GPS satellite navigation isn’t just for cars and hikers. Specialized GPS monitoring units for cyclists are now available too. Popular brands include Garmin (Edge) and Magellan.
How GPS monitoring Cyclometers Work
GPS monitoring cyclometers (bicycle computers or cyclocomputers) are similar to standard GPS monitoring units, but there are some differences and optimizations for cyclists.
Instead of using a magnetic sensor on the bicycle wheel, the GPS monitoring cyclometer uses its GPS coordinates to calculate speed and distance. This means that no setup is required: no magnet, no wires, no entering of wheel circumference into the computer.
Just like other GPS monitoring units, some bicycle GPS computers have a mapping function but not all do.
A standard GPS can be used as a bicycle cyclometer but there will be limitations. Cyclometers need to display speed (speedometer) and distance (odometer) clearly. Standard GPS displays are not optimized for this, often displaying this information in small hard-to-read numbers. The mapping feature for cyclists can also be different.
Advantages of GPS Monitoring Cyclometers
GPS cyclometers are versatile and easy to use:
No setup required.
Can be used on any number of bicycles, not just 2 or 3 like for traditional cyclometers (which need to store the wheel size of the bicycles).
Can be used with an armband for running, canoeing.
Disadvantages of GPS Monitoring Cyclometers
GPS cyclometers aren’t just more expensive. They can also be less accurate and less reliable. Main disadvantages are:
Expensive, a few hundred dollars.
Indicated speed can fluctuate more than with traditional cyclometers, and can be slower to respond to changes in speed.
GPS can lose track if there is poor reception from GPS satellites: under trees, in tunnels, in canyons (including urban canyons between tall buildings).
Uses a lot of electrical power. Most use rechargeable batteries but they will need to be recharged every day. Replacement batteries are often proprietary, expensive and need to be changed every few years.
Advanced GPS Monitoring Features
More advanced GPS cyclometers have features such as:
Downloading of trip data to PC for analysis (including map of trip, vertical profile), and uploading to dedicated cycling websites.
Map displays. Either downloaded from CD or SD card (can be expensive), or “draw your own as you cycle.” Some CD maps can be downloaded to the PC and GPS, but some SD maps cannot be downloaded to PC.
Turn-by-turn directions. The directions should be optimized for cyclists: avoiding freeways and prioritizing side roads over main roads.
Slope incline calculations. GPS measurements of height are possible but often inaccurate. GPS units with a built-in barometer are more accurate for this.
Auto-lap function to automatically measure lap times after passing a specified location.
Virtual racing function to race against previous speeds over the same course.
GPS Versus Standard Cyclometers
A conventional cyclometer can cost as little as ten dollars, compared to hundreds of dollars for a basic GPS cyclometer.
Serious athletes can make good use of GPS features such as auto-lap and virtual racing. Casual cyclists may find the mapping function alone to be worth the extra cost. A few hundred dollars is a small price to pay for not getting lost.
Safe, Scenic Trails for Bicycling and Fall Fitness Vacations
Bicycle riding is a healthy and affordable way for people of all ages to spend time together while enjoying the outdoors. It can be difficult, however, to find suitable places to ride bikes that are safe, interesting, and family-friendly in the United States. Fortunately, organizations like the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) have created a nationwide network of trails from former railroad lines that are not only safe, they are specifically designed for easy access and to promote active lifestyles for all ages. The trails are multipurpose paths, ideal for walking, wheelchair use, cross-country skiing, as well as bicycling.
The RTC was developed as a result of the National Trails System Act that was signed into law in 1968. This act included a little-noticed section designed to set up a Rails-to-Trails Grant Program in order to preserve railway corridors and create trails. When they opened their doors in 1986, there were fewer than 200 rail-trails, today there are more than 1,600 preserved pathways that span the entire country. The mission of this nonprofit organization is “to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.”
Autumn Bicycling Vacations
Fall is the perfect time of year to take a bicycling vacation. Not only is it an inexpensive get-away, but many of the rail-to-trail routes go through the most historic and scenic parts of a town. The New Hampshire Sugar River Trail is one example. This 9.8-mile trail offers a vintage autumn experience in New England. Not only are the “maple and birch trees afire with color,” you’ll pass fly-fishermen, catch a glimpse of wild turkeys and an occasional moose, and cross two of the seven remaining covered bridges in the United States.
Another trail that is especially nice in the fall, when the weather is cooler and the crowds have yet to arrive, is in the popular vacation state of Florida. The Cape Haze Pioneer Trail is a 5-mile, paved trail, near the town of Pt. Charlotte, where you can gaze at Charlotte Harbor and rest under huge palm trees. It is conveniently located near some great resorts on the barrier islands that are close to golf courses, some great kayaking water, and tour operators offering deep-sea fishing .
Bicycle Riding Laws and Special Gear
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile and motorcycle drivers do on public streets. Automobile drivers are asked to “respect the right-of-way of bicyclists because they are entitled to share the road with other drivers.” The rules that apply to bicyclists riding on trails state that the rider must wear a helmet if under the age of 18, carry identification, and must signal all their intentions to motorists and bicyclists near them. To learn more about the rules of bicycling on roadways, check with your local DMV.
There may be no special gear required to ride a bicycle by law, except having to wear a helmet under age 18, but for the sake of comfort and style, there is a multitude of clothing options. You have no doubt seen groups of serious cyclists in their brightly colored spandex outfits. For the average recreational bicyclist, however, a lot of special gear is not always necessary. Florida bicyclists Amy and John Swen, who ride around 10 miles per week, recommend padded shorts more than anything to make a long bike ride more comfortable. For women, they recommend wearing a padded skort. It’s a short skirt that discreetly hides shorts that are padded in the seat. For men, padded underwear designed to wear under shorts is available, if spandex is not your style. Web sites like Aero Tech Designs have a large selection of bicycling clothing and gear.
So planning a vacation can be simple and affordable this fall by finding a scenic place with some good bicycle trails. Not only will you be able to enjoy nature, you’ll get some fun exercise too. If you don’t want to bring a bike with you, most of the trails have rental bikes available. For more information on where the rail-trails are and what the specific trails are like, you can order books and get information at RailsToTrails.org. Happy trails everyone!
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