At the intersection of mountain biking and technology are innovations that offer added convenience, as well as safety. Among these innovations are GPS systems and digital trail maps. Here we provide an overview of not only GPS devices and mounting hardware, but also some helpful apps and resources for trail information.
While there are a number of GPS options and apps that can be easily utilized from your smart phone – which we will cover later in this post – standalone GPS devices are preferable for some riders. There are a variety of options on the market, but here are a few systems to consider:
Garmin eTrex – One of the most recognizable names in personal GPS, Garmin produces systems geared toward a variety of uses and boasts an extensive catalog of products. While a quick online search for “GPS systems for mountain biking” will yield a number of hits for Garmin, the eTrex line is particularly conducive to the sport. The lineup includes the eTrex 25, eTrex 35 and eTrex 35t. The 35t comes with pre-loaded topo maps, but all offer an SD card slot for uploading additional trail map data. Other features include a barometric altimeter and Bluetooth® allowing the user to pair the unit with other devices such as a smartphone or POV camera.
Magellan Cyclo 505 – Marketed as a GPS system for the “serious cyclist,” Magellans’s Cyclo 505 includes a number of innovative features for the rider looking for more than just maps and directions. These features include crowd source data such as trail maps, conditions and bike shops, compatibility with electronic bicycle shifting systems and the “Surprise Me™” feature that “suggests up to 3 different routes after entering distance or time criteria.”
Wahoo Elemnt – This sleek computer is a good option for the data geek looking to share information between devices and crunch the numbers after a ride. The unit pairs easily with, and conveys information to, a smartphone or mobile device. It also features LED indicators to help you quickly determine if you’re on pace and achieving milestones, or to alert you of issues such as data availability.
Trywin D1 – Coming in at a fraction of the cost of the systems above, the D1 is an option for the rider looking for a no-frills, inexpensive system that provides the necessary data and features. The D1 offers speed, distance, slope, elevation, compass and more but likely won’t scratch the itch for those seeking extensive data or seamless connectivity to other devices and apps.
If a bike-mounted computer or smartphone isn’t your thing, you can also strap trail beta to your wrist. Here are a couple of options worth exploring:
Garmin Fenix 3 – A “Cadillac” among GPS watches, the Fenix 3 comes loaded with features and is priced accordingly. Elapsed time, distance, speed, compass, barometric altimeter – this watch has it all. So if you’re looking for a GPS watch that can do it all and withstand abuse, and you’re willing to pay top dollar, the Fenix 3 may be the solution for you.
Polar M200 – A wearable GPS and heart rate monitor, the new M200 tracks speed, distance and elevation. At about half the cost of most other GPS watches, the M200 is also a good value for those looking to go the watch route.
Suunto Ambit3 Peak – Real-time tracking of speed, pace, distance, altitude, a number of sensors and much more – all come packed in this sleek watch. A customizable display and intuitive features put this watch near the top of the list of wrist-ready GPS systems for avid mountain bikers.
Smartphone Bike Mounts
Most cycling-specific GPS devices will come with their own mounting hardware or system, which is usually the recommended method for securing such devices. But if you’re looking to secure your smartphone during a ride for access to a GPS or map app, there is a plethora of options available. Here are a few:
Quadlock – Consisting of a bike mount and adapter/phone case, the Quadlock system is simple and sturdy, performing well and staying in place on rough trails and surfaces. The mount attaches to the stem of the bike and a phone can be clicked into place or removed in seconds.
Topeak Ridecase– A well-known name in cycling, Topeak offers a variety of mounts and case + mount systems in its Ridecase line.
LIFEPROOF – If you have a tendency to drop your phone in water, muck or mud, a LIFEPROOF case may just be for you. These bombproof cases are both water and impact resistant – made of heavy-duty plastic and featuring seals on all of the device’s openings to keep out the elements. LIFEPROOF also offers rugged bar mounts that are compatible with some of their cases. Pair a LIFEPROOF case with a bar mount, and your smartphone and trail data will likely survive anything.
Rokform – This rugged handlebar mount adjusts to fit most bikes and keeps your smartphone and trail data right in the cockpit.
Velocity Clip – If you’re looking for slim and streamlined, this is not the mount for you. But if versatility is your chief concern, the Velocity Clip may be a good option. This mount is fully adjustable to hold virtually any smartphone or other small device.
In today’s mobile world there is an app for just about everything and mountain biking is no exception. When it comes to GPS and trail data, there are a variety of options available to mountain bikers in app form.
Strava (free) – Perhaps the most well-known cycling app in existence, Strava is go-to technology for both roadies and fat tire enthusiasts alike. Strava is essentially a one stop shop for anyone looking to incorporate tracking and navigation into their mountain biking experience. The app offers maps, ride tracking and features that allow users to compete with one another and set goals. Social media components make it easy to check-in and share your ride with friends and followers via your favorite social media network.
MTB Project (free) – The product of a partnership between Adventure Projects, Inc., the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and REI Co-op, MTB Project is quickly becoming one of the most widely utilized applications specifically for mountain bikers. The user-friendly app features trail maps from all over the world, which can also be downloaded for access when riding in remote areas beyond the reach of cell phone service. MTB Project has a strong community component by which riders rate, review and recommend trails, as well as share photos and reports on trail conditions.
TrailForks (free) – Powered by the popular mountain biking website, Pinkbike.com, TrailForks is a “trail database and management system, supplemented with Pinkbike content.” TrailForks also offers local mountain bike associations and clubs a page within the site to use as a forum for trail conditions, work events and coordinating rides. TrailForks is crowd-sourced and relies on data, information and reports from its vast community of riders.
Singletracks (free) – Created by the mountain biking news site and community of the same name, Singletracks comes loaded with a comprehensive database of mountain bike trail maps, as well as gear reviews, photos and articles.
Ask a Local
Everyone knows the best way to really learn about area trails and find the “hidden gems” is to ask a local. Local bike shops, mountain bike clubs and advocacy groups are often great resources for trail maps and information. Many bike shops and clubs also maintain websites with current trail maps and conditions. Trails are constantly changing and being built, so the best resource for up-to-date info is typically a local…they’ll know all the re-routes, sweet spots and areas to avoid. So before hitting the trail, perform a quick online search for area clubs and bike shops. When in doubt, just stop in a shop and ask where you should ride.
So with all of these GPS and mapping options on the market for mountain bikers, you’ll no longer have an excuse for getting lost. Explore the options to determine which system is the right fit for you and get out and ride!
So keep in touch and see you out on the trails.
About The Author
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury