considering a "big" purchase of something like a Garmin Edge 530 or Wahoo Elemnt Bolt.

    There's an element of discovery and adventure that comes with blindly riding new areas, getting lost, and finding your way back out until you can follow trails by memory. I don't mind that some days, but most days I have a deadline to get back home.

    with that out of the way, I invite you to pontificate: under what conditions is a dedicated bike GPS computer needed on a mountain bike ride? when do you leave it at home?
    Jonathan - Austin, TX

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    I really like using a GPS computer on the bike. Even on the streets programming new routes forces me to do something different. It is really helpful and I have new go-to routes because of it. I don't mind exploring streets or trails but there are some places that just aren't worth the effort. Once I'm well into a ride finding dead-end after dead-end (trails or streets) is no longer fun, especially solo. It just gets boring.

    But to answer the question of when its a dedicated computer needed? Only on brand new stuff I've never seen before. And that is to make sure I don't make a 5 mile ride a 20 miler.

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    I have a GPS computer (Edge 520) that I just take with me on every ride because I'm a data nerd. It has a detailed map loaded into it. I don't just have roads but also biking and hiking trails.

    In terms of using it for navigation, it is stellar if I have a prescribed route I'm trying to follow. It's not so good if I'm trying to figure out a detour or trying to navigate on the fly. For lack of a better description it isn't super interactive if that makes sense. You can see where you are on the map and what streets or trails are around but it's not going to be able to figure out a turn by turn route to get you to a destination you punch in like an in car GPS. Some of the fancier units might do that.

    Basically, I'm going to use the map screen anytime I want to follow a route exactly. Maybe I'm riding at a trail system I've never been to before. Maybe I'm doing a big gravel thing and don't want to risk ending up on the wrong side of a gully. Maybe I'm doing a fondo or a route a friend gave me.

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    I will never will use a map, route or cue sheet during any kind of bike ride.
    I ride bikes to lose myself and to find spaces where i can be present in the everlasting terror and confusion that is life.
    Just add a space blanket and some extra food to your pack and enjoy life without gadgets.
    And turn off strava while you are at it.

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    Same here I kinda enjoy getting lost and finf my way back.

    The last 3 times I tried to follow someone else's GPX I ended up in front of a Private Property / no trespassing sign so it was more frustrating than anything.
    --
    T h o m a s

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    I use GPS for bigger, more objective based rides. Also, for training. Otherwise I dont see the need, unless I was into the social (strava) aspects of it, in which there's no shame in that. I'm also a bit of a map geek and love pouring over old maps, and building these bigger objective routes, and piecing together fragments of old GPS tracks I created. That said, if you want to look at maps, Garmins (and wahoos) are the worst things ever for that, and a phone is usually a better choice.

    That said, I now have a satellite SOS device (garmin inreach mini) since I could go out and ride for 5 hours without ever having cell service. It's so far been only used to explain to my partner why I'm not back yet, when I should have been back hours ago. Also, had a crash this winter that instantly had me in a not so great state, in some very cold and dark conditions that made it easy for me to message her and get picked up. If I was solo, I probably wouldnt be concerned with this though.
    --------------------
    another jaunt
    REBAR

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    as fun as just going for an adventure is, past experience tells me that this can royally suck sometimes. for one thing, I have a life outside of riding my bike all day, every day. I have places to be, so if I leave at 8 on a Saturday morning, I can't just disappear all day from my family. second, the environment does not allow for this. you can only get lost for so many hours before dehydration and fatigue sets it in when it's 108° in central Texas and you're lost in come canyon. I need a technological bailout sometimes.

    Quote Originally Posted by s_curran View Post
    I use GPS for bigger, more objective based rides. Also, for training. Otherwise I dont see the need, unless I was into the social (strava) aspects of it, in which there's no shame in that. I'm also a bit of a map geek and love pouring over old maps, and building these bigger objective routes, and piecing together fragments of old GPS tracks I created. That said, if you want to look at maps, Garmins (and wahoos) are the worst things ever for that, and a phone is usually a better choice.
    I also enjoy the mapping aspect. I'll spend an inordinate amount of time piecing together a route on RWGPS and try to follow trails and roads.

    however, while you might be right about maps on phones being better, I can't see the drawbacks of using a phone on the bike (battery life, bulk, risk or breaking, GPS consistency can suck IME). I don't mind stopping to reference the map on my phone occasionally too many stops to dig out the phone, fiddle around with it with gloves on a touch screen, etc is really a drag on my experience. for my needs, I want something that's a worthwhile compromise of useable navigation that does not cost more than my phone, for reference. the Wahoo and Edge 530 are in a price range with which I'm comfortable.
    Jonathan - Austin, TX

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    I've always used a computer, these days it's a Garmin Edge 1000 touring which has a large display and will do turn by turn. It won't read power (pedal, hub, etc). I got the large GPS for gravel events, sometimes the road I'm supposed to turn on looks like a driveway, I like the turn alerts. On my mountain bike, I'm mostly in the desert so I can see where I'm going, but if I head to Flagstaff or get lost somewhere, either the GPS will show the trail, or I can backtrack. I ride alone quite a bit, the crash detection is good, I've set it off a few times but was able to stop it before calling for help including one time when I had to climb down between some rocks to find it.
    Weight Doper

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    No.

    I do love maps, tho.......

