So following on from my phone GPS post here, I ended up going back to a designated GPS device... I know, I didn't last long with the phone! Part of this was due to the various issues outside my control - for example, the battery pack I needed to use to keep the phone going was recalled by Amazon as it posed an explosion risk! So with that returned, I was left with buying another one or reconsidering my options.

I ended up reconsidering my options and went back to a GPS device.

It wasn't only the requirement for charging the phone whilst moving - meaning that for all reasonable distance rides I would need to carry a battery pack, but I would also need to carry my mini O bag (for the Brompton) or a handlebar bag for whatever other bike I was riding so that the battery could be connected to the phone. I was also using a Tigra mount for the bike, which worked well, but was a large mount on the bike and interfered with my recent purchase of a Garmin Virb camera. In addition, I would need to pay for the turn by turn maps via Ride With GPS or put up with Strava, which suffers from poor mapping capability. I could have explored a few more options on the app store to try and find an app that would have let me run turn by turn directions but I'd have probably needed to run Strava or similar in the background to track my ride as well as show me where I'm going.

In the end, I decided to go back to the Garmin brand and after some looking around and thought, I ended up going for one of the Touring models.

GPS History

I started my ride tracking with first my phone and then the Garmin 500 and this was an excellent unit. It showed me the distance, time and speed whilst I was on the bike and let me track where I had been - basically it was a GPS enabled cycle computer. It was a great device. However, when I moved to London, I started doing longer routes and started looking at cycle touring and for this, the Garmin 500 would not be able to show me directions or the route I was following so I started investigating other options.

I settled on the Garmin Edge 800 and it performed admirably. Downloading the Open Street Maps from Talky Toaster meant that I was able to navigate correctly round all the rides I took it on last year. And that there is where I fell down - the rides I took it on. It seemed that the majority of rides I was doing, I wasn't using the Garmin and was purely tracking my data via my phone (using Strava). There were the occasional ride where I needed to navigate though and the Garmin 800 would come out then for the rides, where it would work perfectly. In general, I would ride with my phone as I always had my phone with me.

In the end, I sold the 800 and moved to the phone full time. For a bit. This meant that I had to switch to getting a battery for the phone to allow it to run showing me a map for the duration of the ride and meant that I had to investigate different apps that would allow me to view my route. As discussed previously, this mean using either Strava or Ride With GPS.

I decided that I'd relook at the different brands and the settled on a Garmin Touring. I ended up going back to Garmin as I know they work with both Strava and Ride With GPS and so I would have no issues using map planning or tracking my rides. I also knew that Garmin are probably one of the best GPS units available to the public without paying huge amounts of money.

Garmin Touring

I ended up with one of the Touring models rather than one of the others was basically down to two factors:

  • Cost
  • Maps

The Gamrmin Touring is one of the cheapest devices on the market that offers turn by turn directions and has a map display. I could have gone back to the Garmin 800 but this was still pricey, even with the release of the 810 model and the more expensive 1000 model. I also didn't make use of any of the 800's features that price it higher than the Touring - the ghost rider or any of the training functionality.

The Touring comes in two flavours - the basic and the Plus. The Plus is basically the same as the Basic, but it comes with an ANT+ sensor that allows you to connect a heart rate monitor and it has a barometric altimeter for more accurate elevations. Other than that, it's pretty much identical to the basic touring model. I decided that I didn't need the two additional features - I rarely wear my heart rate monitor as I'm not training for anything, though, whilst the better elevation detection would be good, it's not the end of the world.

Build

Externally (and internally I hear), the Garmin Touring is exactly the same as the Garmin 800, running only different software. This bodes well for the reliability of the device as the 800 was rock solid (other than the trying to deal with the hour change - at the St Crispin's Day ride, the route didn't save correctly and corrupted because the ride took place over the hour change). It means that the screen is the same size as the 800, smaller than the S5 I was using, but reasonably decent enough to see where you're going.

The unit itself is waterproof (which is always great for an outdoor gadget) and is charged using a standard mini USB charger. The flaps also cover a microSD card slot that you can change over if needed. The Touring comes with an 8GB card for the maps to be stored on - once you've got the device setup, you might never need to access this again as you access the card via the device when you plug it in to a computer. You might want to consider taking the microSD out if you're going to update it with your own maps, rather than use Garmin's own as writing to the card is painfully slow - partly due to the slow write speeds through hte device and partly due to the slow write speed of the card (mine appears to be Class 2 or 4).

Data

Like the Garmin 800, the Touring features the standard data fields that you can use to view distance, speed, time etc.

Garmin Touring Data Screen
Garmin Touring Data Screen

Whilst the 800 can have multiple screens of data (and can cycle through them), the Touring only has the single page of data fields. However, just like the 800, you can change the fields to your hearts content.

Garmin Data Field Selection
Garmin Data Field Selection

The other screens that are shown are elevation and a compass page, in addition to the map. I've turned the compass screen off as I found that I didn't need this and it was just an extra screen to swipe through to get to the data or the map. Likewise, I'm thinking I'll turn off the elevation section as well as I found this wasn't the best on my ride to Brighton - i.e it didn't really work at all. Whether this is an issue with the Garmin Maps or the elevation data from the planned route, I don't know. I'm not sure where the data comes from and it's not a field I would use normally.

