Are you a GPS-enabled rider? If so, you’re going to love this: In our February 2009 issue, I authored a story about GPS basics that covered everything I learned about satellite navigation during my brutal 5-day riding experience at the 2009 Red Bull Romaniacs. Since that issue went to print, we’ve received several comments and letters about the story. Most are from seasoned GPS veterans who simply appreciated the coverage of their second-favorite toys, but the following letter from reader Erick Pate takes the cake as far as GPS mastery is concerned. In it, Mr. Pate offers some very cool tips that I just flat didn’t know.
If you’re looking for an excellent extension of the GPS basics story, the following should be right up your digital, track-routed alley. Oh, and Mr. Pate, thanks for helping to expand my education!
“Great article on GPS basics in the Feb. 2010 issue. I have over 15 years of GPS experience; time spent in geodetic surveying, GPS mapping and recreation on my bikes. Your observations and advice in the article were spot-on, although I feel you overstated the effect that clouds/fog have on the GPS signal and receiver. The system is robust enough that heavy cloud cover and fog do not have a significant effect on the GPS radio signal, certainly not one easily measurable by recreational-grade receivers.
I can offer a few additional tips regarding GPS use on a dirt bike:
(1) Carry a spare base mount. I broke a RAM base mount last summer in a low-speed endo. The weight of the bike easily broke the RAM ball away from the base mount. Even though the GPS was fine, I had no way to re-mount it so I had to pack it away. A spare RAM base is cheap, light and takes up little space.
(2) The two biggest challenges to GPS navigation are local obstructions to the sky (woods, cliffs, mountains, buildings) that block the GPS radio signal and the variable availability of GPS satellites. The first challenge can be dealt with by moving away from the obstruction or sometimes by simply shifting your bike and/or body position. Sometimes YOU are the obstruction to the sky! The second challenge is not as easily dealt with. Simply put, the GPS satellites are in motion so the number of available satellites varies constantly. This is intensified in a canyon or deep valley. Sometimes the loss of GPS signal remedies itself within minutes as additional satellites come into view. There are various GPS planning utilities available for download on the web but I don’t know anyone who plans a ride around GPS mission planning software. You might, however, consider using GPS planning software to plan a heavily wooded portion of your ride around a time where more satellites were available on the day of your ride.
(3) Ensure that WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) is enabled on your GPS receiver or consider upgrading to a newer unit if your older GPS receiver does not support WAAS. WAAS-enabled receivers are far more accurate than their older predecessors and do a better job maintaining a lock on the satellites in rugged terrain.
(4) It’s easier to acquire and maintain GPS signal ‘lock’ in deep woods when you are moving.
Keep up the great work on your magazine.”
Saint Leonard, Md.