Planning and navigation of long distance bike trips

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I have been doing long distance bike trips since the late 1980s and have always loved it.  Back in the 1980s was pre-GPS navigation so paper maps and compass were the only way to get around.  Although this type of navigation was very satisfying, it was also very time consuming and often led to frustration of not being able to bike as hard as I wanted because of the constant stops to check with the map.

Enter GPS and the whole world changed.  I have virtually every device out there so I can tell you from experience which is the best.  Garmin has the market cornered on GPS units for bikes, too bad because they SUCK.  The user interface is bad, the battery life sucks, the maps are expensive, the GPS units themselves are really expensive, the displays are small, programming your own courses is cumbersome, but worse of all, they cause the user to have no overall situational awareness of where they are.

The best solution is also the cheapest!

A garmin will cost you $300 to $400 plus maps are $100 a pop.  I have a solution that is 10x better and way cheaper – its a refurbished iphone 5 ($120) and an external battery ($30-$60)  running MapOut ($5) software. Benefits of this solution:

  1. Offline, no cellular contract required!  The places you need navigational help are typically out in the boondocks where there is no cell signal, thats why offline navigation is the only solution.
  2. Free maps! You can download maps from anywhere on the planet for free using OpenStreetMap.Org.  No more buying $100 map chips for your garmin for every new place you visit.
  3. Huge display!  You have a huge display which is required for real navigation.  The iPhone 5 has about 10x more screen area than the bike specific navigation computers like Garmin.
  4. Week long battery life.  Its great that Garmins are so tiny and light, the problem is that they are useless on long trips because despite what they say, the battery life is 8hrs tops.  Just get a portable iPhone battery and you can power your iPhone all week! Note that these external batteries that can last a week (27,000 mAh) are really heavy so dont be surpised. If you want a battery that just lasts for two days, get the 10,000 mAh units.
  5. Route planning on the fly!  This is a huge benefit.  On long distance bike tours I always pre-plan the route but the thing is, things change fast.  You thought you wanted beautiful gravel paths along the tranquil river but then you discover that your butt is tired, its 4 hours to sunset, and you are still 100 miles from your hotel – you need a new route!  Most navigational computers like the garmin you need a laptop to plan the route, not so with this app.  In 3 minutes you can easily plan a new route on your phone!
  6. Situational awareness.  When you use turn by turn directions on a small bike navigational computer, you really have no idea where you are.  You simply have to trust it and follow its directions.  The thing is, it often makes stupid and costly mistakes.  This happens all the time, you make a wrong turn and it forces you to make a u-turn and go back to follow its pre-determined route.  The thing is, if you had MapOut, you would see that  the route your are on is fine and that after 5 minutes they will join up again – just keep going!
  7. Privacy. You have no data connection therefore you cannot be tracked by malware.  No social media apps like Strava saving your every move so it can be sold to Google.

How to install MapOut

  1. Setup your phone with wifi
  2. pay and download the $6 MapOut app (iOS only, not android)
  3. download all the maps you will need.
  4. Plan your route and GO!

Planning your route with MapOut

All route planning is done offline, you dont need wifi nor a cellular connection!

  1. settings, set imperial or metric
  2. turn on map overlays and make sure that bike routes, transportation, and MTB routes are on.  This way, when you look at the map you will see all recommended bike routes highlighted in green.
  3. For each day make a new route.  Double tap to indication the start location.
  4. Along the path, click on the desired route.  Zoom in and out to as needed to see what is optimal.  It works best to tap about every 5 miles so it chooses the route you are requesting.  Also, zoom in before clicking to make sure its the road you think it is.
  5. Continue tapping along the route and when you make a mistake as you will many times, just click on the undo button.
  6. When you are done, click on the save and exit.  Now when you click on it you will see the entire route AND a terrain profile!
  7. Thats it, move on to the next days route.