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Best all-in-one GPS unit for mountain biking (MTB)

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During last 10 years I have used many different GPS units for hiking & mountain biking (MTB), Magellan SporTrak Color & eXplorist 600, Garmin Vista HCx, Oregon 550 & eTrex 30. HAC5 from Ciclosport was my first and last training computer. For my regular MTB rides and outdoor trainings I decided to use all in one unit and HAC5 is still installed on my room trainer.

For hiking it's much more easy to find the suitable GPS model. Due to visibility of the screen, weight & size, performance in muddy conditions, sport functions and fast navigation it's hard to find suitable GPS unit for  mountain biking (MTB).

03_oregon_web


Navigation & training functions all in a single unit. Why not? Unfortunately none GPS model has all of them. Some models are designed to give better performance in navigation functions, some are designed to give more real time training parameters. Of course the ideal GPS for MTB should include both of them. During my regular MTB virgin rides good navigation functions and basic heart rate & cadence monitoring is enough. In addition to basic heart rate monitoring and cadence during my MTB training or some race I would like to use more training parameters in the real time.

 

Below is the list of characteristics I would like to see available in my ideal outdoor MTB GPS unit:

  • Large, color, non touch screen, resolution at least 240x320, diagonal at least 7 cm.
  • The buttons of most used commands should be easy accessible.
  • In addition to heart rate and cadence, ambient temperature monitoring should be available. Recording and analyzing of ambient temperature is an important factor of each training.
  • Real time sport functions and calculation. Heart zones, heart alarm function, calories etc.
  • Customizable data info screens (different profiles). For instance I would like to design my own screens for MTB training and for regular MTB recreational rides. The last one should include at least the map, elevation, heart rate, cadence, battery status and GPS signal strength.
  • Removable standard AA or AAA batteries and at least 15 hours autonomy with the single battery pack.
  • Navigation unit should be opened for the installation of custom designed & georeferenced raster maps.
  • Fast zoom in/out & scrolling of vector & raster maps.
  • Good bike holder, robust to vibration and easy to mount.


Unfortunately none all-in-one GPS unit has all of above functions, so 2 options are available:

Option 1

     

Option 2

Separate units for navigation and sport functions

     

All-in-one unit with some limited functions

Examples:

Outdoor GPS navigation units: Garmin units (Vista HCx, Legend HCx, 60Csx), Magellan new eXplorist series, Delorme Earthmate series, some smart phone with dust and water protection like Motorola Defy.

The units for sport functions (training) with altimeter, heart rate and cadence monitoring: Polar, Sigma, VDO, Cateye, Ciclosport and many others. Be sure only few of them records the ambient temperature during the training.

Benefit:

  • Many functions are available in each unit and you can easy cover all you needs for training and navigation.

Drawbacks:

  • Separate files and separate software for navigation and training.
  • Separate batteries for the main units. You have to monitor the condition of each battery. Heart rate belt, cadence sensor and speed sensor of the training unit are equipped with separate batteries too.
  • Most of the main units for training functions are equipped with low capacity batteries and during the night the backlight cannot be turned on all the time. If you have head lamp no problem.
     

Examples:

Garmin models: Oregon 450/550, Dakota 20, Edge 800, Edge 705, eTrex 30

Xplova models: Xplova G5, Xplova G3

Benefits:

  • Single type of the battery for the main unit only. In most cases rechargeable batteries are used for the main unit so you will less pollute the environment and save your money. The heart rate belt and cadence sensor are equipped with separate batteries.
  • During night the backlight can be turned on all the time.
  • Single file for navigation and training functions.

Drawbacks:

  • The lack of some functions in navigation and/or training mode.
  • In some cases such units are equiped with custom designed or not replacable batteries. At least after 3-4 years you will have to replace the battery. Should you go to the service?
  • In most cases all in one units are more expensive than the combination of the units in option 1.

 


04_oregon_web

Touch screen or not?


My opinion about touch screen (I have the one on Oregon 550):

  • Touch screen is acceptable for cycling in dry conditions. Try to imagine a ride in muddy condition, when mud is on the touch screen and on your glows or fingers. To operate with touch screen in muddy conditions you cannot avoid scratching the surface of the screen. Adding the protecting foil isn't a good solution because most of the foils decreases the visibility of the screen at least after few weeks of operation. Furthermore, try to add precisely the waypoint on the map. Instead to touch the point by finger much more precisely is to move the cursor on desired place and than confirm the point by pressing the button. The same is in the case if you want to enter some additional text comment for instance for your waypoints. To enter any text with the glows is a pain. It's much more easy to do this on the non touch screen units by the buttons.
  • Good visibility of the screen is very important. During MTB ride I prefer to lock my hands on the handlebar and passing quickly on the steep sections from shadows to direct sun there is no way to adjust the backlight of display. This is one of the most important characteristics. Up to now I have not seen a touch screen with a very good visibility during the bright & sunny day conditions. So it seems the units without touch screen have better visibility. I can confirm that the new Oregon 550 units from unknown serial numbers have better and more visible touch screen.

