All About the Data

Well that was relatively easy. Four hours in the saddle, 90 (ish) km and back at base in time for the birthday booze.


Chin Chin!

Yeah, right.

And so on the day when I celebrated what should be the onset of middle-aged libido loss, I took to the road bike and pedaled; I turned bend after bend, battling a brisk spring blustery wind.



What was relatively easy however was the route planning. The ideal wedding present for the lycra clad lovely couple is of course a Garmin. But an on board bicycle computer doesn’t come cheap once the wedding wonga has been spunked on a honeymoon up The Shard.

I’ve always been against having a live data feed on your bicycle as you put in the miles. It goes against all the principles of the free spirit and escapism that cycling conjures up. You may as well be a Petrol Head playing gas guzzling Top Trumps.

But I’m notoriously crap at route planning and reading maps. The Garmin seemed to offer up a solution to lift the maps from other riders, and then play a game of follow the arrow as you toddle your way along the country lanes.

Bollocks though to a £476 Garmin. That’s significantly less than I splashed out for the road bike from yer man Bob just off the Walworth Road.

I put in the research and eventually found a solution. The Garmin Dakota 10 clocks in at around £116. You get what you pay for, which happens to be a pretty basic GPS system that seems about as reliable as following a carrier pigeon across country.

There’s not a lot going off within the Dakota 10. It’s what you add to it that makes it a cheap as chips compromise for countryside riding.

It comes with no maps – which doesn’t exactly lend to the cause of offering an on board navigation system.

Hurrah then for the wonders of the modern interweb and open source solutions. Talky Toaster [eh?] offers an ACE workaround. You download the open source street map, whack it on the Dakota and then all of a sudden you have a complete OS solution in your pocket.


Now where the chuffers do we cycle?

Strava sadly stopped the direct GPX download of routes from other riders on the free subscription model.


But no worries – other options are available. allows riders to upload their routes for open source sharing. You search for a location close to you, and then nab the file. Upload this back to your Garmin, and the freebie Talky Toaster map is now overlaid with the round route that you’ve just borrowed.

The final stage before rolling out is to work out where to join the route that you’ve uploaded. Sadly the very kind open source folk who share their maps via don’t have the common decency to have a starting point from right outside your front door.

I’ve been using to preview the GPX file online. You can then work out your own personal route to get you to the start.

That’s the theory – how did the Bonking Birthday Boy Backside Bruiser actually perform?

Superb tech wise, not so well in the saddle.

‘aint it always the case, Comrades.

I set the zoon level on the Dakota to cover a 500m radius. I could see what was coming up in great detail, but not the overall picture on a round route towards Castle Headingham (nope, me neither.)

I daren’t zoom out.

Just keep pedaling.

I had one hiccup on the map where the route just stopped. Where the chuffers to now?

I worked out that the very kind open source rider who I nicked the ride off must have got slightly lost en route. I was re-tracing their exact route. I became lost as well. It only took a backtrack of around 250m to get on the main ride once again.

The level of detail via Talky Toaster was incredible. Small clusters of trees were amazingly accurate.

An unknown symbol appeared on the map at one stage, right in the centre of a remote rural lane.

What could this be? It looked a little like a crisp packet. And whaddya know – I cycled close to the spot and a discarded pack of Smokey Bacon appeared.


It turns out that the symbol was actually for a school, and the centre of the road was a school crossing.


But then somewhere deep, deep in the darkest badlands of backstreet Essex and the detail from Talky Toaster just stopped. My route was displayed, but there was no overlay of detail.


I soon realised that there was NOTHING there in the real world.


An online map can only Tell It Like It Is.

I arrived back at base some four hours later with the promise of birthday booze substituted for a large serving of baked beans on toast. Never underestimate the level in which you will bonk on a bicycle.

I recorded the ride on Strava via my iPhone. It’s a system that works incredibly well – Garmin as the live map reader, and then Strava providing all the stats for later analysis.

There use to be a sign hanging from the wall at Brixton Cycles stating that although bicycles computers are for sale, the staff recommend that you don’t use them as they spoil the idea of cycling per se.


I think that it’s all about finding an on / off balance. I needed a route for the birthday bonk. Garmin gave me that. If I want a head clearer country lane spin then I will disappear somewhere that I am already familiar with.

And so relatively easy tech wise, if not in terms of rider ability.


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