This is a fairly essential piece of kit if you are following a written route of the ‘turn left after 1 mile’ variety. You might get away without one if you are purely following a map. But even then it’s nice to know how far you have gone.
Personally I find a bike computer essential to help me calculate how far I have been, how far I have to go and how long it will take me to get there.
I use a Garmin 800, a cycling specific satellite navigation device. It has all the functions of an advanced bike computer plus the added bonus of on screen navigation.
Mine also has a heart rate monitor so I can keep an eye on how hard I am working. I have a tendency to push too hard and need to make sure my heart rate doesn’t creep up too high for too long. It’s not a problem over a short training ride but on day long rides it means I run out of energy before the end of.
Please note that even the most sophisticated computer will not help you if you do not take the time to learn how to use it. When I first used a sat nav for a ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End (JOGLE) it proved to be fairly useless becasue:
- I forgot to load my route onto it before I left! [I managed to download it via the computer at my overnight B&B near John O’Groats].
- I discovered that the built in rechargeable battery only lasted 8-9 hours. My average day was 10-12 hours cycling. I have since upgraed to a Garmin 800 which has an alleged battery life of up to 20 hours. However this is if used without navigation turned on, which for the purposes of touring is pretty pointless. The length of the battery life is mostly determined by how bright the screen is. If turned down to minimum I have had 15 hours out of my Garmin 800 whilst navigating. However, at full brightness the battery will only last about 7 hours. You can buy cheap (compared to the cost of the sat nav) external batteries that will charge the sat nav a number of times over. With a bit of ingenuity you can attach this to your bike with a cable feeding to the sat nav for continuous power. I have successfully cycled for 40 hours using this method with power left in the external battery and the sat nav still on full charge at the end.
- I didn’t realise that if I asked the device to recalculate the route it would do so from the point I was at to the end. I thought it would take me to the nearest point on my programmed route. (I have since found out how to do this – see How to re-route using a Garmin 800). As a result it kept trying to send me down busy roads whenever I went off route.
Since that JOGLE I have learnt how to set up and use my sat nav properly. I now find it an invaluable aid. Gone are the fumblings with paper routes and desperately trying to remember whether it is L or R at the next T. And if you are riding in the dark it is ideal – just follow the line on the screen. I have ridden Coast to Coast and Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) twice since my JOGLE and on each occasion I relied solely on the sat nav for navigation, not even taking a paper route as back up. However, If you read My Coast to Coast you will see having no back up can prove problematical.
If are foolish enough to risk travelling without a map, like me, and you don’t have a sat nav, a more basic bit of equipment that might be useful is a compass. If you do get lost it’s better to know you are at least heading in vaguely the right direction.