For my birthday I received a bit of cash and had wanted a nice GPS mapping system for my bike for a while. I had been looking at the Garmin Edge 810 (around £210) that has had rave reviews among my fellows Mamils. I came close to buying one but then realised something critical –the chief reason I cycle is to cover more ground cross country than I do on foot.
I cast a wider glance to find a piece of kit that may be used for other sports as well. Early next year I’m getting a 20ft keelboat for pottering around Lyme Bay with my family, which fits in with my sailing writing work and I’m being paid to learn to paraglide next year as well. What with walking to add to the flying and sailing, I need a piece of kit that isn’t too specialised in its niche so the Garmin eTrex Touch 35 seemed the right thing for me. I paid £172 for it.
eTrex Touch 35 barometric sensor
Though the eTrex Touch 35 makes no claims about flying (there are other systems in Garmin’s range for that) it can be used for walking and sailing. It has a barometric pressure sensor that indicates height so even without a topographic map you can see the height you have climbed over a ride or walk. This differs from the lower one in the eTrex Touch range, the Touch 25 lacks this widget. One of the drawbacks of the system is that the preloaded map does not have contours or height indications, so at least knowing after your ride you can get an idea of how much climbing you have done.
The Touch 35 comes with what Garmin call a ‘Topoactive’ map. The Garmin Edge 810 requires you to buy your own maps for £20 – £50 so this was a decent extra saving in cash. The ‘Topo’ prefix however is a misnomer as one would expect in a map with the ‘Topo’ prefix that you would have contours and height indicators on the map. You don’t.
You do however get a good indication of where most of the rideable byways, unpaved roads and tracks are that are legal to ride. In Dorset there are over 1000 miles of them, and as such I know a fair few rides that go straight from my front door, and using the free Garmin BaseCamp software have plotted a few more. This weekend I plotted a 12.5 mile route on BaseCamp and stored it on my Touch 35. Due to the detail it gives, I rode less than a mile on busy roads, and most of that was because I couldn’t find the turnoff to a track that would have vastly reduced the ride down the A35. There were some restless beef cattle in a field where I suspected I should turn, and I was in no mood to try to outrun next month’s Sunday dinner up a muddy hill…
The mapping system uses the OpenStreetMap.org user mapped footpaths and roads and as such is very accurate. The missing paths that should have helped me avoid the A35? I’m reversing the route and adding another 12.5 miles to it next week so should find out where I went wrong…
The preloaded Topoactive map covers the whole of continental Europe and many of the islands. I may well want to go for a ride in the Pyrenees next year and will be confident of the detail and that it won’t lead me into the jaws of a protective farm dog as a previous system nearly did.
Does it get you where you want to go?
Yes, it does. On BaseCamp you can tell it to tell you where the turns are on your route. It does this with a chime, drawing your eye to the unit, and it flashes some text on the screen. The text was too small for my 41 year old eyes, and I don’t need reading glasses normally. However the route is shown on the unit, and with the chime you look down to see whether you next turn left or right.
I have used systems that scream at me to pull a U Turn because I’m a metre to the left of the path. This isn’t insistent and doesn’t freak out if you go off the route with a resentful voice saying ‘Recalculating…’ As such, you can choose to use the route or not.
It automatically records your route as soon as it is switched on. If you like having a peak at your stats after, such as max and average speed, height of climbs and so on, it provides that in 90 metre intervals so you can go mad with your statistics on BaseCamp when you get home. On this ride I did an average of 6mph and climbed 365.
The cycle clip – an afterthought
The clip to the bike is an obvious afterthought. Where us Mamils love the Edge handlebar clip, which clearly went through many hours of design, the clip for the eTrex Touch involves cable ties. One can imagine that a month or so before the units were sent for manufacture someone realised this might be used by mountain bikers so hurriedly developed a clip. It is annoying, and I hope it doesn’t let go of the unit one day on the hills.
This is a great piece of gear for the all-rounder outdoorsman. If you are a Mamil, go ahead and buy a Garmin Edge. If you get drawn to other sports then the eTrex Touch 35 is the gear you need. Mine will get well used for quite some time to come!