Maybe everyone else in the world other than me has figured out this Garmin GPS stuff, but as someone with no experience with one, I tried to find info on it and it was stunningly difficult to find useful info, especially as to maps and turn-by-turn course info. Asking people on SRCC rides made me realize that many with a Garmin had not actually downloaded a course. My wife knew I was interested (but cheap), so she bought me one (good wife!), and then I actually had to figure out how to use it. Turns out that Garmin is not particularly helpful on that point, and the instructions that come with the unit are useless. Thus, this post is aimed at others like me who are struggling with the process. Everything below applies to the 800, and I have no idea whether any of this is applicable to any other unit, but hopefully someone will answer that question.
First big surprise: If you get the "cheap" basic version, it DOES NOT COME WITH A USEFUL MAP. You can pay less than the list $450 for the basic by hunting on the Internet (or go through Steve at Bike Revolution in Sebastopol), but you then have two choices: (a) Order the Garmin map at $80, or (b) download the Open Source Map (OSM), for free. To compare, I did both. Both are good, but there are differences.
In either case, to start, get an SD micro card (Best Buy, Walmart, among others) and stick it in your unit; the unit itself has only a tiny amount of memory, and it is not enough for anything but the local area map. I’d recommend the 8 gig card; they’re cheap (under $20), and that will give you plenty of room. Put the card in your unit, plug the unit into the computer (it will simply be treated as a disk drive and you can look at the unit and card directories just as any other drive – note that the card itself will not be part of the Garmin “drive”, but will be listed separately – on mine, it came in as Drive F) and go to the card (I have a PC, and used Windows Explorer), and create a directory on the card called “Garmin”. Given a little time, the Garmin itself will also put some other subdirectories on the card. For this discussion, we are going to use the main Garmin subdirectory that you just created on the card, and the “NewFiles” subdirectory that already exists on the Garmin (and the Garmin will create a second NewFiles directory on the card, and they appear to be interchangeable for purposes of this discussion).
Starting with OSM, the easiest way to get to the map is to look at any SRCC course, click on "View full course", click on the “Export” tab, go to the instructions at the bottom for GPS units and click on one of them, and go to the bottom of the instructions, and click on the reference to "Dave's". Dave has taken the OSM for the entire US (look around the site, and you will find Garmin maps for the whole world) and put it in a form useable on the Garmin (thanks Dave!). Click on “latest”, and you will get to the USA divided into longitude chunks (Santa Rosa is 122.7), of differing size – the 500MB are smaller chunks, 1000 bigger chunks, and so forth, with the 4000MB being the entire country. Pick one that ends with .img (not .torrent, unless you understand what that is all about, but if you do, you probably don’t need my help here). The 4000MB is actually about 3 gigs worth of file, but if you got the 8 gig card, it will fit fine. These are really big files. The 4000MB file took me about 6 hours! to download, and I have a fairly high-speed connection. If you already created the Garmin subdirectory on the card, you can download the map directly to the card; or you can save the file wherever your computer downloads it, but then you will need to move it to the card (which could take another couple hours or so).
In any case, either copy or download the .img map into the main Garmin subdirectory on the card. (I saw some suggestions on the internet saying create a “Map” subdirectory, but not only is that not necessary, it actually does not work, at least for the 800.) That is it. Turn on the Garmin, hit “Menu”, click on the little wrench in the bottom right, click on “System”, click on “Map”, click on “Map Selection Information – Select Map”, and you should find OSM Street Map. If it says “Disabled”, then click on the map and click “Enable” (actually, if the Garmin takes about 10 seconds longer to get to the first screen when you turn it on, the map is already enabled). You are ready to roll. Well, at least for Courses. As near as I can tell so far, the OSM does not work great, or at least not conveniently, as a general GPS map on the Garmin. Maybe someone else has worked out all the details and will post more complete instructions, but the various items under the “Where to” menu do not work, or at least I have not yet figured them out. For example, if you try to enter an address, it will not work –you simply get “not found” on trying to enter California, much less being able to enter a specific address. Maybe downloading smaller chunks of the map will help, but I have not tried that, or other possible solutions, yet. But, the OSM works fine for “Courses” (below) (and that was the main thing I wanted it for in any case), although even for Courses there appear to be some differences from the Garmin map, but they are probably not significant. The OSM maps themselves seem to be every bit as good as the Garmin maps.
