A long time ago I used to cycle everywhere; then I learned how to drive……. then I learned how to drink and how to hail (and afford) a taxi….. then I moved to the countryside with idiot drivers like me that didn’t really look out properly for cyclists….. then I moved to the Surrey / London border and the quack told me to stop abusing my joints.
But now, I have an all clear and the realisation that there is some epic cycling country around here. I write this, for example, after following National Cycle Route 4 pretty much from home to Tower Bridge this morning, through Richmond Park and substantially along the river (including past Craven Cottage, home of the mighty Fulham Football Club). I am now editing it a few days later after a 25 mile blast from home to Richmond Park to say hi to the deer.
Of course, being in telecoms means such a venture cannot be undertaken without some degree of geekist equipment. So, I have my bike, a Specialized Crosstrail. Hybrid, obviously, because (1) I don’t want to be associated with the LycraLouts that ride two abreast on main roads and (2) becasue there’s no way a roadbike can handle tow paths at speed.
There’s the Moon LED lights that charge from a microUSB socket, which is incredibly useful. They have a multitude of settings, which I cannot master despite them having only one button. Oh, and they’re bright, which I suppose is the main thing. There’s also the generic Chinese reverse engineered wireless speedometer, which is essential for knowing just how fast the idiot BMW driver that missed you with a nanometre clearance was going relative to you…. and, more importantly, how far it is to the pub for pie, chips and ale.
Which pretty much just leaves some form of mapping solution. And for that, I have two essential pieces of kit. The first is my iPhone; the second is something to put it in – for which I have this handle handlebar bag. It is importantly water resistent (to be fair it only gets mildly moist even in a monsoon downpoor). It’s large enough to hold a wallet and a battery pack (essential for mobile mapping, for reasons I have previously written about) and has a clear plastic cover on top and a pouch for your iPhone (apparently other devices are allegedly available). There’s also a neat slot for a headphone cable, though I for one would rather hear the idiot in the BMW coming than listen to my playlists.
So, the iPhone goes in the pouch, which means you need an app. I’ve played with a few – many, such as the recognisable brand names are expensive. Then I discovered, on various internet forums, WikiLoc. The app is free to download and use, except for the loading, recording and saving and following of trails (or routes as we would say) – that’s £2.99 a year, a veritable bargain compared to the other options. Most importantly is the “community” approach they have taken, which allows you to see what other routes people have laid down near you for various sports – cycling, hiking, canoeing, horsing etc. I’ve discovered a couple I am meaning to try.
However, in terms of mapping, the great function is the route recording to see how far you went and to draw it to follow again (though it does underrecord distance a little, which is more a function of the GPS in the iPhone than the software). The actual navigation is very simplistic. You get a blue dot on the map to represent you, and a green path showing you where to go and a red one showing you where you’ve been, plus warnings if you stray off path. The compass feature probably works well on a hike, but not so much when zooming towards a junction at 20mph (I maintain I am not a LyrcaLout). However, it does give you just enough guidance to know which way to turn when the National Cycle Route Network signs are skew-wiff or your memory fails you – providing you manage to get it zoomed out appropriately before you leave.
All I will say though is that you can flip between various status screens (even through the plastic front of the handlebar bag) – big map, smaller map with compass and distance to go, elevation profile of the route (!) and statistics of the journey. It’s very easy to be distracted by that and, as I may have done this morning, not see a speed bump and probably have jeopardised my ability to have children.
P.S. My reference to BMW is a generalisation. Range Rovers and Audis are often equally to blame. As are telecoms regulation types in Mercedes 🙂 .