Monday, April 30, 2012

New York City, Here We Come
(or The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Navigating with a Garmin Edge 305)

This week Andrew and I decided to go big.  Our goal: New York City.  O.k.  So not Manhattan, but City Island, which is part of  the Bronx.  Andrew had shown me that Google thought the bike route was pretty reasonable. And then he found a bike route online from Stamford (a couple towns over) to City Island, so we decided to go for it.

The idea was that Andrew and I would leave around noon and that while taking our time (and giving us a time buffer for getting lost), we'd meet our families at a Restaurant and then drive the bikes back home.  It's a little more adventurous than I usually am, but worse come to worse, we could get picked up in some random spot if we needed to, so why not try.

I have a (refurbished) Garmin Edge 305 bike computer.  It uses both GPS as well has sensors for wheel speed and cadence (how fast I'm spinning the pedals).  The newer Garmin bicycle computers can have maps loaded on and be used very similarly to how the GPS in your car works.  The problem is those GPS units cost several hundred dollars more than mine so I ended up with what I have now.  And I do bike with my phone which has GPS as well, so if I get really lost, I'm pretty well covered.

It does turn out, however, that there are some very basic navigation abilities with the Edge 305.  Frank Kinlan has this very nice blog entry about one option.  What I did was:
  1. Create a route using  I tried uploading the Google maps route into this site, but it didn't list the turns (which is the part that I needed to export).  It turns out that the route that RideWithGPS came up with was more or less identical than what Google maps did, so I didn't lose much having to do the route on that website.
  2. Export the GPX route (not the GPX track).
  3. Use GPSBabel to load the track onto the Garmin (after deleting all way points so that there is room).  Select GPX XML for input file type and device output with Garmin Serial USB protocol selected and click apply.
  4.  On the Garmin, under Navigation, chose Rouse and pick the route you just loaded.
The basic idea is that when you are approaching a turn, the GPS beeps and gives you a visual queue that lets you know which way to turn.  And it almost works as you would hope.  Except:
  1. You can only load up to 100 way points/turns so very long routes won't work well.
  2. It only saves the turns and not the roads.  When it draws the map, it connects all of the turns by straight lines (which can be quite different from reality).
  3. If there are several possibilities close together, then it can be very difficult to figure out which turn you are supposed to make.
There were several times that we missed turns and in almost all cases, I was able to get us back on track without too much trouble.

The exception is that at about 32 miles into our ride, we tried several times to figure out which way to go and we just could not find it.  After three tries, we stopped, took out the phone and used Google maps to get us on our way. If we hadn't had that option, I'm sure we would have made it eventually, but having a phone with GPS to fall back on is a great backup.  It is  interesting to compare where we actually went to where we wanted to go; we didn't do too badly for the most part.

The ride itself was a lot of fun.  We did just over 42 miles in just over 3 and a 1/2 hours.  There were some very scenic views during the ride (including an extra mile where I was too busy admiring the view and missed our turn) as well as some very urban places that weren't as much fun to ride in.  And it was truly amazing at how quickly it went from very run-down urban to very natural almost rural scenery.

City Island itself is also quite strange.  After thinking about it, it is pretty much what one might expect.  It feels both very urban as well as "islandy."  

The Long Island Sound and Brooklyn 

The view from the southern tip of City Island.

Me after 40 miles

Kate and the monkeys arrived just after we got back to the restaurant and locked up our bikes. Andrew's wife Amy arrived 20 minutes after that and we had a nice dinner at City Island Lobster House (warning, the site has annoying music) The restaurant was o.k.(not fantastic) but the company was great.  After a lovely dinner, we loaded up the bikes and heading home.  

All in all, it was a gorgeous afternoon for a ride (sunny and about 60 degrees),  Parts of the route weren't as nice as, say, what we did last week, but having a destination (and not having to ride home afterwards) was a great fun.


  1. you call 'em Monkeys too? We've got 3 Monkeys!

    And we also have Refurb Edge 305. I have never tried to naviguess with it though. I have been spoiled by the Nuvi series. I have used the phone to figure out where I was (lost), and where I'd end up if I kept going the same way. I wish I could just run the phone for navigation. It is easier. But it is such a battery hog!

  2. It took me a little longer than it should have to figure out your blog name, but I did eventually get it! :)

    I own two Nuvi GPSs. I bought a waterproof case for the old one and tried attaching it to my bike, but on a bump, the case flew off. I may go back and try attaching it myself instead of using the included hardware at some point.

    As far as the battery problem with either the phone or standalone GPS, you can get external rechargeable batteries that plug into USB devices. I have a cheap one I bought for $10 (~1000 mAH) at some point that would probably be good enough for a phone. I bought a massive one for $25 on Ebay that supposedly has 6000 mAH that should power a GPS or a phone for as long as I could power a bike.

    For most rides, when using the Edge 305, just make sure you put your destination in as a way point (if you are ending where you are starting, just mark the location before you leave). It then can give you a compass and a distance and this isn't the turn-by-turn navigation we are used to, but will help get you there.

  3. Way to go Charles! Yes, getting lost can be fun sometimes.