Ride mapping

I like to fiddle with interactive web sites, and several months ago I discovered ride mapping sites. Based on satellite visual technology, the sites let you draw maps of your favorite rides. They display cumulative mileage as you go, so you know to the hundredth of a mile how long your ride is (and can compare that distance to the readout on your cyclocomputer).

Because many of these sites are available, I thought it would be worthwhile to compare some of the better-known ones.

I was a fan of Route Slip. But Route Slip was bought awhile ago by Map My Ride, and all of the Route Slip accounts have been transferred over to Map My Ride accounts. Map My Ride is loaded with features Route Slip didn’t have, such as a training log that lets you keep track of your riding efforts.

Like many other mapping sites, Map My Ride is based on Google Maps and Google Earth. You can view your ride in either map or satellite view, or select a hybrid, combining both views.

These pictures show the map view. You can zoom in for a closer view of the route. As you draw the route, little mileage markers pop up every five miles, so you can get a sense of where you might be on the ride at a given time.

Traveling east to west, I cross the 5-mile point just west of Holder Lane.

All you have to do to create a ride map like this is to click on your starting point, then use your mouse to follow the road you take, and click periodically. If the road twists and turns, you’ll have a lot of clicks. If it’s straight, you might be able to get by with just a few clicks. Once you’ve finished mapping a ride, save it. It will be saved on the ride mapping company’s web site, and you can go back and retrieve it whenever you wish. So can anyone else.

That’s one of the cool things about these programs — you can search a given area to find rides that you might want to try on your own. In some cases, you are allowed to save maps privately — that is, keep them to yourself. In most cases, you save them to the closest city, and they are available for anyone to access.

Map My Ride put me off at first, because its window is much smaller than those of comparable programs. However, you have the option to click on “View Full Screen,” which removes that objection.

Bikely.com is another popular destination. Another Google maps site, Bikely allows you to search for bike routes, and then take a tour of the route from its starting place, denoted by the green symbol in the picture below:

The route is the “BSS (Bicycle Sports Shop) Tour de Austin.” The route details in the inset window give you an idea of what the route is like.

Bikely allows you to save routes as private, or make them public. This is a nice feature, because most of my routes start from my house, and I really don’t want them to be out there for any whacko to see. You do have to be careful when drawing a route, tho, that the “Auto-follow the road” button is unchecked. Bikely will follow the road you’re on, which means you don’t have to click your way through turns, but sometimes it goes off on its own, following a different road than you had planned. You can always undo the last leg drawn, tho, so if you have the patience, this feature may work for you.

The Auto-follow box is checked here. Danger!

My first exposure to these things was on a site called Runningmap.com. I went away from it as I discovered others, but revisited it while researching this post. I’m very impressed with it. Runningmap is so named because it started as a site for runners to map their runs. It’s just as good for bike routes, tho. Runningmap uses Yahoo maps rather than Google maps, so you get a different look. I like the detail to these maps — after you’ve saved them, mileage markers appear at each point you clicked to build the map.

Distance accuracy might be questionable. For example, one route I had mapped on Map My Ride is 22.67 miles. But on Runningmap, it’s 21.88 miles. That may be because I hugged the edge of the road on Runningmap, and over the course of 20-plus miles, shaved off 8 tenths. Still, I think that’s a lot, almost a mile. But another route that came out to 19.35 miles on Map My Ride showed only .1 mile difference on Runningmap.

Cyclists who use Garmin GPS cyclocomputers can download their data to Motionbased, which can massage it to show even more cool stuff. Motionbased lets you simulate rides based on elevation profile and maps, and check your heart rate and cadence at points along the route. You can break out data for uphills, downhills and flats. You can break out distance, speed, cadence, heart rate, and elevation in tables and charts. There’s enough info there to make your head spin. I don’t use GPS, and my combination of mapping sites and a basic cyclocomputer don’t give me near the information I could get at Motionbased.

There are lots of mapping sites, and I know it comes down to a matter of personal preference. Veloroutes.org, cyclistnexus.com, gmap-pedometer.com, and RoadBikeRides.com all work from the same basic Google map template, but each has its own unique features that make it different from the other sites. Some of these sites are evolving into social networking sites. On Road Bike Rides, you can “friend” other cyclists, upload photos and videos to go along with the routes you share, and accumulate points toward prizes.

