With cycling GPSs systems costing over £150, they are really only for the serious tecchie cyclist. For cross country cycling, the cheaper GPS systems are often quite limited, and don’t offer maps of footpaths and trails. A few years back I discovered an app for my Blackberry that has enabled me to cycle cross country, on routes I plotted at home on my PC. The most user friendly one on the market, from what I have seen, is a system called Nogago.
When I pitched this review to Osborne’s, I had recently been led into a blackthorn thicket by the Android version of this system and punctured both tyres with inch long thorns before having to push the bike 2 miles home. This was going to be a mixed review. This weekend I tried again, and though I destroyed my rear derailleur and punctured my front tyre, I made it around the 14 mile circuit – the damage was due to the mud, and nothing to do with the navigation system!
Nogago is a system that uses the Openstreetmap.org mapping system. This is a map developed by anyone who wants to contribute, and is open source. As such, wherever Open Street Map users go, there will be a fairly detailed map available for Nogago. I was looking at going to the isolated South Atlantic island of St Helena a few years ago and found many footpaths and roads mapped on Nogago! Most of the bridleways and major footpaths as well as roads are mapped in the UK and much of Europe too.
You download a chunk of map for your area onto your phone for offline use – on the Blackberry system this cost me £5 for an area of about 160 square miles, and the detail does down to about 1cm per hundred metres on your phone, so you can tell where the bends and forks are on the route. For Android, the map is free.
There are a lot of systems available that record your time, distance, speed and height using GPS. Nogago does this but the key difference is you can plot your route in advance, and it will direct you as a satnav would do when you’re driving to a new address.
On your PC or Mac you zoom into the area you wish to cycle on the Nogago website, and plot your route. You then save the GPX file, and put it onto your phone. Before beginning your ride, you go into Nogago Maps, choose your route, and press the start button.
I have a waterproof clamp on my handlebars for my phone. This allows me to see where I’m going, and on my Android system I was told where to turn right and left with a satnav type voice coming from the phone.
The system is a little autistic! I found myself on a parallel path 2 metres away from the route in an open field and it told me to make a U Turn as soon as possible. Where this could make the first timer get irritated, if you ignore it / get onto the correct path then the system works brilliantly.
I use a Sony Z1 phone that normally has excellent battery life. I used 70% of the battery over the four hour slog through the mud. The Nogago system switches off the standby mode on your phone so the map doesn’t leave the screen, and with the GPS and voice telling you where you’re going, this is battery hungry, though unless you’re 6-12 hours in the saddle it will get you home.
Ploughed fields and woods…
Only the best GPS systems can penetrate trees to get satellite signal. If you’re planning a route largely under tree cover in the Forest of Dean then perhaps consider the good old fashioned OS map! It also can’t tell whether a field is arable or for grazing. You can ride across grass, but not through soft wet mud – I ended up carrying the mud jammed bike a half mile across one field, which on exhausted legs was not much fun…
Two weeks ago I listened to the autistic voice telling me I was on the wrong path in a field, and got quite irritated. That path put me in a blackthorn thicket. This weekend, I switched to the correct path, and it guided me smoothly around a 14 mile circuit between Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire and the Ashridge Estate in Buckinghamshire. I should warn you that in plotting the route you cannot tell whether you’re allowed or not to cycle on a particular path – I was pursued by an angry landowner in his Land Rover and asked if I could read the big sign saying cycling was forbidden!
If you’re wiped out, perhaps from all the cloying mud on the circuit, you can work out a direct route home too. I have used this cycling gps mapping system for some great rides in Dorset and Bedfordshire, and honestly I won’t buy another piece of kit.