Hansel and Gretel Navigation versus Cycling Tech

Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb style navigation

In a world of facts, figures and detailed data, do we need to grasp technology

by Jody Hamilton, Ride Czech

I hear it all the time from people: ‘how far?’; ‘how much climbing?’; ‘what average speed?’. The truth is, from a personal point of view, all I’m really interested in, is getting out there into the mountains and challenging myself on some techy climbs and descents; the sheer adventure of finding traction where others can’t, or scouting out ‘more interesting’ lines to make a janky trail flow. Of course I’m talking more about enduro style MTB rides, where navigation plays less of a role. However, once distances increase or rides become A to B, as opposed to your classic ‘local loop’, then navigation and the modern day ‘need’ not to get lost is at the forefront of people’s minds.

Gravel style routes, of which I find myself riding more and more, are a great example of this, as people seem to want adventure – but not at any cost.

The appliance of science

A few months back, I decided to purchase a Garmin Instinct 2 sports watch, in order to track rides. This I flung myself into with great abandon, setting up the ‘dreaded’ Strava account along the way. I know, AI has hit me, but I promise not to buy an Apple Watch just to read emails in the go! The Garmin suits me just fine, and navigation into the mountains is after all, a way to avoid emails, isn’t it!

After a couple of months of just tracking my rides, I finally worked out how to upload a GPX file and use said sports watch to NAVIGATE! (Yes, I know, I’m so behind the times!) This is where the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ reference in the title rears its head. If I do find a gingerbread cottage and I’m not seen again, then just read the book for clues.

Living where I do in the Czech Republic, 95% of the time I ride ‘from the door’. It’s always the best way to ride, and gives you a reason to live in beautiful places. On this particular occasion, the plan was to ride across into Slovakia and back round into Czech, stopping for the night at a friends house. A gravel ride that, according to my GPX file, was roughly 75 km and 1500m of vertical. The first 20km of the ride was of course local stomping ground, and thereafter it was all new territory where I was forced to start taking notice of the beeps coming from my navigation. Apart from the audible signals, other data I’m given is a countdown to upcoming changes in direction, a direction arrow and a rather vague ‘breadcrumb’ trail. On one hand, I was glad to have a rough idea of where to go, keeping the flow during rides is a really important factor to one’s overall enjoyment. On the other hand, grinding to a halt at junctions to check your position on your offline maps really does become tiresome.

Ride with a sense of adventure

The last bit of navigation data that my watch provided me with was the ‘off course’ message. It will tell you, in metres or kilometres, how far ‘off course’ you are, and in which direction you need to turn for all to be well again. This happened a good number of times during my ‘planned’ route.

The first couple of times I duly pulled out my phone to help me get back on course. With this in mind, and not being in a massive rush to reach my destination, I decided to get lost then re-find myself using this basic breadcrumb navigation. This got me thinking about the world we live in and how data rules our lives. I’m not shunning technology, as I use it every day in one form or another. But sometimes it’s good to take a few wrong turns, the path less pedalled and get ‘off course’. You never know what is waiting for you up that climb, across in the next valley or down that section of singletrack. This particular ‘off course’ excursion, guaranteed me an extra 15 km and 350m vertical. Only a positive thing in my world!

Riding regularly in the mountains is refreshing, and it’s something that I know is kind of special. Getting lost on a ride is also a great thing to do, as we discover new aspects of our surroundings – and, I’d def recommend it to you once in a while! Whilst accepting that tech as a place, so too does that sense of adventure that took us to the mountains in the first place.