I just want a place to store my rides, not a biking-oriented MySpace. So which one do I use? Well, I’m using Map My Ride by default, because I had been a Route Slip user and woke up one morning to find that I was now a Map My Ride user. It’s fine, but after poking around on some of these other sites, I might try something new. Runningmap, back where I started with ride mapping, may very well be where I wind up.

On the road (partly) with Road 1

With the excitement in our house over Pat’s ride yesterday, some readers may have also spotted the fact that I wasn’t there until it ended, when I drove out to the ride site to pick her up. The fact was, I had another engagement. I was taking the on-bike part of Road 1.

Road 1 is the basic cycling skills development course offered by the League of American Bicyclists. Last month, I took the four-hour classroom part of the course. But the on-bike session was cancelled, because the instructors had conflicts. Yesterday, however, we got out there.

We met near a small cafe on Austin’s East Side. In all, the group numbered two League Certified Instructors, and a third came with his wife, who was taking the course. One young woman of about college age, one middle-aged woman who was a beginning commuter, a middle-aged man who rode a titanium Colnago, and me.

After some preliminary discussion about what would happen, we hopped on the bikes and rode to a nearby elementary school parking lot. The drills we did ran from simple to challenging. We rode between rows of half tennis balls, keeping the bike on a stable course. We “scanned” back, looking for an instructor holding one, both or no arms in the air, and called out what we saw — without letting our bikes swerve to the left. We slalomed (“swooped” they called it) our bikes through a tight course to get the feel for steering by leaning one way or the other. “Ride the way a kid would ride,” one instructor said. It works. We made quick stops with just the rear brake, both brakes, and with our butts hanging off the back of the saddle. We practiced “instant right turns” — the kind of maneuver a biker would have to make if a car suddenly did a right turn in front of him. It went well, although the commuter was less confident about her bike handling ability than the rest of us.

Then it was out on the road. The lead instructor had come up with a route through neighborhoods and downtown Austin. Each of us took turns as the lead rider, with one of the instructors right behind. They were actually “grading” us throughout the ride. We were evaluated on such things as correct lane position, signaling, stopping at stop signs (I got dinged because I didn’t leave my saddle at one stop), etc. The ride was a good mix of quiet residential streets, frontage roads along freeways, crowded downtown thorofares, and poorly maintained streets through industrial areas. One lead rider was stopped at a light, in the left lane, ready to make a left turn onto the freeway access. A car on her right jumped ahead when the light changed and did a left turn, cutting her off. She had to do the same kind of quick stop we had just practiced in the parking lot. The commuter lady was afraid to get into the left lane for left turns, and rode through downtown doing “box left” turns — where the rider stays in the right lane, crosses the intersection, then stops, lifts the bike to face left, and proceeds when the stoplight turns green. At one point, we had to negotiate railroad tracks that crossed the street on a tight diagonal, by turning our bikes to cross the tracks at right angles. (These are the same railroad tracks, by the way, where Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Austin broke his leg last week when he tried to cross them on his bike.)

Then it was back to the cafe starting point, where we had to change our “flat” rear tires. Messy work, and although I had brought an old towel to wipe my hands with, it was in the car a block away, so I was unable to use it. The session capped off with the instructors giving us some verbal feedback — they’ll mail detailed critiques later — and we went our separate ways.

So, what’s my assessment of Road 1? I think every new biker should take it — or something like it. It’s all about building skills, and that’s always valuable. On the downside, it was pretty long (8 a.m.-1 p.m.), although since I was watching the clock in order to leave to pick up Pat from her ride in time, I may have been more sensitive to the length. Our ride through town covered maybe five miles, at speeds of no more than 10 mph — and that was hit only a few times. I learned how to “bunny hop” the bike, but more importantly, I did have a great opportunity to practice important riding skills, and I do believe the experience boosted my confidence in certain biking situations.

No pictures from the session, unfortunately. I brought my camera, but the battery had died. This video from YouTube gives a pretty good idea of the kind of parking lot drills we did Saturday.

