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Which Gps Unit For A Mountain Bike

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I read throug a lot of websites and forums, but I still don't know, which GPS unit is the best for using on a moutain bike.


I need:

- GPS reception in deep forest and gorges

- Long Battery life

- Display also in sunlight readable

- good routing software


Thanks for your help!



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One problem on a mountain bike is that if you want to see the display while riding it needs to be on (or near) the handlebars and fairly horizontal. In that position your body will be blocking quite a bit of the sky and much of the rest might be blocked by canyon walls and/or dense foliage cover.


Therefore I'd recommend a model that can accept an external antenna (the Gilsson works well). The 60c/cs models have a good color display, excellent battery life, external antenna jack and make a good match to your listed requirements.


You also list good routing capability. I don't think any unit will do a good job of routing you on mountain bike trails - and it'd be hard to see how it could take into account all personal preferences (hilly route vs. flat, scenic vs. shorter, etc. For routing on streets to the trailhead, the available CitySelect software does a good job and you can set up the 60c/cs for bicycle use so the routing will generally pick suitable streets.

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The SporTrak Pro doesn't have a magnetic compass at all (triaxial or otherwise). The SporTrak Color does, but its screen is not as good as that of the 60c/cs and it lacks an external antenna input. I wouldn't view the compass as critical for mountain biking anyway - as long as you're moving at least a few km/h the GPS-based compass will work fine (and it's a good idea to have a backup mechanical compass along anyway).

If mounted horizontally on the handlebars then the magnetic compass of the 60cs would work fine despite not being triaxial.


The altitude errors sometimes seen on the eMap and other models without a pressure-based altimeter is usually due to having a period of marginal reception where the unit can only get a 2D position lock (typically only 3 satellites being received). In that case, the altitude is assumed to be constant even though it may well be changing and you can easily end up with a substantial difference. If accurate altitude readings are important to you, then choose a unit that supplements the GPS with a pressure-based altimeter. The 60cs does so, but none of the Meridians or SporTrak models do. The eXplorist 300 is the first Magellan to use the pressure sensor as an altimeter and the 600 (available soon) will as well, but neither seems to have the auto-calibration feature of the Garmins with pressure sensors.

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The 60CS with its very readable color screen is a good choice. The display is actually easier to read in the sunlight than it is indoors. It has the best battery life of any GPS that I'm aware of (nearly double that of most models) and the City Select routing software is excellent. You can also run CS and TOPO at the same time and flick between topo maps and regular road maps with a few presses of the buttons.

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For what it's worth, I used my Vista on my MTB with great success. The Garmin bracket worked fine. I would think that a smaller unit is better suited to bike use; an external antenna would be a hassle. I caution you to be careful...looking at the screen is quite distracting while you are in motion and can lead to a quick trip over the bars.

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For what it's worth, I used my Vista on my MTB with great success. The Garmin bracket worked fine. I would think that a smaller unit is better suited to bike use;

I agree. I think you'd get less vibration with a smaller unit. The Vista doesn't route, but the Vista C and Legend C do and both would be great choices for a bike.


I've seen the mount for the 60 series and for the eTrex series and the eTrex mount looks a lot more secure to me.

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I've had a VistaC for about a month now, and it's gone on two mountain bike rides with me. The handlebar mount has held up well, and I haven't lost reception except in one place (deep narrow river valley). I can't talk about tree cover, since we don't really have trees leafing out yet here. The rides I've done aren't hideously technical, and I don't do a lot of really big drops or such, but I've crossed my fair share of log piles, and gone down some steep rocky bumpy bits, and hit some air with the GPS on, no problems so far.



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Magellan Gold or Platinum or Sportrak Pro have a quadrifieler antenna which is more accurate than Garmins Typical Patch antenna. Especially under trees. Also the Garmins tend to have a smaller display. I supppose the caution would be, pay attention to the trail or road instead of concentrating on the GPS. CRASH!

Edited by mudhuggers
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For mountain biking use, I'd highly recommend one of the eTrex units, preferably a color one as they have routing capability, get better reception than the B/W ones and have longer battery life. (One other possiblity would be the explorist, which should have similar strengths for this application, but I don't have hands on experience with those units)


As for some pro's and con's:


Small size, doesn't get in the way as much, less likely to get damaged in the inevitable crashes.


While possibly having less sensitivity when compared to say a sportrak with both units positioned optimally, they do better in the horizontal postion it will be in on your handlebars than a sportrak does.


