19 September, 2017

Paper or Plastic?

By Scott

Tub of memories

I've been doing some cleaning at home and I found a tub of randonneuring pins/medals from my rides in Canada and Australia (the US organizers generally charged for them, so being cheap/frugal to a fault, I don't have many US medals). I was thinking back to the rides that I did and the changes to the sport and technology since I started riding brevets back in 2003. I think the biggest change, bigger than tire size and frame material, is how we navigate around.

The old way
At the start of the BC randonneurs rides, we would get a control card, a cue sheet, and a ziplock bag to put it in. They would post the cue sheets to the club website a week or so beforehand in case you wanted to print them in a different format or size than what came standard. I'd use the supplied cues, sometimes substituting a thick freezer ziplock if spring was to be exceptionally wet.

At the successful completion of the ride, you'd get a pin from the organizer. In BC, we had a different pin design every year and each distance was a different color. We'd joke that we were pin collectors with a cycling problem.

Paper cues were all that I used for all my rides in BC for 4 years or so. Towards the end of my time living in BC, I started to see some technologically advanced folks use a GPS on their bars. Cool, but this seemed to have more work involved - creating files, downloading files, battery life - than I was prepared to deal with. 

Fast forward three years to living in the DC area and it seemed more and more folks had GPS units. Costs had come down and it seemed half the field had little boxes squeaking and beeping at them during a ride to keep them on track. I stuck with my paper cues, still standard issue by the club, as I lacked the money to move up to a GPS unit and still felt slightly intimidated by the technology.

The new way
Looking at handlebars of other riders here in Maryland this past weekend, it seems that I am in the minority in terms of how to navigate. Folks are using their cell phones for navigation as well as journaling on Strava. There are systems to allow you to plug your phone and lights into a hub dynamo to keep them fully charged all the time, so the battery issue would appear to be a non-issue. Some events (not randonneuring) are only giving the route in gpx formats, as it is assumed that everyone is using a computer-based navigation system.

I still use paper if I need cues for a ride or a trip. Am I using the modern equivalent of carbide lights? All of Igor and Adrian's trips to Europe were navigated using cell phone apps that are available offline like maps.me and Google maps. Is this the future and I've missed it or are there folks out there still using maps and paper cue sheets, even if it is a back up to their GPS/cell phone? Let us know in the comments and if it makes you feel better, you can also write us at:

Velo Orange
1981 Moreland Parkway
Building 3
Annapolis, MD

Bonus points if you use a fountain pen.


Unknown said...

I print out the cue-sheets from ridewithgps. I find binder clips are a great way to attach the sheet-within-ziplock to my shifter cables so I can see the sheet while riding.

I probably wouldn't sign up for a ride that only provided digital routes, unless it was reasonably easy (& free) to dump them to a normal table format.

I also did some BC Randonneur rides and I very much appreciated the annotations, like railroad track warnings, easily-missed turns, etc. The automatic systems can't provide those.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

I've done both, depending on my goal. If I'm touring and I want to concentrate on enjoying the outdoors, watching the scenery, keeping an eye out for a good photograph, and talking with my companions, I'll use a GPS with the track plotted on it, so I don't need to think about navigation.

If I'm in an organized event (which happens about once a year) I'll try to get by with cue sheet and map. Last month I did the 100K "mystery route" at D2R2. Now, as a local, I already knew many of the roads, but it was still fun to navigate with a cue sheet and to figure out how to deal with minor discrepancies. Similarly, I will try to avoid GPS when driving new places, except for the final few miles to a precise destination.

Like Jean-Fran├žois, I like a well-prepared cue sheet that indicates dangers, specifies the kind of intersection, and points out interesting sights. A few of the D2R2 cue sheets include notes such as "Cattle often in road." You can't get that from a computer!

Andy Squirrel said...

I find it interesting how much more dangerous it is to use paper maps compared to the new breed of text to voice commands. I like RWGPS because I'm able to navigate easily without looking down so often. Inevitably I do occasionally look down at the map to verify the distance to the next turn but most of the time I love turn by turn audio navigation that allows me to keep an eye on the road instead of veering left or right while trying to find my spot on a spreadsheet.

Anonymous said...

Gps ftw

jefe said...

There is something elegant about a well written cue sheet with all its abbreviations and annotations. The person who designed the route is coaching you through it. But making a good cue sheet is very time consuming. I've been using and making cue sheets for a few years. I am seriously considering getting a GPS unit for short tours, especially in state forests with many unmarked roads. For brevets, I would put the GPS unit in my bag and only refer to it as necessary.

John Frey said...

From a slightly different point of view, I was trying to find a hotel in a skiing village in southern Switzerland several years ago. We had rented a sat-nav from the hire car shop, proudly labeled the "NEVERLOST." As we switchbacked up the mountain, the gadget kept saying "Turn left . . . recalculating," and "Turn right . . . recalculating." There were no roads, streets, or lanes visible, but there were animal tracks going much more steeply up the hill. Never forget that an electronic device is only as good as its program code and the data it's given. We finally found the hotel and had a great dinner there as well. Paper, plastic, or semi-conductor . . .

Anonymous said...

Personally, I ride to get away from all that noise. Out the C&O about a mile west of town,
(Hancock MD), the infernal device will say "service unavailable" and I can finally start to unwind.

Unknown said...

I like the feel of a fountain pen and prefer a stylus on a touch screen.
When I first started riding brevets I was concerned the senior and experienced riders had neither gps or paper. It didn't take long to realise these experienced riders knew all the roads and routes from memory. Unfortunately for me I wasn't able to stay with them and found myself in a peloton of one. My navigation skills with paper resulted in bonus extra riding so I ventured into electronic. I still had extra distances due to incorrect inputs, lack of knowledge and electronic failures due to battery life or incorrect button pressing, like when you finish and press the pause button only to see the message "ride started" (urgh).
Several years later I'm no faster but I'm better with the electronic things, know some routes, but always carry an always visible route sheet.

Kim Isaacson said...

I'm an old coot, and when I am riding it is just to be out on the road, not part of an organized event. I prefer not to be distracted by gadgets and navigation devices. A decent paper map, some water and food is really all it takes. I like to be surprised by discovery...

Unknown said...

Very nice write up

I use the paper cues. This is why I bought your Campagne bag , for the map case.

The big advancement was the reliable cyclo-computers showing accurate distance travelled.

John Hawrylak
Woodstown NJ

Rod Bruckdorfer said...

I also use paper cue sheets and a road map for touring. I do not want a GPS!

George H said...

I may be a tribe of one. I have a dumb phone and a GPS in my car. My handlebars have a light, a bell and a cupholder. If I need a map I bulldog clip it to a cable, in a ziplock bag if weather is expected to be adverse. I enjoy riding free of tech.

mike w. said...

Maps and cue sheets don't need batteries.