How will we find our way while we are actually cycling? - Grampies on the Go - CycleBlaze

March 11, 2011

How will we find our way while we are actually cycling?

At first this seems pretty obvious. In the 'old days' on a long (car) trip you would get out road maps and plot your route. Alternatively an oil company or automobile association could provide maps with routes marked. With the Interstates and the TransCanada Highway and other major highways, moreover, you could just get going and follow the road signs. In later times, you just fire up your Tom Tom, Garmin, or Magellan and let the little man or lady in there guide you.

On a bike, though, it's not so obvious. A big pile of maps is bulky and heavy, and there is no one in the 'passenger seat' to be fooling with them while you drive. Standard automotive GPS does not understand bike paths and Tom Tom, which seems to have a 'bike routing' option will just generally take you the long way around. Plus, it takes batteries to have automotive GPS going, and you probably could not hear it for the traffic noise.

There is also hiking type GPS, and GPS units recommended for cycling. We did not check these out at all carefully, just noting that they seem costly (like $300 +) and quite thick and heavy, but with small screens. We did not see how these could effectively guide us as we cycled along, though we do believe they have longer battery lives than automotive GPS units (like 13 hours, vs. 3 hours). REI's selection of these covers the Garmin Edge series, starting with the Garmin Edge 800 for $450. The Edge 705 Deluxe Bundle also includes features like a heart rate monitor. Presumably this is helpful for when you get to wifi and look up your VISA balance after absorbing its $650 price tag! However, if anyone has experience with these things we love to hear how it has worked out. (This is not to discount Alex Carr's excellent 2008 article, which is already here I guess we just need a true dummies' version in under 27 pages.)

Another idea is to use the GPS available in smartphones. However with the exception of one Nokia model that has the street database built in, smartphones need 3G connectivity to work. We do not expect to find 3G for big chunks of our route. In rural Saskachewan and Manitoba we do not expect a "G" of any style at all!

Our own answer so far is to write out our route (in Excel), showing all roads, towns, campgrounds, grocery stores, and motels that we have learned about, with the distances between. We printed this, scaled to fit our map window on the handlebar bag, in large enough print so we should be able to see it. (At our ages, this print is actually quite large!) On the flip sides of the sheets we have snipped out sections of maps, that show generally where we are. However these are not at a scale where we could actually navigate effectively with them. For the eventuality that we get really lost, we do have Microsoft Streets and Trips in the netbook, but that means dragging it out and booting it up, maybe in bright sun or in the rain. Still, if there is 3G around, we could also conceivably check Google Maps out on the highway as well.

Another radical idea of Dodie's is to actually ask people for directions. As a man, I of course would never concede defeat and ask for help!

One troubling thing about bike routing is that the way to go often dipsy doodles around, avoiding big roads, and hopping on and off short bike paths as they exist here and there. We have a detailed bike route laid out from Toronto to Montreal by Brian Hedney While this is great, we found that again in our well lit computer room with high speed internet and zoomed in maps on a wide monitor we repeatedly got 'lost' following the detailed directions. We actually averaged only 20km per hour following the directions. I remarked that we might be able to actually pedal the darn route faster than we could follow it in the computer room. Still we have condensed the instructions, copying/retyping them into Excel, and tried our best to memorize the tricks of the route that we were able to scope out with Street View and Satellite view. If/when we get lost along Lake Ontario there will be no computer lab to bail us out. We may have to fall back on Dodie's secret weapon (and ask)!

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