Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rough Riding North-Eastern San Diego County: Ramona - Black Canyon Road - Mesa Grande - Santa Ysabel (with Garmin 310xt Review)

Above: Yours truly, next to the dam at Sutherland Reservoir. (Cycling cap by Swrve.)
It goes without saying that I never embrace technology and only "upgrade" when forced to, or, on rare occasion, when I find something so redeeming and useful that I decided to drop my usual technopathy and go for it. Such is the case with the Garmin 310xt GPS / bike computer / watch / thingamabob. Finally, one of these little units has hit the market with a battery which last long enough to be useful for those of us with an adventurous, endurance-loving embrace to our outdoor pursuits. (My previous Garmin GPS watch (model 405) barely lasted 5 to 5.5 hours, even without using the heartrate monitor feature, though it was advertised as lasting eight hours.)

Skeptical when I read that the new Garmin 310xt would last 20 hours, and boasts tons more features, I posted for feedback on our Facebook page for the Badwater Ultramarathon. Sure enough, several total legit ultrarunners confirmed it lasts 18 to 19 hours, even while using the heartrate monitor feature. That, plus its purported easy upload to the Garmin website for generating maps, elevation profiles, and analyzing data from the ride / run / hike / whatever, made this thing irresistible to me, so I indulged.

Having just gotten a 310xt in the mail and charged it up overnight, today we rode a route which we first enjoyed back on November 15, 2008. We blogged about it then, including lots of photos. Today was a new day, though, and I wanted to put the Garmin through its paces. Boy, am I glad we did! Despite being just a day short of the Summer Solstice, the weather was perfect: warm, but not hot, with sunny skies. Plus there was very little traffic, even on the "busy road" part of the route. It couldn't have been better. Also, with the first-ever Rough Riders Rally coming up in about six weeks, we really wanted to get in some dirt miles on our favorite Rough Riding bikes. Eliz rode her 1974 Williams, converted to 650B wheels with 35mm Col de la Vie tyres, and I rode my new Rivendell Roadeo with 700Cx33mm Jack Brown tyres. Good choices, both, needless to say!

The Garmin was a piece of cake to use. I hit start at the beginning of the ride, then stop at the end. How's that for easy? Along the way, while pedaling, I found it simple to navigate the buttons and menu, so that I could set it to show four bits of data simultaneously: speed, distance, elapsed time, and heartrate. Next time, I will also click the "lap" button at significant landmarks along the way, such as major turns, pass summits, and viewpoints. That will give a little more detail of the route when reviewing the Garmin Connect page about the ride afterward.

"A Garmin Connect page"? What's that, you ask? Well, after installing some simple software in my Mac, and quickly creating my own profile on the webpage, I installed a little "ANT" stick into a USB drive. Then, as soon as the ANT stick detected my Garmin nearby, it downloaded the data from the Garmin. That's right, I didn't even have to plug the Garmin into my computer. I wish my digital camera worked so simply! And here's the result, which you should also check out on the Garmin Connect webpage from whence I got these screen grabs (there you can also "interact" with the map of the route by zooming in, switching to satellite view, and the like):

How cool is that? A map which can be seen Google-style in map, satellite, terrain, or Google Earth mode, plus an elevation profile, speed/time graph, heartrate/time graph, plus data about total elevation gain, calories burned (supposedly, based upon heartrate, weight, age, etc), total time, time moving, average speed, max speed, and more, all generated automatically and posted to a webpage (I guess permanently)!

Here are photos from today's ride:
Above: this new multimillion dollar bridge on Black Canyon Road in the middle of nowhere replaces the older, smaller one at right, which worked perfectly fine 18 months ago.
Above: my Rivendell Roadeo

Above: So along this dirt road in the middle of nowhere, suddenly a nice, paved road with street lights heads off to the west, only to reconnect with our dirt road (Black Canyon Road) maybe a mile later. Along that road (Hallyeyaaw Ln) are about 12 to 20 smaller-sized, but nice, homes, all seemingly with the same floorplan. It's an "Indian Reservation."
Above: the "Indian Reservation" as seen from further up the road. Again, in the middle of nowhere, reachable only via back-country dirt roads.
Above: First I saw a snake track across the road, then I quickly spotted the snake just before it disappeared into its burrow beneath that rock. What a beauty!
Above: As we approached Mesa Grande at the north end of Black Canyon Road, we entered some beautiful pastureland with huge cows and horned bulls. The classic California summertime yellow mustard was out in force all day today.

Above: A short video from Black Canyon Road. The beautiful creek down below the edge of the road was peaceful, providing a wonderful sountrack to parts of the ride.
(Cycling cap by Swrve.)


Njord Noatun said...


Seems like a great ride! As a long-time Garmin user as a bicyclist I was particularly interested in your review of the 310XT. As your example shows, the amount of data coming out of these units is just incredible.

My experience, however, is that the true litmus test of a GPS unit is how easy and intuitive it is to pre-plan a ride (for example, on,, garminconnect or desktop map app), upload the route to the unit, and have it give you detailed routing instructions. Although I have figured out how to to that on my Garmin, it is not intuitive, and the guidance it provides is not perfect. Ultimately, routing web sites (incl. Google Cycling Directions) ought to develop functionaliy where one can upload the routes straight to GPS with a minimum of fuss.

