Mapping Tools

Birds-eye view maps are fine if you’re a bird – but not if you’re a cyclist. The ups and downs make all the difference. When mapping out a cycling route in unfamiliar territory there’s lots to consider.

Do you take the shorter distance from A to B or the back streets? If you take the back streets are you missing a main road which may have a dedicated cycling lane or shoulder? Is there a cycle path nearby thats not even marked on the map?

After contemplating cycling routes on Google Maps using topography and satellite view as a guide, we were happy to hear about this online mapping tool for planning out cycling routes. Bike Route Toaster has the useful function of being able to plug in a route from A to B and it will recommend the best cycling path AND provide an elevation chart so you can gauge the hills involved! So far its proving fairly easy to use, and it generates printable direction signals to check along the road. We’ll test it out in Tasmania.

As a pre-mapping tool Bike Route Toaster is fine if you’re at home and have beefy computer with a nice screen and keyboard but forget about this with an ipad on the road or using a crappy internet cafe computer.  While on the road you’re going to need to calculate cycle friendly routes on the go. You’re going to need a GPS that can calculate a route avoiding main roads and take the easiest route. The definition of ‘easiest’ for most riders means avoiding hills (I wouldn’t necessarily agree with this but for touring long distances with a load sometimes avoiding hills is a marriage saving necessity).

We played with a couple of mapping tools the other night to see which would be best for our two upcoming trips.  The two we have played with are the Garmin Edge 705 and the iPhone version of Tom Tom. There are plenty of free apps for iphone that can do mapping but you don’t want anything that ‘has’ to be on 3G or the internet to access maps.  In most parts of the world you can bet when you need a GPS you won’t have mobile phone coverage.  Both tools we chose feature bicycle specific routing if you plug in your source and destination and off line maps. 

After some testing we found Tom Tom had the advantage over the garmin for a number of reasons;

  • You can easily set a starting point via advanced route planning on the tom tom and then analyse the route before you go. I can’t see a way to do this on the Garmin. The garmin tends to want to use your current GPS location as the starting point only.
  • Assuming you’ve already got an Iphone the Tom Tom is far cheaper. $80 for Tom Tom vs $400 for hardware + $200 maps for a  Garmin.
  • Routing calculator far better in Tom Tom. The garmin can sometimes take 5-10 minutes to calculate routes including if you miss a turn off.
  • Has voice routing.   
  • Easy to re-calculate routes, either via finding alternatives, telling it you want to avoid a specific road or adding another destination you want to cruise past (like passo giavia !!!).
  • Easier to view maps, rotate, zoom and see all the details. The garmin is pretty poor in this regard. The zoom and scrolling is very slow and road names don’t come up unless you zoom right in.
  • Touch screen keyboard. The Garmins hunt and peck joystick thing sucks

Some things in the garmin edge’s favour, but still would only allow us to use it for backup routing should our iphone go flat ;

  • Waterproof 
  • Easy bike mounting
  • Smaller
  • Other features such as heart rate & cadence
  • Cycle specific route recording and online post ride analysis (connect.garmin.com)
  • Training tools
  • Once the route is calculated you can view the ride profile. This isn’t available on the Tom Tom as far as I can see.
  • You can do your own specific routing online via Bicycle Route Toaster and then download this as a .tcx ‘course’ onto the garmin. This is great if you do want to map out each days routes and go via a specific path (like via Mount Vontoux !!!)
  • Far better battery life. At least 8 hours as opposed to the iPhone Tom Tom’s 3 or so. (another reason for a dynamo charging hub in your wheel !!)
  • Doesn’t require data connection. Even though the iPhone says it has a GPS it doesn’t really work anything like the Garmin.  If you don’t have a data 3G service on the iphone 3Gs you’ll find the GPS can’t track where you are.  If you have the maps and the Garmin it will generally always find your location no matter where you are. 
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