by Rick Nevins

UPDATED 5/3/16.  I recently tested the installation of the free Openstreet maps and have updated this article accordingly. 

I have run into many cases where expensive Garmin GPS bicycle computers are purchased but only used as a speedometer and odometer.  I attribute this to the fact that Garmin has not made it easy to set up and configure the unit to enable it to be used for Cue Sheet "turn-by-turn" navigation.  I find the screens themselves are not very intuitive and this is compounded by a lack of easy to follow instructions on how to configure.

That's the bad news.  The good news is that once you do learn how to use the Garmin for navigation, it works great!   The displays will show you the distance to the next turn, whether to expect a left or right turn, and even pop up a map showing a blowup of the intersection as you get close to the turn.   I use this feature routinely on all my WAB and non-WAB events and find it invaluable and much more convenient than using a paper Cue Sheet.  After you are over that "hump", loading new GPS files and using the on-screen navigation becomes quite simple and efficient.  You just need to get over the hump!

I put this page together for that specific purpose - to share what I have learned about configuring the Garmin 800 GPS computer to enable you to unlock the power of the unit to provide turn-by-turn navigation on bicycle rides.  Read on if this is of interest to you.

NOTE:  the instructions below apply to the Garmin 800, which is the unit I have experience with.  I do not consider myself a Garmin expert - just someone who took the time to figure out how to use turn-by-turn navigation.  I know that the user interface of other Garmin models (like the 810 or 300) may be somewhat different, but probably pretty similar.  So this is a disclaimer that if you have a different model - the exact steps may vary slightly from the below. 

Following are the steps you need to follow to get turn-by-turn navigation on a Garmin 800:

There are two possibilities:

Option 1 - Purchase the Garmin City Navigator mapset. 

This option costs money but is the easiest.  The mapset referenced below includes all of North America in one micro SD chip that you simply insert into your Garmin.

A.  Purchase the Garmin City Navigator North America mapset.  This is available on Amazon for about $70.  There are also free maps available from Openstreet, but it is a more involved process to download and install, which I did not want to bother with.  If anyone has experience with downloading the Openstreet maps, please let me know and I can add this information to this instruction.

B.  Install the mapset - this is simply a microSD card which you plug in to the Garmin unit.  The installation of the microSD card is demonstrated here:

Option 2 - Download and install the free Openstreet maps

This option if free so if you don't want to shell out the money for the Garmin mapset you might want to give it a try.  The downside is that you have a few more steps you have to go through and you have to manually select what parts of the country (or world) you want.  In my testing, I chose only "Virginia".  So you might have to swap map files if you travel to a different part of the country than you have installed the maps for.  The steps to download and install are well described in this article: 

If you follow the directions step by step on this link you should have success.  Estimated time is about 1/2 hour.


The rest of the steps below apply regardless of whether you have the Garmin maps or the Openstreet maps with the exception that I had more success with using the GPX track file on the Openstreet than I did with TCX.  So my conclusion is use TCX files for Garmin maps and GPX Track files for Openstreet).

C.  On the Garmin itself, you need to configure your "timer pages".  This is confusing to name it a timer page and it is somewhat buried to find it.  But this is where you configure the display on the garmin so it shows the distance to the next turn and distance to end of the route, etc.  It is described in the manual on page 30 - see here: under the "Customizing Your Pages and Data Fields".

I set up a custom display page by going to Menu->Settings>Bike Settings>Training Pages>Timer Pages>User Defined>Page 2 (or whatever page) and then configure the custom screen the way you want it.  For example I configured mine like this:
nav screen

I had selected 7 data fields so that the top cell would be bigger, and put "Dist. to Next" in the top cell.  The meaning of the various fields are described on page 31 of the manual.  You can play around with whatever fields you want in each cell - to change a cell you just touch it when you are in the configuration mode and select the field to put into that cell.  You can have many custom screens and then when you are actually navigating a course, you can page through them.  