The below review and evaluation table was done according to the specification of the manufacturer available from their official specification or valid user operating manual. To be included on the list a barometric altitude measurement function is a must. If you are in deep canyons & green forest, the altitude calculated from GPS signal isn't precise. In this case the elevation data cannot be the base for precise calculation of total elevation gain and other values related to the aerobic difficulty. Of course if you don't need precise calculation of parameters calculated from elevation than consider some smartphone like Motorola Defy. Defy is waterproof, dust protected and can be supplied with external sensors for heart rate & cadence monitoring too. The navigation functions of Defy together with some Android OS application like OruxMaps is very good and cheap.


All below units have waterproof housing, available cadence & heart rate monitoring options, high sensitive chipset and at least 10 hours of battery life.

 

All-in-one GPS units suitable for MTB, review on paper only, October 2011

Manufacturer Xplova Xplova Garmin Garmin Garmin Garmin Garmin
Model: G3 G5 Edge 705 Edge 800 eTrex 30 Oregon 450 or 550 Dakota 20
Dimensions, WxHxD in cm: 5,7x9,9x2,5 7,5x10,2x1,9 5,1x10,9x2,5 5,1x9,3x2,5 5,4x10,3x3,3 5,8x11,4x3,5 5,5x10x3,3
Weight (with battery) in g: 117 152 105 98 142 193 149
Screen resolution in pixels: 176x220(5) N/A 176 x 220 160 x 240 176 x 220 240 x 400 160 x 240
Screen diagonal in cm: 5,6 8,9 5,6 6,6 5,6 7,6 6,6
The ratio, screen diagonal / total unit diagonal 0,49 0,70 0,46 0,62 0,44 0,59 0,58
Non touch screen Yes No Yes No Yes No No
Type of maps (1) Free OpenStreet Maps Vector from Xplova, no data about other sources Vector from Garmin + other vector compatible maps (see Mapwel tool) Vector from Garmin + other vector compatible maps (see Mapwel tool) + kmz & jnx raster maps + BirdsEye™ Satellite Imagery Vector from Garmin + other vector compatible maps (see Mapwel tool) + kmz & jnx raster maps + BirdsEye™ Satellite Imagery Vector from Garmin + other vector compatible maps (see Mapwel tool) + kmz & jnx raster maps + BirdsEye™ Satellite Imagery Vector from Garmin + other vector compatible maps (see Mapwel tool) + kmz & jnx raster maps + BirdsEye™ Satellite Imagery
Compass Yes, 3 axis No Yes, 3 axis Yes, 3 axis Yes, 3 axis Yes, 3 axis Yes, 3 axis
Cadence Sensor
sold separately sold separately Included in some versions Included sold separately sold separately sold separately
Heart Rate Belt
sold separately sold separately Included in some versions Included sold separately sold separately sold separately
Ambient temperature monitoring (2) Yes No No Yes No No No
Built memory 2GB N/A N/A N/A 1,7GB 850MB 850MB
Accepts external memory Yes, micro SD Yes, micro SD Yes, micro SD Yes, micro SD Yes, micro SD Yes, micro SD Yes, micro SD
Typical battery life in hours(3) 10 10 15 15 25 16(4) 20
User replacable battery of main unit Yes, not standard battery
No No No Yes, standard 2xAA Yes, standard 2xAA Yes, standard 2xAA
USB 2.0 speed support Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No
Sport & training functions in real time Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No

Note (1): Different maps are available in different countries. None map is perfect so it's a good option to have different maps for the same location. New vector topo maps are available worldwide. Despite many of them includes "topo" name they are not real topo maps. You will be able to see the contours but in most of cases you will never be able to see the kind of surface. You will not be able to get the idea if the terrain is sand, rocky or muddy. Due to this fact any option offering import of georeferenced raster topo maps into the GPS unit is welcome. You have to check which map source is best for your territory.

