Gear We Like
Then & Now: Lessons on Cycling With Tech
There’s no doubt that technology has made travelling easier—helping us along the way, and helping in case we have trouble on our travels. This is especially true for bicyclists. Using some modern “tech toys” can mean the difference between a really pleasant trip, and disaster. But you don’t need to take a lot of gadgets along to enjoy the ride.
In 2005 my husband Jim Peets cycled across Canada from Victoria, B.C. to Victoria, P.E.I, and our sons started calling him “Inspector Gadget” because of the tech toys he took with him: weather radio, camera, GPS, cell phone, solar powered battery charger and power outlet, cycle computer, music player, mini-discs for music player, speakers, and PocketMail, used with a telephone to send and receive e-mail.
“I probably didn’t need it all, but I think I used everything at one time or another,” Jim says. Now, he says he needs much less because one gadget can do double or triple duty. “The best change for me is the versatility of the new gadgets: the iPod (or a smartphone) can replace a lot of the older ones in one device. It can provide music, take photos and videos, record sound and voice memos, and when Wi-Fi is available can provide email, web browsing, weather, mapping, and so on. The versatility helps to keep things simple.”
Jim’s friend Mark Garscadden agrees. Ten years ago, he rode across the United States and says that even then he thought that people made too much use of gadgets. Sophisticated bike computers, for example. Mark says you don’t need one most of the time.
“I only use them for distance recording functions for navigation over long stretches – otherwise I ignore speed etc. as you can become a slave to the dictates of a digital output.” He and Jim both feel the same way about heart rate monitors. “Just go with what your body is telling you—not the gadget.” Mark also believes in packing light. “My prime rule is carry only what you could carry on your back for long distances—everything else is extra baggage—you can always buy what’s missing while en route in most countries.” Mark says he came to this philosophy after walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostella in Spain, where he had to carry everything himself. Now, he thinks having less on the bike will make for a better trip.
Having said that, there is some new technology that Mark plans to have along on a trip along the Mississippi he and Jim are planning. One of those gadgets is called SPOT (check prices at Amazon). This will send messages to a central server that are then relayed to people on your distribution list so they can click on the link and find you on Google Maps. That could be extremely valuable in an emergency situation.
Having a dedicated weather radio is also very valuable, and more accurate than relying on the radio or television reports. Jim also checks out the radar maps on his iPod if he has access to the internet. “You can’t always rely on that, so you have to have other ways of finding out information.”
Having a GPS tracker within your cell phone or camera is also a good idea, and Jim and Mark plan to have this on the trip—once again, one gadget doing the work a few once did. They’ll also have cell phones, but with a pay-as-you-go plan, and the SIM card for the U.S. to avoid too many long distance and roaming charges for calls back home to Canada.
Also useful in an emergency are lights—and they are necessary for the bike, so why not just use your bike light(s) instead of dedicated flashlights?
What can’t Jim and Mark leave home without? Jim says making sure your bike is in tip-top shape, without the gadgets, is a good idea, and Mark says a credit card is a valuable asset.
While the gadgets may be fun and make the trip more enjoyable, Jim and Mark also plan to have some pretty low tech stuff along—a pen and a notebook, some paper maps, and a roll of duct tape wound around the bike seat post. “That’s saved my bacon on a few occasions.”
So, while these two intrepid cyclists will have their tech toys, they both say that keeping it simple is important. Then there is less “stuff” to worry about, and it’s important, as Jim always says, to “just keep enjoying the ride.”