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Using your Iphone as a Bicycle GPS for <$20

August 8, 2010

My sense of direction is pretty bad, so I either learn new routes by following friends, or get lost several times before eventually finding my way. I’ve got an older Garmin ETrex GPS, which is fine for some things- in particular it’s weatherproofness, but is a major PITA to upload or download routes/waypoints. Newer GPSs are likely better in this regard, but they’re expensive unitaskers.

So when I started looking at the complex routes on bikely.com for a way over the Golden Gate Bridge from my house, I knew I’d have two realistic options: get the handlebar mount for my old ETrex and suffer with its shortcomings, or try to use my iPhone.

I decided on the later, using the free Trails Lite app to navigate a new route home from work one night. After plotting out the route on bikely.com, I downloaded the GPX to the Trails app and handheld the phone for sections I was unfamiliar with. It worked great, but the Lite version only allows you to have one set of tracks, and hand holding the phone is just asking for trouble.

Some quick homework on Amazon led me to the RAM Handlebar iPhone Mount. Its easy to install, well built, and hold my 3GS very securely- even on bumpy 30mph+ decents.

After installing the handlebar mount, I shelled out for the for-pay version of Trails ($14 + $4), expecting everything to work smoothly. Wrong. The default settings in Trails led to some pretty inaccurate readings. Uh, I didn’t actually ride across the water either of these times: .
Changing three default settings in Trails seemed to clear this up: 1. make sure you choose “biking” for your recording. Otherwise it seems to snap you to public roads. 2. Change the Required accuracy to something smaller. I use ~100 yards. Change the Distance Filter to a minimum distance of ~100 yards. The combination of these three changes means no more wildly off waypoints.

But there was a second issue. My phone would lock up, leading to my first ever needed hard reset. I had upgraded to iOS 4.0.1 just weeks prior with no known issues, but besides the lockup problem, I was seeing noticeably worse battery life. A friend (@lowbit) suggested doing a sync/restore of the phone to clear up the battery woes, and it worked! And I have yet to have another app lockup since doing the restore. Not sure why that actually helped, but I’m glad that it did.

So now I’ve got a very functional handlebar mounted GPS for less than $20. And importing and exporting waypoints is trivially simple. A fully charged iPhone seems to last about 3 hours while displaying a “live map” and recording waypoints all along. Good enough for most rides. Maybe I’ll strap the MintyBoost @royrob is making for me to the handlebars for the GG Bridge ride. šŸ™‚

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One Comment
  1. I’m glad you sorted out the issues. There will be no more supersonic biking for you though šŸ™‚

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