The maps.me app is a gem

Before we left I went looking for a mapping app for my iPhone that would work without Internet access and so incurring data charges.

Maps.me looked to fill the bill and so I decided to give it a try.  I downloaded the maps for free and went with the free version of the app for a start.  Now I can’t imagine being without it.

I haven’t tried the routing tool as yet – no bike version exists so far.  But on the road it proves invaluable at points.  The GPS works really quickly, locating your position and can be orientated by the compass points.  The maps appear and can be changed in size and details in moments – instantly really.  No reason to be lost ever again.

Better still, the app is a great way to explore and make sense of the options around you at moments of indecision.  Say you are at an unmarked and unsigned fork on the road.  Left or right?  Maps.me allows you to explore what’s ahead on each choice – without wasting a wheel turn.  It is also great in showing what sort of consequences will follow such choices.

In short it’s a very useful tool and far more useful than my Garmin Edge that cost a fortune a few years ago.  I’d never buy another now.

Anyone else had the same experience – or perhaps not?

Paris to Algoz, Algarve, Portugal – Our Navigation System

We had expected to start cycling from Santander.  A last minute ferry strike meant a switch to Eurostar and a start from Paris.  At a stroke all our careful planning went out of the window. Worse, we had no France maps for our Garmin Edge 800.  We set off with a 2004 edition of a Michelin Road Atlas:  as it was way too heavy, I spent hours tearing out pages we would not need.  Mostly I got it right!

The best map is the one to hand!

Without details maps for the Garmin we had to resort to planning on paper.  Not such a bad thing perhaps?  We devised a system that worked well for us – most of the time. Each night in our hotel we would use the overview map to pick out a town to the southwest of where we were.  Then we would take a length of dental floss (yes, we were in improvisation mode!)  cut to the length that corresponded to our preferred 80km daily range.  We would track this along the detailed map route and estimate the distance to our preferred destination town.  We decided anything between 80 and 100km was acceptable.  On a few occasions we were forced to make it 111km – but that was really pushing it for us and dangerous if headwinds, hills, or getting lost forced us off track and added to the demands.

Heading South East Works!

If our hotel had wifi, we could add the luxury of planning our exit from the town of departure in detail.  This saved much frustration and time the next morning. Better still, we could use the Via Michelin site to get suggested cycle routes and the Map My Ride site to check out the elevations and climbs ahead.  This was very reassuring: as was the use of a weather site which told us wind direction and force – more important than temperature and chance of rain.  Most days we would use the web to book into a hotel for the next day.

On the road we carried the map pages for the day in Jacqui’s map sleeve on her bar bag along with any detailed instructions she had copied out. I had the Garmin with the base map only, but it was a great help as a compass giving us a check on direction.  This saved us from a number of bad mistakes on the road.

Once we got to Spain and Portugal we had the luxury of detailed Garmin maps, but we chose to stick to our paper-based planning system.  This worked well once we adjusted to the change in scale!  This cut our daily range from a page plus in France to half a page in Spain.  A painful adjustment!

Route through Spain and Portugal

The Garmin did come into its own when trying to find routes out of cities and hotels on arrival.  Set to avoid motorways, tolls and unpaved tracks the Garmin proved reliable most of the time.

We ended up covering some 2,228km in total and climbing for 21,346 meters over 29 days so I guess the system was pretty well proved to work by the time we were finished! I certainly learned not to over-plan trips and leave some room for spontaneity in future.

Are we lost yet?

 

 

 

Navigation: using Via Michelin for cycle touring

I guess it should not come any any great surprise that this Michelin hosted site offers pretty good navigation features.  It is well worth a look as an alternative to cycle only sites and offers a number of attractive features.

Mapping Via Michelin Style

Firstly, the mapping is very clear and attractive and its possible to selectively add several layers of information and detail.  The maps give more detail as you zoom in and offer visual cues and keys.  Good use of colour give you a sense of the terrain, but if that is not enough, then you can add satellite or map/satellite hybrids.  As far as I can see, however, no elevation view is included.  However, you can ask to add different layers of detail showing locations of eating places, hotels, etc.

A second, very positive benefit for the cycle tourer is the option to specify that you want to follow cycle suitable routes when asking for directions.  Limited testing suggests that this does not throw up cycle only routes (such as greenways etc.) but it does keep you clear of major and cycle-unfriendly roads to a degree.  As you can specify locations you want to add along the route you can fine tune routes to a degree.  Better still you can ask for locations such as petrol stations or restaurants to be added and their location appears in the item by item written instructions.  As a luxury, it will add general weather information if you ask. Once you specify a destination, its possible to search for hotels in that destination from the same page. There is a suspicion than not all hotels are shown, however, but at least this provides a decent starting point.

