Author Topic: TransAmerica, traditional route: maps, GPS, both?  (Read 764 times)

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Offline New Jawn

TransAmerica, traditional route: maps, GPS, both?
« on: August 06, 2021, 03:48:12 pm »
In May 2022, I will do a 1,800 mile section of the TA.  I've ordered and received the ACA printed maps for the relevant sections.  They look fine to me, BUT...
 ... having a Garmin 530 mounted on the handlebar with turn-by-turn navigation is very tempting.

For those who've done the TransAmerica or another long, popular route, did you use maps, GPS, both?  Were you to do it again knowing then what you know now, would you make changes regarding navigation?

Being not tech savvy, I assume that with the  purchase of a Garmin 530 along with their "Cycling America...." download maps, still to get the same ACA route would also require purchasing the GPX data from ACA?

Thanks in advance for any info.

Offline HobbesOnTour

Re: TransAmerica, traditional route: maps, GPS, both?
« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2021, 10:25:15 pm »
Some people use maps, some gps some both. The important thing is to be comfortable in whatever method you choose.  It's no good depending on maps if you can't read the darn things and it's no good depending on gps if you struggle to understand the unit.

You have lots of time to discover what method(s) work for you.

Personally, if I had the maps I'd sit down and create my own gps files from the maps. It's really quite straightforward. You'll need to get familiar with some route planning sites or apps. Strava, RideWithGps, Komoot are popular ones, I prefer cycle.travel.net.

A good app to learn about gps for a bike is Osmand. You can create or import gpx files and follow them on your phone with voice prompts and turn by turn directions. It has a lot of very handy features for a bike tourist and works completely offline. It has been my emergency back up for years.
(I don't recommend using a phone in such a way in such a long tour just as a method for becoming familiar with a bike satnav.

To answer your question I find that a gps device is invaluable in large urban areas where I may not want to stop and check notes or my phone.
For someone navigationally challenged it gave me a lot of confidence.
The size and scale of the ACA maps are easy to follow if in front of you though. A gps unit can give the flexibility and confidence to wander off route or to head for a different destination if circumstances change.
If it's your thing, a gps unit may give a more "real time" perspective of gradient.
One thing I love about my gps unit is that at the end of each ride I can upload it (I use Strava, other options are available), add photos and comments if I like and hey presto! A record of my ride. If I want people can follow my progress. For a tour I think it's brilliant! (Yes, I could use my phone but that drains the battery).

If you haven't bought a gps unit yet, hold off until you've had a good think about how you want it to work. They don't all work the same.

Good luck!



Offline staehpj1

Re: TransAmerica, traditional route: maps, GPS, both?
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2021, 07:26:02 am »
Personally for ACA routes I have just used the paper maps.  Never bothered with the GPS except for in town or off route destination directions and then I used my phone.

I have used a hand held GPS for route navigation on non ACA routes, but mostly for dirt travel where turns are frequent and less obvious.

These days things are changing and I may consider using a phone app, but I kind of hate being battery dependent.  I guess I may be happy with battery life with the phone in airplane mode.  I am not willing to go to too great of lengths to keep the phone charged.  I prefer to just keep electronics turned off most of the time and not worry about frequent charging, solar panels, battery banks, and so on.

For dirt off road travel a hand held GPS that takes AA or AAA batteries has been one answer.  Another was extra phone batteries, but my recent phones haven't had removeable batteries.

Offline New Jawn

Re: TransAmerica, traditional route: maps, GPS, both?
« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2021, 03:06:10 pm »
Very helpful information and I appreciate it very much.

I had not heard of the apps mentioned and I'd never thought about creating my own gpx files.  I'm not tech savvy and am easily daunted by what is seen by most as basic computer literacy.  I check those mentioned and try to find one safe for idiots.

I have the same sentiment as does staehpj1 in that I don't want to be constrained by battery limitations, thus the appeal of the Garmin 530, which promises 20 hrs between charging.  My cellphone, Samsung 6, can do about 8 hrs. if I'm using GPS.  I intend to camp as much as possible, so I'd expect that charging opportunities may be limited.  To continue down the tech rabbit hole, a common charging pack would allow 3 charges, thus boosting my time away from an outlet to 80 hrs.

About the ACA maps, and I'll be going west bound, once you get to western Missouri, there are far fewer road junctions and changes to worry about.  I will probably use the Ortlieb 6 High Vis. for a handlebar bag, which allows you to drape a Map-Case over it.     I've hiked 1,100 miles on the Appalachian Trail with just maps rather than GPS, so I'm comfortable with them, but then the AT has very, very few trail junctions and even those are nearly always blazed.

I'll check out making my own GPS files, though.  Garmin is tempting, most probably because I have one in my car and it's so helpful.

Offline HobbesOnTour

Re: TransAmerica, traditional route: maps, GPS, both?
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2021, 09:58:11 am »
While battery is important, there are other considerations to take into account.
In fact, pretty much the main units available offer similar battery specs (depending on usage).
Things I considered on top of battery life were:
Customer service (for when things go wrong)
Cabling (one cable for phone, kindle, camera etc.)
Ease of use
Usability (for example, switching off for lunch and back on later)
Compatibility with phone (I like to change things on the fly)
Compatibility with apps that I use - Osmand etc.
Charging on the go (Dynohub)
Types of maps in unit and their uses
(A detailed colour map on such a small screen is nowhere near as clear or as usable as maps on my phone, or some units allow searching by address and some not. Some units store maps on memory cards that may need to be changed or can become corrupted).
Charging time. (I've seen one unit that requires 8 hours charging for 10-12 hours of use!)

The world of gps units can be very confusing at the start. Fortunately, you have lots of time to learn about it.

*Inspired by your car gps being "so helpful". A bike gps is not like a car gps! In a car you'll rarely notice if it's taking the long way home, the quality of the road or if it is deliberately taking you on (or away from) all the hills. You'll notice on a bike! :)

Good luck!

Offline ray b

Re: TransAmerica, traditional route: maps, GPS, both?
« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2021, 05:20:33 pm »
You have done a lot of research.

A belt and suspenders guy, I have the current paper map and the phone app on the phone in my top case, and follow the route on my Garmin etrex - at an age of far-sightedness, I simply try to keep my position in the center of the colored line on the tiny screen.

I also carry a Garmin Inreach Mini to check in with the wife nightly and in case of emergency. (Just met a motorcylist doing the GDMBR who had to activate his emergency communicator in NM to get life-flighted out for treatment of an MI.)

I carry a tablet (surface go2) and phone with 3000 mah batteries, so nightly in the tent, charge my front and rear light and phone in the tent witj a 24,000 mah battery that I top up whenever I find a good bad or cafe withe internet  - like now at the Miner's Grubstake in Atlantic City WY.
“A good man always knows his limitations.”