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Old 06-22-21, 06:08 AM
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dirtydozen
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Cheap navigation

Hello everybody,

I love to travel by bike, but navigation can be quite a pain sometimes, i would like to buy a device that would help me with navigation.
I'm looking for the least expensive options, and i'm not necessary looking for a GPS bike computer, could be a watch or maybe something else.
Believe it or not i've been doing google researches but couldn't really find an article or something listing the cheapest options.

Reasons why I need this :
- I can't use my phone because the screen is not visible enough for me, i've also tried to use google maps, put the volume at maximum in my rear pocket and listen to the instructions.
But it's not working out, how many times i've been stuck in small paths full of rocks, having to walk (i"m using a road bike).

- I usually write all the towns i need to go by on a piece of paper and stick it on my frame, and I would just follow the signs on the roads. That's cool but it's easy to make mistakes, and when you do quite big stages it's annoying when you know you have to cycle back a couple of km's because you realized you made a mistake.

Thanks!
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Old 06-22-21, 06:39 AM
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I think you've already tried the cheapest options, a written queue sheet and using your existing phone, and as you've discovered they have limitations. GPS Bike computers attempt to solve some of these limitations, albeit at a cost. I went through the same decision process and ended up with the Garmin Edge Explore, which still isn't cheap, but I'm pretty happy with it. There are other brands and models, but if you do a lot of exploratory riding, I think a dedicated GPS nav system is probably what you want.

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Old 06-22-21, 06:46 AM
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Use a site like RidewithGPS or cycle.travel, map your route, and print the maps and cue sheets?
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Old 06-22-21, 07:11 AM
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I have been using a variety of Garmin GPS units for a couple decades. I never bought a cycling specific one because I wanted ones that I could use for canoeing, kayaking, backpacking, etc. And I wanted ones that use AA batteries. For the past few years I have been using a Garmin 64, which I would not be surprised if it is now out of production and replaced by some other model.

Garmin for decades has been making an Etrex series. Some of the lower or mid range ones have enough memory that you can load basemaps into them that you obtain for free using a computer. But saying Garmin Etrex is like saying Ford Pickup truck, some might do what you want and some might not. And they keep changing over the years.

I use NiMH rechargeable AA batteries, usually use the white Ladda ones from Ikea but also use Eneloops too.

You probably can get something you like that for a couple hundred bucks. Plan to also buy a micro SD card up to 32gb to go with it. If you are in USA and if you live near an REI store, ask them about lower to midrange Garmin GPS units that you could use. The quality of REI sales people is quite variable, you might need to talk to a few people to get the best help.

There are lots of places I get base maps for my Garmin GPS, here are two:
https://www.openmapchest.org/
USA OSM Topo Routable | GMapTool

This used to be my favorite source (routable bicycle layer) but they have reduced the amount of map size you can obtain a few months ago.
Free worldwide Garmin maps from OpenStreetMap

On my Garmin 64 I can select which maps that I have loaded onto it I want to use. Sometimes I am using an automotive street map, sometimes a topo map, I tell it which of the maps I loaded onto it I want to disable or enable. And I can select which method for routing, cycling or tour cycling or hiking or automotive, etc.

Photo of my Garmin 64 below during my last bike tour, the other electronics are a conventional bike computer and a heart rate monitor:


That is a low budget option, but for navigation it is adequate. If you want to communicate with phones or internet or send or load routes on the internet directly with your GPS, it is not going to happen on these budget units.

You can save rides to your computer using a cable, etc.

Learning how to use one takes hours, expect to spend some quality time learning how it works.

Most and possibly all Garmin GPS units use a screen quite different than a phone. In bright sunlight or overcast, I turn the backlight off to save battery. The only time I use backlight is when the sun is low (late afternoon or evening) or after sunset.

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Old 06-22-21, 07:29 AM
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Originally Posted by billridesbikes View Post
Use a site like RidewithGPS or cycle.travel, map your route, and print the maps and cue sheets?
That's what I do when the route has enough turns to warrant it. I map first with RWGPS then make paper cue sheets. I have a cue sheet clip that wraps around my bars with Velcro.