All this is pretty neat and convenient with an a stable site that it is pretty straightforward to navigate.  Better still its possible to export and download the route instructions as a GPX file and for different types of GPS device.

The site works well on a desktop computer or on the Apple iPad, so it seems to have something to offer  the cycle tourer at home and on the road.  Anyone got any more experience with it – for good or bad?

Check out the Via Michelin site.

Technology: Take Care Creating Map My Ride GPX Files

We are just back from a 10 day mini-tour in the Algarve and Alentejo, Portugal.  Brilliant trip, wonderfully quiet roads, dramatic Atlantic coast scenery and kindness and a warm welcome everywhere we went.  One wee ‘operator error’ crept in, however: I hold my hands up – all my own fault.

I created a set of GPX files for our Garmin Edge 800 before going, using Map My Ride on my Apple iMac before leaving.  On the very first day we ran into trouble with the first of these routes.  After 15 glorious K of complicated navigation on very remote roads north of Messines we were directed to, ‘take the unpathed road’ to the right – and spent the next 20K battling up and down the roughest and remotest track imaginable.  We were on a track gouged into the hillside to service the radio masts built at the top of each summit.  No hamlets, no farms, no civilisation, nothing. No shade.  Wonderful if on a planned trip off road on the right bikes, but hardly what you want to be doing on commuter bikes with road tires and luggage for a week or more.  It made for a hot and sticky day and a certain amount of tension on the team!  There is a solution, however: read on.

On the Dirt Again

Overnight I realised my mistake.  Sitting at a 27 inch iMac, and determined to avoid major roads, I had zoomed in to a degree that showed up every house drive, dirt track and worse – all unaware that I was no longer dealing with ‘proper’ roads.  Zooming out just a little brought up roads with numbers and villages.  So each night thereafter we used Google Earth to check what we were getting ourselves into for the next day.  In passing I might say, the Garmin never missed a beat and always knew where we were and prompted us onto the right ‘track’ at every turn.  Without it carving a path for yourselves would have been very difficult. In that sense it was very reassuring.  Unfortunately, it could not keep an idiot from himself!  A lesson hard learned!

It's Hot!

Technology: Creating Routes for the Garmin Edge 800 with Map My Ride

Map My Ride is the web site of preference I use to create Routes for use with the Garmin Edge 800.  I access the site from my Apple Mac with Safari,but I suspect that the site will work well with any platform and browser.  Here’s how I go about it.  I use this site in preference to, e.g. Garmin Base Camp as it seems to be to be much more straightforward and reliable in use.

Navigate to the Map My Ride site and register/login.  You can register and use the site for free, but I have decided to commit to it and I pay for a Bronze monthly subscription.

  1. To begin mapping a Route either select Map a Route from the Routes drop down menu to the left or  Click on Map a Route using the button to the top right.
  2. Provide a Start Location  e.g. Aberdeen, UK. Click on e.g. Road Cycling and click on Continue.
  3. Click and Drag the map to show your intended start position.
  4. Point and double click to create a start point.
  5. Click  on Follow Roads in the tools menu to the right.
  6. Click on the next junction point you want to pass through, and continue clicking in at each decision point.
  7. If anything goes wrong, click Un(do) on the tools menu.
  8. Click Follow Roads to toggle on and off between following roads or open spaces as necessary e.g. to go though a park area then back onto roads.
  9. Click decision points on the map to complete the route.
  10. By default your route will be titled, “A route mapped on date” – Select this text and rename with a meaningful title.
  11. Click Save to complete your Route.
  12. Add a description if you care to and Click  Save and Complete.
  13. A map will appear with Elevation data underneath.  Click on Export Map Data and select the Export as GPXOption.
  14. Click on Download GPX File.
This will place a copy of the file in your computer’s download area, ready for transfer to your Garmin device.  Click here for details of how to transfer files to your Garmin. 
Update: If you prefer I have added a video screencast of these instructions.  To view, click on the Technology tag to the right of this post.

Technology: First Trip with the Garmin Edge 800 – Review

We are just back from a first trip using the Garmin Edge 800 as a principal navigation device.  Verdict?  Well, perhaps 8 out of 10: certainly, I was more impressed than I expected to be and have seen enough to want to keep trying with the Edge.

