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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

"Hills" - Going Up??

I recently had a question from one of the MyCycleTour users asking how to best get a view for where the hills are on the route map.  Yes, we show an elevation profile, and you can drag your cursor along the elevation profile to see where the peaks and valleys are on the map, but wouldn't it be nice to have a complete view on the map of where the hills are.  Red markers to show uphill segments, and green for downhill.  Deeper colours for steep segments!

Now you can easily view hills by clicking the "Hills" button at the top of the map.  You can use this when you plan routes (to either find the hills... or avoid them), or when you are simply reviewing a route later.  It's easy, and its very effective!
Showing the Hills - Follow the red and green dots!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Play Streetview - A slideshow of the route

I have a lot of fun planning my bike trips in MyCycleTour.  I get a great view of my trip distances and the climb along the route so that I know that I'll be challenged while still having fun.  I like riding on smaller, quiet roads.  They are not only safer, but far more picturesque and pleasant.  Even with good planning, however, I have still found myself on roads that are busier than I like - fast moving cars, trucks whizzing by, missing bike lanes and shoulders, and sometimes just poor scenery.

So we built a new feature into MyCycleTour which we call "Play Streetview".  It's very simple and extremely cool.  When displaying a route, there's a new little button above the map... the yellow one.  Press it and a window will open below the map and a slideshow will start of street view images along the route.  You will also see the little "pegman" on the map moving along the route to give a location for the imagery.  You can move the pegman, and the slideshow of images will pick up at the nearest location on the route.  In the street view window you can also pause playback, or accelerate the progression along the route.

"Play Streetview" Slideshow

In my most recent route I started playing the slideshow and realized within a few minutes that a couple of the roads were simply too busy.  Within another few minutes I rerouted the path in favour of the type of roads I like to ride.  It was awesome!  The controls in the lower left of the street view window let me slow things down in towns, and speed up in the country.  I could even pause and then look around a specific point.

Try it out, and let me know what you think.

Happy Cycling - it's spring for many of us and the riding is about to resume!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Changes to MyCycleTour

We've made some significant changes to MyCycleTour to enhance the user experience.  The first change is an improvement to how routes are shown in the home page.  Instead of the static route summaries that we previously provided we've now taken a page from Netflix to make searching routes more like searching for video content.  We categorize routes vertically into groups for Highlighted, Recently Added and Nearby Routes, and then present them in horizontal sliders so you can look at as many as you like in each category.

Sliders on the Home Page
If you are logged in as a registered user we also include sliders for "My Routes" that you have authored and for "My Favorites" which highlight those that you have tagged as favorites.

We've also eliminated the advertising sidebar from the Home Page and the Route Display page.  This makes it easier to see content, and in particular to get a larger view of the map.  The Display Route page is also easier to get the information you want using clean and simple graphics.

Finally, we done a major overhaul for mobile devices.  You won't need your magnifying glass to browse routes on your smartphone. The menus have been simplified, and the information elements reordered and stacked vertically.

Route Display on an iPhone
All this to make your user experience better on MyCycleTour.  I hope you like it!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Tools for Techies

In a previous blog entry I gave a quick summary of GPS tools for navigating your ride. Since then not much has changed.  I still love PocketEarth for viewing offline maps on IOS devices (iPhone/iPad).  I also love OsmAnd for Android which provides turn by turn directions for routes while you travel.  Both of these apps take complete routes generated by MyCycleTour.  When you display a route in MyCycleTour just click on the Download GPX button in the menu bar above the map.  These GPX files then load directly into the PocketEarth and OsmAnd.

What if you have other devices that you want to load routes into?  In the same blog I gave some information about how to load a route from MyCycleTour into a Garmin Cycle GPS.  It works very well.  The problem with many GPS devices, however, is that they don't all support the open GPX format.  So now what?

I did a trip to France, Belgium and Holland.  For the first time we had a car travel the route with us and a TomTom GPS.  I really wanted to load my route into this TomTom but there is no GPX support.  As it turns out I couldn't load the whole route, but I could load all the waypoints, so that now at least the driver of the car can pull up any of the waypoints on my route and navigate to them directly.  To do it I needed to find a way to convert GPX files from MyCycleTour to OV2 files (TomTom's format).  I found a great little program called ITN Converter which converts between many popular formats.  ITN Converter supports a long list of route and POI formats that you can load into a variety of devices.  Check it out if you are a Tom Tom lover.

Where are you now?  Another challenge we had with a car on this trip was syncing up between riders and drivers.  There were four of us on the trip so we traveled in pairs, two would ride the first half of the day's distance while the others drove, then we'd switch for the last half.  The challenge was that the car would get dropped at the halfway point and the first-half riders would have to find it.  Rather than wait to hand off the car we'd hide the keys then send the GPS coordinates to the other pair.  PocketEarth does this very nicely, and without a data plan running on your smartphone when you are roaming overseas (like we were).