Following are the specfic steps needed to configure these custom displays.  You can have up to five custom screens which you can scroll through as you ride.  See below:

1.  To set up - select the wrench icon from main screen (bottom right).

2.  Select Bike Settings - that takes you to this page:

Display 2-1
3.  Select training pages which takes you to this page:

Display 3-1

4.  Select Timer Pages which takes you here:

Display 4-1

5.  I think the Course Timer screen will only appear when you are doing a course.  But Pick User Defined to configure up to 5 custom screens:

Display 5-1

6.  As shown - they are called Page 1 through Page 5.  The number underneath the word Page is the number of cells you have configured for that page, and it says "on" or "off" showing if that screen is enabled or not. The 1st one apparently is always enabled.  I have two that I'm not using.  When you click on one of the rows of this screen you get this:

Display 1

7.  You can touch the + or - to increase or decrease number of cells.  Clicking on the Enabled check either turns this screen on or off.  To change the screen, click on the green checkmark.  This takes you to the screen itself.  To change any of the contents of any cell, you just touch the cell and it takes you to a list of all the different categories of fields and you can navigate to the one you want.  You can just set up a couple test screens and experiment with them.


D.  Next step is to load the GPS file onto the Garmin.  The GPS file contains the actual route that will instruct the Garmin where to turn.  There are two formats commonly used for the GPS files - GPX and TCX.    TCX is the most common and is the recommended format if you are using the Garmin mapset.  Use GPX if you are using the Openstreet mapset..  Click here if you want to understand the formats in more detail.  To load the TCX or GPX file on the Garmin, you first need to download it.  To download it from the Ride With GPS website, which is the most popular cycling route website, follow these steps: (Note:  at WAB I am trying to include a link to the Ride With GPS route on every route in the Cue Sheet Library).

  1.  On the Ridewithgps website, open the route in "View" mode, and click on the  "Export" tab in the top right of the page.  Then click on "TCX Course" or "GPX Track. (depending upon what mapset you are using).

  Ride With GPS Export

 This will cause the TCX or GPX file to be downloaded to your computer.

2.  Next connect your Garmin to your computer with the USB cable.  You should see your unit appear in your File Explorer as a device, similar to how a Thumb drive would appear.  Following are two screen shots, one showing how the Garmin will appear on a Mac in Finder and the other showing how the Garmin will appear on a Windows PC in the File Explorer:

Garmin in Finder

Garmin in Windows

3.  Now Drag and Drop the TCX or GPX file you previously downloaded into the NewFiles folder.  (see Arrow pointer above).  The next time you power cycle the Garmin unit, your TCX or GPX file will be automatically moved into the Courses folder as a FIT file.  Incidentally, if the Courses folder contains all your routes you previously loaded onto the Garmin and the Activities folder contains all the previous actual rides that you have done.  Don't forget to power off/on the Garmin unit to cause the file to be moved from NewFiles to Courses!

E.  To actually navigate a course once you've loaded it on your Garmin, you go to Menu>Courses> and pick your course that was previously written to the Garmin.  Select it but before you touch "Go", select the settings icon and set Turn Guidance to "On"  The default is Off so if you don't do this it won't give you the turn guidance.

F.  NOW - to  see those various screens you configured in Step C as you are riding - here is what you do:

1.  When you first start the course it should show the map view like this:

Display 1-2

 2.  Here is something not intuitive - touching the bottom of the screen will bring up the Menu and scroll controls that look like this:

Display 2-2

3.  Now when you scroll through by hitting the right or left arrow, it will rotate through various screens including the user defined screens you set up.  Here are the screens I see when I hit the right arrow button repeatedly:

Display 2-2Display 4-2Display


NOTE:  Steps A, B and C only need to be done ONCE!  This is the hardest part.  The steps D and E to load a new GPS file and startup the turn-by-turn navigation are simple and done quickly once you get the hang of it!

Please send any questions or comments regarding this procedure to Rick Nevins at and I will be happy to help you!