Battery life as good as you can get with the current offerings


Reception/accuracy as good as it gets in canyons




eTrex series sometimes suffer from battery contact problems during heavy vibration applications. You'll probably end up having to use contact grease on the battery contacts, and possibly have to adjust the contact tension a little.


Button arrangement is optimised for having the unit in your hand, they're more awkward when mounted on handlebars.


Good luck with your rides....

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I have been using a Magellan Map 330 for mapping mountain bike trails for several years now. It replaced my stolen Garmin 12xl :o


Though both are older units, the magellan kicked the 12xl's butt in reception under heavier canopies. So i am kind of a proponent for magellan as far as reception is concerned. This year i picked up a new Rino 110 and an old Eagle Explorer so we will soon see how they perform :)


Battery life on the 330 is not so good however.


For map routing software, there are plenty of softwares you use - you don't have to use Garmin or Magellans stuff - give softwares like ExpertGPS or Topofusion a try. Most new gpses i have toyed with all have nice route management features. Though for biking one with loud audible alarms would probably be nice. Of course PC connectivity is important here.


Of course if you want to be able to upload topo maps and such to your GPS then thats a whole different story!


For "mounting", I always just throw the GPS in the mesh netting on my camelbak - on the trail I typically would never allow me to take my eyes off the trail long enough to see my gps without some sort of spectacular crash! Originally i built a crazy makeshift holder from an old waterbottle and threw it in a water bottle holder. That worked pretty well too.


And all mountain bikers with GPSes, please check out my site: www.crankfire.com - it is built around collecting GPS data about bike trails and the number of members with GPS units is pretty thin :) (sorry about the shameless promotion :) i get excited when i find other gps using mtn bikers)

Edited by nchmura
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I like the RAM mount for the 60CS. I've also got a Meridean Platinum, and I'm not as impressed with the RAM mount for it. Too much vibration. The 60CS mount is pretty bomb-proof.


Rich Owings




"We were desert mystics, my friends and I, pouring over our maps as

others do their holy books." - Edward Abbey

Local cacher Geekqualizer uses this same setup, and say it works great for him.

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I use a Garmin GPSMap 60CS with the Garmin handlebar mount in my mountain bike.



- Good battery life. Well in excess of 10hours. sometimes 20h or more.

- Screen readeable under direct sunlight. The backligth is also very useful.

- I have had no problems with satellite reception, but i have not ridden under deep tree foliage nor deep canyons. I have ridden tough under trees and reception is ok.

- Will do autorouting if the loaded maps support it.

- Very rugged. It is well built.

- I find the barometer (smoothens the gps altitude reading) and compass really helpful. Specially the compass as it allows to find a direction even when you are stopped. Which is the case when you stop at a crossing and you do not know which direction to take.

- easy to use. always nice but essential when riding a mountain bike

- The unit is well secured when riddind. And it has only shutdown itself once due to bad baterry contact and vibrations once (i have ridden more than 50hours).



- The compass has to be held horizontal to be operative but that is the position that i find the best when placed in the handlebar

- Satellite reception is better is the unit is held vertical (the antenna pointing to the sky) but the small loose of sensitivity when held horizontal does not seem to affect much. even when ridding the bike.

- Price. This unit is not cheap.

- Memory: It is not upgreadeable but i do not feel that the available (56Mb) is tigth.


Garmin sells also the Vista C which is moreor less the same unit except for:

- size: smaller and lighter (50g) which is good for a mountain bike

- memory: 24Mb available for map memory

- antenna: patch one against the quad-helix of the GPSMap 60CS. People report that the patch ones are worse than the quad-helix ones. I have not been able to compare both. But maybe the reception is similar in the handlebar position as the patch ones work better horizntally. But it is just a guess.

- ease of use: the Vista may be a little bit more ackward to operate.

- screen: it is a little bit smaller and the resolution is different, wider and shorter (but the total ammount of pixels is more or less the same)

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That sure is quite a bit of hassle to go through just to power up a GPSr. Especially in light of the fact that there are plenty of units out there that take widely available "AA" batteries.


The Quest is fatally flawed because of its' sealed Li-ion battery. It's bad enough that it uses an expensive Li-ion battery to begin with, but to then have it sealed inside the unit is just ridiculous. Consumers should have the ability to readily change batteries themselves. That would give them the option to carry a spare battery for longer forays away from a power source or to replace a dead battery when it finally gives up the ghost. I'd hate to think how much Garmin charges to replace the battery or how long the unit would be out of commission while it's being serviced. Apple charges an absurd $99 to "replace" an iPod battery. What a racket. Why Garmin went the sealed battery route like Apple did with the iPod is beyond me. It's a deal breaker.

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