Then & Now: Lessons on Cycling With Tech

  by Christine Peets10 Comments

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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.

Photo of his camera and SPOT tracking device courtesy of Mark GarscaddenHaving 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?

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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.”

About the Author

Christine Peets

Christine Peets is a freelance writer who loves to travel, but not by bicycle. The one tech toy she loves is her Blackberry Playbook—music, camera, and reading all in one—and if there’s free Wi-Fi, access to the Internet for e-mails, Facebook updates, and checking out the latest information on line about where she is, or where she’s going.


  1. Less is more while cycling to not carry too much equipment with you. Another helpful thing could be a portable wifi device while being in Europe when you want to connect 5 devices to internet with less money which could make a cycling trip easier if you want to be connected with your friends and share your experience.

  2. Thanks for your comment, and suggestions. I’ll pass them along to the guys mentioned in the post. There might be a similar portable wi-fi device for using in the States.

  3. For 3 months in Europe, I kept myself limited to smartphone, cycle computer (with GPS), netbook and digital camera. The big problem with carrying electronics on the bike isn’t just their weight, but the added weight of all the chargers that many of them come with. Finding gadgets with small or shared usb chargers to limit that is important.

    My pack of spare parts and tools, however, was almost enough to build a second bike!

    1. I think Mark and Jim would agree with you about wanting to keep things light, Joel. When, and if, the chargers can be shared, that is definitely an advantage. The solar powered charger can be useful, but it’s a little bulky. So there are no easy answers here. I guess each cyclist has to work out what works for them.

  4. Credit card, lights, duct tape and a good HARD COPY map: if you keep it light and simple, your relieve yourself of the particular anxiety that electronic gadgets can induce.

    1. You’re right, Virginia that the “old school” paper maps and other light stuff definitely lessens the load–and the anxiety.

  5. Great article, Christine. I think all of these suggestions could also apply to motorcycle trips and any other type of travel. I always prefer to travel light. That’s why I love my iPad.

    1. Thanks, Judy. You’re right that travelling light is always nice. Our best “light travel” was our 2010 trip to Korea and San Francisco–almost 4 weeks and we each had one backpack–and they weren’t huge. We did it again for our first trip to NYC and need to do it more often. Mark is right that you should only travel with what you can carry on your back.
      These tips are useful for any kind of travel, but especially on bikes–motorized or not.

  6. Loved your article, Christine!
    Although I’m clearly not in the league of the cross-Canada cylist, I do agree with Jim and with Mark that the bare minimum seems to be the best for long trips. Decide what will cover you in case of emergencies and decide what other needs can be met by the occasional purchase along the way. If your bike is in tip-top shape and you have food and water, it’s surprising how little else you need. You’ve got me thinking about July on the road – now there’s a feeling I love! Thanks for a great read!

    1. Thanks, Vince. Jim and Mark are having fun planning their next adventure, and it’s great that you’re planning one too. Ah summer–and the open road. I prefer being in a car, but love watching cyclists enjoying the road–and I always share the space generously. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

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