Adventure Cycling Association Forum

Bicycle Travel => Gear Talk => Topic started by: LongTallEandM on November 30, 2013, 06:43:47 pm

 
Title: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: LongTallEandM on November 30, 2013, 06:43:47 pm
I've been an avid cyclist for 20+ years and I've never owned a cyclocomputer or GPS unit.  I'm well aware of what each of these devices can do, but I don't typically care about my mph, cadence, mileage covered, etc.  I actually prefer not getting distracted by how fast (or SLOW) I'm riding.  I just ride and enjoy my surroundings.

My daughter and I plan to ride the Transamerica Route in 2014 using Adventure Cycling maps. I'm very map oriented (experienced with reading maps, etc.).   My daughter is good at reading maps and navigating too. Each of us will have an iphone, but we'll probably keep them in airplane mode to save battery unless/until we have a reason to use them (e.g. google maps if we have a question about where we are, etc.)

Sorry to take so long getting to my question.  SO, given the background above, do we really need a cyclocomputer to know "turn left after 8.2 miles", or are we likely to get by just fine with only the maps and no cycle computer?  And should we each have a map set, or will one do?

Thanks in advance for your input.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: Pat Lamb on November 30, 2013, 08:25:29 pm
One set of maps will do nicely.  If you don't have one yet, a map holder, handlebar bag with map holder, or front rack and pack (with map holder) will help greatly.

I'd recommend a cyclocomputer just for the odometer.  (Get one to display daily mileage and cadence if you want -- cadence is sufficiently meaningless that it won't distract you, and may even help on some of long climbs.)  Out west, you may not need it; only cross road in 15 miles, or 60 miles, is usually distinctive enough that you don't need much help.  In the east, particularly in the mountains of Kentucky, Missouri, and Virginia, the odometer really helps.  Next turn after 3.2 miles can be anywhere from 7 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on slope and how tired you are; and you might have passed a dozen other roads in the meantime.

I think my favorite was somewhere in Missouri, where they had the number of a metal ID tag on a telephone pole to identify the turn.  Even though I couldn't find the number when I inspected the pole, I got that one; the one in Kentucky with no road sign, I missed.  Fortunately the family on their porch a quarter mile up the road set me straight!
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: John Nelson on November 30, 2013, 08:57:02 pm
I could easily do the TransAm without any data from a cycling computer, except for the odometer. When your next direction is to turn left on Murphy Road in 10.5 miles, it's nice not to have to look at every sign for the next ten miles to see if it says Murphy Road. Furthermore, Murphy Road may not even have a sign, so you need the mileage to confirm where to turn. I do have to warn you, however, that the TransAm maps only give distances in half-mile increments, and there are a number of times it might be off by a mile or so, so you cannot rely exclusively on the odometer. Also note that the ACA maps show a very narrow corridor, and they don't show every cross road, so you won't get that much context from the map.

I would have gotten lost 50 times a day without the maps and odometer, and I got lost once or twice a day even with them.

One set of maps will be fine if you always ride together, but it will be annoying if you ever get separated.

Patrick, that direction on the telephone pole ("Turn right onto unsigned road at power pole 'Switch P7-F901 KG&E.'") was between Pittsburg and Chanute in eastern Kansas. I did find that marking on the pole. They had to give the direction that way because the intersection was otherwise completely unmarked. See https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/pic/?pic_id=673154
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: adventurepdx on November 30, 2013, 10:30:10 pm
What pdlamb and John said. Plus, a basic cyclocomputer is cheap. One without any bells and whistles can be had for under $20 so long as you stick to a wired version.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: staehpj1 on December 01, 2013, 07:48:49 am
No reason you can't get by without, but I think that an odometer is helpful. enough that I would always want one.  The rest of the fancier functions are pretty easy to do without.  So my suggestion is to do as was suggested and get a no bells and whistles model and use it in a mode that displays only minimal data if it has such a mode. 
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: Old Guy New Hobby on December 01, 2013, 11:08:26 am
Just to offer a different line of thought ... a GPS can be good for  finding your way back after you are lost / navigating around closed roads / taking impromptu side trips to local points of interest. As was already mentioned, the maps show very little more than the recommended route. You can use a program like RideWithGPS to plot the route as several "GPX files", then load them all in your GPS, along with all streets for the states you will ride through. (This often requires a memory card for the GPS.) My unit has a "screen saver" mode that blanks the display unless you press the screen. That minimizes distractions.

