Tag Archives: Google Maps

Dreaming of a major sabbatical tour

It is a really bit early for dreaming about my sabbatical as it is not due until the Methodist year that starts September 2014 and I most likely won’t be taking it until the spring or summer of 2015.

Still I can’t help having a bit of dream.

There are three places I would particularly like to spend time at during my sabbatical.

1. Iona Abbey

2. St Beunos Ignation Spirituality Centre

3. Holy Island/Lindisfarne

So I have had a quick glance at Google Maps and it looks like it might make a fantastic cycle tour on my bike for life. For example:

  • Syston to Lindisfarne is about 270 miles, say 4 or 5 days.
  • Lindisfarne to Iona is about 250 miles, say 4 days
  • Iona to St Beunos is about 420 miles, 6 or 7 days
  • St Beunos to Syston is about 130 miles, say 2 days.

Allow a few rest days and we might be talking nearly 3 weeks cycling plus a few days at Lindisfarne, maybe a week at Iona and maybe an 8 day retreat in St Beunos,

I would probably look at making it about 6 weeks in total.

Sounds great, looking forward to it already šŸ™‚



Planned route Syston to Hothorpe Hall, Theddingworth

Tomorrow I am off to a Counselling Conference which is at Hothorpe Hall, Theddingworth. The conference starts at 9:30am but fortunately having planned the route I have discovered that it is less than 22 miles away, so I’ll allow 2 hours which means I won’t be in any rush. I will be riding in semi lycra (ordinary shorts over padded undershorts and a cycling specific top) and will change when I get there.

I am going for direct rather than completely quiet.

I figure the Melton Road will be stopped solid in the rush hour, which means I can go straight along it passing all the cars. It saves me at least 10 minutes compared to the cycle route, even if it is slow due to the traffic.

I’ll go straight through the city centre, which I haven’t bothered to try to plot on Google Maps. Then Ā the A6 has a (poor) cycle lane which will get me to the turn off for Great Glen and it is quiet roads from there.

Weather forecast is reasonable (might be a bit damp on the way home).

Someone remind me why anyone would choose to drive across Leicester instead of cycling.


Comfort camping by Bullitt cargobike

So next week I am off for a few days (Quarter Day Tour to the sea by Bullitt) the route is not very hilly. Just to confirm this I went for a ride last night and did the first 14 miles (almost to Belvoir Castle).

So given that I am riding a route without big hills and riding a cargobike with plenty of capacity there is a significant temptation to make the camping comfortable.

Some decisions are already made:

  • Pop-up tent. Quick and easy to use and I can just put it flat on top of the cargobox cover.
  • Camp bed. Not so light but I have old bones and want to sleep well.
  • Folding chair. Again just too old and stiff to enjoy sitting on the ground all the time
  • Porch awning, so I can sit outside dry if it rains and cool in the shade if not.
  • Two little gas stoves so I can cook some nice meals (overkill for one person)
  • Cafetiere so I can enjoy some nice fairtrade coffee
  • Some good books
  • No laptop computer
I’ll have a fair bit of electronics
  • Garmin 705 bike computer
  • Android phone
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab used for navigation as the Biologic Reecharge unit now charges it from my Schmidt delux dynamo while I ride. After testing for 2.5 hours last night (dynamo providing light and charge to Samsung Galaxy) and today (ran the Samsung for several hours on full brightness running Google Maps and the GPS while being charged). At the moment it looks like I can run google maps almostĀ indefinitely (although I am going to make a sun blocker for it so it is easier to see in bright sunlight). Also have the keyboard as I want to do some writing
  • Camera
Ā I can use the Reecharge unit to charge everything else so just need one transformer and appropriate USB cables
I’m Ā not going to carry much food instead will buy locally.
This will be a first for me in a number of ways:
  • First tour by cargobike
  • First solo camping tour
  • Furthest day distance with camping equipment (around 70 miles)
  • Furthest day distance on my Bullitt Cargobike
  • First cycle touring retreat. I have cycled to retreats. I have cycled when I retreat. I have never made the journey a part of the retreat in the way I plan to this time
Looking forward to it.

100 mile preparation check

I went for a 30 mile ride this evening to check out my preparations for the 120 mile ride on Friday. So I followed the first 15 miles of the route.

