RAGBRAI LI Route Announced on Jan. 27!

Garmin question

I’ve been looking at getting the Garmin 25 or the 520. I’m pretty minimalist in what information I need to know and won’t be adding a HRM or cadence sensors to it, so I was thinking more about 25. Maybe I’ll decide to splurge to get a few features that I might like at some point and some maps then I would get the 520. One thing I like about these units is the live tracking option. So my question is, has anyone with a Garmin unit capable of live tracking tried it during RAGBRAI and have any feedback? It obviously uses cell service to update where you are, and I know cell service is crappy at best, but would I be able to get service from enough towers along the route to keep updating the live tracking map? For now I have AT&T unfortunately. I want it mostly so my family members can watch my progress throughout the week, and RAGBRAI would be the only time I would use that feature. Thanks in advance for any feedback.

13 Replies

Gypsy Rose, February 7, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Hey Geoff,

While I don’t have any answers to your questions, I, too, have been looking at the Garmin 25. I’m not too happy about the short battery life (8 to 10 hours) but I like the minimalist style with just the important info plus the ability to upload ride data to Strava via Garmin Connect. I’ll be curious to see the responses to your post.

~ Kevin


Niles, February 8, 2017 at 8:59 am

Garmin and your live tracking don’t have to be bundled. You can install Glympse on your phone for live track. It use SMS on your phone to send your track of locations to your intended receivers.



KenH, February 8, 2017 at 10:43 am

I really do no know the answer to your question. You might find someone here who does and if so, great! You are more likely to find an answer by searching on live tracking on the Garmin forums however. Unfortunately a lot of the discussion will probably be from marathoners who use the feature at events in large cities for the most part and their results may not apply to rural Iowa. But perhaps some Garmin users do have experience with using this feature at large events in rural areas….

As an engineer I would say this about your chances. The modern world is all about high performance and high definition and super everything you can think of. Products tend to be designed around the assumption that you live in a large city and have a big data pipe to the rest of the world at your disposal 99.999% of the time. This type of product essentially refuses to work at all if this assumption is not true.

It is certainly possible to design apps and products that can work effectively with low bandwidths and spotty coverage. It is certainly possible to design a product that would do what you want to do during RAGBRAI. Convincing someone that this too is a sexy thing to do is very difficult. Sooner or later the light will go on in some product designer’s mind somewhere in the world and then we might all get a cell phone app or cycling computer that could work well for us during RAGBRAI to report our positions in something like real time to our riding companions and our loved ones at home. We are on bicycles after all, for most of our purposes a position update every 5 to 10 minutes would be fine. It does not have to be once per second….

A smart phone app is another possibility to do what you want but so far I don’t know if we know of any that work well during RAGBRAI. Every year a few people try what’s out there. So far I have not heard any post-RAGBRAI claims of success with any of them.


Groeny82, February 8, 2017 at 12:36 pm

Gypsy, I noticed that battery life too. Not real impressed either. The 520 has 15 hours though. Just another reason for me to consider that one over the 25 I guess.

Ken, I agree a second by second update where you are is a little unnecessary. Like you said, every 5 to 10 minutes would be sufficient for RAGBRAI. I travel northern Iowa frequently by car, and not on the main highways, and I never had a problem with reception using AT&T. That being said, everyone knows what happens to service when RAGBRAI rolls through. So with me not needing a second by second tracking update, I was wondering if I would be able to break through the congestion every 5-10 minutes, on top of a hill or wherever, just long enough for my phone/Garmin to send out a ping on my location. The only reason I’m liking this tracking option is because last year I was only able to call home once and text a couple times and there was a couple family members that weren’t too thrilled with that. I would imagine with the huge mass of people on RAGBRAI there would be someone that could create an app in there sleep to do just what you were talking about with the low bandwidths and send out a ping of your location whenever you got cell service.

Thanks for the suggestion Niles. If I bought a Garmin I would probably use the Garmin live tracking since that would be one of the reasons of me getting a Garmin. If I find out on this forum that the live tracking doesn’t work the best on RAGBRAI I will probably stick with my CatEye and maybe just try Glympse and see how it works.


JLVanPelt, February 11, 2017 at 8:20 am

We are a huge Garmin-loving family: running watches, cycle computers, activity trackers even their action camera, Virb. The durability, service and accuracy are great. I found this article helpful and spot on with our experience: https://averagejoecyclist.com/garmin-edge-520-vs-25/

On another note, if you are an experienced cyclist with your cadence permanently stamped in your muscle memory, a cadence sensor is probably not a big deal. I’m an amateur (2017 will be my 4th RAGBRAI) who is a seasoned runner so the cadence difference in the two sports was always tricky for me. I found that keeping a cadence was key to keep my legs fresh all day on long hilly rides and helped me understand my gears. Once I wrapped my head around cadence vs speed or resistance, I was a much happier cyclist.


Matthew, February 12, 2017 at 7:45 am

I have used LiveTrack via Garmin 510 (that why I bought it) as well as the Garmin 1000 (now). Here are two things to consider:
1) LiveTrack depends on the Bluetooth connection between your device and your phone. This is going to eat your battery very very quickly on both devices.

2) The LiveTrack is depending on cell service. Bad / overcrowded cell service, no LiveTrack.

Keep in mind these small towns / routes don’t have normal bandwidth service to accommodate 10k users suddenly for a temporary amount time. It is not in anyone’s interest (cost wise) to beef up bandwidth since will only last for a few days. This is a constant complaint (of mine) because RAGBRAI chooses to communicate information via their mobile application specifically, which the infrastructure on route cannot handle. This affects ALL carriers too.