Attached is a random example for the first day of a cross-PA tour that started in OH. The day's destination was a camping area along a rail-trail. If there is a long climb I might note at what mileage it starts and ends. Sometimes I will also note where services are located along the route. (BC=becomes, TSO=to stay on)

If there are days with few turns I might just make notes re: services, climbs, etc. Off the top of my head I can think of a 74 mile day out west with 3 turns. No navigation aid necessary.
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Old 06-22-21, 07:34 AM
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is it ridiculous to suggest a paper map & compass? I use them when I'm on my MTB. when I feel off-track I use "find my phone" to help orient myself on the map again

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Old 06-22-21, 07:40 AM
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Buy a second hand iPhone and use google maps. the volume for turn directions it loud enough for even your touring companion to hear.
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Old 06-22-21, 08:24 AM
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Originally Posted by rumrunn6 View Post
is it ridiculous to suggest a paper map & compass? I use them when I'm on my MTB
Paper map, zip-lock baggie, get a couple binder clips to wrap around shifter or brake cables to hold the baggie. Gallon bag folded over will hold at least 8.5" wide paper.
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Old 06-22-21, 11:19 AM
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indyfabz
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
Paper map, zip-lock baggie, get a couple binder clips to wrap around shifter or brake cables to hold the baggie. Gallon bag folded over will hold at least 8.5" wide paper.
If you make an 8.5x11 cue sheet you can fold it so that it fits inside a sandwich-sized Zip-Loc if it's going to rain.

You can see my PGS (paper guidance system) attached to the bars. No rain forecast for that day so no baggie. I can easily look and read the next turn. When I get to the bottom I stop and re-fold to see the next steps. Good excuse for a butt break. PGS never needs charging and can be used to help start campfires.

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Old 06-22-21, 11:54 AM
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Dirt cheap: I rode tons of miles on unknown roads using paper cue sheets. Cheap, glitch free. Requires pre-planning with a PC. Waterproofness takes work. Not flexible in case of closed roads etc. Navigating at night is slower. Navigating at night in the rain is even slower. But it's cheap. With a phone as backup in case of detours, it's a decent way to go. Just make sure the phone stays charged and you have offline maps.

$100: I have a Lezyne Macro GPS that works okay. Requires a cell phone with data connection in order to start riding a route. For creating routes, a PC is needed unless the recommended routes are okay. You can re-route on the fly, again if you have a phone with data, and as long as you're okay with their recommended routes.

$150-$300: Garmin eTrex 20x is my current nav device. Rechargable AA batteries, but the ability to buy throw-aways virtually anywhere, if I misjudge. Downside is it's not wireless, PC is required, visibility in direct sun isn't great, UI is "expert friendly". I think the newest model is $300, used 20x models for around $150.

A note on maps and cue sheets. I think that counties and cities in the US are less diligent on maintaining road signs than previously. I suppose since more and more people are using navigation in their car, basically following the blue line, signs aren't needed as much. Cost savings.

Cheers
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Old 06-22-21, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by rumrunn6 View Post
is it ridiculous to suggest a paper map & compass? I use them when I'm on my MTB. when I feel off-track I use "find my phone" to help orient myself on the map again
You have a phone...??? You do not need anything else... IMO So, yes, carrying a paper map and compass is superfluous... IMO.
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Old 06-22-21, 02:23 PM
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Wow thanks a lot guys for all those quick answers ! Too many answers to quote each of you, i'm sorry.

Is there a navigation app someone can recommand that would work this way : plan the route on the PC, load it in my smartphone, and I would be putting my phone in a rear pocket and listen for insctructions ? I use google maps on the fly, but clearly the routes it recommands are not always suitable for my roadbike.

To answer to people suggesting using a paper sheet, either written by hand or printed : that's what i'm currently using, I think there is a nice vibe following road signs, not using technology and asking people around for directions, but too many times I've been missing a turn or something and extra kilometers are not always welcome! A couple of times I also had to plan the route last minute.

I'm sorry I did not mention my budget, it's around the 100€ mark, which is not much for this kind of product, the lezyne macro GPS is a good option, i'm also looking at the Bryton 420E which seems a bit better.
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Old 06-22-21, 02:33 PM
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How often are the turns?
For much of my touring, I won't have much in the way of turns, except perhaps occasionally crossing a city. So checking either paper maps or computer the night before, I can often write down some descriptions on a note card to use with my handlebar bag. In those tricky city situations, I've been able to augment things with a quick check of tablet and offline maps. However, you might be in situation with a lot more turns than I typically have...
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Old 06-22-21, 03:13 PM
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I use the Ride with GPS app on my iPhone. If you pay for a subscription, RwGPS will give you spoken turn-by-turn navigation. I use it with a bone-conduction headset so I can hear the cues and road noise both. I do keep my phone mounted to my handlebars, but it doesn't need to be there. I've ridden thousands of miles with this setup, and gone for rides that are 12+ hours at a stretch. I recommend it.

