Using a Garmin Edge 810 for Navigation

TLDR version, April 1, 2018:

I don’t use my Garmin Edge 810 for navigation very often, so when I do, it seems like I have to re-learn how to do so every time. TLDR version of the steps:

  • Download route as TCX file from Ride with GPS or Strava
  • Connect the Edge 810 to the computer, and copy the TCX file to the /Garmin/New Files/ folder on the device
  • And, most important, go to that route on the Edge 810 and manually turn off Virtual Partner

And now back to the old post….

Although my Garmin Edge 810 is marketed as a bicycle GPS and does a great job recording rides, out of the box it is not the easiest to use as a navigational tool with maps. I don’t need this functionality at home, but when traveling out of town with my bike, I’ve always wanted to find someone else’s ride online, upload it to my Garmin, and then have the Garmin tell me where I need to turn without using a printed route slip. I am traveling this week and was finally successful (or should I say, finally spent the time to figure out what needed to be done) in doing this! Here’s how I did it.

The first step was to download maps. As I mentioned in a previous post, I used the Routeable Bicycle Openfietsmap Lite as recommended by DC Rainmaker. In the US, I just download the maps for the state(s) I’m visiting, the state maps are small enough that it’s not worth the hassle (and wait time) to make custom maps.

Then I took some advice from this Scarlet Fire post on how to tweak the navigational settings for the Garmin Edge 800. Most of these also work for the 810, but some of the 810 settings are found in different places. One exception I took to the advice in that post is to use “calculate route for automobile” rather than “bicycle”. Although I’m having a hard time finding documentation on this point, it seems that with the cycle maps, “automobile” is more like “racing bicycle”. Though it really won’t matter since I followed a predetermined route rather than having the Garmin determine a route for me.

Next was to find the GPS file online from someone’s route. If I’m drawing my own routes from scratch, I prefer the Ride With GPS interface. But there are a lot more people using Strava, so I had much better luck finding a route there. Strava lets you search rides by start/finish location, which is key because I wanted to start my ride from where I was staying. Once I found the ride, I saved it to the Strava route builder. Here I only used the route builder as a repository for the route, giving it a short enough name to be visible in my Garmin. (Later I used the route builder to create a shorter version of the ride I previously downloaded. A nice feature of the route builder is that it can auto-route based on the way most cyclists travel through an area.)

After finding the route and saving it to the Strava route builder, there is the choice of what GPS file format to download. The Ride With GPS website suggests that if you have maps, GPX tracks are preferred, but if you don’t have maps, then use TCX. Strava essentially says the same thing in a popup when you go to download the file (though it just says GPX instead of GPX track). So I downloaded the GPX (GPX track, presumably) instead of the TCX. Either way, when navigating with the file, you still get a warning before you need to make a turn. (Update April 1, 2018: Ride With GPS now says that downloading a TCX is preferred, as it will also give you a route slip, which would not be provided if a GPX track were downloaded instead. I have confirmed that the route slip is visible with the TCX from Ride With GPS. Ride With GPS reports that “the downside to a TCX file for navigation is the Virtual Partner. When we create a TCX Course file for a pre-planned route, we have to embed fake timestamps on each point, which is used for the virtual partner speed on the GPS unit. As a result, you’ll end up racing against the virtual partner.” Therefore, I turned off Virtual Partner for that route. I don’t know how this works with a TCX from Strava.)

Finally, this post from VeloGPS (oops, bad link now) has the specifics on how to upload the file to the 810 and then navigate from it. The one exception is that it if I went off course, it wouldn’t automatically recalculate a way for me to go back on course, since I followed the Scarlet Fire site advice above to turn off the automatic recalculation. I didn’t want to risk confusing the GPS into looking for a reroute if I went off course a bit just to find a bathroom, or even worse, completely recalculate my route (such as a shorter route back to the finish if I were on the outbound leg of an out and back ride) in such a case.

As I mentioned earlier, routing per a downloaded GPX track file worked flawlessly on a route I have never previously cycled or driven – in one case even successfully navigating me from a road, to a bike path bridge over a highway, and then back on the road again. I’ll be sure to use this functionality again in the future!