Some downside:  Cost /  You will have to charge or replace batteries every couple of days / There is a technology learning curve to make all this work well.

Some advantages of a GPS over a cell phone are: Map data is stored in the GPS -- no cell access is required / GPS units can be quite rugged, easily surviving drops, bumps, and rain / a GPS battery generally lasts for 2+ days of riding (emphasis on the "+" if you don't use the screen a lot).

One last thing for me personally. I enjoy finding good local eateries as I ride. The phone can find them for you (when you have cell access -- you might have to work ahead a day or two). The GPS can help you modify your route to get there with minimum additional mileage and using small (normally lower traffic) roads.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: LongTallEandM on December 01, 2013, 12:08:56 pm
Thanks, sounds like the consensus is to have some sort of odometer.  I doubt I'll be able to talk my husband into loaning me his GPS! 

Given that the Adventure Cycling maps' "field of view" is so narrow, I guess it's a good idea to carry a state map as well...  As for a map holder, we used Cue Clips on a recent trip and they worked great.  So that's the plan.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: DaveB on December 01, 2013, 06:53:03 pm
Thanks, sounds like the consensus is to have some sort of odometer. 
Absolutely.  It's better to have the information available and not need it than to need it and not have it.   

You can get a bare-bones wired cyclometer like the Cat-Eye Velo models for less than $30 and they are very rugged and have a battery life of several years.  I've had wonderful service from the Cat-Eyes I own and recommend them with no reservations. 
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: John Nelson on December 01, 2013, 08:03:57 pm
Given that the Adventure Cycling maps' "field of view" is so narrow, I guess it's a good idea to carry a state map as well.
If you ever plan to go off-route (or are forced off route by a closed road), or if you're just curious about where the hell you are in the world, then a state map is good. But it's not really necessary. Sometimes a cyclist going the other way would give me a state map for the state he had just left and I was about to enter.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: Pat Lamb on December 01, 2013, 10:24:54 pm
Given that the Adventure Cycling maps' "field of view" is so narrow, I guess it's a good idea to carry a state map as well.

Each state is eager to give visitors a map.  If you drive in on an interstate, stop at a rest area and pick one up.  Otherwise, look for visitor centers. 

We rarely used or needed a larger map, but they come in handy when you're sitting in a camp or motel room and the TV, radio, or ranger mentions there's some big storms over near Mud Puddle.  Not being from the state, you don't know which direction it is from Bug Juice, where you're spending the night, to Mud Puddle.  So do you relax or go tuck yourself in for the night?

Larger maps are also useful for unexpected things that might pop up, like a cracked tooth or unexpected asthma attack (where's the nearest large town where you might find medical or dental care?), or if you have to decide to order a new tire express mail or go off-route to find one.

I suppose a smart phone, tablet, or netbook can help with questions like these if you have cell coverage, but free state maps are a nice backup.  Mail them home when you leave the state, like you do with your AC maps.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: staehpj1 on December 02, 2013, 08:05:18 am
I usually pick up a state map at each state along the way and dispose of it when leaving the state.  In this age of smart phones it is easier to do without maps or dedicated GPS than in the past.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: mathieu on December 02, 2013, 06:02:48 pm
If you ask people in a class who have learned to paint by the numbers whether they need the numbers, the answer is obviously a resounding: yes! But you did well so far without, so why not try? I recommend to buy a cheap wired odometer but bury it deep down in your panniers.

I once did a mapped route in Italy from south to north with a guy without odometer. The road network there is much more dense and warped than anywhere around the TransAm. He had developed an amazingly accurate calibration for distances and memorized the critical maps details in a glance, much better than I could. Don't spoil this ability.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: John Nelson on December 02, 2013, 11:40:48 pm
On day 2 of my TransAm, starting in the East, the maps for that day had 38 separate instruction steps, including 22 explicit turns. That's not counting numerous other unspecified turns which were implied because it was assumed that you would follow the road number you were on unless told otherwise.