Turn-by-turn navigation with RwGPS is different than it is with Google Maps: it's essentially the electronic equivalent of following a pre-made cue sheet. If you go off course, it'll play the sad "off course" noise (and it detects you going off course very quickly), but it won't reroute you on the fly.
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Old 06-22-21, 04:25 PM
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In that case, +1 for RidewithGPS. Pay for a subscription by month for the level of route planning you want and use the phone app with an earpiece for turn by turn directions. Many new Bluetooth ear pieces have ambient noise features so you can still hear road noises.
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Old 06-22-21, 06:13 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
Paper map, zip-lock baggie, get a couple binder clips to wrap around shifter or brake cables to hold the baggie. Gallon bag folded over will hold at least 8.5" wide paper.
I was going to suggest good ol' fashion maps...albeit with much more sarcasm than you😁.
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Old 06-23-21, 02:25 AM
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Originally Posted by stevel610 View Post
I was going to suggest good ol' fashion maps...😁.

in that case, our friend will still require the purchase of some new technology.
no worries, we're here to help you understand it all.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon....70_FMwebp_.jpg
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Old 06-23-21, 04:01 AM
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Google maps on your computer. Route day one. Save the route in a text document. I use mac and iPhone so just the notes app and it syncs.
When you ride, open your notes on your phone, click the link and it will open google maps on the phone with turn by turn directions.

Google maps with google earth can also show you many photos to help plant your destinations and sightseeing.
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Old 06-23-21, 04:19 AM
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I've been off of Strava for a couple of years, and know they've made some big changes. Strava at least used to give you free route planning, but you'll need find a place to clip the smart phone to the bars.

If you get a second smart phone, you can use the Strava offline, but it doesn't do a good job at remembering maps, so you have to scroll around your map when it is online. With certain plans, you can setup a hotspot on one phone for access from a second phone.

One of my problems with Strava is they cut off support for some of the older phones... which includes mine.
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Old 06-23-21, 06:26 AM
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Map and compass? Heck I have pretty much never used a compass on a road tour. Choices are usually binary, left or right turn? I think most have enough awareness to pick between the two in most cases when using a road map. The sun, distant mountains, bodies of water, and so on tend to keep you somewhat oriented. You generally know what direction you are travelling on a given road. After carrying a compass for thousands of miles I realized that it just stayed in the bag unused while riding.

It isn't like we are using nautical charts on open water or hiking where trails may be iffy. I use a compass a lot in those situations It still makes sense to carry it for off bike use on tour, so I am likely to still be carrying one depending on the trip. I do tend to go for hikes after all.

BTW, all this talk of cue sheets assumes more planning than I typically want to do and more commitment to staying on route. BTW, people toured without so much as a ziplock bag since they were not around until 1968.
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Old 06-23-21, 07:26 AM
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This opinion usually isn't very popular around here, but I have found the best navigation tool to be cue sheets printed on paper and displayed in a plastic sleeve attached to my handlebar with pipe cleaners.
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Old 06-23-21, 07:46 AM
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from even my very recent experience just a week ago biking with some colleagues of my partner, some people just have no sense of direction or judgement of distance or anything.
So lets face it kids, you gotta learn some basic map reading / basic orientation skills in life or you are effed if your battery powered device shepherding you along like some poor blind mustard gassed WW1 soldier stops working.

there, it's official, I'm a grumpy old bastard ;-)
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Old 06-23-21, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
from even my very recent experience just a week ago biking with some colleagues of my partner, some people just have no sense of direction or judgement of distance or anything.
So lets face it kids, you gotta learn some basic map reading / basic orientation skills in life or you are effed if your battery powered device shepherding you along like some poor blind mustard gassed WW1 soldier stops working.

there, it's official, I'm a grumpy old bastard ;-)
Yeah I find most people can't give good directions to save their life.