Successful ride

Pat met her goal for Hill Country Ride for AIDS — not just in donations raised, but in the ride itself.  She finished about a half hour faster than she did last year (50 miles) and kept the rubber side down throughout.  Long-time readers may remember she fell last year.  Her riding buddy said she’s in much better physical shape than a year ago, and was surprised at how easily she knocked off the first 14-mile leg.  She did have a flat tire, which hasn’t happened on the tires she uses since they were installed over a year ago.  And the new taller stem, while more comfortable for her sitting position, meant she was putting different pressure on her posterior.  It’s a little sore tonight.  Plans for next year — still uncertain at this point.

Tomorrow’s the day

It’s finally here. Saturday is the day of the Hill Country Ride for AIDS, which Pat is riding in.

Her training this year has been less intense than last year’s. She has not accumulated longer rides in the numbers she did last year, but at the same time, she is in better shape. She can go out and ride almost 20 miles without a strain, and a year ago at this time, it wouldn’t have happened.

Last year, whether she would complete the ride was an open question. But she did. This year, she’s confident she’ll finish, and is hoping to do it in a better time than last year.

Today, I picked up her bike at the LBS. They did a pre-ride tuneup, and installed a new, taller stem to get her more upright. With any luck, she’ll be able to do a short practice ride today, to get a feel for the new riding position. Tonight, we’re off to the pre-ride carb-loading spaghetti dinner. Tomorrow, a friend will pick her up at 6 a.m. for the ride out to the start. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll head out to the ride site to catch her at the finish.

Book Review: New Cyclist Handbook

Since the purpose of this blog is to share my experiences as I get into cycling, with the hope that others new to the sport might get something out of them, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at some books targeted at the newbie cyclist. I only have a few on my bookshelf — most of what I know about cycling I learned from the fine posters to Bike Forums and other biking blogs — but I’ll briefly review the ones I have and add reviews to other books as those books come to my attention.

The first in this series of reviews is Bicycling Magazines’ New Cyclist Handbook, edited by Ben Hewitt, Rodale Press, 2005. It’s an update of an earlier version that came out in 2000. Why a three-year-old book? It’s widely available in bookstores, and is likely to be a candidate for selection by a new rider looking for fast info. That’s how I wound up with it.

The Table of Contents indicates that the book will address major issues faced by new cyclists. The book is broken up into six parts: The Bike, The Body, Skills & Techniques, Getting Good (training), Body Care, and Bicycle Care. The chapters within those parts deal with specific topics in a bit more detail. Not exhaustive detail, because many of the chapters seem to be adapted from — or are outright reprints from — articles that have appeared over the years in Bicycling Magazine. Editor Hewitt suggests in the Introduction that the reader take a look at only one or two chapters at a time, and let them sink in while going for a ride.

I found some of the chapters to be worth revisiting several times. The “Getting Good” part has a chapter called “Instant Improvement” — little things a cyclist can do to become more efficient. “Training for a Century” has two versions of a training plan: One for those who just want to survive the 100 miles, and another for those who want to thrive on it. Other chapters were too elementary to spend any real time with, such as “Choose the Right Bike” — it’s likely the reader already has a bike, and just wants to get better riding it — and “Clothing and Accessories” (mostly accessories).

In today’s Internet age, everything in this book can be found online, usually in better detail. Much of it can be found on Bicycling’s own excellent web site, Bicycling.com. In fact, if you visit their home page today, you’ll find links to articles on Ten Cycling Tips Every Cyclist Needs to Know, Bike Buying Tips, and Training Tips — the same kinds of info in the book.

So why even bother buying the book? For me, sometimes having a reference in my hands is important. I’m of a generation that likes to sit back in an easy chair and read, rather than hunch over a computer keyboard and search. For that reason alone, the New Cyclist Handbook could be a useful addition to your bookshelf.

Cyclocomputers

I wrote some weeks back about tracking my rides — keeping stats on distance, time, speed, etc. One reader suggested it would be easier with a cyclocomputer. I agree, which is why I’ve had one since the beginning of the year.

As you might have discerned by now, if you’ve read more than a few posts on this blog, I’m a tightwad miser frugal sort of person. When I considered which computer to buy, I glanced at the Garmin GPS gizmos, but decided that several hundred dollars was a lot more than I wanted to spend. I must admit that they do cool things, though. One acquaintance used his to post a map of his ride, and you could trace the route in motion. Altitude profiles are nifty, too. But I decided that what I really needed in a cyclocomputer was something that would register my speed, distance and time of the ride. Anything else would be a bonus.

