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Google Maps adds “bicycling” option to directions

A colleague pointed out to me this morning that there was a new option on his google maps “get directions” page today –

Google offers cycling directions

Sure enough it seems that this option has been available in the US for some time, but has been ported across to the UK today.
A bit of digging around suggests that they’re using Sustrans data (sustrans routes such as Liverpool’s Loop Line are marked in a dark-green on the map) – see CycleStreets comment here

There’s a pretty large disclaimer attached that the feature is “in Beta” and users are requested to feedback any errors – I hope in vain that any feedback received is going to be put back into cyclestreets to help improve their excellent service, rather than just improving Google’s results at the expense of a hard-working endeavour which has been beavering away in a comparatively dark corner of the internet purely for the good of us cyclists…

Not having used the service “in anger” ,I’m not going to comment on its accuracy here, but I would say that some of the suggested routes (at least my commuting ones anyway) are a little odd – whilst cycle route 56 is pointed out, the alternatives don’t seem to to offer me anything different (faster, more bike-friendly) – which is unfortunate, as this is a feature cyclestreets DO offer in their data.

Still, not wanting to sound like a big whinger – it’s great that Google are raising the profile of cycling by adding this functionality and here’s hoping that the service improves over time (how about adding known accident blackspots?)

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The wonders of open cycle data or “How about a free cycle sat nav?”

In my day job I produce the website for Liverpool City Council – It’s a nerdy but worthwhile enterprise, which brings me into touch with some of the more esoteric aspects of large scale web site production.

One of the most important tenets currently being espoused, both in government and journalism is the concept of “open data” – this is what the “Wikileaks” furore was all about – it’s more than just the freeing up of data hitherto locked away in dusty filing cabinets, it’s making that data available in a format which can be transformed into something useful. After all, it’s all very well the council providing the full details of every planning application made in Liverpool since 1965 – it’s something else extracting the planning decisions  made this week in your street…

What this opening up of government data allows is for those with other datasets to “mash them together” – this is effectively what’s going on whenever you see a google map with a bunch of pins stuck in it, showing your local whatever…

Take that principle and run it by a keen bunch of cycling nerds and you get CycleStreets. CycleStreets build upon Open Street Map – an ambitious collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. They add cycle specific data in “layers” on top of the Open Street Map views of the UK. What they have produced is nothing short of a full cycle-friendly “sat Nav” for most of the UK – the app allows you to draw routes from A to B and aims to give the most cycle friendly routes, including details of hills, cycle paths, traffic density, calories burned, number of traffic lights passed, elevation and step-by-step instructions. The user can choose from the fastest, the quietest or a balanced route giving the best of both.

The app is available as a desktop website (useful for plotting in advance and research – more of which later), a HTML5 mobile app – viewable from any smartphone with an open internet connection or as (FREE!) apps for iOS and Android phones.

There are a number of other applications using cyclestreets data – notable among them being “BikeHub” – a full turn by turn satnav system which operates like your TOM-TOM, telling you when to turn left or right so as to follow the route and correcting itself should you go wrong.

Now then, I mentioned research didn’t I? If, like me, you got caught up in the Times’ “Cities fit for Cycling campaign” (and if you didn’t, DO SO! go here) to the extent that you entered some of your more scary junctions into their road hazard map, then you might be intrigued at the data it shows with respect to cycle accidents.

Their map is, however, slightly clunky. It uses  perhaps unsurprisingly, more data from CycleStreets. CycleStreets have mapped the governments road accident (Stat 19) since 2005 against their other mapping tools and made it available at warning: it makes pretty scary reading!

Obviously if you’re going to use your phone as an on-board satnav, then an effective handlebar mount is essential. I’ve tried a couple of these out and can affirm that it’s vital to get a waterproof one(!) A full review will be coming soon – in the meantime, this one seems popular on Amazon…

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Strava – Race your mates

Lucas odometer. The height of cycle tech circa 1975

I love a speedo me. I remember my excitement at age 14 when my mates and I were looking after my Grandma’s house when she went on holiday (how trusting was she?) I “baggsied” my uncle Andrew’s racer for the sole reason that it had a Lucas odometer fitted to it. This little analogue miracle sat right on the wheel hub, a little “spider” attachment turned directly by a peg screwed to a spoke. I dunno why, but I was completely fascinated watching the little red dial turning as I rode – It was somehow as near as I could get as a spotty schoolboy to driving my Mum’s Escort Pop estate.