Compass Screen
Compass Screen

Maps

The maps are free on the Garmin Touring and use the Open Street Maps as navigation.

Map View of the Garmin
Map View of the Garmin

I was able to navigate to Brighton with it successfully using the default Garmin Maps. These I'd updated using the Garmin Express tool on Windows. This was able to download and update both the maps and firmware. I believe this will also upload rides and activities to Garmin Connect as well, but it's not something I've got installed on my Mac (and my Linux laptop can't run it) so I really just manually upload rides to Strava as it seems easier. As I also keep a copy of this data (in case I want to change services from Strava at a later date and they don't let me download my data), this is easier for me but for most people, the auto upload will be handy.

The update process for the maps took a while - not only is the download fairly hefty (approximately 4GB), the write process to the microSD card is a long time due to the slow write speeds.

The basic maps are fine for those comfortable using the default maps. However, others might want to use third party maps or even the Ordnance Survey maps. These can be installed by using the microSD that these come with or by putting onto the microSD card that comes with the touring. Either way, I think that the Open Street Maps are a good combination and work nicely on the device. No word from Garmin on how long these downloads will be supported, but as it's OSM, you can download updates from the site and other places and replace the default, Garmin supported, version.

Performance

The Touring works as well as the 800 in terms of tracking distance and time. I've not run a comparison yet between this and my phone but I would imagine that this is perhaps more accurate, especially if I don't keep the GPS in my bag pocket (my phone when used is within my pocket or bag when tracking as I've taken the large mount off the bike now to make room for this one).

During the Brighton ride, it successfully gave me turn by turn directions along the entire route and I was able to follow the directions in time. One thing I found with the 800 was that perhaps the directions were a bit to late to safely turn but that doesn't seem to be the case now.

Battery wise, this is supposed to have a 17 hour battery life. Using the maps for cycling, I found that this wouldn't be the case. I've not had a play to much to try and save the battery life but it could be reduced - for example, by default, the backlight will come on for every change of direction and will remain on for 15 seconds. In addition, I changed the map to show my direction always pointing up so that I could easily navigate - I assume this drains the battery quicker as it's showing a constantly updating map, rather than just a few data fields. I ended up topping the battery up at lunch on the ride to ensure that I wouldn't drop out before getting to Brighton (not only did I not want to get lost, I wanted to track my ride)! I'd probably be able to get about 8 - 10 hours using the map view I think but this could be less. Maybe with some playing with the settings it would get double figures but in my current setup, I don't think it would achieve it.

One think that also got me about the GPS devices was the time it would take to acquire a GPS fix, especially compared to a phone. A phone has the benefit of using phone mast triangulation to give a basic location fix and then use the GPS for a more accurate fix. However, I don't think the phones are quite as accurate, based on tracks seen on Strava (where it appears I've cycled through the Lloyds building in London, rather than alongside it). The Touring seems to be quicker than the 800 but is still slower than ether my iPhone 6+ or Samsung S5.

Other Features

One of the features I've not played with is the route planning function. The Touring offers some features unique to the Touring range of GPS devices - that the device can calculate a route according to a set distance that you would like to do. This calculates the route and then gives the user a choice of three different routes that are all roughly equivalent to the chosen distance that you would like to ride. This is in a loop so you can start and finish at home. However, this doesn't give a huge degree of customisation and you would have to be careful riding the loops in case it directed you onto a motorway or similar - something that is hard to see from the small screen. This feature would be great if it was on the Garmin Connect website or similar where you could analyse the route in a bit more detail before setting off, allowing you to see if it was sending you down dirt tracks or similar (not an issue if you're riding a mountain bike but potentially a pain when you're on a Brompton)!

One thing that isn't included is Bluetooth. The newer Garmin 810 offers a Bluetooth connection to phones, allowing you to upload data to Garmin Connect without having to connect to a computer. This, to me, isn't a big feature. It might be nice to have, so I could upload rides from wherever, but most of the time I'm not far from a computer and so could upload using a cable. Without Bluetooth, it's also not possible to do the live tracking feature that Garmin allows for.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Garmin Touring offers basic turn by turn navigation and ride tracking. The ride tracking is identical to the other Garmin units, especially such as the Edge 200, the very basic GPS device that Garmin offer. The mapping functionality is as good as the Edge 800 and so it makes it easy and handy to use. Overall, not having to pay Garmin for the maps makes the device more attractive - whilst you never had to do this with the Edge 800, it was never this easy to get starting using a turn by turn direction GPS from them for cycling.

The Touring offers a number of new and different features from the 800, focused more on the recreational rider. The price of the device is right as well, low enough to tempt those that might be interested in the mapping functions of a Garmin device but want a specific cycling device, rather than an eTrex or Dakota, a device that is aimed at hiking.

Overall, I'm happy with my purchase and hopefully it'll guide me on many more rides to come.