WALES, BIKES & SATELLITES
Eschewing paper maps in favour of handlebar-mounted electronica, and despite inclement Welsh weather and wilderness, Team Stuff go touring.
■ BIKE HUB App + IPHONE 5
■ BRYTON RIDER 50
■ GARMIN EDGE 810
Why we tested
To find the perfect cycle touring sat-nav. There are dozens of ride-tracking apps on the market, but we were after the cycle equivalent of a TomTom: plug in a destination, arrive without a glitch and, as a bonus, get post-ride route analysis for ego fuel. After some preliminary testing we selected these three solutions and traipsed to Swansea to give them a mix of country and city riding to tackle (as well as some low-signal issues). Dropped off in the Brecon Beacons, we had to rely entirely on our chosen bike-navs to guide us to our final destination over 40 miles away on the Gower. And any following resulted in severe Haribo sanctions.
We left from…
The winding and windy A4069, halfway up The Black Mountain at the western end of the beautiful Brecon Beacons.
We stopped at…
The Butcher’s Arms in Pontardawe for a fizzy pop and a Mars Bar.
Then again at…
One Shoe Cafe on the outskirts of Swansea for a cream tea.
Until we finally reached…
The King’s Head Inn, Llangennith (£99 per double room, B&B, kingsheadgower.co.uk), right by the coast on the Gower Peninsula. Good rooms, great food and lovely local beer — just the place for post-ride ribaldry and the resting of rubbery pins.
Bike Hub App + iPhone5
I was intrigued by iBike’s iPhone bicycle mount, but its companion apps only do tracking, not directions. So I decided to pair it up with the free Bike Hub app, available for Android and iPhone, and lauded by cyclists up and down the UK. Net result: my bike securely sat-navved up for just £45. Win.
Using an iPhone 5 made inputting the address of the Butcher’s Arms a doddle, and of the four route choices offered by Bike Hub. I hit fastest’. Obviously. The auto-lock of the iPhone kept blacking out the screen, so I turned that off — no way that could end up biting me in the bum, eh?
My less-than-race-fit physique helped me on the first downhill leg, and I took a bit of a lead, my less-than-race-stiff Pinnacle soaking up the A4069’s bumps nicely. Hearing Bike Hub’s instructions was pretty impossible at speed, but the map on the big screen proved relatively easy to follow and I was first to arrive at the Butcher’s Arms.
Like the proverbial hare, I felt confident that I could spin an easier gear on the next leg, so I chose Bike Hub’s ‘balanced’ route a middle-ground of speed and serenity and found myself on a sun-dappled cycle path following the River Tawe towards Swansea. I didn’t care if this was a slower route than the one Will and Ross were taking, I was enjoying mine far more.
And then disaster struck. The cycle path ended abruptly and my iPhone battery died. Thankfully I was carrying a spare iPhone 4, but I hadn’t remembered to download the Bike Hub app to it — and doing so over the slower network of rural Wales took ages. By the time I reached One Shoe Cafe the other guys had already been and gone. Hare loses again.
Tea for one
A hasty, yet heartening, cup of tea gave way to yet more calamity. About three-quarters of an hour out from the One Shoe, the iPhone 4 — rattling infuriatingly in the iPhone 5-adjusted iBike mount — also died on me. Still miles away from the final stop, in gathering darkness and without a map, I had to swallow my geek pride and ask for directions.
Verbally routed, then, but the risks of cycling with no lights finally forced me to walk the last mile to The King’s Head. My early lead was a distant memory, but at least the battery deaths also seemed to have deleted the tracking data…
Price iBike Phone Booth 5 mount: £45; Bike Hub app: free
Battery life 2hrs (approx)
Weight 177 g (inc. iPhone 5)
Maps UK. Republic of Ireland
Easier to use than a dedicated sat-nav, but the drain on your phone battery makes it impractical
GARMIN EDGE 810
The Edge 810 isn’t just a sat-nav. It’s a powerful bike computer that can be set up for a garage full of different bikes and linked to heart rate, cadence and power sensors, furnishing you with a professional level of cyclo-data that you can share on Facebook or Twitter. As the fierce Brecon wind chastened my shamefully be-Lycra’d behind. I didn’t feel all that professional, but happily the Garmin only takes moment to attach and its screen, though small, works well even with thick gloves on. Within moments I had my route and was giving chase along a beautiful stretch of fast mountain road.
It’s bleeping brilliant
The Garmin doesn’t show you a huge map, but a huge map is just a dangerous distraction when you’re whipping through the Welsh countryside on a full-carbon road bike. Instead, you must learn a two-bleep vocabulary: one bleep means there’s a direction change coming up, at which point you check the small but highly readable map. A few hundred metres later, a different bleepity-beep tells you it’s this junction: another quick map-check and you can’t go wrong. There are no voice instructions or unnecessary complications, and the backlight can be set to only come on for these moments, extending the battery life. Even with the backlight off, though, the screen is legible in daylight.
