Lightweight Touring – Chargers Apart

We make every effort to tour light.  We each carry two panniers and a bar bag. I have a saddle bag for bike-related bits (tools and spares) and our wet weather gear.  We start each trip with 4.5 kilos in each pannier.  They tend to lose weight over the weeks as consumables get used up and older stuff gets discarded.

However, we seem to carry a ridiculous number of chargers. At a rough count we have different chargers for: two cameras; two phones; two iPads (we have different versions of each); one for our bike coms system and one for our Garmins.  In addition, we carry one three-way UK extension lead with a euro-plug converter – an excellent idea that helps manage the nightly cue for charging in hotels that only offer one socket.

Every trip away I think I ought to be able to do better, but somehow it never happens.  Any idea how I might improve things? Don’t suggest leaving the electronic gear at home please – that’s a non-starter!

 

The Bicymple – just genius!

I suspect it is never going to make anyone a fortune, but I have got to say that I love the bicymple and the thinking that goes into it.  Too many people take things too seriously these days and this looks like a nice corrective.  Good luck to her and all who venture forth on her.

Top Five Cycle Touring Technology Tips I wish I’d Learned Earlier

We have been back from our cycle tour from Paris to the Algarve in Portugal for a few weeks now.  Time enough to reflect on some things I wish we had done differently.  My top five regrets are:

  1. Not using the GPS location feature on my still camera (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30) routinely.  Sure enough, we have arrived back with photos taken in places we cannot remember.  Most annoying is the fact that I bought the Panasonic because of its GPS facility!  Fears over battery demands put me off having the GPS on all the time put me off. Big mistake!
  2. Not taking enough video footage.  The Panasonic takes great video and I was also carrying a Flip video camera.  I had even created a mount for the camera on top of my front light: but somehow I failed to use it.  I default to stills I regret to say.  Big mistake.  Especially before a couple of brilliant descents on the border between Portugal and Spain. I can still run these through my brain, but seeing the footage would have been so wonderful.
  3. Not taking enough photos.  It’s impossible to take too many is it not? We take too many similar shots because we take them under the same circumstances each day.  We take when we stop to eat and drink and at special viewpoints.  So, too many photos take the same format and too many show us in our dayglow waistcoats.  Big mistake.
  4. Not buying a Smartphone data roaming package.  I had my iphone with me, but fears of big bills meant I turned off data roaming.  So no Twitter, no Facebook and no regular blogging updates on the road as events unfolded.  Big mistake.
  5. Not blogging each night in our hotels with wifi.  Somehow there seemed to be so much to do each night, with booking hotels and navigation, we failed to blog our experiences each day.  We did keep paper journals each day, but blogging would have added something for sure.

I guess we will just have to do it all again, and do better next time!  I wonder if you have ever made similar mistakes, or have suggestions on how to manage things better?

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Equipment Review: the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 as a cycle touring camera

I decided some weeks ago that neither my Nikon D90 nor my Canon Ixus were quite right for our forthcoming tour of Spain.  The D90 is wonderful, but it’s heavy and while it does fit in my barbag, it entirely fills it leaving no room for anything very much else.  The Ixus 75 has been a faithful friend, but Jacqui wants it more often than not now, so it seemed time to find a stable mate for it.  Having a camera each will hopefully result in more pictures being taken.

I looked at a number of options before deciding on the Panasonic Lumix TZ30.  I almost went for a new iPhone on the grounds that it carried the advantage of being a single, multi-purpose phone, musicmaker, web browser, stills camera and video camera all in one.  I still like that idea, but baulked at the cost at this time.  I looked at ‘system’ compacts, but turned them down, mostly again on cost.  They are blooming expensive.

I decided the DMC-TZ30 would fill the bill for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I was sure I wanted a compact I could fit into the barbag with lots of room to spare.  I like the idea of having easy access to the camera while cycling.  The TZ30, like the Ixus, can be carried out of its case in the barbag or a waistcoat pocket on the road. Easy access makes for more photos in my experience.

Secondly, I was attracted to the superb telephoto zoom on the Lumix. Covering 24 to 480mm in old money, it promises you great flexibility on the road in a tiny package.

Thirdly, I wanted something competent with a good combination of ‘point and shoot’ friendliness and user controls.  The Lumix has everything from  ‘intelligent Auto’ (which is very impressive in use), through scene modes to Aperture or shutter priority and full manual control.

Fourthly, and decisively, I fancied something with GPS onboard and location tagging of photos. Again, reviews suggested the Lumix GPS worked as well as any on a camera.

Finally, I want to get into video, and the Lumix seems to be a more than competent video performer.

So, after a couple of days of road testing what are my initial thoughts? I like it!  (Just as well given the money!) The GPS works, and works reasonably quickly, albeit at quite a cost in terms of battery life.  I sense that it might be necessary to carry a spare battery on the road, or to turn the GPS off and on as you travel – to my mind, defeating the point of having it to a considerable degree.

In use, the Lumix is a pleasure.  Quick and responsive and with lots of options and control for the user.  As I hoped the zoom lens is its best feature in many respects.

The camera sits nicely in a pocket or barbag compartment and inspires confidence every time you pick it up.  It is not however perfect for the job of a cycle tourer.  For example –

It’s not waterproof and it does not seem all that robust.  However, neither did the Ixus and it has proved bullet-proof in use.

The manual is anything but friendly and I would have been a bit at sea were it not for the help of some excellent tutorials on YouTube.

Compatibility with my Apple iMac and iPad is a bit hit and miss.  In fact the data card has to be removed from the camera and used with Apple’s card reader to import photos into the iPad.

Batteries have to be charged in the camera, with a full charge taking 260 minutes.  Not ideal, unless like us you are hotel-based on tour.

All of this part, I am well pleased with my Panasonic Lumix TZ30 and look forward to happy snapping in spain in the coming month.

UPDATE September 2013: I have abandoned the TZ30 and passed it on to the family. Why? While all of the above is true and it is a small, but very powerful package, finally the lack of a viewfinder proved to be a deal breaker for me. Somehow, not being able to see without fiddling with my reading glasses kills off my creative side.  It’s a pity, but the TZ30 travels well, but tends to get left in my bar bag too much to be successful.  A great and rather expensive pity.

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: iPad App for WordPress

I have just discovered the iPad app from and for WordPress, but will it work? I have a hunch yes and it could be yet another reason to carry your iPad on your cycle tour. Mind you how many reasons do you need?

Update: Well, it worked a treat.  Looks like it would be just great for adding daily updates on a trip with simple text that could be embellished with photos and maps later.  Not that these cannot be added at the time, but doing so from a ‘proper’ machine would be easier I think.  What you need, however, is something to catch your ‘thoughts’ as notes as you go and the app on an iPad would work just fine.

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.