Pre-load your offline maps, then have PocketEarth locate you when you want to share your location.  Create a marker (by holding your finger on your location on the map), then select the marker created (left image).  Select share (middle image), then your method to share (right image).  If you select SMS (Pocket Earth Link) then it will open a text window which you can send.  The person who gets the text then simply clicks on the link received, and PocketEarth will open with the same POI sent below.  Slick...  we never lost the car!

What's your favorite tip?  Do you have some great techie tips that work when you ride.  Share them with us.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Tell Your Story

Back in March we launched a new capability which allows you to create a free-form Journal of your trip!   This is a space for route authors to tell their story and really share the experience.   You can easily insert formatted text and images to make your trip come to life.

I'm using this feature for a bike trip that I have planned this month in France, Belgium and Holland.  It turns out to be a great place to share some of the planning information for this trip with my co-riders.  I will also journal the story while we're on the road - so I can share the experience with friends and family back home.  Personally I prefer this to using other social media sites.  It's just a better way to tell the story.

A few weeks ago I added the ability to paste in videos from YouTube and Vimeo.  In the planning phase I added a few public videos from YouTube of the areas we'll be visiting.  While on route, we'll post some of the GoPro videos we take as we ride.  You can see the journal for my route at Bayeux to Amsterdam, or more quickly view the journal Route Journal - Bayeux to Amsterdam.

The Best Authoring Tools. If you've journaled on other sites you will know that authoring rich text and images on the web can be challenging.   Many sites have you input in one part of the page, and view the formatted result in another.   That makes for an awkward and disjoint experience at best.   At MyCycleTour we give you the ability to enter your text and images in a fully formatted window - a true "What You See is What You Get" authoring capability that is second to none.   Try it once an you will see the difference.

One Stop Shop. Integrating a modern journaling capability with the other great planning and sharing tools on MyCycleTour makes your Route really shine. The Route Author is the only one that can enter content into the Journal, but you can also engage with other users who can post comments and questions to your page making it a truly interactive experience. You can even link it to your favorite social network.

How do I start? Whenever you create a route in MyCycleTour (just click on the "create" menu item once you are registered and logged-in) we will set up a space for your journal.  When you display the route the journal will be included near the bottom of the page.  Only the author can add to the journal, but other MyCycleTour users can post comments below the journal.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Navigating Your Next Bike Ride

I just got back from a two week trip in France with my brother, Chris, and long time friend, Stan.  We shared in planning the route using MyCycleTour (http://www.mycycletour.com/displayroute.php?RouteNumber=79) and flew into Bordeaux in early September to start the trip.  We assembled bikes at the airport then launched ourselves into the morning rush hour, zipping through roundabouts and busy side streets.  This was Stan's inaugural bike trip, and one of the first things he picked up on was the importance of good navigation.  As a group we had no shortage of tools. Chris brought paper maps, Stan brought his Android device with a solid GPS app, and I brought my Garmin Edge 800 and a variety of IOS GPS navigation and mapping apps.  Yes - overkill, but I was keen on trying out first hand what worked the best.

Let's start with the Garmin Edge 800.  This is one of the best purpose built cycling GPS devices out there and is priced accordingly.  In addition to the North America map that came with my device I also purchased the Europe map at added cost.  I've taken it on a few trips now and it is a solid work horse for navigation.  I'd like it better if it provided spoken turn-by-turn directions and if the display were just a little larger.  Like most GPS devices it doesn't always seem to select the most direct path to your destination.  Having said that, mine has been robust, waterproof, easily mounts to the bike, has good battery life and loads GPX route files from MyCycleTour.  It also has all the bells and whistles of the most sophisticated bike computers and stores route and performance information for your rides.

I have to admit, I bought my Edge before the world was filled with GPS navigation apps for smartphones.  I like apps that support offline maps, i.e. do not rely on an active data connection to update the map as you move along.  Why - because I don't like wasting data minutes, especially when I'm roaming.  These apps can easily chew up hundreds of dollars or more in data roaming.  Apps that rely on open standard maps (Open Street Maps - OSM) tend to be inexpensive, usually under $5, the others tend to be considerably more expensive, $50 to $100 or more.  You'll likely want a USB battery to augment the charge on your smartphone if you bike more than three or four hours a day.

OsmAnd (Open Street Maps Automated Navigation Directions) runs on Android and Blackberry, but not on IOS.  Too bad!  There is a free version that allows you to load up to ten maps tiles, and a paid version (well under $10) without restrictions.  It loads Open Street Maps so navigates when your device is offline (so you can avoid ridiculous roaming data charges).  It gives turn-by-turn spoken directions that you can actually hear, calculates navigation routes for bicycles, and even loads routes from GPX files that you can get from MyCycleTour.  We tried it, and it works.  This was the best of the GPS apps that we tried.  Stan rode with this device tucked into his bike shirt with the display normally off.  The voice prompt was loud enough to be easily heard, and the battery life was pretty good.  This is my favorite smartphone navigation app!

I went on this trip with a variety of navigation IOS apps for my iPhone.  Why, because I really couldn't find one that I loved.  The most functional app that I tried was Co-Rider.  It is not supported on Android devices, at least not yet.  It provides turn-by-turn spoken and textual directions, supports loading GPX routes from MyCycleTour, but unfortunately does not support offline maps at this time.  If you are tripping in your home country and have a good data plan, then this may not be a big issue and this app may be good for you.  Unlike some of the other bike specific apps, it also doesn't give typical bike-computer displays, like speed and direction.  If you already have a computer on your bike then that's likely not an issue.  This one is worth trying.

