In June 2013, I, my husband and a friend set off to cycle from London to Paris in three days. Each person was responsible for navigating one leg of the trip. Each person thus carried one detailed map for this purpose. That was fine for the duration and distance of that sort of trip.
Cycling across the entire European continent over a period of 60 days is a whole ‘nother story.
I generally prefer paper maps to using GPS technology for navigating. I find them more dependable. Before my trip, I considered different options so I could use them. If I bought every map I needed before the trip, it would be a lot of extra weight in my panniers that takes up a lot of volume. I might not readily find the maps I needed en-route. Even if I did, buying a map en-route and then discarding it to save weight and space seemed like such a waste of money.
So I decided to go digital. My husband has a Garmin watch for running, swimming, and cycling. He loves it. I’ve used Garmin navigators in rented cars and understand them well. I decided to go with the brand I know and trust.
The Garmin Edge 810 had something the other versions did not: a live tracking feature. I wanted to be able to share my whereabouts with my husband while cycling alone. That was the overriding reason why I went with the Edge 810.
One issue I had before I bought the GPS was that I could not find enough detailed information online on the various features of the product. I had to go through many reviews, that also seemed generally insufficient for understanding everything it had to offer, to get a general idea and then make a decision.
Once I bought the 810, the problem continued. Nowhere could I find, in the box, in the product’s software, or online, sufficient detail on its various features. My friends told me that new technologies are now considered “intuitive” and you’re just supposed to use it and figure it out. I find that concept very frustrating. I wasted a lot of time and energy, and got lost a lot, before I managed to properly understand most of what the 810 can offer me. A detailed online guide, not the superficial 24-page online owner’s manual, would have been very helpful. The manual left me with more questions than answers. If you buy the 810, do so long before any major trips so you have enough time to figure out all the features. I bought mine three weeks before the trip. It was not enough time.
Let’s just start out by saying my most important lesson learned is that this device is not in any way smart on its own. I had thought that I could type in a destination and fully depend on it to get me from point A to point B using the most appropriate route possible.
The 810, as does all other Garmin products, comes with a Garmin Connect app for iPad/phone and an online Garmin Connect page. I used the online Garmin Connect maps to design my provisional routes across Europe before I left to Portugal. I would click on my desired place of departure then on my desired place of arrival and let the online map choose the best route for me. For a trip of this distance, it would have been terribly time-consuming to check the details of each daily route before I was actually in a country. I found that only when I was in a country did I properly understand which roads were good for cycling and which were not. I did, however, program the online app and my Garmin’s software to stay on roads only (and thus to avoid dirt roads). For some reason I am yet to understand, both still had a tendency to choose dirt roads as short cuts to get somewhere.
All this caused me a lot of trouble in the beginning. The 810 would want me to turn onto a dirt road, I wouldn’t recognize a road being there because I wasn’t aware dirt roads were something the 810 would send me on, I’d miss a turn it had intended me to go on, and everything would go haywire. This is one of the worst things about the 810: if you download a map onto it, miss a turn, and start getting lost, it wants to send you BACK to the point where you missed the turn rather than find the best way to rejoin your route by moving forward. If you ignore its advice to make u-turns or turns onto roads sending you in the wrong general direction because you want to keep moving forward, the 810 can have a tendency to get completely confused. It has even frozen on me a few times, causing me to have to restart the whole device. Frequently I would be able to see that making a couple of small turns would allow me to rejoin the route at a point ahead. The 810, though, would be instructing me to go backwards, sometimes using elaborate routes, to get back to the point where I got off the designed route.
I eventually found a way around all this. Each night I would study the route I had designed by using the Garmin Connect app on my iPad. The maps on this app are actually really good and sufficiently detailed for my needs. I would use the satellite imagery feature on the map to check to see if the route included any dirt roads. If it did, I would look for alternative routes. This meant that sometimes I allowed the 810 to guide me but that many times I was using the map on my iPad as a normal map while cycling, figuring out when I needed to turn on a certain road. In these cases, I used the 810 to know what road I was on and to see I was heading in the right general direction. Sometimes, by studying the map in the evening, I’d find better routes than the ones the online Connect map had chosen for me. Other times I would be a bit confused so I would go to the ViaMichellin sight that has a feature for cyclists. They were an excellent secondary resource for me. In the end, to get from point A to point B was not as simple as programming the 810 to do that for me. I needed to be aware at all times where I was and where I needed to go using the GPS, maps, street signs, and directions from locals. It was naive of me in the beginning to think the technology could do it all for me.