You need all the navigation help you can get.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: bogiesan on December 03, 2013, 09:32:09 pm
[quote author=LongTallEandM link=topic=1214
My daughter and I plan to ride the Transamerica Route in 2014 using Adventure Cycling maps. I'm very map oriented (experienced with reading maps, etc.).   My daughter is good at reading maps and navigating too. Each of us will have an iphone, but we'll probably keep them in airplane mode to save battery unless/until we have a reason to use them (e.g. google maps if we have a question about where we are, etc.)
Thanks in advance for your input.
[/quote]

A young girl with an iPhone? Your main concern will be powering her phone. If you have the phones, invest in (more than one) external power supply and use and enjoy their advanced features. Get an interface for the bike if you like.
But even Google maps can be inaccurate.
Remember that the first cross-continental trips were made without phones, without maps, without GPS, without company, without sponsors. You can survive. Heck, leave the phones at home and see what living in the 20th Century is like.

Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: PeteJack on December 04, 2013, 02:30:10 am
Quote
If you ever plan to go off-route (or are forced off route by a closed road), or if you're just curious about where the hell you are in the world, then a state map is good.

+1 and you can often get them for free at tourist info places. The GPS/MapMyRide stuff would drive me batty, upload/download bla bla, faffing with technology when you could be riding or reading a good book or just watching TV in a motel room. It's amazing how much time you spend messing with that stuff. It's not that it is beyond me; I worked in data processing for decades, including a stint programming GPS mapping software before Garmin got into the business (their early GPSs told you lat and long and not much else) and frankly using this equipment is too much like the work I've left behind. However a simple bike computer is very nice to have.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: BikingBrian on December 07, 2013, 05:10:32 pm
A few summers ago, the wire for my cyclocomputer was broken when I took my bike out of the box. So I was flying blind for the northern California coast, but had no problems. Though that route is probably easier than most in getting by without an odometer. http://www.bikingbrian.com/2011/07/01/day-0-arrival-in-crescent-city/
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: BikeFreak on December 09, 2013, 12:42:38 am
No, you do not need a cycle computer or a GPS device if you have the updated maps. Especially if you say that you are good at reading maps. I have never really looked at the mileages on the directions on the left of each map section. If you need to use the mileages on the left, you need to constantly calibrate your computer. I use my cycle computer to track the instant speed, the average speed and the total daily mileage. But I never use it for orientation.

It is a different matter if you do the great divide trail. Here it is good to have 2 calibrated cycle computers (if one should fail) because you are extremely dependent on the written map directions.

Lucas
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: Pat Lamb on December 09, 2013, 10:28:33 am
No, you do not need a cycle computer or a GPS device if you have the updated maps. Especially if you say that you are good at reading maps. I have never really looked at the mileages on the directions on the left of each map section. If you need to use the mileages on the left, you need to constantly calibrate your computer. I use my cycle computer to track the instant speed, the average speed and the total daily mileage. But I never use it for orientation.

Particularly in the hills of eastern Kentucky on the TransAm, I was reminded of the ancient computer game.  "You are in a maze of twisty little back roads, all different."  Maybe there was a road sign every 10 miles (3-4 turns).  Or maybe not.  Without the distances on the maps and an odometer, there would have been a lot more "zxzzy"!
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: indyfabz on December 09, 2013, 11:58:01 am
If you need to use the mileages on the left, you need to constantly calibrate your computer.

You can use the computer's odometer and, if necessary, do quick calculations in your head to know when the next turn is.
Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: misterflask on December 12, 2013, 06:25:42 am
We stumble here on one of life's true dichotomies: the data people vs the non-data people.  I confess to being a data person and tour with a cyclometer, inclinometer, and altimeter, but concede that the last two are primarily an amusement.  Speaking to your question, though, there are more than a few places on the Transam that would really be a trial without a cyclometer.  One turn in Illinois I rode back and forth over a one mile span looking for the poorly marked road.  I would sure not have wanted to increase the uncertainty of that search.  OTOH, I expect that there were entire weeks where navigation would have been easy w/o a cyclometer.

Title: Re: Can we survive the Transamerica with no cyclocomputer?
Post by: jamawani on December 12, 2013, 11:08:35 am
No, there is no chance you can survive without one.
You might make a wrong turn and freeze to death in the Yukon.
Or another mistake and end up burned to a crisp in the Sahara.
Cross-country travel by bicycle was impossible until the invention of the cyclocomputer.

PS - Back in the 1970s, the only way people could tell how high they were - -
was by seeing how much pot they had left in the baggie.