    - Garro.
    Steve Garro, Coconino Cycles.
    Frames & Bicycles built to measure and Custom wheels
    Hecho en Flagstaff, Arizona desde 2003
    www.coconinocycles.com
    www.coconinocycles.blogspot.com

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    No, for now. I'm good with maps and/or cue sheets, and my phone only for emergency purposes. I need the non-digital time.
    Dan Fuller, local bicycle enthusiast

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    there are no official trail maps on the areas that concern me. I'd love to use cue sheets where I ride and get lost, but the cue sheet would look like:
    • turn right at the three rocks that look like the other rocks
    • left at the cactus that looks like a penis
    • go around the tree and up the hill. you know, that hill
    • left, left, left, right, left, right, right
    • find the rock that some hippie wedge into a tree and stacked other rocks on top of it
    • ride over the fallen ashe juniper that looks like a "Y". no, the other one. NO, the other other one!
    • ride back and forth across the dry creek bed 11 times
    • spin around your bike seven times and ride in whatever direction is not spinning
    • crawl out of the gulley and call your wife and have her pick you up at the nearest sign of civilization


    I want to minimize digital time, but I also want to minimize "getting lost in the woods until your SO calls authorities to report you as a missing person" time.
    Jonathan - Austin, TX

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    Quote Originally Posted by mack_turtle View Post
    there are no official trail maps on the areas that concern me. I'd love to use cue sheets where I ride and get lost, but the cue sheet would look like:
    • turn right at the three rocks that look like the other rocks
    • left at the cactus that looks like a penis
    • go around the tree and up the hill. you know, that hill
    • left, left, left, right, left, right, right
    • find the rock that some hippie wedge into a tree and stacked other rocks on top of it
    • ride over the fallen ashe juniper that looks like a "Y". no, the other one. NO, the other other one!
    • ride back and forth across the dry creek bed 11 times
    • spin around your bike seven times and ride in whatever direction is not spinning
    • crawl out of the gulley and call your wife and have her pick you up at the nearest sign of civilization


    I want to minimize digital time, but I also want to minimize "getting lost in the woods until your SO calls authorities to report you as a missing person" time.
    I wish I had a better answer for you other than omitting the wife bit that ride sounds like a SSUSA party just add copious amounts of alcohol.

    good luck
    [CENTER]Randy Larrison
    My amazing friends call me Shoogs.

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shoogs View Post
    I wish I had a better answer for you other than omitting the wife bit that ride sounds like a SSUSA party just add copious amounts of alcohol.

    good luck
    The trails in question were, in fact, the "pre-ride" for SSUSA in 2019. I only managed to not get lost on that route because, of the 50 people riding with me in various levels of drunkenness, two or three knew what they were doing. if you look closely at maps of the Barton creek Greenbelt, those maps cover about 20% of the actual trails that exist. the terrain is very disorienting—to me at least.
    Jonathan - Austin, TX

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    @mack_turtle - it sounds like you are decided. There is no reason to let other's desire to be free of devices on a ride influence you. I love having a GPS computer but don't always take it, you still have a choice. Long ride on new trails, take it. Riding a normal route, don't bother.

    Now on to the Gamin/Wahoo debate. I've used both and prefer the Wahoo. I bought the Wahoo because I didn't like the way the Garmin worked in exactly the situation you describe. It was hard to follow the map. The Wahoo has big arrows that show your route. It is usually pretty easy to glance down and see what's going on. With either if you really need to look at a detailed map then your phone is the better choice. Since then I learned that Garmin has dog collars that let you shock your dog via an app so I'll be using Wahoo or something else. I like dogs.

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    I'll join those opting for the heads-up method of riding, and add that I love poring over maps (even the Strava heat map) for pre-ride intel, but carry the GPS for backup and also to know where I went. In the pre-GPS days I lost a lot of intel not knowing exactly where I'd been or more importantly where I'd gone wrong.

    Usually all I need now is a quick look to see where I am relative to where I want to go, and what my orientation is if the sun direction is not obvious. On the road it would be really nice to have a readily-accessible compass (handlebar or wrist) but in the woods, MTB-worthy singletrack usually is so twisty that your present heading is not usually useful.

    But the caveat here is what's at stake, like how lost will you be if you're lost. As in my exploring dirt roads is a much different game in western Mass than it is in deep central Maine (no cell service and deerflies that could drain a pint in a day).
    Trod Harland, Physical Educator

    Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. — James Baldwin

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    Quote Originally Posted by thollandpe View Post
    But the caveat here is what's at stake, like how lost will you be if you're lost. As in my exploring dirt roads is a much different game in western Mass than it is in deep central Maine (no cell service and deerflies that could drain a pint in a day).
    For me, riding in NW Arizona, I can often see where I want to go on the MTB, but I need to find the trails to get there. I'll save a route because the trails/dirt roads don't show on a map, but once I've found a nice loop, I want to save it. And the desert pretty much looks the same with lots of trails left by ATVs, so I need to know the specific one. The easy days where I don't need a computer are the rides along the BNSF track service roads. Beautiful scenery and trains, I like both.
    Weight Doper

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    I ride with a Wahoo Bolt and think I have only used the mapping feature once while mountain biking down in Aptos, CA. It was a really big day for me and the mapping feature saved my bacon when we got to an intersection that we couldn't parse out while I was bonking, out of water, temps in the triple digits and 30 miles into a 45 mile ride with ~3K more feet of climbing to go to get to a point where we'd see a downhill again. Other than that, I don't use it, but I'm glad it's there.
    Sean Chaney
    www.vertigocycles.com
    a peek behind the curtain

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    Default Re: do you need a GPS computer?

    I carry the (brick) Garmin 62 when "exploring".
    Absolute lifesaver when you get lost , can't find the trail, can't find your bike that you left behind briefly.
    At home you can see on Basecamp and google earth where you've been.
    If there are 4 logging roads or trails going down a 4000 ft ridgeline you don't want to take the wrong one.

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