First some really good news. I navigated with my Samsung Galaxy Tab (an Android “phone” in a tablet size with a 7.1″ screen) running Google Maps with the route loaded from Google My Maps. The Galaxy Tab was in the map pouch of my Ortleib handlebar bag. This worked brilliantly. I could see the map easily. The pointer stayed in the centre of the map and it was very easy to follow the route.

It takes a few minutes to get to grips with the way the map always points North. So I was going down the screen and junctions needing reversing in my mind. I am happy to live with this as I imagine the extra processing required to rotate the map would use more battery. [Update] this is no longer correct. I think if you press the “My Location” button (top right) while moving then it re-orientates the map to the direction you are moving in and then continues to rotate the map as needed: Cool!

Talking of battery. I was out something like 2.5 hours and used about 30% of the battery. Providing I don’t have to put the screen brightness up too much during the day I should be fine for 120 miles.

Slightly less impressive was my battery front light. I have borrowed Jane’s Cateye HL-EL520 LEDĀ front light. My mounting on the front fork worked fine (seeĀ preparations) but it is barely bright enough on an unlit road and it chews up batteries on high power.

Anyway I did 31.75 miles at an average of 13.8mph without getting tired, I didn’t use the small chainring (which is a reasonable indication that my fitness is better). Would have been faster with a better front light.


100 mile ride route Leicester to Feltham

Besides theĀ bike preparation I have also been working on the route. Here is my latest version which starts at Syston Methodist Church and goes to the Travelodge at Feltham.

Note that it is in 3 parts as I have used the road following line tool for the part from Syston to Market Harborough and from Northampton to Feltham. However, for the bit from Market Harborough I am using the Brampton ValleyWay. As this is off-road you have to use the manual line draw. I am not entirely confident I have got this right at the Northampton end but am hoping to find signposts when I get there.

Total distance should be just under 120 miles (which is about 25 miles further than I have ever cycled in a day before.

I can load this route as a layer on google maps on my phone. Providing the map pans correctly I should be able to see which way I should be going.


100 mile bike preparation

Following my decision to ride 100 miles to a meeting (seeĀ Taking the 100 mile plunge) I have been sorting out my Trek bike.

My Trek is a Pilot 1.2 and is now about 4 years old. Very similar to the one pictured here (the stem and brake hoods look a little different on mine).

I have had a rack on the bike from the beginning. It’s a Tubus Locc which is fantastic. It has a special holder for older Albus U-Locks as well as a light mounting and low pannier rails.

Sadly I don’t think you can get Albus U-Locks that are compatible with the Tubus Locc any more.

For this long ride (between 110 and 120 miles on Friday, 10 miles on Saturday and about 120 miles on Monday) with luggage I felt the bike had a few problems which I have been working on.

  • The rear wheel which is a nice one from Shimano with 28 straight pull spokesĀ is too light weight. What is more it is already my second wheel as I broke spokes on the previous one riding to another meeting. Rather than break this nice light wheel I have ordered a heavier duty touring wheel from my local bike shop.
  • IMAG0442I wanted to be able to use my Ortlieb handlebar bag, but the standard bracket fouled the gear cables. So I ordered the bracket extension. At the same time I ordered the map pocket. This has solved a couple of problems. I can now have 3kg of stuff handy (reducing the load on the rear wheel and balancing the bike better) Ā and I can put my Samsung Galaxy Tab in the map pocket running Google Maps with the route loaded. The Galaxy Tab has a much better battery life than my phone and I get a 7.1″ map šŸ™‚ You can see the result:
  • IMAG0439.jpgHowever, this means there is nowhere to put the front lights (normally mounted on the handlebars. The solution I am trying is to use Sugru on the front fork to create a mounting point for my Cateye front light (I want to mount 2 small on the left and one larger on the right). The first mounting point is on and is now drying. Hopefully ready to test tomorrow. The light is very low but it needed to be where the fork was narrow enough for the strap to be long enough to fit diagonally so the light can point downwards. This feels somewhat experimental so we will have to see how well it works.
  • The remaining issue is still battery life for the Galaxy Tab. I am hoping to sort this with a Biologic Recharge powerpack. This is a battery pack that can be charged in a variety of ways. In the long term this will be used on my Bullitt cargobike and will be charged by the Schmidt Delux hub dynamo (that will mean I have self contained power for my phone and Galaxy Tab while out and about without a need to remember to charge everything fully beforehand). In the short term I am hoping that if I leave home with it fully charged it will give enough extra power to the Galaxy Tab to last a day of navigation. Of course I will be stopping during the day and will be looking for places with mains power to top up the charge.

