Cycling Huelva to Lepe and Portugal

We are Portugal bound tomorrow. Or at least we hope we are.

We did this same leg three years ago.  Now Via Michelin and Google Maps saw it is impossible via Corelles.  The pedestrian and cycle bridge still exists, but motorways now block progress.

The guys in the local bike shop here say it is still possible.  Can anyone offer any advice on the current route from Huelva to Lepe?

Update: pleased to report that the route is unchanged and complete as before.  We used the cycle/footpath bridge to Corelles, taking the route to the right at the other end, over a short section of rougher track, back on the road surface by the side of the Leroy Merlin store, then turned right onto the A 492 which is signposted for Ayamonte several roundabouts further on.  We went through Cartayena and Lepe then followed Portugal by Ferry signs when they appeared near Ayamonte.  The ferry leaves on the hour and two bikes and two people cost a princely 6 Euro.  Easy Peasy and great fun!

The app is a gem

Before we left I went looking for a mapping app for my iPhone that would work without Internet access and so incurring data charges. looked to fill the bill and so I decided to give it a try.  I downloaded the maps for free and went with the free version of the app for a start.  Now I can’t imagine being without it.

I haven’t tried the routing tool as yet – no bike version exists so far.  But on the road it proves invaluable at points.  The GPS works really quickly, locating your position and can be orientated by the compass points.  The maps appear and can be changed in size and details in moments – instantly really.  No reason to be lost ever again.

Better still, the app is a great way to explore and make sense of the options around you at moments of indecision.  Say you are at an unmarked and unsigned fork on the road.  Left or right? allows you to explore what’s ahead on each choice – without wasting a wheel turn.  It is also great in showing what sort of consequences will follow such choices.

In short it’s a very useful tool and far more useful than my Garmin Edge that cost a fortune a few years ago.  I’d never buy another now.

Anyone else had the same experience – or perhaps not?

When in Spain…

… don’t  expect the highway authorities or planners to look after the touring cyclist. Today we wanted to cycle from Murcia to Lorca. This should have been a relatively easy 70k run.

However, opinions differed at to whether it was possible. It seemed that a 10k stretch of the old N340 South of Totana had been turned into a motorway and there was no alternative. Via Michelin, one of my go to planning apps suggested a detour was possible via La Hoya, but showed none of the back roads used. It might be necessary to hop on a train to cover this missing link.

Needless to say we decided to have a go and with local help we managed to get it done. There is no signage at the Totana end, but the local cafe staff directed us to a side road to the left just before the motorway that connected over an old farm road to La Hoya and so back to the old N340 for the last 10k into Lorca. There is signage at the  southern end.

So we spent a tough day cycling into a strong headwind worrying about the missing link, only to find it was only missing to the planners and not on the ground.  Phew!


Getabout in Aberdeen City and Shire

When finishing my run in the Duthie Park yesterday I spotted this lot and went in about to investigate.

Can't Start Too Young!
Can’t Start Too Young!

It turned out to be an introduction to cycling event organised by Getabout – A to B in Aberdeen City and Shire. I have to be honest, I had never come across Getabout before, but I am pleased to find them.

They had a range of goodies on offer, bike bells, mugs, maps, leaflets, pens, reflective strips and vests and were very keen to chat to existing or would-be cyclists.

Cycles of all sorts and sizes
Cycles of all sorts and sizes

It turns out they have a whole suite of Travel Tools to help us get around by sustainable transport in City and Shire  – mostly alternatives to owning and using cars.  Best of all to me was information on a new smart phone app for the Complete National Cycle Network – I’ll need to try this out and report back with a review, but in prospect its an excellent idea.

You can find their website via this link – Getabout Aberdeen and Shire

The Delights of Seville

Thanks to the CTC Cycle Clips mag for putting me onto this Guardian article on cycle friendly Seville.  We spent a glorious 3 days in Seville while touring from Alicante to Algoz on the Algarve last October. We were cycling into the city from the East and were quite worried about it, but in fact entry proved to be a delight as quiet roads took us to the canal side to the north then all the way to a fine, safe cycle way that circled the inner city, making navigation to our central hotel much easier.  Mind you, nothing else about the city was easy to navigate, but that is another story!

