Ultracycling with a Mapping GPS

Over the Holidays I rode a hilly 200k brevet (5300 ft of climbing) with 10 other South Florida Randoneurs in Clermont, FL. Since the steep hills in Florida are located in a few small areas, a challenging course like this one (which scales the steepest hills 2 to 3 times) has many turns. This makes them challenging from a navigational standpoint as well. On events like these mapping GPS units really shine.

handlebars topview
handlebars sideview
Base, 1.0 inch diameter U-bolt with ball end attached to Profile Design New Universal Computer Mount.
Cradle and mini-arm (2.5 inches long)

All but two of us had a mapping GPS. We exclusively use Garmin 60CSx and 76CSx units because they are ideally suited to bicycle navigation. I am now hooked on "mapping GPS" technology and will not ride another long bike (or car) ride without one.

Following its turn-by-turn instructions, I can navigate through the most unfamiliar places with the confidence, accuracy and speed of a local. Before I occasionally had an unsettled feeling that I was off-course. Often this meant riding several miles further before verifying that I was on-course, or confirming that I was indeed lost. With a mapping GPS I instantly know where I am and whether I'm on or off course, so I can relax and more thoroughly enjoy the ride.

I also have the quirky sensation that I am in my own video game - part real and part virtual. These two worlds blend harmoniously providing a rich travel experience. The virtual GPS world readily identifies geographical features (such as lakes, rivers, towns, roads, ...) as I approach or pass by. The bird's-eye view shown on the GPS screen communicates the shape and scale of those feature not possible from a ground based vantage point. On the other hand, the real world fixes mental images, sounds, and smells to visited map features.

A mapping GPS unit also generates a recorded "track" of your journey. The track is a series of points with actual geo-coordinates, date-time, speed, heading, and elevation. I set my unit to add a track point every 100 ft. At the end of the ride I can view an elevation profile, chart speed vs. time, etc.


GPS units

Most of us randonneur's here in South/Central Florida have either the 76CSx or the 60CSx. Don't skimp on lesser units. Get the color screen (C), sensors (S), expandable memory (X). With expandable memory you can get a 2GB micro SD card (for about $60) and load detailed maps for all of North America (or Europe) on the unit. The sensors are an electronic compass and barometric altimeter. The compass allows your to orient yourself while standing still, while the barometric altimeter provides the most accurate altitude measurements and accumulated climbing elevation for your trip.

The 76CSx and 60CSx are equivalent (same screen, weight,

features, etc), they just have a different form factor. I prefer the 76CSx because the buttons are larger and above the screen. This allows me to operate the unit with one hand (using my thumb) while carring it during a walk or hike. The 76CSx also comes with twice the memory of the 60CSx (128MB vs 64 MB) and floats if dropped in water. Some riders prefer the 60CSx. You really can't go wrong with either unit.

A good place to begin shopping for one is gpsnow.com. They have good comparisons of units and their prices are hard to beat.

GPS bike mount

The only one to consider is a RAM mount. The Garmin bike mount is flimsy and will break. This happened to a rider in our club ruining his still new GPS. The RAM mount is so strong you can lift your bike with it. Be careful to get the exact model for your GPS. Also when placing the order call them and specify a "mini-arm". The arm has two female ball sockets at each end that connect the balls on the GPS cradle and base. The mini-arm's length of 2.5 inches is just right for mounting on bicycle handlebars or aerobars. Longer lengths position the unit too far back.

The RAM Handlebar Mount for Garmin 76C, CS, Cx & CSx is shown here: http://www.cycoactive.com/ram/ram76c.shtml This kit mounts to handlebars up to 1" in diameter. Larger U-bolts are available for different handlebar diameters.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do I just match the position on the unit to the name of the road that I'm supposed to be on according to the cue sheet?

No, you fold-up your cue sheet and stow it in your saddle bag. You won't use it as long as you are navigating an calculated-route.

A calculated route can be as simple as selecting one point - your destination - then selecting "Navigate". It then prompts you whether you want the "Fastest time" or the "Shortest distance". Since the GPS knows where you are it calculates the route and guides you turn-by-turn to that destination.

Of course, in a bicycle event (such as a brevet, MS 150, century, etc.) you must travel a specified route. In that case, you will enter intermediate vias to force the calculated route to use specific roads.

How does it keep me on course?

Your calculated route is indicated on the map page by a purple line and your position is shown as an arrowhead pointing in the direction of travel. When the arrowhead is over the purple line you can rest assured that you are on course. Additionally, the map page displays a distance to your next turn which counts down in real-time as you approach it.

About 0.4 miles before the next turn it beeps and displays a page with a large red arrow indicating the direction of the upcoming turn with text like "Right on Brier Creek Blvd". It also shows distance to the next turn as it counts down in real-time. This displays for about 5 seconds then returns to whatever it was displaying before. About 400 feet to the next turn the page above display again, this time the text is displayed in red (indicating that the turn is imminent).

If I go off course, how do I use the unit to get me back on course?

If you miss a turn it displays a page saying "Off course, do you want to recalculate the . Once you rejoin the route, it locks on to it and resumes giving turn-by-turn directions.next waypoint on your route. If you don't recalculate, you can zoom-out until the purple route line comes into view and you can decide how to get back to it. Once you rejoin the route, it locks on to it and resumes giving turn-by-turn directions.

Is it hard to use?

It really is not difficult to create a route and upload it to your GPS. Navigating a route using your GPS is even easier. One rider in our club has trouble making simple edits to a spreadsheet yet he has been an avid GPS user for over 3 years.

What Garmin software do I need for the USA?

The unit comes with a basemap that has primary roads and points of interest in the US. This is sufficient for highway driving, but not for routes using secondary and rural roads.

You'll need "City Navigator North America v8" for the USA. This has finely detailed maps and will automatically calculate a route and display turn-by-turn directions. This includes a program called MapSource that runs on your PC. Using MapSource you can create/edit routes and waypoints and edit tracks. Then upload the routes, waypoints, tracks and detailed "City Navigator" maps to your GPS unit. After the ride you can download your tracks (as well as any new routes and waypoints you discovered) to your PC.

For new users, the best value is the "GARMIN Automotive Navigation Kit" which includes: "City Navigator North America v8 DVD", Portable Non-Skid Friction Mount, Auto Mounting Bracket, and 12-volt Cigarette Lighter Adapter all for about $159.

All "City Navigator" products have a comprehesive points-of-interest (POI) database. This makes it easy to find places to eat, gas stations, parks, museums, etc. before, during and after your ride.

What software do I need for western Europe?

For europe you need: "GARMIN MapSource City Navigator Europe v9 DVD" (about $249).

How do I get the GPS route for my upcoming bike event?

You either have to get the GPS file from the organizers, or get the cue sheet ahead of time and create the route yourself. We generate the GPS files for all of our brevets in here in the South/Central Florida region and post them on the web. Its pretty easy to create the route using the Garmin PC MapSource program (included with "City Navigator North America v8" and "GARMIN MapSource City Navigator Europe v9 DVD"). You just enter the checkpoints and enough intermediate points (called vias) to force the calculated route to travel the official route.

What about the PBP route?

A draft of the route file has already been created - its the same one shown in this GoogleMap: http://www.flacyclist.com/gmap/classics/pbp_2007.php. All you have to do is download it to your GPS unit - simple.

Site Navigation




Ultracycling Events