Bicycle Travel > Gear Talk

ACA & Smartphones

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SlowAndSlower:
I am preparing to start the TransAm and in the process looking to use my smartphone for various tasks. One of those tasks I wanted to do is read the map addendum for the next day. I used my phones Chrome browser to open the ACA website to do that. I was amazed that it didn't recognize that I was using a mobile device. I thought with the new website that surely it would support mobile devices better. So am I the only one thinking that the  ACA website ought to be mobile friendly?

I also suggested that an article or a column on touring with and using a smartphone would possibly be more interesting than another bicycle review. It just seems that there is so much versatility with a smartphone that I was unaware of until I began delving into the subject. Seems like there are new apps and hardware coming out everyday that could pertain to bicycle touring.

Perhaps we could get a forum section going or expand the GPS section.

sspeed:
I use my phone a lot for navigation when riding around town.  That said, the battery life on my phone isn't conducive to relying on it out on the road.  I have my days planned out as GPX files.  I'll just convert them to TCX and upload them to my Garmin Edge for navigation.  I've also done that around town and it works great.

bogiesan:
Thorough, practical, real world experiences relying on various phones for navigation, communication, photos, journaling and entertainment would, indeed, make a series of great articles.

Confirming the battery issues but I think they are more complicated. My iPhone 4s in GPS mode, running MapMyRide, takes the battery from 100% to under 40% in less than four hours, much more quickly below 45F. A good day of touring can be eight to twelve hours between overnights so the phone will be dead long before camp is reached.

The expense and mass of auxiliary battery packs are not trivial. You need at least two aux battery packs, one hooked to the phone and one to charge the phone at the end of the day's ride. But two packs are not really adequate; you need three battery units: one to run the phone on the bike, one to recharge the phone at night and one that is either topped off or that is being recharged by mains or solar either on the bike or in camp. If you have only two packs, you cannot safely assume you will be able to recharge the other one so, when you get into camp, you can easily have two depleted battery packs.

Solar is not yet viable if you depend on your phone for everything, just do the math. A panel that can fully recharge a pack of 4-AAs or a li-ion pack while riding is both big and heavy. And solar is not magical. The panel requires lots of direct sunlight to do its job.

A bike-powered generator would be my recommendation but I don't like the idea of a power hub. I have no experience with bike generators yet. 

My Goal Zero Guide+10 battery pack (4-AAs, heavy duty case, circuitry and LED lamp) is seven ounces. CArrying three of those, plus the big Goal Zero #7 panel, is more than two pounds. My experiments are conducted just riding around the valley but I can tell you it's a hassle to keep the batts in proper rotation and the solar panel fully exposed on the bike. My recumbent has more places to rig the panel than conventional bikes but the thing is not small and, no matter where I put it, it's always in the way. Also, even in Idaho, insolation simply is not reliable as a power source.

SlowAndSlower:
In the GPS forum section I posted on my first experience with Cue Sheet. You use it with your RideWithGPS account maps and it downloads the Queue Sheet. Using just the GPS gives you voice directions. I am still evaluating it but it looks promising as I can shutdown WIFI and 4G LTE to conserve battery and it still functions.

Thanks for the pointer to GoalZero. I've done some research  and am interested in looking at the Switch 8 which uses lithium-ion and weighs 3.2 oz for each charge unit ($40).

Old Guy New Hobby:
Maybe I'm missing something or maybe I just don't get it. There are a lot of rugged, weatherproof, water resistant GPS devices available. Their batteries easily last 2 days of hard riding. Prices can get up there, but a dedicated GPS generally maxes out at half the real price of a smart phone.

On the other hand, a smart phone has limited battery life, would be severely damaged in a good rain, and would likely get a cracked screen if it ever fell off the bike, or even if the cyclist took a tumble. The bicycle phone mounts I have seen look suspect. Most of the mapping and routing options are web-based, which requires significant data use. Of course, this last point is not important if one already has a hefty data plan for other purposes. (I don't.) Even without the cost of the data plan, the value of web-based services is limited when no cell signal is available, as can happen on tour.

Having a phone on a tour is important. I own one phone, which is a smart phone. But it is a bit of a pain due to my desire to protect it. To answer the phone, I have to pull over, open the water proof handlebar bag, unzip the pocket, pull the phone out, and punch the screen. My chances of answering a call are about 50 - 50. Most times, I would rather continue the ride and look at the voice mail later on.

Being a technology enthusiast and a cycling enthusiast can be a lot of fun. There are great synergies available. But sometimes the combination just doesn't make sense, at least to me.

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