Bicycle navigation – reinvented…

It was wild, wet and windy (again) today, so I surfed a little instead of riding – don’t be too hard on me, I did get out for a jog. One link after another led me to GizMag and their top ten cycling innovations of 2013. Top of the list is the intriguing Hammerhead for Bike Navigation.  I think it is well worth a look.

Hammerhead - navigation re-invented
Hammerhead – navigation re-invented

The new startup team behind Hammerhead say they are inspired by simplicity – get the essential right then junk the rest is their philosophy: in this they (and their advertising video) reminded my strongly of Apple and that cannot be bad.  Their breakthrough to simplicity ideas include:

  • team the Hammerhead to a smart phone, using all its complicated and expensive electronics;
  • replace spoken or turn instructions with peripheral vision colours as direction indicators
  • a really smart, minimal design and look
  • incorporate a built-in headlight.

I like this idea a lot for several reasons:

  • it’s great to see someone other than Garmin looking at navigation
  • I want to make better use of my iPhone
  • it keeps the iPhone safe and dry without needing a new case
  • it’s refreshing to see a new take on an old problem
  • conventional satnav screens are a nightmare for those of up who need reading glasses
  • it looks like great value for money.

I see Schwinn have an alternative out (see below), so I will wait until some user reviews appear, but I hope I won’t have to wait too long.  This looks like a great device full of promise.

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Paris to Algoz, Algarve, Portugal – Our Navigation System

We had expected to start cycling from Santander.  A last minute ferry strike meant a switch to Eurostar and a start from Paris.  At a stroke all our careful planning went out of the window. Worse, we had no France maps for our Garmin Edge 800.  We set off with a 2004 edition of a Michelin Road Atlas:  as it was way too heavy, I spent hours tearing out pages we would not need.  Mostly I got it right!

The best map is the one to hand!

Without details maps for the Garmin we had to resort to planning on paper.  Not such a bad thing perhaps?  We devised a system that worked well for us – most of the time. Each night in our hotel we would use the overview map to pick out a town to the southwest of where we were.  Then we would take a length of dental floss (yes, we were in improvisation mode!)  cut to the length that corresponded to our preferred 80km daily range.  We would track this along the detailed map route and estimate the distance to our preferred destination town.  We decided anything between 80 and 100km was acceptable.  On a few occasions we were forced to make it 111km – but that was really pushing it for us and dangerous if headwinds, hills, or getting lost forced us off track and added to the demands.

Heading South East Works!

If our hotel had wifi, we could add the luxury of planning our exit from the town of departure in detail.  This saved much frustration and time the next morning. Better still, we could use the Via Michelin site to get suggested cycle routes and the Map My Ride site to check out the elevations and climbs ahead.  This was very reassuring: as was the use of a weather site which told us wind direction and force – more important than temperature and chance of rain.  Most days we would use the web to book into a hotel for the next day.

On the road we carried the map pages for the day in Jacqui’s map sleeve on her bar bag along with any detailed instructions she had copied out. I had the Garmin with the base map only, but it was a great help as a compass giving us a check on direction.  This saved us from a number of bad mistakes on the road.

Once we got to Spain and Portugal we had the luxury of detailed Garmin maps, but we chose to stick to our paper-based planning system.  This worked well once we adjusted to the change in scale!  This cut our daily range from a page plus in France to half a page in Spain.  A painful adjustment!

Route through Spain and Portugal

The Garmin did come into its own when trying to find routes out of cities and hotels on arrival.  Set to avoid motorways, tolls and unpaved tracks the Garmin proved reliable most of the time.

We ended up covering some 2,228km in total and climbing for 21,346 meters over 29 days so I guess the system was pretty well proved to work by the time we were finished! I certainly learned not to over-plan trips and leave some room for spontaneity in future.

Are we lost yet?




Cycle Route South from Paris by the Seine

GPX File and Route Map in Map My Ride Map

South East from Central Paris
Eurostar takes us to Paris

We decide our best option is to take Eurostar from London to Paris and head off from there.  We surely get points for flexibility!  The trip through France will also allow us to cycle ourselves fit as we head to the Pyrenees.