That completes the changes I have planned. I will be using my normal Ortieb Back Roller panniers (Sustrans branded ones) and my racktop bag for the bulk of my luggage.

Next step will be to use the Trek as much as possible over the next week to make sure that I amĀ acclimatisedĀ to the riding position.


Taking the 100 mile plunge

Oh dear, I am now committed to my first ride of more than 100 miles in a day.

I am due at the Royal Holloway College by lunchtime on Saturday 9th April for a Methodist Council meeting. To reduce time pressure I have booked myself in a reasonably close Travelodge for the Friday night. That leaves me something over 100 miles to ride on the Friday (my day off) to get to the Travelodge and hopefully only around 10 miles on Saturday morning to get to the meeting.

The meeting finishes at lunchtime on Monday, so I’ll ride directly home which should mean arriving home in the middle of the night šŸ™‚

One of the challenges is going to be whether I can carry everything on my Trek Road Bike. For the meeting I will take a netbook instead of my laptop, but the meeting papers are heavy and bulky (1.5kg of A4 paper). I have in the past broken spokes by overloading this bike, although I am now 10kg lighter myself.

To help balance the load I would like to fit my handlebar bag (normally used in my full suspension mountain bike). But I have not yet worked out how to combine that with front lights.

The alternative is to go on the Bullitt Cargobike, it has a number of advantages such as the lighting, cargo capacity and reliability. However, it is also slower and it is possible that I would meet hills that would defeat me.

Another challenge is routing. I am not completely happy with the automatic routing options on either my Garm 705 or Android phone. So far the alternative is creating the route ahead of time probably using Google maps. But that means finding a way to use a saved Google route on my Htc Desire Android phone (and massively extend it’s battery life).

Still that gives me some things to think about over the next few days šŸ™‚


Bad road junctions #1 Leicester A607/A563

This is the start of a new series. Each post will look at a specific road junction from the point of view of Cyclists and Pedestrians.

The prize of being first goes to the A607/A563 junction in Leicester where the Melton Road crosses Troon Way/Watermead Way.

Here we have a crossroads of two dual carriageways that is controlled by traffic lights.

  • For pedestrians there is no pause at all in the traffic on some of the lanes that need to be crossed.
  • For pedestrians there is not a single light anywhere in the junction showing them when it is safe to cross that is despite there being a large secondary school less than 1/3 mile away
  • As a cyclist I still have no idea what I am expected to do. There are cycle paths on both sides of the Melton Road both North and South of this junction. But they all appear to end some way before the junction itself (signing is non-existent so you don’t know whether they have ended or not). So you have the choice of joining the pedestrians with no lights to guide your crossing up to 6 lanes of traffic or joining the road and the cars cutting you up.

End of the cycle route Melton Road, coming south towards the junction.

Here is where the Cycle path seems to restart after the junction.

Note the lack of any crossing help for pedestrians and cyclists heading south along the A607 Melton Road. If you have chosen to ride on the road then the left lane contains a mixture of vehicles turning left and going straight on making positioning yourself safely difficult.

The situation is even worse on the other side of the Melton Road (there are parallel side roads for access to houses, restaurants, businesses but these end before the junction and the pavement has bus stops, parking etc).

Going North before the junction.

Going North after the junction.

This is the worst junction (and there are no good junctions) along the A607 Melton Road between Thurmaston and Leicester City Centre. I can find nothing on the Leicester Transport about plans to improve this for pedestrians and cyclists. I have sent an email to the addresses they give and not even had an acknowledgement yet.


Discovering Cycle routes in Leicester

Working out the best route for getting from A to B by bike in a UK City you don’t know is time consuming and tricky.

A good route by bike takes into account cycle facilities, road details, traffic conditions, terrain, distance and junction details like priority, width and surface.