Have you tested the 310XT with a preplanned route, and if so, is your experience with this functionality as positive as it is with Garmin in plain "recording mode"?


Chris Kostman said...

Sigurd: I think of a unit like this more as a "here's what I did" tool, rather than "here's what I'm going to do." I really enjoy looking at a map while planning out a new route. Most routes, I can memorize in my head before I go ride them, or I don't mind getting out a map while on the road. Sometimes I will photocopy the relevant Thomas Guide page and just pull it out for inspection while pedaling. I barely look at my bike computer (historically, I've rarely actually used one, even during 400km brevets and such), so I don't want to be forced to do so, in order to stay on track.

I'm not even sure if this Garmin allows what you propose. I can see why some people might like that function, especially, for example, if they wanted to go out and ride a route they've seen online (such as one of our Rough Rider blog routes). Can this unit provide such a service? I have no idea, but I'm guessing somebody else out there in the blogosphere knows and can weigh in on the matter.

Thanks for reading!

- Chris

Njord Noatun said...


Having looked at the Garmin site for more info on the 310xt, I think you are right in implying that the footprint, if nothing else, of this model is too small for providing much practical guidance information: I guess the 305 and 705, despite their battery limitations that you refer to, would be better suited for route guidance.

My bike GPSR (Garmin Legend HCX) is a general unit, and therefore lacks some of the exercise specific features found on the Forerunner and x05 models, but its route guidance is quite good once one has figured out how to create and upload a route. Battery life is a respectable 25 hrs. plus.

I am intending to reproduce your Ramona trip above and then have the Legend guide me through every turn and intersection: The advantage of knowing that I am making all the right turns in unfamiliar territory is well worth the added weight and possible distraction of a GPSR, IMO.


Chris Kostman said...


Can you download your route after a ride, to share with others? In other words, if we rode together, could we use my Garmin to created the map, elevation profile, etc and yours to provide a downloadable route for others to follow who want to follow in our footsteps? Also, does yours interface with after a ride?

My whole point in using such things (if at all, as this is new for me) is to be able to show routes I've done so that others may easily go out and ride the same route. Just giving them the Google Map which my Garmin 310xt provides is not that useful, really, for someone trying to easily recreate my ride(s).

Maybe I don't have the best Garmin for that purpose, after all?


Njord Noatun said...


I think your Forerunner is a unit that in its simplicity is perfect for you right, on grounds that you:

1) Are a self-confessed techno "follower".
2) Like the simple "on and off" functionality.
3) Like the simple upload to Garmin Connect.
4) Like the low weight, long battery life and exercise functionality.
5) Don't mind doing all pre-planning "on paper".

I am an educator involved directly with technology, and although I love to fuss around with technology to make it work, even if it takes many tries and many mistakes, I realize that most others are not like that: They just want technology to work, with a minimum - or better yet, the absence - of fuss.

Get used to the Forerunner comfortably, and if at some point you need to push the envelope, say because you need mapping or pre-routing, do so when you are ready for it!

Now, as far as sharing: Garmin Connect offers several ways of sharing your tracks, of which these are significant:

1) If a person owns a new-ish Garmin handheld (as opposed to a Garmin automotive unit), there is a button under your map that says something like "Send to my Device". If his Garmin handheld is turned on and connected and he is logged into Garmin Connect, the track will download straight to his GPSR.

2) For non-Garmin owners, there is an "Export to GPX" button that will allow the track to be downloaded to his desktop, and then uploaded to his GPSR: GPX is an open-source "de facto" standard file format for GPSRs, and should therefore work with just about all newish GPSRs.

There may be some highly technical issues that some may run into that I in the interest of brevity and to keep it non-technical will not delve into here.

Hope this helps a bit.


George said...


Your assertion that the true-litmus test of a GPS unit is loading pre-planned routes is plethoric. I have no interest in using my Garmin unit to upload a pre-planned route. I use it as a "brag tool". As Chris said it is to give someone an idea of where I was and what I did. I use the Garmin 310XT unit currently.

When I blog I like to give my readers some "pictures" to go along with the hard data I post. I am waiting now on my SRM to arrive. It is ANT + compatible and I will use the Garmin Edge 500. What is the main reason? Because you can't upload maps and turn by turn directions. I think that is the best feature of the Edge 500. It makes it nice and small and fits on the stem of your bike. It is outselling the 705 units in my store by a long shot because rarely do people really need to have a route loaded to their GPS unit.

I am an Ultra Cyclist and have done a brevet series (200km, 300km, 400km and 600km unsupported) once or twice in my day. I haven't needed a GPS to tell me where to go -- the route sheet provided was just fine.

The Edge 500 is a cycling specific unit that will tie in my power data (SRM) with elevation, and maps for my blog readers. I initially bought the 310XT because I was going to do some running and then realized I LOVE THE BIKE TOO MUCH ;)

As far as creating a route sheet from a ride you have completed you can upload to and in the player you see EXACTLY what turns you took follow the link below for an example. Here is a route to Palomar Mountain click on the player in the lower right section of your screen.

You can also upload your file to and they have a feature where climbs are identified and you can see how you rank compared to other riders that have uploaded their files see the link below for that

George "Red-Eyed Vireo" Vargas