It seems as if it was a whole other lifetime when travelers would use Thomas’ Guides or paper maps to navigate their way through unknown territories while exploring on a road trip. Not only are those maps difficult to carry around and read while driving, but they are also extremely difficult to comprehend in a technologically headed world. Americans are so used to picking up their cell phones and/or reading a computer-based map that they often times forget how to use original maps. As the technology and electronic world changes exponentially each season, many people are relying on the Global Positioning System, or GPS, to navigate through their own neighborhoods, big cities and expansive road trips.
GPS was originally designated to help soldiers and military vehicles, ships and planes to determine their locations around the world. Today, GPS is used in commercial, personal and scientific worlds as a navigational tool for outdoor recreation, airplanes, boats and cars among others. Earth science is another industry that is greatly affected by GPS as it used in weather forecasting and climate studies.
GPS maps are extremely helpful when traveling on road trips because there are many manufacturers who have created compact devices that fit perfectly in the car. GPS satellites circle the earth twice a day and transmit the signal information back to earth to provide the exact user’s location at any time. The locations are extremely accurate, as long as the user is within an area with clear satellite reception. There are many GPS map manufacturers in the current market, so it is vital to find a program that works best for the vehicle. These types of maps are easy to use and have large enough displays so the driver never has to become distracted while navigating through distractions.
GPS maps are also certainly helpful while on a road trip because some systems will show drivers of special landmarks, such as large bodies of water, downtown areas and amusement parks for the whole family to enjoy. This feature is extremely helpful when driving in an unfamiliar territory, or when the vehicle is close to the destination but the driver is unsure of where to turn next. These systems provide an aerial overview of where the car is driving so that the driver can get a head start of sorts on the direction to take next.
GPS maps are also available on many upgraded cell phones and users can also easily navigate through unfamiliar streets with the touch of a button. Google has been incredibly helpful when it comes to providing the data for mapping out the world and many users rely on this internet company to help them navigate through their local neighborhoods and beyond the country with programs like Google Maps and Google Earth. Users can type in any address or any destination in the world and the search engine can provide in depth directions and even street level images of the area making these maps helpful to any average person.
GPS Cyclometer Computer Systems for Bicycles
GPS satellite navigation isn’t just for cars and hikers. Specialized GPS units for cyclists are now available. Popular brands include Garmin (Edge) and Magellan.
How GPS Cyclometers Work
GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) cyclometers (bicycle computers or cyclocomputers) are similar to standard GPS units, but there are some differences and optimizations for cyclists.
Instead of using a magnetic sensor on the bicycle wheel, the GPS 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 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 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 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 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.