Road to hell
The Garmin’s one foible was its fondness for big roads. I finished the second stage long before Ross and Tom — partly because I’m much better at cycling than they are, but mainly because the Garmin set me a terrifying surprise time trial along a dual carriageway into Swansea. That obviously upped my pace, but after several minutes trying to keep up with 50mph traffic I bailed on to a less lethal road. The Garmin was unfazed: it gave a quick bleep, recalculated the route and had fresh directions ready in less than 30 seconds. Despite the pant-ruining fear of the A4067, I consider this more of a safety lesson than a major fault. On any cycle trip, you’re best off planning your route in advance, and with the 810 you can do this using Google Maps or Garmin Basecamp, then upload it to the unit. The 810 is easy to use, limits distractions and finished the day with enough battery for another full day’s worth of riding (which is more than can be said for me). Plan your routes, and it’s the perfect bike-nav.
Price £480 (Performance & Navigation Bundle)
Battery life 17hrs
Maps UK. Republic of Ireland, Europe
A capable navigator and a superb cycle computer — as good as bike-nav gets at the moment
BRYTON RIDER 50
It’s fair to say that I didn’t get off to the best start with the Rider 50. First impressions weren’t too bad — it clicked easily and securely into its dock, itself secured by thick rubber bands around the stem of my (lovely) Verenti’s bars. And it was just as quick to get a GPS fix and show my position. But after that, things went a little downhill. Almost literally. Setting my destination was a little fiddly — the small joystick was easy to use with gloves on but the buttons on the side were harder to locate and press. Worse, the first route it suggested was a straight, off-road kamikaze down the valleyside. Hardly road bike territory. The other two shot off as I restarted the Bryton, which didn’t help my mood any. Especially given that it was a distinctly chilly 1°C at the top of the Brecon Beacons, I was also being buffeted by 20mph winds and to top it all off I’d just seen Tom force his way into a pair of bib shorts. Nice to get out of the office, eh?
Ghost in the machine
Eventually I got going and was able to enjoy the ride the Bryton gave me. The 2.2in screen is transreflective, making it a doddle to read in bright sunlight (it’s also backlit for use in the dark), and there are three main screens you can switch between while you’re riding: the map, a data screen and one for training. That last screen gives you the option to race against a ghost version of yourself, like Mario Kart but in the real world. Of course. I didn’t need that -I had a couple of real humans to catch.
The Bryton didn’t actually help with that a great deal. Keeping an eye on it while also trying to dodge cars was decidedly tricky, as was its laissez-faire attitude to one-way streets. It also took me over the steepest hills in Swansea when I reckon it would have been easier to ride around the bottom. But the biggest inconvenience was that it wouldn’t recognise postcodes or building names, which is how all of our checkpoints had been provided. To get to The King’s Head I had to navigate to the closest intersection, rather than the pub itself.
However, with the route locked-in, I was able to really get the hammer down, and the bold speed and distance screen on the Bryton egged me on to the extent that I was somehow the first to our final destination. If there’s a rematch, I’ll definitely upload the route first.
Battery life 15hrs
Maps Full UK and Republic of Ireland, basic Europe
Not sophisticated enough for city couriers, but great with your own preloaded routes
«THE WINNER» GARMIN EDGE 810
After miles of hills, sweat and fear, we each came to know our cycling sat-nav solutions intimately — and realised they all have foibles.
Using your smartphone with an app such as Bike Hub is brilliant around town, but forcing the screen on and asking your phone to deliver constant GPS updates while doing other smartphoney things destroys your battery, making it an unworkable solution for long journeys.
The Bryton’s a far better option for the serious bike trekker, and great value for a dedicated cycle sat-nav. It has some quirks in terms of route planning and usability, though — the one it tried on Ross would have been tough for a mountain bike, let alone a skinny-tyred racer.
Meanwhile, the Edge’s primary fault is its price: it’s by far the most expensive solution here. But it’s also comfortably the best, and certainly the one we’d want in charge of our rides, with great usability and clear guidance that never gets in the way of ride enjoyment.
If we were Garmin, we’d build an Edge with voice control. It would make entering destinations much easier than it is with clumsy, gloved fingers. And while we were at it, we’d add intelligent, on-the-fly ride recommendations from other bikers. Because let’s face it. Being able to hop on your bike wherever you find yourself and immediately know where to point your front wheel would be a killer feature.
THE GARMIN’S THE MOST EXPENSIVE OUT THERE, BUT IT’S COMFORTABLY THE BEST