  • OpenStreetMap is a free upgradable vector map of the whole world.
  • Mapwel software offers the solution to make your own maps and upload them into Garmin units.
  • Garmin custom maps (kmz files) offers the solution to upload georeferenced raster maps into the compatible Garmin GPS unit. The size of kmz map is limited on 100 jpg tiles. In addition to Garmin custom maps (kmz files) in the new Garmin units the new jnx maps can be installed. Jnx maps can cover very large areas with enabled fast scrolling & zooming functions. More details about jnx maps are available here.
  • Garmin BirdsEyeTM option offers uploading of satellite imagery (jnx maps) into the compatible Garmin unit. In my area Google Earth imagery has much more details so I have no benefit from this option. 

Note (2): ambient temperature is an important training parameter. Outdoor training on the same section at different ambient temperatures will give different results. Of course it's important when you compare your outdoor trainings during winter and summer time and to explain additional effort (heart rate) needed at low temperatures.

Note (3): be sure the battery capacity decreases at lower ambient temperature and higher intensity of backlight. For standard AA batteries, use fresh charged NiMh batteries with capacity of 2500mAh or more.

Note (4): according to my experience Oregon 550 battery life is around 16 hours only in the case if the backlight is turned off and the ambient temperature is around room temperature. During winter time at around +5°C the battery life is around 10 hours. I tested the unit with a new set of Sanyo Eneloop XX 2500mAh AA batteries. I measured the current consumption too. With turned off backlight the current consumtion is around 200mA and with maximum intensity of backlight the current consumtion is around 400mA.

Note (5): this data was provided by Xplova web support.




Conclusion: according to above table it seems there is no single all-in-one GPS unit with incorporated all together: standard replaceable batteries, good outdoor visible non touch screen, real time training parameters and opened to load any georeferenced raster map.



Be warned. In above table some very important evaluation data are missing.
You have to check:

  • The visibility of the screen. The best method is to check the visibility in the shop during the sunny day. After that try to check in all light conditions, with and without backlight. Turned on backlight decreases the battery life. The visibility of the screen is the key point for MTB application.
  • Check how fast are zoom in/out and scroll commands for vector and/or raster map. Do this when GPS tracklog recording is turned on. Some GPS units are really slow. Even smartphone like Motorola Defy can beat them easy.
  • Check the bugs in the software and manufacturer support. Before you take the decision check their web, check some forums and usergroups, check the hidden or not known specifications on some user groups.  Depending on the market some manufacturers have responded on the reported bugs better than others.
  • On the paper there are many different navigation functions, sport/training functions, check them all, read the operating manual. Consider what will you need and then check what is available. Most of the manufacturers have very bad operating manuals, so check the available specification, functions and supplied software and how they work. To confirm the data, search some usergroups and forums.

_ _ _

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 October 2011 12:17 )  

Comments   

 
#1 Kaselj 2011-12-12 19:07
Pozdrav. Bavim se biciklizmom, iskljucivo rekreativno, međutim vrlo aktivno. Do sada se nisam bavio navigacijom, i opcenito problematikom vezanom uz nju. Po vasim postovima vidim da ste među strucnijim ljudima po to pitanju. Zanima me vase misljenje, ako vam ne stvara problem. Volio bih da imam uređaj pomoću koljeg mogu vrlo jednostavno(zna ci da nije tezak i kompliciran za rad) dobiti informacije o duzini trase,pulsu,vis inskom profilu...., ali da zasebno mogu trackove spremati npr. u folder biciklizam,skij anje,trcanje. Tako da na godisnjem nivou imam sve potrebne informacije, a također da mogu skinuti necij tuđi track te da me navodi kao navigacija. namjeravam uzeti edge 705 bundle za 2400kn, da li je to ok uređaj za mene,prihvatlji v? Svaka informacija i kritika je dobro dosla.

Unaprijed HVALA!
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#2 Miroslav 2011-12-12 22:12
Kao prvo ako ikada odluka padne na kupnju nekog Garminovog skupljeg uredjaja (Edge 705) treba imati na umu da će svaki početnik imati dosta muke dok svoje želje prenese u djelo. Prvenstveno to vrijedi za područja navigacije van cesta, a razlog su loše Garminove upute, loše karte i relativno složena problematika koja nije dobro dokumentirana.