If you want all of the functionality under “Where to” on the menu, I believe you will need the Garmin expensive map. You can download it, or order the DVD. The disk apparently has more functionality, and that is what I did, but I think they send it via some exotic locale, so unless you pay a bunch more to overnight it, figure two weeks to arrive.
The instructions that arrive with the disk, such as they are, are worse than useless: THEY ARE ABYSMAL and you will waste a bunch of highly frustrating time thinking that you are a smart person and you ought to be able to figure them out – you probably are smart, but you will not figure it out, at least not easily. And you will not be the only one. I have seen posts on the internet asking “does anyone know how to load the maps from the Garmin disk?” Ok, here is the scoop.
First, put the DVD in, just like it says, and it probably will boot up, just like it says. So far, so good. But here is the first curve. Turns out that the DVD I received did not have the latest map loaded on it, thus you are given a choice, load the map that is on the DVD, or download the latest map. Of course, you want to download the latest. However, just as with the OSM, the latest is a really big file, so it will again take HOURS to download. At first it said 200 hours, but, trust me, it goes slightly faster. (If it did not boot up, do not bother trying to follow the instructions of running “setup”, as there is no such file on the disk, and just call Garmin help.) After the download is complete, you will, of course, exit and then…no clue. Where is the map? How do you get it to your Garmin? (The DVD will want the unit plugged into the computer when you download, but it will not load the map to the unit.) Turns out that is a mystery. Or state secret. And there are no instructions whatsoever provided with the DVD. And, as near as I could tell, there was no Garmin file in Programs (I seem somewhat confused on this, because possibly they were there, but I did not see them, and I looked.) I figured for sure I had simply closed out of the DVD too quickly and missed something. So I downloaded it again, for another many hours, and then was very careful in looking around before I clicked exit; but same results. No info, no additional screen, nothing. Nothing on desktop, nothing under Programs. Finally I called Garmin support. Big surprise, they had encountered this problem before. And immediately sent me two emails with the REAL instructions. Turns out there is another program that you need to download from the Garmin site to get the whole thing to work and to copy the map to your unit. The program is MapInstall and the link is www8.garmin.com/support/mappingsw.jsp. Install the program, it will find the map, and you will be able to transfer the map (or such parts as you want) to your unit. This part of the process is much more convenient than the OSM chunks. Note, in the first screen where it says “Device” and lists your 800, that is NOT the right answer. Hit the drop-down arrow, and you will find the chip listed – that is the right answer, so click on it, and then go to the next screen for identifying the map or maps you want to load into the unit. If you don’t select the chip in the first screen, the map you select on the next screen may not fit (even if it looks like it is smaller than the memory the screen says is available in the unit itself). As you would expect, all of your “Where is” menu functions work with the Garmin map.
To actually download a course, go to the SRCC ride course, and again click on "View full course", and click on the “Export” tab, pick a format (probably .tcx – although I will confirm that the actual cues during navigating come too late to be all that useful), and download it into the “NewFiles” directory in the Garmin (either the one in the unit itself or the one on the chip); the Garmin will move it to the Courses directory, and you will find it under the Course menu on the unit.
By the way, create an account at ridewithgps.com (it is free and easy), and then you can easily create your own routes (Add Content/Map Route) – it is very easy to do, just remember to work at the maximum resolution, as otherwise you will get a lot of little errors in your route that you will not see at lesser resolutions). For example, I rode today on a course that I created and had included a bunch of roads and areas that I had never ridden before, and then went out and rode the course without getting lost – now that is useful! It is also easy to send the course to a pal. Also, it is easy to upload a course created with your GPS on a ride and to save it as a course into your profile (for example, I have used this to map a commute course, that I then sent to others so they could follow the route; I used this process instead of simply mapping the course, as I was on some paths that the RWGPS Google map did not work with conveniently). Of course, if you have all the bells and whistles (heart monitor, cadence, etc.) there are more possibilities here, but since this post is aimed at the GPS beginners like me, I am ignoring all that.
I will add to Gordon’s post about editing a course, in that in my limited experience I have not found it easy to fix a course other than to undo the last few clicks. However, creating a course is fast and easy enough that if things are really wrong, it is pretty easy to simply start over again. As noted, the key is to work at the highest resolution, which keeps errors down.Probably I got a bunch of the above stuff wrong, and the old pros will correct. But anyway, hope some of you find this useful.