I am very impressed with the 810’s battery. It only ran out on me a couple of times when I got badly lost and had an almost-12-hour cycling day. When that happened, I hooked it up to an external battery so it could keep running to get me to my destination. It also recharges surprisingly quickly. That was helpful when I was camping and had to sit next to it until it was fully recharged.
The 810’s screen might be small, but it is more than sufficiently large to be able to see details while cycling. You can zoom in and out on maps when needed. And all other screens are easy to read.
The 810’s handlebar holder is perfect. It elevates the 810 and puts it at an angle for easy viewing. It also has a lock mechanism that keeps the 810 secure in the holder no matter what kinds of bumps and slips I had been through.
I bought a red silicone cover for the device for some extra protection and to make it more visible among all the things I had when I placed it in a bag. It was a good purchase.
The 810 gives you lots of useful information, as you would expect, when you record the ride. Each recorded ride has a summary screen with distance, time, number of laps (a feature I did not use because I found it confusing and it seemed to shut down the live tracking when I used it), average speed, maximum speed, calories burned (based on the profile you input into the device), and how many meters ascended and descended. There is a map screen that shows you the route you took, an elevation screen that gives you a graphic of your ascents and descents, and a lap screen that shows you distance and time of each lap. You can upload all this to your Garmin Connect page to see a complete profile for each ride.
A feature I found particularly useful was the ability to search for lodgings (in my case hotels and campsites), historical attractions, restaurants, specific addresses, etc. I searched for lodgings frequently this way when I arrived in a town. A few times it sent me to non-existent places, but mostly it was accurate.
I bought this particular Garmin for its live tracking feature. It’s not its best feature. It’s good in theory. In practice, the few times I used it, my family/friends I shared it with told me it would suddenly stop and they would no longer have access, while there was no indication on my device or my phone that this was the case. To use the feature, you need to connect it via a bluetooth connection to your phone. You also need your phone to have an open Internet connection. If the Internet connection drops for any reason, as it might on the open road, the live tracking is lost. It does not use up much data, fortunately, but it does cause the phone battery to die incredibly rapidly. In the end, I found this feature was not as useful as I had hoped. In the future, if I am to go off on my own again, I will look into other devices that have monthly subscriptions and allow family to know where you are at all times.
The Garmin Edge 810 has a feature I only understood halfway through the trip: the virtual partner. When you design a route for yourself, what the Garmin calls a “course”, you include the average speed you aim to cycle at. When you start the course after downloading it to your device, a large arrow appears on the screen and begins to move along your planned course. You are represented on the screen with a smaller arrow. If your aim is to cycle at a certain average speed, it is useful to see how well you are doing compared to the larger arrow: your virtual partner. A separate screen shows you how far ahead or behind you are in terms of distance and time.
The Edge 810 has several other features that I have had no use for on this particular trip or haven’t understood. When I’m back home, I’ll want to try the heart rate monitor and cadence sensor when I go back to training and improving my cycling strength.
The 810 allows you to set up separate profiles for different kinds of bikes. It also allows you to set up screens that appear with various information for different kinds of riding: racing, training, or any other kind of riding you do. I created a separate profile I called “trips” that shows me only the information I need for touring.
The screen is easy to swap while riding and swapping works even when you have fully gloved fingers.
I have not tried other GPS devices for cycling on the market and I have not tried using mobile phone android apps and maps like some of my friends have suggested, so I do not have anything to compare to. I am certain that my phone battery would not last a day if I was using it to navigate. Having a separate navigation device allowed me to keep my phone fully charged for emergency calls if ever needed. The 810 is quite expensive. If there are other cheaper devices that do the job, then they should be fine. Paying extra for the live tracking feature that is really unreliable, according to my experience, and that also sucks the life out of the phone battery, is not worth it, in my opinion. I am not happy that it was impossible to find enough detailed information that would have helped me make better use of the device. I am, nevertheless, planning on using it often in the future, but in combination with digital/paper maps and making sure I download routes that I have designed myself in detail. I am not convinced that Garmin has yet got it right in terms of designing a navigator specifically for cyclists. There are different kinds of cycling and each activity has different requirements from a navigator. I don’t see this device as addressing those various needs as well as one would expect given its price. It’s a device I am very glad I had with me on this trip despite the issues. I plan to use it much more in the future. But If I knew all this before I made my purchase I would have looked into cheaper options on the market.