Good luck!


Brian Wallenburg, February 12, 2017 at 5:37 pm

I love my 810, if you text early in the day, you’ll have little to no problems.


KenH, February 13, 2017 at 9:21 am

JLVanPelt: On another note, if you are an experienced cyclist with your cadence permanently stamped in your muscle memory, a cadence sensor is probably not a big deal. I’m an amateur (2017 will be my 4th RAGBRAI) who is a seasoned runner so the cadence difference in the two sports was always tricky for me. I found that keeping a cadence was key to keep my legs fresh all day on long hilly rides and helped me understand my gears. Once I wrapped my head around cadence vs speed or resistance, I was a much happier cyclist.

When I was young there wasn’t such a thing as a cadence sensor and the only advice I can recall reading was to pedal at around 60 rpm which I think was a typical recreational running pace back then. That is where I started when I got back into cycling again a few years ago and had a cadence sensor. I had gradually crept up into the 70 to 80 rpm range on my own and then last year a discussion here about cadence had me targeting 90. The theory behind it is that the high cadence lets you use your slow twitch muscle fibers almost exclusively even though it seems paradoxical that a high cadence would favor the slow twitch muscles. Slow twitch muscles like to burn energy stored in fat and most of us, even the lean ones, have plenty of that to tap into. This lets you engage your fast twitch muscles and the glycogen energy store (which is limited and slow to recharge) they need only when you need or want to generate a high power output.

The theory seems to work well in practice for me. So much so that I regeared my bike after last year’s ride to allow me to use a higher cadence while climbing hills. But a quick check of running cadences just now shows a lot of people recommending around 180 steps per minute. Every rotation of your bicycle crank is equivalent to two steps so 90 rpm and 180 spm are the same cadence as far as your legs are concerned. Or am I missing something??


Ken Askew, March 11, 2017 at 10:47 am

KenH: Back in the day, you probably just looked at your wrist watch and counted the revolutions for an interval and did the math in your head. With the cadence monitor, HRM, GPS, power meters, cell and all the other electronics now it seemed more simple then. But does anyone know how best to download the route on a Garmin 520? GeoBike?


rbsailorman, March 12, 2017 at 9:25 pm

The 520 is a great device. I would go with that even if you don’t add teh sensors. As far as live tracking, you will probably be doing better during the first part of the week with AT&T. Once you get over by Decorah service will go to nothing.


powellpd, March 12, 2017 at 9:25 pm

I have a Garmin 520 and love the information it provides. It took me a while to become comfortable with using it, but the investment in time and patience is worth it. My Garmin worked fine last year, but I didn’t use the tracking service. I also used my Apple iPhone 6s and used the tracking device on that. I have Ride With GPS on my iPhone. Any rider with AT&T or Spirit had a very difficult time getting any service at all. We rode a different route last year, so Im not sure there would be the same problem this year.I had my Verizon “Hot Spot” with me and used that in the evenings while relaxing under the tent at the end of the day. I had no problems with internet using Verizon. My main problem last year was getting my devices charged. The charter I used had an ineffective system and my devices never became fully charged. I’m using a different charter company this year where they have a charging trailer and from what I have heard works very well. I hope this information helps.


KenH, March 13, 2017 at 7:49 am

Yeah, back in the day I did look at my watch and count pedal strokes. Occasionally. I never devoted much time to that, with today’s cadence sensors you can get an instant read on where you are any time you want so I pay far more attention to it. And the readings I see surprise me more often than I expect.

GPS will work fine during RAGBRAI. GPS is a one way, broadcast service from orbiting satellites. It does not matter how many receivers there are, in fact there could be millions in operation at any moment of any given day. But two way services like cell phones are usually overwhelmed by RAGBRAI. There is no economic incentive for cell phone providers to build out metropolitan level tower coverage in rural Iowa. RAGBRAI typically represents a customer load increase of ten times or more what the local towers are designed to support and it happens once a decade in many areas. Short, infrequent data bursts have a chance of getting through. Long, frequent, feature laden data bursts are likely to fail to connect. Unfortunately app designers in heavy competition for users design for the latter paradigm rather than the former.

Verizon seems to be consistently one of the top two RAGBRAI cell phone providers. If I wanted to rely on a real time position tracking service to keep my team together I would tell them all to use Verizon. But that is not a guarantee of success, it merely maximizes your chances which are going to be low much of the time.

Amateur radio could be a good way to implement a system like this. The AR community is more likely to develop robust systems with small bandwidth footprints. But everyone would have to have a license and a radio that could support the service and if it became too popular any such system would overwhelm the local repeaters too because they have less capacity than cell towers. But if you have a team with enough licensed and equipped members it might currently be a way help you all meet up as long as everyone rides in a small group with one of your licensed riders. I’d love to find a support driver with a license so we could call him/her up when we roll into town and get a report on where the motorhome is!


Niles, March 13, 2017 at 9:04 am

KenH, good technical insight about the one-way GPS vs. two-way Cellular and the pre-empative answer to AR.

The moral of the story is: ACCEPT the reality you are in RAGBRAI and FREE your family and yourself from the modern information anxiety syndrome. You’ll be fine if you don’t send out a beep. And your family will RECEIVE the bad news in time if god forbidding something bad happens to you.

Communication with support driver: my team driver sends us a group SMS about where he parks our bus in the meeting town and overnight town (if we don’t have a host family). It’s always a hit-or-miss thing. So we always prepare a back-up search plan like looking for our blue bus (still so many blue ones) near the train silo. And final solution is to use our animal instinct remaining in our genes to look around when none of them is possible.


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