top of page

Navigation .... go and get lost!

NAVIGATION From time to time I’m asked about navigation and GPS options.

I’m no expert and I’ve made some horrendous bloopers in my adventures and still get caught out occasionally going off course. These mis-adventures are always on nice flowing descents where the unfolding panorama of the country you are riding through takes splendid precedence over attention to the detail of where you SHOULD be riding. Spending some soul destroying energy/time grinding your way back up to a missed turn is just punishment and provides time to reflect on ones stupidity for not paying absolute and undivided attention.

This one was a cracker. Just as dawn was breaking, heavy rain, slush covering riding glasses and Garmin screen, frozen fingers .... argh, there's plenty of tyre tracks to follow... 1.5hr and 300Vm later I was back on race route.

I purchased a Garmin Edge 810 in 2013 … because it was a GPS. I could have thrown it in a dam on multiple occasions through sheer frustration at the complex range of options that can play tricks as you attempt to navigate along a course. Over time [read the instructions!] I’ve sorted out all these issues and aided by some Garmin software updates that eliminated some of the glitches

I can now head out on a course with only my self to blame for operator error. A single 4,000klm course or multiple legs can be loaded with ease and selected as required. The set-up windows allow for multiple screens that you can configure with speed, lap speed, average speeds, times, temperature … you name it. Battery life is around 11-12 hours. I can charge the Edge 810 up quickly while riding from a battery pack and ride for several days without needing a power point. One shortcoming is the touch screen which won’t work with some fabric [long fingered gloves] and becomes difficult when it’s wet like my excursion above. The popular choices amongst the fast kids are the Garmin eTrex 20 or 30. These are less expensive and run off supermarket batteries that you can buy along the way if you’re racing or rechargeable if you want to take along the charging caddy and leads. I’ve never used either so I can’t tell you much about their functionality. If you want more learned opinions I suggest you trawl back through the pages on the Tour Aotearoa Facebook page and/or the US On the latter, find the Ultra Forum any year of the ‘Tour Divide Preparation’ thread and these issues get asked and are answered ad-nauseam each year….. along with every other conceivable question that can be asked about gear, bikes, lights, bears, tyre air pressure, food, bears, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, bears and ‘what if’. TRY YOUR PHONE? There are now multiple route planning web options and I won’t attempt to LMGTFY. I started with and still use ‘Ride With GPS’. Plan a route, load it to the GPS and go out and ride it. RWGPS has a phone App as do the other route planning programs and when you open it up on your [smart] phone bingo, there are the routes you prepared on your computer at home. The phone works exactly the same as a GPS…… if you’re going to do 3-4 off road rides a year do you really need to spend $300-$500+ on a GPS device? Your phone has constant satellite tracking capability and does not need to have a data signal from a tower to navigate. Before you go out for a ride [when you still have a WiFi connection] open the App on your phone, choose the route you want to ride and ‘download’ it. A base map of ‘tiles’ covering the area you are going to ride plus the ride route will be saved to your phones memory and you’re ready to go. Turn off your ‘data roaming’ so the phone doesn’t suffer from battery suck trying to make contact with a tower the whole time you are out. Choose the route you want to ride [the downloaded one] and off you go. Once you become comfortable with the view functions, the screen shut off will reduce battery drain further and you simply tap the screen to check your progress against the intended course you are riding. The little slider screens at the bottom have a very cool elevation profile that shows your progress along the route and you can zoom down on and know very accurately how far it is to the top of that climb.

Get a phone mount for your handle bar if you like or just stick it in your pocket. I have an iPhone6 and can ride, hear the audio cues street/road turns, listen to music, view the screen for 6-7 hours. Not as long as the Garmin Edge 810 but with two 6,000mAh battery packs I can now ride for 3-4 days without having to find a power point to recharge my battery packs.


There are now some mega sized battery packs on the market 15,000-20,000mAh. You can ride for an awful long time with these but you’ll be stopped for an awful long time trying to recharge them, maybe 10-15 hours? Better choice is to buy 2 or 3, 5,000mAh battery packs and they can charge up, several at a time in 5-6 hours and away you go. Be super aware in COLD WEATHER that you charge up phones, GPS and other devices while the day is still warm. Once it gets down below 3-4º batteries [including the one in your phone] become very inefficient in the charging process. Best to have GPS and phone fully charged up before you go riding off into the night when its down towards freezing. In desperation get them against your body to warm them up.

I use these CYGNETT 6000mAh at the moment. Just 150g and they have a very useful fuel gauge that allows you to monitor usage and recharge progress.

WARNING - iPhone:

The slightest bit of moisture near the iPhone 6 and it will fail.

Keep it all dry and the iPhone charges happily and quickly from the battery packs without any issues.

When you need to hit a Motel or Cabin for a re-charge in a remote area you might only get one power point in the room ... be prepared.... a multi port USB charger will let you charge phone, Garmin, lights and battery packs while you snooze.

Did I hear someone say ..... get a Dynamo Hub?

Sure, throw another $700.00 into the bike kitty and if you can pedal three times faster than a Hamster, go for it.

bottom of page