To help me find a good route I use a number of tools.

First my Garmin 705 bike computer with sat nav which is excellent for finding a route via back roads but knows nothing about cycle facilities. So sometimes the routes can be quite circuitous. It’s judgement about what is a quiet road can also be lacking (it routes me onto the A6 south of Leicester City Centre far too often).

Second local cycling maps. Such as this (pdf) for Charnwood District. However, note how few of the bits of cycling facility connect up. Note that Leicester simply say “Leicester City Council is in the process of updating its online cycle map section.” (and have said that for a long time). That leaves the Sustrans map which includes more detail than most be is slow to navigate and getting it from the web browser to aĀ usableĀ format while cycling is not easy.

So I combine the Garmin with checking the route on Google Maps and matching with the knowledge I am slowly gaining. Sadly local knowledge is vital, finding the best cross city route is not possible without it. Unfortunately, while the map may say there is an on road cycle facility the reality on the ground is often very different.

For example the “cycle lane” along Melton Road from the A607 roundabout by Thurmaston Shopping Centre towards Syston town centre demonstrates the feebleness of British cycling facilities. This could be critical as a safe route to Roundhill College and to the Thurmaston shops as well as a key part of a route into Leicester. There are some bits where it seems you are supposed to ride on the pavement but the start and end are not properly marked and there is no dropped kerb or any safety protection when leaving/joining the road. The sections with a painted dashed line on the road have numerous problems:

  • cars are forced into the cycle lane at pinch points, or the lane just ends abandoning the cyclist at the most dangerous points
  • for most of the length there are no parking restrictions so the lane is frequently blocked by parked cars
  • there is no help at junctions which include 4 mini roundabouts
  • judging by the way the over 30mph radar controlled light flashes almost continuously nobody is keeping to the 30mph speed limit
  • the whole scheme ends before the bridge over the railway line before the town centre

From home going towards the city I have 3 main options:

  • 1 mile route along the Melton Road to the Thurmaston Roundabout at the shopping centre along the A607. It is quick and the big roundabout at the A607 Ā has one bridge (correct side when coming north). I can either go south through Thurmaston Village Centre which is pretty quiet or left to go past the shopping centre and then south along Highway Road.
  • 1/2 mile down the Melton Road and then go the other way round the block to Highway Road (via Barkby Lane and Barkby Thorpe Lane). But it is very busy with cars as a rat run especially in the morning.
  • 1 mile west along Wanlip Road to the northern entrance to Watermead Park. The road is not veryĀ pleasant with lots of parked cars on the first section, plus HGV’s, pinch points. Plus going south there is no way to avoid the kissing gate at Birstall.

I cycle to Birstall a lot. Currently there is no alternative but to try every route option. Sadly they are all cycle unfriendly in different ways with hazards such as kissing gates, unsurfaced tracks, narrow board walks, people walking dogs. narrow cycle paths alongside cars doing 80mph, busy junctions and pinch points.

For a cross city ride today I followed the Garmin for about 8 miles to the St Philip’s Centre for the training course I am on. It was not too bad, but I think I can improve on it by going down through Thurmaston Village Centre and along the cycle path at the side of the A607 until I can cut through into Braemar Drive then allowing the Garmin to take over again.

Leicester has some web pages claiming to be a Cycle City. However, the infrastructure I have found so far falls far far short of this. Real action needs to be taken to:

  • fix existing cycle facilities (no kissing gates, properly marked on the road or pavement, speed cameras for on road sections, safe routes past pinch points, sign posting, some resurfacing).
  • Connect up the routes so that every community around Leicester has a safe route to the city centre. Every school should have safe routes to it.
  • Get everyone involved in planning for transport to go and see how cycling facilities are done in the Netherlands or Copenhagen

Essentially we need to upgrade our expectations massively. Leicester needs need high quality segregated routes with safe priority at all junctions, they need to be wide enough for bikes to ride side by side and Ā I suggest there need to be at least 8 routes into the centre with three ring routes (on the North side that would be at the Central ring, A46 and half way between). There then needs to be secure undercover parking all over the city centre and at every school, college & university.

Then we would start to see significant change in the traffic and pollution levels as people will switch to cycling.


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