I suppose it plays to my nerdy side – if I’m capturing data, then I can note it down and improve upon it. It’s the same impulse which made me buy increasingly complicated bike computers for every bike I’ve had since (except Hector – Hector’s far too cool for a speedo).

Cat Eye V3 wireless - the same idea, taken to 2010 extremes

The Cat Eye V3 fitted to the eBay Flyer is kindof the ultimate expression of this, the “Cycle computer” – it reads my heart rate, it tracks my cadence, my elevation, it calculates my calorie burn and counts the remaining seconds/miles of my “training session” down to zero.

When I was running the electric Bike I downloaded an iPhone app called “Cyclemeter” – I’m going to do a standalone review of the app on here – it’s amazing – It does everything the Cat Eye does, and more – it tracks all this data alongside your GPS position on a map and uploads it all to the internet, building up a training profile, allowing you to set yourself goals against previous Personal Bests. It tweets your progress and reads back people’s replies to you – all for about a fiver (although you can spend a lot more to hook it up to cadence / heart rate measurement and view it in its own waterproof case on your handlebars) – utterly amazing.

Cyclemeter - uploads huge amounts of data for you

Which is all very well… BUT

I’m not a professional cyclist. I’m actually way too lazy to draw myself up a training schedule – because I fundamentally don’t care about “training”. It’s hard enough getting out of bed on a sunny Sunday to go for a 20 mile ride  in the country – never mind punishing myself on endless laps around the park on a cold wet Wednesday.

Which is where Strava comes in. Strava ( is a freemium web service which offers a similar kind of data capture to Cyclemeter (or Nike Plus if you’re a runner) – there are many of these kind of services around – Runkeeper ( probably being the best known. But Strava is different. Why? because Strave is competitive

Strava was set up (I’m sure) for serious athletes to test each other out by pitting their PB’s against each other on common routes. There are a fair few professional athletes registered with the site and their (publicly published) times are quite something to behold.

I’m not interested in pitting myself against professional cyclists however – I know I’m going to lose. My work colleagues however – now that’s a different matter. It happens that about 5 of us at work all cycle in regularly, and we all happen to live roughly the same distance from work in roughly the same direction.

We’re sociable people and there’s normally no issues between us – cycle home together however, and everything changes – we are men. Therefore we are competitive. We have all spent lots of money on machines which we think make us superhuman – so inevitably it turns into a race. Which, as the oldest and fattest member of the team, I’m fairly likely to lose. Plus there’s something – well – ungentlemanly about a direct race especially between colleagues of different ranks.

The app works with iPhone android and garmin GPS devices

I’ve often thought it would be great if I could compete against my colleagues times along the same routes. Cyclemeter and Runkeeper technically let me do this, but it’s not simple. With Strava I just have to push a single button. Strava GPS tracks the route we take and plots it on a map/elevation index.

My colleagues and I have all signed up to Strava’s free service. We have all downloaded their free iphone app. We have joined our profiles together into a team. Our times/speed/calorie burn/power figures are therefore pitted directly against each other in our team view.

The really cool bit however, is that Strava recognises sections of our journey that we all share. Our times along these sections are pitted against each other and a league is drawn up. At the same time our times for these sections are put up against the Pros (who may just have happened to ride that section as part of a 100 mile training session the week previously). Any user can define any section of a journey as a measured segment and figures for anybody who happens to ride that piece of road are compiled into a league table like this…

I beat my boss up a hill!

What I particularly like about this is that you can race without actually racing – when you’re side by side with somebody to talk to every day at the office, you don’t want to show that you’re really trying hard to beat them (or that you’re struggling to keep up!) With Strava, you’re just trying to get up the hill as fast as you can – it’s more like a videogame, where you struggle to get the first place on the leaderboard – except the leaderboard is you and your mates…

The app has all the usual goodies you’d expect from a fitness app – you can map your sessions, show your progress over time – even set out training sessions. But for me it’s the competitive bit which puts this head and shoulders above other similar apps.

The app works with iPhone, android and Garmin GPS devices. If you have ANT+ sensors (such as cadence and heart-rate monitors) the app will save those settings too, calculating a “suffer score” for you.

I’m not going to show you how to use it – get yourself over to and see for yourself!

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