No GPS, no problem for local cyclists

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Jack Crowe

Cycling Columnist

"Technology will always fail you." This was the message from a trial lawyer friend who refused to use any fancy computer generated graphics during his jury trials.

Little did I know that the same thing applies to bike technology.

This year, for a change of pace, the annual two day spring bike excursion for the Lake and Harlem cycling group took us from Oak Park on a 200 mile jaunt to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and back.

In the old days, each cyclist would carry a paper cue sheet identifying every turn on the route. This was not ideal. Cue sheets, stuck in a cyclists back pocket, can get blown away. If it's raining, the cue sheet gets wet (along with the cyclist). But in general it worked.

Enter technology. As everyone who drives on vacation now knows, maps - like everything else - have turned into apps.

Same thing is happening in cycling. In fact, there is a wealth of GPS (global positioning satellite) devices that sit on the handle bars of the bike and tell you where you are going. Most of the time.

Some techies in Lake and Harlem had "pinned" each turn on our route into an electronic file. Each cyclist could download the map onto a GPS and make it to Lake Geneva alone if need be.

On the first day of our ride, the device worked flawlessly. I had volunteered to be the sweeper, that is to ride at the back of the 25 riders, gather any laggards, and get this "B" group to our hotel.

Roughly 30 miles in, the "A" group started to stretch their legs and speeded up. After some hills on Cuba Road near Lake Zurich, cyclists started getting spit off the back of the group.

Some ended up riding with me the rest of the way. And, reading my GPS, I confidently called out each turn in the road. It was technology at its best.

On day two from Lake Geneva to Oak Park, I was ready when somewhere around Hobart, Wisconsin, we started hitting hills and a strong headwind.

No problem. A few cyclists again fell off the back of the lead group. We regrouped and headed on together until on a potholed descent, the GPS device popped off my handlebars, flew through the air and plunked onto the road.

I picked it up and started randomly pushing buttons (this is a technical thing to do when electronic devices stop working).

Thank goodness our map came back on because I had no idea how to get to Illinois, let alone Oak Park.

But the map now started telling me to turn right into a cornfield, or left into a bog.  And if I didn't, it would start beeping and sending me messages such as "turn around at your earliest opportunity."

Once it wanted me to turn onto a golf course, which would have been fun except I don't golf and we were still 70 miles from home.

So what do you do when technology fails?

You go retro. You follow your nose. Like Neandrathals, we tapped into our primitive mapping skills.

"That horse farm looks familiar.  Doesn't it?" Or "I think we turn right after this rise in the hill."

I saw Crystal Lake Road and remembered we were heading to Crystal Lake. "Let's take it."

And you know what?  My small group made it back to Oak Park using dead reckoning. Oh sure, we tacked on an extra eleven miles to the ride due to our miscues.

And other cyclists, with better devices, arrived long before us.  But we did it the old fashioned way. Like a Luddite, I am now thinking of smashing my IPhone.

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Mike Wood from Moraga  

Posted: June 3rd, 2014 1:58 PM

Volunteered to be the sweeper? grin:))))))

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