The Ascent Delta V. The ride this day lasted 55 minutes and one second. The scratches on the face are from flipping the bike over without taking the unit off.

I decided on the Delta V, by Ascent. Picked one up at the local Performance store just after Christmas for around $25. It’s a small little unit, about the size of a silver dollar (remember those?) and mounted on the bike with a pair of zip ties. I was attracted to the unit because it’s wireless, and while that raised some dependability questions in my mind, I figured for the price, what the heck. Performance has a liberal return policy if it didn’t work out.

When the computer is first turned on, it has to be set for the diameter of your front wheel and tire. Hold down both buttons, and four digits flash. Starting with the digit on the far right, you click the right button for each time you want the number to advance. Ascent’s instruction manual says for a 700C x 23 tire like mine, the numbers should be 2096.

Another way to determine the setting is to figure the circumference of the front tire. I turned it until the presta valve was at its lowest point, and drew a pencil line on the garage floor at that point. Then, I pushed the bike forward for one full turn of the tire, and drew another pencil line opposite the presta valve. I measured the distance between the two lines. Eighty-three-something inches. You then multiply that number by 25.4 to get the metric figure. I got 2095.5. I figured the one-half a thing off wouldn’t make too much difference.

Well, it apparently made some difference. My trip from home to the Veloway, three laps around, then back home again measures 14.9 miles, when mapped on Map My Ride or similar programs. On the Delta V, it’s more like 14.7. Still, two-tenths of a mile difference over about 15 miles isn’t too bad. I guess.

It’s supposed to have a clock, and does, but it defaults to 12:00 at the beginning of a ride. The instructions say I can set it to real time, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. That’s not all that important, since it does clock the time of the ride, which is what I’m most interested in anyway. That, and average speed, which it measures. During the ride, I can set it to “scan,” or read all the numbers in progression: first distance, then maximum speed, average speed, and time. I don’t deliberately try to push up maximum speed, but it’s fun to chart. The max speed reading has a glitch, tho. On my long ride last weekend, it reported my maximum at 63.7 mph. Now, I like to think that I’m getting faster, but even I know my top that day was no more than 30.

When the ride is over, I take the computer off the bike, and enter its numbers into a spreadsheet I keep. (Except for a ridiculously high max like today’s.) So far, I’m satisfied with the computer. I know you get what you pay for, and I got a very basic model. If I can figure out how to adjust it so its mileage matches my mapped GPS mileage, this will turn out to be all the computer I need.

Flat bar road bikes

Pat is getting close to wrapping up her training for the Hill Country Ride for AIDS, which is this coming Saturday. One conclusion she’s reached this year is that the heavy old hybrid she rides needs to be replaced.

She’s not ready to take the plunge just yet. She wants to ride the Ride on the bike she’s been used to. But once it’s all over, she’ll be ready to scope out something new.

The other day we were at the LBS, to get some adjustments made to her bike, and to stock up on stuff we’ve run low on, like bum cream. While we were at it, she suggested we look at some bikes, just to see what the possibilities are.

She liked the Specialized Sequoia, with its kind of upright riding position (for a road bike). The price is OK, and she likes the added brake levers on the bars, rather than just those on the hoods. She wasn’t fired up about the Specialized Ruby and Dolce, two WSD bikes. Then we asked to see some flat bar road bikes.

The salesman showed us the Trek FX 7.5. She raved about it. The handlebar was comfortably familiar, and the brake levers were right there. The brakes themselves are cantilever, in the hybrid style, which added to the familiarity of the bike. It had 700C x 32 tires, which offered a feeling of security. Priced well under $1,000. Then, he pointed out the Trek FX 7.6. A real step up from the 7.5. Carbon fiber seat stays and seat post, Shimano 105 rear derailleur, skinny tires, lighter wheels. She got on each of them, asked about modifying them to raise the handlebar to a more upright position, but turned down the offer of a test ride, since she didn’t plan on buying a bike right away.

The Trek FX 7.6.

I was impressed with the bikes. I had never considered anything other than a traditional road bike, so I was unfamiliar with these. I knew they could be fast, because I remembered being smoked on the Veloway by a guy on a Cannondale flat bar last summer. As riding in a road bike position becomes less comfortable for me, now that I am of a certain age, a switch to a bike like these might be worth some thought.