One problem remains: how to get out of Paris with almost no preparation or planning. The web of course comes to our rescue. A quick  Google search throws up David Q May’s site and his seven options out by low or no traffic routes.  There is no time to look for others, so we print off the option south along the Seine and we are good to go.

Leaving Paris

Looking back we were very lucky to hit on this site.  David’s instructions are clearly the result of experience in the saddle.  They are very detailed and somewhat idiosyncratic at points,  but they take us into a Paris we would never have found for ourselves in a million years and serve us really well.

Crossing the Seine at the Pipeline Bridge

We find we have to stop often on the route from Paris to Fontainebleau:  at points every few hundred metres. As he says it’s a complex and varied route, but we hold faith in the directions, take time to interpret them on the ground and they work well for us.

This is not to say we do not get lost a few times. The Forêt de (forest of) of Senart  proves to be too much for us and we are soon off route.  A coffee stop puts us right and we are soon back on track.   Ignoring instructions and heading south at all junctions seems the best approach.

Dropping Breadcrumbs Advised in the Forest!

We end up doing about 75 km in the course of the day to Fontainebleau and it takes us a very long time as endless stops to check the route slows progress.  Much of this will have been our fault and the result of not having a great map with us.  However, we arrive safe and sound after a great run from Paris, excited and with a great sense of satisfaction.

We had our Garmin Edge 800 with us and it plotted our route.  It makes interesting viewing, especially in 3D mapping mode.  The route is here in Map My Ride and the GPX file is available for download.  Please note this route contains a number of small ‘detours’ as we got ourselves lost from time to time. All were fairly small, measured in tens and hundreds of metres.

Navigation: using Via Michelin for cycle touring

I guess it should not come any any great surprise that this Michelin hosted site offers pretty good navigation features.  It is well worth a look as an alternative to cycle only sites and offers a number of attractive features.

Mapping Via Michelin Style

Firstly, the mapping is very clear and attractive and its possible to selectively add several layers of information and detail.  The maps give more detail as you zoom in and offer visual cues and keys.  Good use of colour give you a sense of the terrain, but if that is not enough, then you can add satellite or map/satellite hybrids.  As far as I can see, however, no elevation view is included.  However, you can ask to add different layers of detail showing locations of eating places, hotels, etc.

A second, very positive benefit for the cycle tourer is the option to specify that you want to follow cycle suitable routes when asking for directions.  Limited testing suggests that this does not throw up cycle only routes (such as greenways etc.) but it does keep you clear of major and cycle-unfriendly roads to a degree.  As you can specify locations you want to add along the route you can fine tune routes to a degree.  Better still you can ask for locations such as petrol stations or restaurants to be added and their location appears in the item by item written instructions.  As a luxury, it will add general weather information if you ask. Once you specify a destination, its possible to search for hotels in that destination from the same page. There is a suspicion than not all hotels are shown, however, but at least this provides a decent starting point.

All this is pretty neat and convenient with an a stable site that it is pretty straightforward to navigate.  Better still its possible to export and download the route instructions as a GPX file and for different types of GPS device.

The site works well on a desktop computer or on the Apple iPad, so it seems to have something to offer  the cycle tourer at home and on the road.  Anyone got any more experience with it – for good or bad?

Check out the Via Michelin site.

Garmin Edge 800 Navigation Tip

While I have had great success navigating with the Garmin Edge 800 using per-plotted routes created with Map My Ride, I have found navigating on the ground with the device a great frustration.  On previous rides I have struggled to get a sense of where I wanted to go from the small screen.

On a recent ride in Portugal, this technique came to me and I have found it very useful.  I zoom out till I can see a number of place names, then choose one in the direction I want to go.  I then go to Where to? And Cities in the sub menu and pick out the place name I want, generally 6 or so K away.  Routing to this spot with no tolls, trunks etc. generally produces a quiet ride.  On arrival I repeat the steps moving in the general direction sought for my final destination.

This has worked well for me and has taken me on some interesting back roads to some very small hamlets here in Portugal.  Certainly beats the local paper maps that are usually very inaccurate in my experience.