I don't know if it was because I was in an artillery unit, where accurate map reading was *kinda* important, or if it's just because I've always had thing for maps, but I'd rather have someone give me the address so I can look it up and figure out the best route. Old people give needlessly complicated and inaccurate directions like "turn left at the red barn and then it'll be the third white house past old Lady Johnson's cow--but the cow died in 1999" and young people don't understand things like "north" and "east" and "go three miles."

Back to the thread though -- I was a little stubborn about using maps and cue sheets for a long time, my reasoning being that cue sheets don't run out of batteries. But in practice there's a lot of things that can wrong, admittedly mostly because of human error. Maybe I'm zoned out and I missed a road sign. Maybe the name of the road sign is one thing on the cue sheet but we're actually in a different county and they named it something different. Maybe the county hasn't maintained the signs and it's missing. Maybe I misread the cue sheet and I'm looking for the next cue. Maybe I screwed up the mileage somehow and now I'm off. I mean, I can get back on track but it's an avoidable hassle.

A few years ago I bought a GPS computer with navigation (wahoo bolt) mainly to more accurately log my mileage and keep track of heart rate, but because it came with navigation I might as well give it a shot. After using it in a long gravel race I was an instant convert, you really can't beat the ease and convenience. I'll still carry maps and cue sheets as a backup but it's a definite quality of life upgrade.
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Old 06-23-21, 08:11 AM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
Map and compass? Heck I have pretty much never used a compass on a road tour. Choices are usually binary, left or right turn? I think most have enough awareness to pick between the two in most cases when using a road map. The sun, distant mountains, bodies of water, and so on tend to keep you somewhat oriented. You generally know what direction you are travelling on a given road. After carrying a compass for thousands of miles I realized that it just stayed in the bag unused while riding.........
depends on the situation.

here on the island, we have the main outer loop highway, with an assortment of provincial roads linking the towns.
aside from that we have a maze of farm and county roads throughout the interior, mostly with no signage. only 'bout half the population can speak recognizable chinese, so good luck asking for directions.

interior roads are not straight, looping around hills and valleys and volcanic flows. highly vegetated, not always clear views from under the palm and banana trees.

cheap handlebar mount compass is my favorite tool for riding in this area. also came in mucho handy taking the unmarked dirt trails through laos and cambodia.

as to the maps and cue sheets..........i usually daily cue sheets and keep the maps sealed in the saddlebags, but also drawbacks if the maps haven't been updated. or you're in a country where all the squiggles on the roadsigns look the same. yes, i'm talkin' bout you, myanmar! or here in parts of china where the maps are in standard chinese, but the signs are in the local dialect.

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Old 06-23-21, 08:50 AM
  #25  
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There's a fairly predictable drift line to threads like these. They start with "I want to navigate for cheap," go through "I've got a problem with my phone" to "I want a GPS but don't want to pay for a [fill-in-the-blank]" and end up with "I want something that combines the best features of a GPS and cell/google maps."

FWIW, here's my take:
1. You can't beat paper maps and cue sheets for price, nor for functionality in remote places.
2. GPS are better than cell phones for battery life, water (sweat and rain) resistance, mounts, and working out of range of cell towers. There are some workarounds available for phones.
3. Phones are better that GPS, if you've got service, for navigating to an address and real time re-routing, though the quality of the re-route may be suspect.
4. With cache batteries, you can extend GPS runtimes to several days' riding; I don't know how long you can extend a cell runtime.

Originally Posted by ksryder View Post
A few years ago I bought a GPS computer with navigation (wahoo bolt) mainly to more accurately log my mileage and keep track of heart rate, but because it came with navigation I might as well give it a shot. After using it in a long gravel race I was an instant convert, you really can't beat the ease and convenience. I'll still carry maps and cue sheets as a backup but it's a definite quality of life upgrade.
If a person wants to get a GPS, they should get a good one. That starts around a Garmin 830 or similar units from other manufacturers, IMHO. Unless you know better what you want, go ahead and get a unit with visible maps, navigation, and connnectivity and smarts for whatever sensors you might want now or in the future (HRM, power meter, etc.). Buying less is like buying a cheap guitar or a cheap bike; if you think you really might like it, the price of the first one is wasted, and it's more likely to make you not want to play, ride, or navigate because the experience of the cheap thing is so bad.
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