Last year I took the lead on planning rides for Team Fartlek as we trained for Cycle Oregon. At first I used Microsoft Streets and Trips to map out the routes. I’d print maps and directions for most of the crew and we’d use them to try and find our way. Dealing with maps and directions on a bike pretty much blows. We ended up stopping and checking constantly and, more often than not, we’d still get at least a little bit lost.
Mid-season I switched to the Garmin 705 GPS bike computer and that all changed. Truth be told, this is probably one of the coolest and useful gadgets I’ve ever owned. So much so that I’m not even sure it is properly classified as a gadget.
It is a killer cycling computer that lets you monitor and track any piece of data you could possibly wish to track including heart rate, cadence, speed, incline, altitude, etc., etc., etc. On top of that, it is also a GPS that provides turn-by-turn directions of planned routes and keeps track of everywhere you ride. If you want a detailed review, there are plenty to be found online. The purpose of this post is to let you in on some of the things I’ve learned about how to use this device. Because as awesome as it is, it works best in the hands of someone who learns its little nuances.
1) Map your route using either the Garmin MapSource software or something like MapMyRide. I like the Garmin software a bit better, but use MapMyRide because I can share the maps with my team and they are able to print them out for themselves. I can also embed MapMyRide maps in my blog, which is an excellent feature. Either way, when loading the route into your device, be sure to download it as a GPX file. This will allow you to get turn-by-turn directions. If you use one of the older types of files, you will only be able to see the route on a map (which is still helpful, just not as cool).
2) Have a good idea of where you are going and carry a back up map — and use your head. I do place a lot of trust in the device. However, I don’t trust it completely. This is especially true if you are going on a road or path that is not on the mapping software. For example, MapMyRide can’t deal with ferry crossings very well. One ride I did last season was an out-and-back with a ferry crossing in the middle. It worked OK going out, but on the way back it got confused and tried to direct us to a bridge 10 miles away (that also happens to be closed). That would have been bad.
3) You need to remember to press start when you begin your ride. Turning it on isn’t enough. If you don’t hit start, many of the functions will still work, but the device isn’t collecting all the data and it isn’t guiding you along the route. If you hit start too late, chances are good the device will try to direct you to the start of your route. That’s not good. If that happens, the best thing to do is to reset, start pedaling, then tell it to start navigating WHILE YOU ARE RIDING. As it is calculating, it may recognize that you are following the planned route and start navigating to the next way point. If not, you’ll still be able to follow the course by using the map, but turn-by-turn won’t work right.
4) If mapping a route that starts and stops in the same location, consider putting the start point and the stop point in two different places. Put the mapped starting point a quarter mile or so down the road from the true starting point and the mapped stopping point a little beyond the real stopping point. If the computer thinks you’ve arrived at the stopping point at the beginning of the ride, your turn-by-turn wont work (as it thinks you are done with the ride). If you try to reset, the device will sometimes try and take you back to the start as explained above. Also, if you start in a parking lot, map the start point on the road so you don’t have to ride around in circles finding the place the GPS thinks you are supposed to start.
5) While the device’s software is really good, Garmin did one thing that was really goofy. The computer allows you to look at two screen’s worth of data fields (each screen lets you look at up to 8 pieces of data such as speed, cadence, heart rate, etc.) at a time. You use the toggle switch to go back and fourth between the screens when riding.
You choose how each screen is set up in the “Data Fields” menu. In that menu, screens are marked “Bike Computer 1″ and “Bike Computer 2.” This may lead you to believe one screen is for one bike and the other screen is for another bike. Not so. You can use both screens. If using multiple bikes, build a profile for each bike. Then, before your ride, choose which bike you are using. Both screens work for the bike you choose. To switch between bike profiles, you can hold the mode button down for a few seconds and you’ll be able to make a selection. This shortcut is not in the instructions.
I’ll update this post (or create a new one) as I learn more. If you have any tricks of your own, please feel free to share.