What I did
I  used the Map my Fitness site to plot 3 day routes to use on the trip.  MMF makes this easy to do and also allows you to download the route as a GPX file that the Edge can see and read. (see details in the sister post to this one tagged under GPS and Technology.)  Each of the routes started from a fixed point that I expected to be able to find easily: e.g. our hotel, a railway station etc.

How things worked
When switched on at the start of the route and the route selected (Garmin refers to Routes as Courses), or any point along it, the Edge, ‘buzzed’ and indicated that it has detected the route.  The route is shown as a pink line on the map and your position as an elongated triangle.  The triangle moves along the pink line as long as you are on the right line.  If you move off route the Edge ‘buzzes’ to alert you and flashes up an ‘off course’ message.

What worked well with the Edge 800
Most of the time the Edge did a great job of keeping us on the planned route. A glance at the map was enough to see where to go at junctions.  It was very reassuring to be ‘buzzed’ very early when off route.  Seeing junctions ahead and having an indication of direction of travel presented was very helpful and motivating.  Being able to anticipate changes of direction was useful.  You can also ‘swipe’ from map to a numbers page that indicates your speed and distance to final destination.  This was very motivating and encouraging.  The Edge was very accommodating when you stop – for a coffee or whatever –  and just resumes where you left off.  You can stop the supplementary timer if you wish and resume when you set off again.  Battery life stood up really well over 4-5 hours, at which point it was more than ‘half full’.

What worked less well with the Edge 800
At first sight the screen size is very small.  So small it’s impossible to get a sense of where you are going ‘on the bigger picture’ from the device in the way you can from a map.  It’s much better to forget that thinking and rely on your advanced planning and the pink route line.

On a couple of occasions the Edge ‘buzzed’ the off course message when there really was no other sensible alternative route – both times on the outskirts of towns or villages.  Ignoring the error message resulted in a second message indicating the the route had been found again.  This was not more than a minor irritation on these two occasions.

I found it difficult to manipulate the screen display on the map page: it’s not obvious how you ought to change settings.  Some of this might be because my eyesight did not allow me to read the map detail without putting reading glasses on.

Overall Verdict on the Garmin Edge 800
I was impressed on this first outing.  On each of the three days the Edge performed well and kept us on track with the minimum of fuss or bother.  It was especially good on complicated routes on remote small road with few signposts and many decision points that would have required frequent stops to consult a paper map.  This is always a frustration and the Edge removed all of this worry and ‘checking’ as you go allowing you to focus on the cycling and the scenery.


Technology: Starting out with the Garmin Edge 800

Perhaps it’s only me, but I have had the most miserable of times starting out with the Garmin Edge 800 GPS system.  Something about the way Garmin write their user manuals just does not sit well with me.  After a few weeks of ownership I am still fumbling my way towards being comfortable with the Edge on my Apple Mac.  These lessons hard learned, may be useful:

  1. The Apple Mac does not always seem to ‘see’ the Garmin device.  For more reliable performance follow this procedure.  Turn the Garmin off.  Hold down the Lap/Reset button for 10 seconds while you attach the USB cable to the Garmin, or until you see the computer image appear on the Garmin screen and the disk image icon appear on the Apple Mac.  This forces the Garmin into, ‘mass storage mode’ and ensures communication between the Apple and the Garmin.
  2. I have had more success using the upload file facility from a third party site (I use, ‘Map my Fitness/Ride/Run’) than from the Garmin sites.
  3. Likewise, Map my Fitness gives much better control over the mapping tools for creating routes than the Garmin site tools do.
  4. When exporting a GPX file to the Garmin (connected as above) you have to save the file to the ‘New Files’ folder on the Garmin navigating to it via the Garmin disk image icon on the Apple Mac.  Disconnect the Garmin only after,’unmounting’ the Garmin by dragging the icon into the waste basket and waiting a second or two.
  5. Once disconnected, if you start the Garmin you will find the new route listed under the ‘Courses’ icon on the Garmin menu page.
  6. If you rename the GPX file for neatness, make sure you don’t add any odd characters or spaces.  If you do, the Garmin will not ‘see’ the file.
These lessons were learned only after many frustrating hours reading the manual and searching through the various Garmin forums.  I really cannot understand how a company as big as Garmin can produce such shoddy user documentation and software.
Update: It turns out I am far from alone!  This Garmin 800 Blog by Frank Kinlan seems to be attracting quite a bit of attention from equally frustrated users.