Na žalost iako imaju dosta memorije ni jedan Garmin ne podržava spremanje tragova, putnih točaka i ruta u foldere, to su mogli neki stariji Magellani ali koji zbog nedostaka barometarskog visinomjera nisu pogodni za preciznije visinske profile. Skidanje nečijeg tuđeg traga i stavljanje u uređaj nije problem za taj rang Garmin uređaja ali treba i to izvježbati jer treba pri tome pripaziti na neke stvari koje ovise o izvornom tragu (veličina, da li ima prekide itd). Edge 705 sa pripadajučim priborom je odličan uređaj sa sportskim funkcijama (analiza parametara u realnom vremenu), sa malo "odrezanim" navigacijskim mogućnostima (ne podržava direktno rasterske karte te podržava manje waypointa i tragova). Meni osobno za taj uređaj najveći je nedostatak što nema izmjenjive baterije, no međutim ako su u pitanju jednodnevne ture vjerojatno može izdržati. Po hladnijem vremenu baterije imaju manji kapacitet, a treba imati i na umu da nakon 2-3 godine baterije već od starenja izgube dosta kapaciteta.
Hvala na posjeti, nadam se da sam donekle pomogao.
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#3 Kaselj 2011-12-13 12:54
Hvala na iscrpnom odgovoru. Svkestan sam da se svacije zelje i potrebe mjenjaju,pa tako mislim da cu jednog dana posegnuti za neki pravi garmin sa mogucnoscu kartografije. Trenutne potrebe su mi da mi uredjaj analizira se one parametre,ali isto tako da me kvalitetno navodi po tudjem tragu. Buduci da sam u Splitu,namjerav am dosta tura odvoziti sto ste vi odvozili,brac,m ljet... Ono sto me interesira,da li se to svodi na skidanje tracka,ubacivan je na garmin i vozi,ili je to slozenija problematika. Naravno nisam jos na visokom stupnju avanturizma,da sam idem u "pustolovinu",a li svejedno isplati se pitati iskusniju osobu. Danas sam isao u navigo-sistem i usporedjimao dakotu i 705 edge,na prvi pogled dakota ima lose vidljiv ekran,i dosta je robustan,mozda nije prihvatljiv za mene,a sto se tice baterija,rekli su mi da je moguc servis,odnosno zamjena baterije,ali svakako idem na jednodnevne voznje.

Hvala
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#4 Miroslav 2011-12-13 19:11
Nisam siguran kako Edge 705 sprema tragove ali sam prilično siguran da je to Garmin loše dokumentirao. Ako je trag u kml datoteci (tako je na www.takeadventure.com) vjerojatno ga je lako iz PC Windowsa prebaciti sa Garmin BaseCamp programom na Edge 705. Preporučam da se nakon toga trag ponovo učita iz Edge 705 nazad u BaseCamp i da se pregleda jel sve ok. Po potrebi u jednom tragu treba reducirati broj točaka na maksimum 500 (to vrijedi npr za Vistu HCx). Znači ako neki trag ima više od 500 točaka na pojedinim Garmin uredjima treba ga filtrirati na manje ili taj jedan veliki trag razbiti na više manjih. U svakom slučaju za početak prije odlaska na turu preporučam provjeru onog što je ubačeno u uređaj jer su me već kontaktirali neki korisnici koji su mi javili da im je trag iznenada nestao negdje usred šume :).
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#5 Kaselj 2011-12-19 00:26
Evo ponovno vam se javljam. Naime, ipak sam kupio edge 705. Tragove sprema kao .tcx. Mene zanima sljedece: danas sam isao u jednu setnju obalom u Splitu(nekih 12km). Stan mi se nalazi na 40-50m nadmorske visine. Kada sam se vratio i pogledao visinski profil,ono strahota. Start je na 40m, vrijednost se lagano spusta do 0m(kada sam setao uz obalu), međutim trasa se nastavlja i vracam se doma, a u visinskom profilu je iscrtano da sam isao na -90m. Sad mi je to nejasno, citao sam nacin na koji barometarski visinomjer radi, zanima me da li je to uredu, jer je bilo kisno,vlaga,i ostalo, ili je problem u uređaju. Odnosno kolika su deklarirana odstupanja. Nadam se da vam ne zatrpavam post "nevažnim" informacija.