GPS Nav 2 appears to have many of the right elements, but seems to fall short of putting them all together.  It allows for downloading offline maps, but unfortunately does charge for them.  Pretty reasonably priced, but not free like most apps that download similar OSM maps.  It has a nice navigation interface with turn-by-turn directions, but I could only get it to navigate based on routes for cars and not bikes.  What's odd is that it does provide the ability to create a bike route and display it on a map, but I could not get it to navigate these routes.  I did send an email requesting a little more information but no reply yet.  If I get a positive response I will certainly update this comment.  I think this app has promise, but it wasn't quite up to my needs at this point.

There are a variety of apps that are capable of showing maps, downloading GPX files of planned routes, and displaying a current location.  This includes Cyclemeter, B.iCycle, MotionX GPS and iPlanMyRoute.  Interesting apps that can be useful if you don't mind missing the turn-by-turn directions.  Personally I love turn-by-turn spoken directions.  Why?  Because I like to keep my eyes on the road and not on my device, especially when riding in busy areas.  Keep in mind that some of these apps are really more for performance training than navigation, but they are still worth a look.  There are a few others in the $50-$100 range like Navigon and Sygic that support both IOS and Android devices.  I didn't try them out, but if you have I'd love to hear your opinions.  Leave a comment on this blog.

In summary, on this trip we relied primarily on my Garmin Edge 800 but also heavily used the Android based OsmAnd app for navigation.  If there was a conflict between the two I would often pull out my iPhone and open up PocketEarth (previous blog) which gave a really good big-picture view of where we were and where we were going.  Paper maps?  Didn't really need them at all.

Would love to hear your comments and experiences!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Maps for Smartphones & Tablets

In the next few posts I'm going to review some of my favorite mapping and GPS apps for mobile devices.  GPS apps can be great for providing turn by turn directions on your route, but are often not so good for getting a big-picture view of where you are and where you are going.  Fortunately there are some great mapping apps out there to give you the big-picture view.  In both cases it's easy to download your route from MyCycleTour to these apps so you can navigate with ease.

 In this post I'm going to focus on my favorite big-picture mapping application.  I trip overseas quite often and don't appreciate the crazy prices charged by my mobile carrier for data roaming - so I looked for a mapping app that supports off-line content so the maps are actually on the device, not downloaded as you view them.  My favourite app for my IOS devices (iPhone/iPad) is Pocket Earth and that's what I'll focus on this time.  Unfortunately this app is not supported on Android devices, but we'll look at alternatives for Android later.

Get the App

Pick up Pocket Earth from the app store or click here from your mobile device.  The following steps will help you get started with this app, and show you how to load your route from MyCycleTour.  I'm using an example route that I'll be cycling next month in France.  You can display this route here: http://www.mycycletour.com/displayroute.php?RouteNumber=79

Download Regional Maps for Offline Use

Once you have the app you then need to pre-load the area maps of where you are going while you have data connectivity at home.  Under "settings" go to the help menu and look at "Downloads".  Click on the country or region you will be cycling in and tap the star icon to download the area (adds to your favorites).  Repeat this to cover the area that you will be cycling.  Once loaded you can see the map detail regardless of data connectivity, but I highly recommend you test this by turning off your device data and restart the app.

Download your Route from MyCycleTour

Display the route that you want to download in MyCycleTour (e.g. select from the home page, from MyRoutes etc.).  Above the map click on "Download GPX Track" and save the file to your desktop.  To get the GPX file to your iPhone or iPad you can email it to yourself or, if you have Dropbox, you can also save the file there.  (In future you may be able to email it directly from the Download GPX options box in MyCycleTour).  In this example I have chosen the route at: http://www.mycycletour.com/displayroute.php?RouteNumber=79.

Import the Route to Pocket Earth

Open the file from your Email program or from Dropbox on your iPhone or iPad - it may open in a default app or it may ask you to choose an app.  Select the "Open With" (top right of left image below) icon as shown below - then open it in Pocket Earth (click on the Pocket Earth icon below left).  This will open the image on the lower right.  Select "Import".


Display the Route in PocketEarth

You now have the route in Pocket Earth.  To display it simply go to your favorites by clicking on the Star at the bottom of the map (left image below at the bottom).  Select your route from the middle screen, and again on the right screen.

The route will now be displayed on the Pocket Earth map.  From here you can zoom in to street level, and can enable the GPS find me capability of the map (lower left button).  Get familiar with Pocket Earth using their Help menu.

As you ride you can open this app and have it locate you using GPS, then compare to the route downloaded from MyCycleTour.  While this app has GPS, it does not provide turn-by-turn directions (we'll check that out in a later post).  This app does, however, provide a great way to see the big-picture, and to track your location and progress relative to your route - without burning up data minutes on your mobile device. 

Happy travels!