Finding Bike Routes via Google Maps

While scanning search results on my blog-site, I noticed that people are looking for bike routes in our area. It’s rather easy to do this with Google Maps, but I figure that not everyone is aware of this. So, here I am writing a short post on how to find bike routes via Google Maps. This will work no matter where you live. The larger the city or metropolitan area your in, the greater chance that someone has mapped out routes on Google.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Head on over to maps.google.com and search the area you are interested in. On the right side click on the expand arrow below the Traffic box. Next select the Bicycling option and any bike lanes or bike friendly routes will be displayed. The legend says the solid dark green lines are trails, a solid light green line indicates dedicated lanes (marked bicycle lanes) and the green dotted lines are bike friendly roads. See figure one.

How do the routes get marked? Volunteers such as I, submit the bike routes for review and someone else confirms them and shortly thereafter they appear on the maps. I believe they call this crowd sourcing. I did much of the routes for the Mission, McAllen and Edinburg areas. There are still many more routes to map out and I can get ideas from Strava and incorporate those routes into Google maps. Other routes are neighborhood favorites that I find impossible to capture it all. I basically did major routes to get you to and from each city in the Mission, McAllen and Edinburg areas. It takes time and patience to add routes, so be patient while I find the time to add more.

That’s pretty much it. Give it a try and drop me a comment.

First Impressions: iBike Newton

iBike Newton

iBike Newton Power Meter

I am a big fan of Velocomp’s line of power meters designed around the iPhone. I’ve used the iDash + Power for over a year now and really like cycling with it, but it does have a few issues. Mainly, it’s hard to read the iPhone when the sun at mid-day. The screen just gets washed out completely. Recently, I’ve been thinking of upgrading to the iBike Newton. A stand-alone version of the power meter, no iPhone required. After ordering on Amazon and paying the $3.95 express delivery, I now have it on my bike and have already made several rides with it. This is my first impressions of the Newton power meter from Velocomp.

I am assuming you know what a power meter is and how it can help your cycling and fitness level, so I’ll skip that part of the discussion. Here is a link to an article on power meters. Take a look there to brush up on things.

The unit that I purchased is white, but also comes in black. Along with the power meter, it also comes with the speed and cadence ANT+ sensors, handlebar mount, USB cable, Isaac software (you have to download it to your PC or Mac) and a quick guide. The full manual for the both the Newton and Isaac software is available from the Help section of the Isaac software. The sensors that come with the Newton are already paired with the unit. All you have to do is install it and start riding. Since I have the iDash+Power unit, I already have the sensors and mount. So I skipped that part and mounted and paired up my existing hardware. The Newton is compatible with any ANT+ Speed/Cadence and heart-rate sensors.

Calibration

The first thing you need to do is do a calibration ride. According to the manual, all you have to do is start riding and when the unit tells you to, you turn around and ride back to the starting point. Basically an out and back ride. Turns out that my out ride is 1 mile. You can ride out further if you are not able to turn around when it tells you. You are also allowed to stop if you need to (stop signs, red lights, etc.). When you return to the starting point you are done! You can now proceed to ride. There is no wind and tilt calibration to do prior to the calibration ride.

Sounds like an easy pain-free to calibrate the unit, the thing is you need to have version 4 or higher of the firmware for the unit. Mine came shipped with version 3.x. I didn’t notice that until I started my cal ride and right off the bat it was wanting to do a Tilt Calibration. Back into the office to hook it up to the Isaac software and download the latest firmware. Once done, I went back outside and started the calibration ride. Perfect! Just like the manual says.

Isaac and Features

Earlier I mentioned the Isaac software, what is it? The Isaac software is the tool you use to analyze your rides, perform firmware updates, fine tune your profile on the Newton, upload an Interval workout and share your rides. The software was developed on a cross-platform system that enables it to work on both Windows and Mac with the same look and feel to it. It is a free download from Velocomp’s website and you will also need to download and install the USB drivers. It does have a vintage Windows 98 look and feel but other than that, it works well.

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iDash on left, Newton on right

The Newton itself is self enclosed, water tight, lite weight unit. It is smaller than the iDash unit and probably about the same size of a Garmin unit. There is a five button interface, up/down, left/right with a center button. Each of the cardinal buttons are clearly labeled with the center used as an enter or on/off button. There is no Start/Stop ride button. You just wake it up and start riding. It will auto pause if you stop and auto start when you get going again. When you are done riding plug the unit into the USB cable and use Isaac to download the ride for analysis. You have a four-hour window to start riding again and add to the trip. After four hours the trip is reset to zero. You can also reset it manually if you like.

