Navigation aids

Wednesday, 3rd June 2009; 3:27 pm - Location:

I’ve spent a bit of time using Google Maps and/or MapQuest to plan my scoot route. I start by just asking for a route from State Park A to State Park B, with the “no highways” box checked, then go in and pull that line off all the minor highways Google is still drawn to, onto more scooter-friendly roads. The problem is that this can produce some rather complex navigation instructions. I can’t memorize every street I’m supposed to go half a mile on, which one to turn onto next, etc.

In theory, I’ll have all of this info in the palm of my hand, via the cellular internet connection of my iPhone. But there are a few problems with that. First, I won’t have the phone in my hand while riding. Using a phone while driving a car is hazardous enough; doing it on a scooter – where you really should keep both hands on the handlebars, and where dropping the phone means certain damage (or worse) as it clatters along on the pavement behind you rather than just slipping under the car seat – is even worse. Second, even if I did have it in hand, the iPhone doesn’t work with gloves on, and really requires two hands to manipulate. Third, there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually have a usable AT&T data signal at any given point on the route.

So I need some alternative method of figuring out where I am and where I’m going.

Years ago I bought a road atlas of the US that includes a two-page map of Michigan, and this has served me well for most of my travels around the state. But the level of detail it includes is based on the usual automotive drive-by navigation, sticking to roads whose names are numbers.

A friend of mine has a TomTom GPS unit that he’ll let me borrow for this. It can be charged by the 12V outlet on my scooter, which is handy. I haven’t tested it outside of the city, but it should solve the coverage problem of the iPhone, so it’ll be able to locate me pretty much anywhere. Its options for specifying the kind of route to take are more flexible than Google’s (e.g. you can set a maximum speed), but it can’t follow a user-customised route taking the most scenic route instead of the shortest or fastest, so I don’t think it’ll work for turn-by-turn directions.

I might also use Google to print off a “map of the day” for each leg of the trip. That might cover a small enough area to include all the relevant roads in the region (including names) so that I can figure out where I am when I (inevitably) miss a turn. I might also print off a list of directions and tape it to my handlebars, so I can (try to) follow it as I go, rather than relying on my increasingly fickle memory.

And I guess if all else fails, I can stop and ask someone for directions.

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