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Why (IMHO) Hammerhead Karoo GPS units are so much better than the rest!

I have worked in Cycle touring for over 10 years, and prior to that I undertook a global overland expedition. My experience of using GPS units ranges from 2005 until present day, and I have owned and used too many of them to count.



Back in the early days, we had a rule in overlanding. Paper maps are always your primary navigation device. This is certainly as true today as it has always been, but now that smartphones, apps and battery life have been improved, you can certainly rely more on your GPS than 20 years ago.

For cycle touring a GPS unit is an incredibly useful piece of kit, as modern units can give turn-by-turn directions, speeds, grades, distances from start and to finish, elevation profiles and even POI info. The units offer increased freedom to the rider and essential information to the guides. Having riders on a tour using GPS data takes pressure off the guide team and helps the riders to know what's coming, helping to pace a tour, which as you may remember from my previous article is essential to the experience.

My personal experience while leading or joining tours is that less than half of the riders who turn up with a GPS unit actually know how to use it. The usual issues are that they have not been able to connect to the unit, upload the tracks, or even more commonly, they have uploaded the tracks, but did not know to, or could not upload mapping for the region we are riding.

I have used units by Garmin (Early GPSMap, Etrex up to most of the modern 500-1000 series units), and my main issue with them is that they seem to have taken a journey which began with LCD screens, beeps and basic software, and has built on that structure until you get to where we are today. The connection and uploading via a series of partner apps seems unreliable at best, maps are often costly and too technical to upload for basic users, directions often have to be downloaded with the track rather than processed by the software, meaning that if you upload a GPS track from RidewithGPS without turn by turn navigation, you have to follow a hard to see line around turns rather than get proper instructions. Worse still, if you don't have mapping loaded, the unit often tries to navigate in a straight line back to the start, beeping furiously throughout a ride and using up battery life as they constantly try to recalculate. Most of the units require an unusual charging or connection lead rather than universal tech which almost all devices now use.



The Wahoo units when they came along seemed like a game changer, pair it with your phone and it uses the phone's memory to do much of the hard work. In reality the pairing is very difficult especially if you own or are trying to update multiple units. I usually end up plugging the unit in and dropping files into the appropriate folder, actually I usually end up doing that with the Garmins too. Did I mention that you can drop multiple files into the folder, but usually they only upload one of them, grr.

Then along came Hammerhead. This Brooklyn based startup promised to redefine the GPS unit, utilising Android technology and operating system, with on board WiFi, and SIM card capability. The unit has a huge touchscreen which is super easy to read, and basically is as easy and intuitive to use as a smartphone. I was an early adopter, mainly because the price was so good compared to either Garmin or Wahoo. I was using a Lezyne GPS at the time, which was brilliant and low cost, but didn't offer me elevation profiles. A few friends were sceptical of this rather large newcomer, citing pro's who were testing the units and had trouble connecting sensors. I must admit that in the early days, I also had trouble getting my sensors connected, but almost weekly I received software updates, and with them the unit continued to improve until it became super user friendly and stable.



I won't go through all the functions, as you can check out the full details of the Karoo 2 here. To upload or create a route, you simply go to your dashboard in their website, draw the route, or upload it in pretty much any format. The software creates turn by turn directions, and excellent global mapping is included, eliminating the need to purchase regional maps. The screens are customisable, and everything from elevation profiles which automatically come up at the start of a climb with a visual display of grades and distances to every conceivable metric you could want are easily arranged onto screens which can be scrolled through while on the move by touch or using the chunky side buttons. The unit seamlessly connects with an array of sensors. I have set it up with different profiles for Road, MTB, Training and with a Full Data 'nerd' mode.



For bike touring, the unit is super user friendly, as in the dashboard, you can create a collection and drop all your tracks into there, when starting a ride, you simply open the collection and select the day you are about to ride. When you finish riding, the unit uploads (via WiFi or an installed data SIM) your rides to whatever activity recording services you have connected, and typing information works just like a phone with a keyboard and even spell checker. The techies out there have also discovered that you can "jailbreak the unit", and install phone apps from Komoot to Spotify.

It's not all good news, I purchased a rather expensive bike with Di2, as I wanted to connect this to the Karoo, which was perfect for the first year, but when SRAM bought the company Shimano pulled the access codes and Di2 no longer worked. I still live in hope of this stalemate being resolved, but in truth it has not been an issue for me.

Whenever I am on a ride, and wrestling with someone's outdated GPS unit, I always recommend them to "please, buy a Hammerhead next time around."

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