GPS is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules

I had returned from Spain. I’d unpacked and accounted for everything. I’d washed the bike and now my attention had turned to what next? Not wanting to go over the same old ground and with renewed enthusiasm after a successful tour, I was looking for something new. I was only looking for day trips to fill the gap between my next more substantial trip.

Of the numerous suggestions I received, the one that caught my eye was a route around the Elan Valley in the middle of Wales. I’d only ever passed through the area after working in Preseli for many months and on a motorcycle trip down to Tenby.

I did a bit of digging and found an off-the-shelf route which was promptly loaded into Myroute-App. I added door to door waypoints to get me to the route I had acquired, and I added a waypoint for a riding companion who would be joining me. All seemed well.

Mistake 1

The weather was fine, in fact too fine. The night before I had fired up the BBQ and cracked open the beers. What I should have been doing was charging the Cardo headset and GPS. I should then have processed the route as I normally do through Garmin BaseCamp.

At 5:30 am on the morning of the ride, with bleary eyes, I realised my mistake. As I swung my legs out of bed I was already making a bullet point list in my head.

Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

Sorry, no. That was the wrong plan! It was actually:

Go to the garage, put Cardo on charge, grab keys, unlock NAV, take NAV to computer, load route. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

And so with the route hastily passed through BaseCamp, a calculation run and then loaded onto the NAV, I was free to get my gear on. By 7:00 am I was on the road.

Mistake 2

Traffic is a pain and a fact of life—a death and taxes kind of thing. However, I’m on two wheels. I won’t bother it if it doesn’t bother me. I’m happy to filter around it. But in this instance, it was bothering me by way of the Garmin traffic monitoring.

I have written numerous times about the method of working with satnav routes. You are not being guided to a destination, you are using a positional prompt to follow a pre-defined route. If you deviate from this the last thing you want is a recalculation on the fly. To achieve this the NAV is set to prompt when off route. Recalculate? The answer is always no. Find that purple line and get back on it.

The traffic function does often suggest that it can save a few minutes here and there. I always ignore these. After all, the satnav seems to have no concept of filtering.

I had not long collected my companion that the satnav squawked “Severe disruption ahead, changing the route to save 40 minutes”. Who the **** said you could do that?!

I was on home turf and familiar with the area. I wouldn’t really need any guidance until I passed through the Newtown bypass, and so it was ignored. Maybe it was rush hour traffic in Welshpool? A few miles up the road approaching Whitchurch, the purple line recalculated route popped out of a side street. Where was this traffic it was avoiding? The forced recalculation occurred on two further occasions. It had never happened before so I had no need in the past to locate a setting to turn it off.

Mistake 3

By the time we reached the Elan reservoirs and our planned loop the trip had been loaded and recalculated so many times it was a web of crisscrossing purple lines resembling Shelob’s lair. It was beaten, bloodied and bruised but it was all I had.

I had an idea of the road I should be on so I was more following my own route with the map a form of rough guidance. Recalculation? Why not, go for it. It had already taken enough punishment, it could take some more. I stabbed at the yes button one more time with pity much like King Arthur looking over the limbless black knight.

A fixed point of the route was Devil’s Bridge so after hitting the screen way more than I would like I skipped to that waypoint in the hope that I could have a clean run there. I was in need of refreshment so it would be a welcome stop.

The cafe at the Woodland’s Caravan Park near Devil’s Bridge

It was a single road from Devil’s Bridge to Aberystwyth with no need for any route assistance so I settled in for the ride. Free from the trappings of guidance I enjoyed what was a fast and flowing run overlooking the valley floor with the elevated position giving me a sight of the coast in the distance.

As we arrived at Aberystwyth I ditched the active route and aimed for the promenade.


As we left town I was freestyling after loading the trip again. I tried to pick up the route but it was like a child’s crayon scribble. Just as I saw some clarity and a single line the GPS let go of the satellites, the map spun and I took a wrong turn. When the GPS recovered I realised I was not on the loop but returning to the same road I had arrived on. At this stage, it wasn’t a problem. The missed road was probably no better. I’d just enjoy the one I was on.

As I occasionally glanced at the webbed route I noticed from the waypoint numbering which was inherited from the imported original, that the numbers were out of order. This is why the route was acting erratically. The waypoints were all there but in the wrong order.

Planned route vs actual (in yellow)

I think that the problem could have been down to mistake 1, 2 or 3

  1. Loading the route in haste
  2. The traffic recalculations
  3. Inheriting erroneous data from the imported route

Regardless of the problems encountered we had a good run. We put almost a good 300 miles shift in, something I needed after the short runs on the recent tour. I thought I was going soft! I think in hindsight I would have preferred a more relaxed two-day trip with an overnight stay.

If you would like to try the Elan Valley I’ll pop the route below. Just give it a look over before you load it on your device 😉

2 thoughts on “GPS is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules

  1. I’ve never noticed “prompt when off route” function but I’ve loaded a track and so without guidance been given direction vectors to regain the track ( Zumo XT).
    Why the Basecamp stage? I load from mra direct to XT.

    1. I have had anomalies occur when I have gone straight from MRA. I do tend to like to do a final calc in BaseCamp as it will use the mapping data that is in the GPS. It also lets me decide which points are shaping points and which are announced waypoints. I also use Basecamp to allow for layovers and lunch stops. I think both the latter can now be done in MRA. 99% of the time my routes are bomb proof. It’s just that 1% where you have to analyse what went wrong. You never stop learning.

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