GARMIN EDGE 800 – what kind of cyclist needs GPS navigation?

It's arrived, and I'm excited!

A package arrived on the doorstep. My pulse rate probably quickened, but I had no way of checking this. The heart monitor was in that package, along with a new Garmin Edge 800 GPS satellite-guided navigation bicycle computer. I’d been invited to take it on a test drive.

I should explain that I’m not a techy-geeky-dudey-type guy. I know how to insert a DVD into my machine, but getting it to play…that’s what you have kids for. So maybe I’m not the ideal person to be reviewing a wham-bang, state-of-the-art Garmin Edge 800 GPS bike computer. On the other hand, if I can work it, so can everybody else.

Little Garmy 500 and Big Garmy 800

I’ve been riding bikes since before the launch of Sputnik. I know the way along my favourite cycling routes in Sydney and Amsterdam, and the Dutch ones have signposts giving the distance to the next town. I even know a clever trick for calculating average speed; I divide the distance travelled by the number of hours I’ve been riding. I learned to do this back when calculators filled large rooms in bank offices.

Nonetheless, I was excited by my new Garmy’s arrival, because GPS thingies are fun.

I was given a Garmin Edge 500 for my last birthday. I like it. I like knowing how far I’ve ridden. I enjoy trying to beat my best time on rides I do regularly, and I particularly like being able to upload the details onto the Garmin Connect website to show to others. Nobody’s interested of course, but I show them anyway. I make pretty maps of my rides which I can publish on this site.

A sample readout of my rides from the Garmin Connect website.


To see the full readout of the route, click here.

The Garmin Edge 800 promised to do all the above, plus it had a navigation mode so it could tell me when to turn left or right. Normally Mevrouw T performs this function, but she isn’t always available to go cycling with me.

I took Garmy 800 with me on the recent Great Victorian Bike Ride. I also took my son, which is way better than having a manual. He couldn’t wait to get Garmy going, and found the on/off switch in no time. I was impressed. Garmy began by asking me some rather personal questions about my age and weight. I thought this was a bit rich, since we’d only just met, but not wanting to offend, I answered them as honestly as I could.

I liked the display. It’s bigger than the 500, in colour, and it was nice to see the gradient displayed alongside my speed and kms travelled. It was particularly encouraging when I conquered a short climb of 14 degrees without having to get off and walk.

Virtual training partner

I also liked the ‘virtual training partner’ option. This means you set what you think will be a challenging speed to keep up and a little man starts riding his bike along at that pace. We had some hills coming up, so I set my little man pedalling at a modest 20kph average and was delighted to see I could leave him eating my dust most of the time.

Then we tried out the navigation function. Garmy offers a map (too little for me to read without my glasses) and flashes advice on when to turn left or right.

The trouble was, I already knew where to turn. The Great Victorian Bike Ride route setters had thought about scenery, safety, road surface, suitable rest areas and athletic challenge. Garmy couldn’t compete with that. For instance, it assured us that the distance from Heathcote to Seymour was 127km. We were expecting it to be about 30km. The discrepancy was because we asked Garmy to avoid major roads, so it decided we should make a major detour.

Navigation...can you ride and read a map at the same time?

Of course, it would be asking a lot of any computer to find a route ‘avoiding major roads, except those with debris-free shoulders. Oh, and a couple of kms on normally busy roads is okay if it’s on a Sunday. And one more thing Garmy, we don’t mind a bit of gravel if there are no big potholes and it’s not raining.’

It’s encouraging to know that the human imagination is still better than a computer in some respects. Driving a car, you generally want your GPS to take you on the shortest, most direct route to the destination. Touring cyclists on the other hand are constantly balancing convenience with a whole lot of other considerations.

I would like to be able to plan a route before the ride on Google Maps, say, then download it from my computer to the GPS, knowing that it will now give me advice without my having to stop to refer to a map again at intersections.

I would like to be able to link up a series of day rides on the Garmin Connect website to make a complete map, with stats, of a multi-day ride. When Garmy 800’s battery needed recharging after about two and half days of riding, everything automatically reset. Perhaps there is a way to avoid this, but I failed to find it.

The bottom line is, I don’t need a Garmin Edge 800. Who does? Even Cadel and Lance have team captains whispering into their earpieces to tell them how they’re going (or ‘how they’re doing’ in Lance’s case). The very bottom line is, I want a Garmy anyway. After all, I don’t need lycra jerseys, or a smart bike, or cleats, or cool-looking shades, but I have them all. They make riding more enjoyable, and so does Garmy.

I’m going to have another birthday soon. If anybody loves me a lot, you can get me a Garmin Edge 800, including Aust/NZ TOPO maps, $649 from Highly Tuned Athletes.

Thanks to them for lending me this one to try. It was fun.

21 Comments

Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling

21 responses to “GARMIN EDGE 800 – what kind of cyclist needs GPS navigation?

  1. bagnidilucca

    I’m completely useless with technology, and bikes, so I guess I don’t need one but thanks anyway.

    • BdL, it’s possible you’re completely useless with maps too, so maybe you do need a GPS after all.

      • bagnidilucca

        I’m not bad with a map. We do have a GPS in our car in Italy, but Italy is not all that good with updates and we have been sent to a few places where the road has been closed for years. I think you need both a map and GPS ( a bit of common sense doesn’t go astray as well) An African friend gave me a quote years ago which I love “One must not assume that common sense is common” I love it.

  2. I have a Garmin Edge 350. Easy to use, few issues and it works!

  3. My family’s new boat came with a Garmin GPS as well. It shows the channels where the water is deepest – really useful at night when it’s hard to make out the colour of the signs. And here I thought they only knew roads…

  4. peter

    great article! interesting read.

  5. Pingback: LOST IN NAVIGATION – a Dutch-style family ride | Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

  6. Damien Jameson

    At the end of the day I prefer to go with an old adage beloved by us Safety persons (as in those who work in Safety as an occupation) … that is “There is no such thing as common sense”. So a map, a Garmin, a compass, a reliable watch, a mobile phone, a good torch, the ear of a local, a weather eye, a pound of flesh and a bit of space on a Visa card are all essentials when setting off on the Sunday afternoon ride.
    Oh … and good insurance, and hospital cover, and a notebook for writing down the names of witnesses, and ………………………..

  7. Anna

    Lovely article.

    So, with the Garmin Edge 800, is it not possible to create a route and upload it from your computer to the GPS or create it directly in the Garmin Unit? That is exactly what I would like to do.

    Thanks!

    • That’s just what I’d like to be able to do too, Anna, but I couldn’t manage to do it with the Garmin 800.

      That is not to say that it’s totally impossible for everyone, but it was certainly beyond my technologically-challenged capacity.

  8. John S

    Hi all, have had one for a while now and use it regularly for on and off road excursions in the uk’s wet wilds. Downloading routes is easy on http://www.bikehike.co.uk as it uses worldwide google maps and auto routing on road. Download as a gpx track file or tcx file for edge 800. For offroad check out bikeRoutetoaster.com which can combine on and offroad effectively hence my wet feet and scars yesterday! The second site I had to run through garmin base camp to iron out the creases. I love my toy… It even tells me when I can justify a bottle of wine with it’s accurate calorie count!

    • That’s very bad news, John. I had mine on loan from the distributors, so I’d hate to think they’re so good I’ll have to buy one. Meanwhile I do like my Garmin 500, which also has a ‘bottles of wine required to keep body at standard weight’ counter.

      • John S

        Would recommend you do get a club around Christmas pressie and really lay on the emotional blackmail… Very handy as a safety device for out of bounds excursions when backed up with Damien’s suggestions above although he didn’t mention the booze… Camelbak 3litre should cover an expedition quantity of G&T tho!

  9. Excellent suggestion, John. Only five more months till Christmas.

  10. Alejandro

    I am new on this. how can I down load google maps from Chile to my garmin edge 800
    Thanks for your help

    Alejandro Bañados

    • Good question! I got my Australian maps as part of the package with the Garmin 800. I see on the Garmin website you can buy South American maps as CDs for $116 (it appears that only the South American city navigation maps are downloadable). If this is a problem, I can only suggest contacting Garmin or the dealer who sold you the Edge 800 in the first place.

      Link to the Garmin map-buying option is: https://buy.garmin.com/shop/buymaps.do

      Sounds interesting to ride in Chile – good luck!

  11. Really enjoyed reading your article. I’ve had a garmin edge 800 for about 6 weeks now, and have been experimenting with various mapping options including the free open source maps. I’ve blogged some of my thoughts here:
    http://www.scarletfire.co.uk/2012/01/garmin-edge-800-why-you-shouldnt-bother-with-custom-osm-maps/

  12. Pingback: WHY BLOGGERS ARE MISERABLE | Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

  13. I’m new to my cutting edge 800, but I think I’m going to like it. I hope it will reciprocate… ;)
    Great article, made me smile a bit, but I think You should give it another try.

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