Tag Archives: distance

Using technology to plan and track cycling routes

This post has been written in response to a request on one of my previous articles where I mentioned using technology when touring on bicycles.

When planning a ride, it is nice to know what to expect in terms of the number of climbs and their steepness, as well as an estimate of the riding distance. A basic technique for distance requires a good map and a piece of fine string. The string is laid out along the proposed route, then the length of the ride can be calculated using the scale of the map.

This very simple method was what I used when planning our French tour in 2009. In this case, we wanted to travel about 60km a day, so I made the piece of string the equivalent of 60km long and used that to see what destinations fell within our desired radius and direction. It was extremely cheap and worked well.

Smart software

[Please note that there are lots of excellent apps available that have similar functions to those I will describe in this post, but I am only going to discuss the ones that I use. However, if you have other recommendations, please feel free to list these in the comments].

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Using RoutePad to plan day 1 of the Scottish Highlands ride from Pitlochry to Killin (see previous posts). The map setting shows roads and terrain.

With the advent of smartphones, it is possible to be a lot more accurate with cycle route planning. I now use an app called RoutePad to examine different options for each day’s ride.

As with many good apps, it can take a little practice to get to know how to use it, but this is time well invested. RoutePad gives useful information before one sets out on each ride: distance, quantity and extent of climbs, their elevation and location.

If a change in the weather is anticipated, or extra sightseeing stops may be an option during a ride; many alternative routes can be worked out beforehand – ready for use.

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RoutePad plots the elevation for the proposed 63km ride to Killin

Tapping along a proposed ride puts icons onto a Google map (which can be viewed as ‘roads’ or ‘satellite imagery’ or a combination of both). The tracking thread snaps to the nearest road/walking path. Once the route is plotted, the distance and the elevation are calculated in metric or imperial measure.

I found it a bit frustrating to edit the icons when I first started, but it really just takes a bit of practice.

Once a route has been decided, it can then be viewed in the app, or saved and the file uploaded to Dropbox or emailed as an attachment. The files are easily opened into software such as Google Earth or another app such as Cyclemeter.

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Cyclemeter tracking results at the end of the Pitlochry – Killin ride (Scottish Highlands tour)

It is quite possible to also use ‘RoutePad’ to track the ride in real time, but I prefer to use a different app to do this. The reason is that I also like to record additional information such as average speed, kilojoule (calorie) consumption etc.

There are numerous excellent apps suitable for this more complex purpose and I have tried quite a few. I think that most are much of a muchness, and I finally settled for one called Cyclemeter. 

I leave my planned reference map in RoutePad and create a new file in Cyclemeter which plots my ride as I go.

Output from Cyclemeter, showing actual speed and elevation for the Pitlochry – Killin ride.

One of the nice things about this app is that it pauses automatically if the bike stops moving. This is great, as it keeps the average speed calculation accurate. It will also sync your ride details to your calendar future reference.

Hardware

There are iPhone mounting cases available which attach to the handlebars of bikes. These are water-resistant and have a transparent, touch sensitive front cover. The phone is secure inside the case and is operated with appropriately located buttons and by touching the screen.

I do have some reservations about the quality of the screw tightening device on my phone mounting case, but otherwise I am very happy with it. The cases are not cheap, though, and given the cost of the phone and the case, I am trying to come up with a better way of securing the unit to my bike.

iPhone case for attaching your phone to the handlebars

Summary

It is wonderful to have a live map at your fingertips which can be zoomed in/out as the ride unfolds. And at the end of the ride, you have a record of where you have been and your performance statistics. Be careful though, tracking your ride can use up quite a lot of your phone battery power and you may need to recharge it a bit more often during the day, depending on how far you intend to ride.

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