Unaprijed HVALA
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#6 Miroslav 2011-12-19 06:56
Treba provjeriti da li je u Setup - Altimeter postavljeno Auto Calibration: On i Barometer Mode: Variable Elevation. Ako nije onda treba tako postaviti i onda napraviti probu. Sa tako postavljenim parametrima u slučaju polaska od morske razine i kretanja od par sati i ponovnog povratka na morsku razinu greška ne bi smjela biti veća od +/- 15 metara makar u medjuvremenu bile cikone/anticikl one ili bilo šta drugo. Tako je barem na Visti HCx/Oregonu 550/eTrex 30 uređajima. Uređaj obično ima i neku rupicu na kučištu koja "pušta" atmosferski tlak do senzora. Važno je da rupica nije poklopljena ili da nije izložena direktno jakom strujanju zraka (vjetar zbog vožnje npr. motorom) koji mogu pokvariti mjerenje visine/tlaka, odnosno parametre auto kalibracije. Auto kalibracija nije opisana u Garminovoj dokumentaciji ali prema svemu do sada viđenom ona se izvršava samo u trenucima kvalitetnog prijema GPS signala (izračuna visine iz GPS signala) tako da se tijekom dužih mjerenja kompenzira promjena tlaka uslijed ciklone/anticik lone........
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#7 Jan 2012-11-02 14:24
Poštovanje,

molio bih vas za savjet..
Htio bih kupiti neki GPS uređaj pogodan za planinarenje i vožnju MTB. Nisu mi toliko bitna sportska mjerenja jer sam rekreativac, ali volio bih da u uređaj mogu učitati .gpx datoteke skinute sa interneta, pa da me navodi prilikom vožnje MTB ili planinarenja.. Gledao sam Garmin GPSMAP 62s.. Što mi predlažete?? Unaprijed se zahvaljujem..
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#8 Miroslav 2012-11-03 21:17
Svi Garmin uredjaji mogu učitati gpx trag. Sa 62s nemam iskustva osim da mi je bio prevelik prilikom izbora za MTB. Zadnje vrijeme koristim eTrex 30 i sve što sam napisao za njega vrijedi i dalje. Pozdrav
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#9 Rob 2013-04-04 12:51
Hey,

Great article. I have a Garmin 705 that I bought back in 2009. I was just having a look at how things have improved since then, and from looking at your article, not much.

I like my 705, but it's not cheap. Generally speaking I don't want a lot of the training stuff. I just want a bigger screen, higher resolution, faster cpu and usb 2.0 support. Oh and maybe better battery life.

The 800 doesn't seem to move forward very much, more sideways.

Actually CPU power is one thing you don't mention. It'd be interesting to know how much faster the newer units are. My 705 is ok, but can be annoyingly slow at times.
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#10 Gnyff 2013-07-21 22:07
Teasi One (no sensors(!), but cheap) or Pro (Bluetooth 4.0 sensors) seems like very nice alternatives. With 320x480 screen resolution they /should/ offer decent map views. And since Garmin still does not supply the edge 810 with free map updates, I'm all for an open source map solution!

Perhaps Bryton Rider 60 (240x400pixels) is also worth a look.
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#11 francois 2013-08-21 19:15
Quoting Gnyff:
Teasi One (no sensors(!), but cheap) or Pro (Bluetooth 4.0 sensors) seems like very nice alternatives. With 320x480 screen resolution they /should/ offer decent map views. And since Garmin still does not supply the edge 810 with free map updates, I'm all for an open source map solution!

Perhaps Bryton Rider 60 (240x400pixels) is also worth a look.


Just got the teasi one.... first ride, clear skies, and the signal was lost a few times.... making the device useless to me... my phone, tucked away in my pocket, never looses gps signal. I hope software makes this better, but alas, if the gps receiver is not strong enough, software will not fix it... "sigh"
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#12 Gnyff 2013-08-21 21:42
Quoting francois:
Just got the teasi one.... first ride, clear skies, and the signal was lost a few times.... making the device useless to me... my phone, tucked away in my pocket, never looses gps signal. I hope software makes this better, but alas, if the gps receiver is not strong enough, software will not fix it... "sigh"


Hm - I'm very sorry to hear this. It's currently on the top of my list. The GPS specs (although not stated on the website) is good; the chipset being SiRF Atlas V / ARM DualCore CPU @ 664 MHz. It should even be capable of tracking the Russian and EU (are they up yet) positioning satellites. Should kick ass compared to the mobile phones (that have the advantage of A-GPS, but this should as far as I know not eliminate loss of signal)... Of course Teasi might have messed up the RF design or antenna - but it just do not seem likely to buy a good chipset and not finish it in a proper fashion.... On the other hand they have not stated the GPS sensitivity! :-O
I'd /guess/ you have a faulty one - and would definitely try to ask Teasi. Personally I'm very interested in the response - and if other people have experience with the Teasi units! ;-)
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