Saturday, January 10, 2009

Too Much Information Smackdown


This year's present from the Solstice Bear was a Garmin eTrex Vista GPS unit. It will take me months to master all its features, but today I took it for a basic tracking test run on my club ride. I had my VDO cyclometer, as well, so I could to a side-by-side comparison. Well, not exactly side-by-side--the VDO was mounted in its usual place on the handlebar and the GPS was in my front bag. But I digress.

For a basic cyclometer, the VDO provides a wealth of information. Too much information, some of my friends would say, given my post-acquisition habit of calling out the grade of whatever monster hill we were climbing. Did we REALLY need to know that Cole School Rd is 18%? (That's a rhetorical question--of COURSE we needed to know that. How else could we later brag about conquering it?). But because its data output is based on things like how well I measured my wheel size and how accurately I calculated my starting altitude, I was never quite positive that it was giving me the right information. Plus, it was no use to me if I got lost and needed a map. Enter the Garmin.

I purposely did not get a bicycle-specific Garmin. One, they are very expensive. Two, they have really poor battery life. Three, they are no good on a snowshoeing expedition (ditto there for the VDO). Several of my friends use the eTrex Vista and on their recommendation, that's what I went for. It was far less expensive and has a far longer battery life. Plus, I can plug in a topo card and hit the trail(s).

So how do the two compare? Well, as far the basic stats go, there was not much of a difference.


Mileage 78.71
Max Speed 34
Average Speed 13.7
Elevation Gain 3841' (measured by barometric pressure)
Max Elevation 1215'


Mileage 77.9
Max Speed 34.1
Average Speed 13.6
Elevation Gain 3952' (measured by satellite)
Max Elevation 1173'

The VDO was able to tell me the temperature (31 degrees when I left home at 7:30 AM, 36 degrees when I returned home at 3:00 PM), which the Garmin could not. Unlike the Garmin, however, the VDO could not direct me to the nearest restaurant, bowling alley or geocache.

More importantly, the VDO could not let me come home and do this


tangobiker said...

This is pretty cool, Cecil. I had to zoom in to see that you took Skyline (in one direction)... not Leif Erikson. The last thing I need, though, is another bike accessory. I'm trying to simplify, and stop the bleeding! Which means I may pester you for this kind of info on a future ride.

beth h said...

What I want to know, as someone clinging stubbornly to a Huret mechanical cyclometer, is if one's riding style or speed changes if the battery dies in mid-ride...

Cecil Anne said...

I suppose it is possible that someone who uses the cyclometer for purposes of maintaining specific speeds, or who has a cadence monitor, might be a little put out if the battery died. Since that is not why I use it, that would not be my concern if it lost power. I like the more bells and whistles-ish cyclometers because I am an information geek I like the GPS because, in addition to the cyclometer info, I can download/upload routes to see where I need to go, or where I have been. For example, on yesterday's ride home from Hillsboro, my friend Steve took me on a very nice and interesting route from Longbottom to the intersection of 185th and West Union that bypassed a lot of heavy traffic roads. I was not paying too much attention to our turns or street names, however. But with the aid of the Garmin, I can now retrace that route any time!

Kevin said...

I live and breath by my speed and cadence indicators. My bike has a Cateye Velo 5 AND a Cateye Astral 8 so that I can have cadence, speed, trip miles, and time of day all displayed without having to futz with buttons while riding. I left them on the bike even when I had my Garmin Edge 305. The 305 gave a wealth of cycling specific info including current grade and elapsed climbing. I loved the ability to preload a route and have the 305 prompt me at turns. Being a data freak like you, I really liked the ability to review my rides, compare this time to last, see my pace over sections of the ride as compared to last time, even heart rate if I wanted. Alas, after a firmware upgrade my 305 was not able to communicate with my computer and Garmin's tech support was sorely lacking. Without the ability to download to computer and analyze there just wasn't enough there that wasn't already supplied by my Cateyes to justify keeping it for me.

I'm looking at getting a new one, maybe an Edge 605 (no communication issues!) or maybe your experience with the Vista will lean me in that direction.
I already have a GPS that works great for backcountry hiking so this doesn't need to do both duties. Keep us posted!

Dr Codfish said...


Actually I bought myself one of these gizmos with my REI bonus after spending every red cent fixing up the house last year. You are already way ahead of me in terms of sophisticated use.

What I like about it is that when out on a ride if I'm not sure where I am or where I want to go, I can pan the screen out and there I have the local map. I upgraded to a "4 gig micro diskette" so that I could put more maps into the memory.

Can't resist one strong piece of advice:

If you do end up mounting on your bars or somewhere, be sure to retain the leash and secure it so that in the event you should go down or the thing somehow escapes the mount this has happened to me once) it won't go skittering across the black top. I just wrap the leash around the stem until there is no more slack. As I said, this has saved my toy once in the last year.

Get used to this:

"I'm not sure, go ask Cecil."

Yr Pal Dr C

Cecil Anne said...

Cadence? What is this thing "cadence" of which you speak? Snicker . .

But seriously - in close to 30 years of obsessive cycling, cadence is the one thing I have never obsessed enough about to care about seeing it displayed . . .