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Size difference between the iDash and Newton

So far using the Newton has been very satisfying, I now have a quiet unit, can easily read the display during mid-day and have excellent battery life. Being able to read the unit during the sunniest times of the day is a big plus for me. With my iphone unit, the screen would wash out and would unreadable. Not much I could do about it other than to keep on riding.

Here is a top-of-my-head list of features for the Newton:

  • Long battery life
  • Small in size
  • Easy to calibrate
  • Large easy to read display
  • Accurate power readings
  • Interval training
  • Firmware upgradeable for additional features
    • Powerstroke
    • Indoor trainer
    • Pairing Newton to other devices
  • Profiles for different bikes
  • Fitness testing
  • Measures
    • Time
    • Distance
    • Speed
    • Cadence
    • Power
    • Windspeed
    • Altitude
    • Temperature

For a complete list and further details, check out Velocomp’s page on the Newton.

The Downside

There are some aspects of the Newton that I would label it as a downer. First, it’s not a GPS unit. You ride file has no GPS data, so out right off the bat you can’t export your ride to Strava, dailymile or any of your favorite training sites. With Isaac, you can post to Facebook a summary of your ride in various formats or email the ride to a coach if you have one. I understand that Training Peaks can accept the file in csv format, in which the Isaac software can export to.

There is work a round for the lack of GPS data and that’s where Isaac comes into play. You will need a second device such as iPhone with Cyclemeter (or another cycling app) to capture the GPS data. Once captured, use Isaac to merge the data file from Newton and iPhone app into a new file that has both power and GPS data. With that file, you can then export to your favorite site for all to see.

The other option is to buy the GT firmware update that allows the Newton to send the power readings live via ANT+ protocols. What does this mean? It allows devices such as a Garmin or any iPhone app (along with the ANT+ dongle) that supports power, to pair up with the Newton and get the power readings from it. It would be from that device that you would share the ride to your favorite site and not from Isaac. I’ve done this with the Strava app and it worked fine.

Another disadvantage is that there is no back light. If you train or ride at night then you will be hard pressed to read the screen. I got a few ideas to work around this, but haven’t tried anything yet.

One last thought, there is no Bluetooth connections. Many cycling sensor gear now support Bluetooth 4.0 such as heart rate monitors, speed and cadence sensors and other power meters. Although not necessary to support Bluetooth, it does proved more options to the cyclist and their current gear.

These disadvantages could very well be future enhancements. I have and others have mentioned it in their support forums.

Overall, I really like the Newton. It’s easy to calibrate, it’s accurate, easy to use, water proof, easy to read screen in sunny conditions, ability to run interval training, its long battery life and great technical support all make a compelling reason to purchase one. You can use it either outdoors or with an indoor trainer (with a firmware upgrade) making it a flexible unit. The Isaac software does a great job in helping you analyze your ride and post results with friends or a coach. The lack of a back-light, no GPS and no Bluetooth are what’s missing. No back-light is really my biggest gripe about it. Judge for yourself if you can do without those features or not.

If you have the Newton or thinking of getting it let me know. Drop me a comment and share your experience with it or questions you may have about the unit.

Update: 09/18/2013

I posted another look at the Newton which can be found here. Give it a look. I think the two combined gives a better picture of the great little power meter, the iBike Newton.

Weight Loss – Getting Past the Plateau

Last month I wrote on how I was stuck on a plateau, not gaining weight but not losing it either. I was totally frustrated with the situation. I want to reach my goal of 200 lbs this year, not in 2014. I’ll be happy at 210 though. Since last month, I am happy to say that I did bust through that plateau and is resuming course to a healthier, lighter, faster me.

How did I get past the plateau that plagues many dieters? Was it starvation? Or one of those fad diets such as the grapefruit diet? How about some pills or drink a funky green all natural drink? Nope. Non of those ever crossed my mind. My “trick”, the humble food journal. It was amazing how fast it jump started my weight loss! In one week I started shedding pounds. In a little over a month, I dropped 11-12 pounds and I’m still going strong. Here is a good article from WebMD that gives some in-site about why a journal works.

Me being a gizmo type of guy, I wasn’t satisfied with a paper journal. I use an app for my iPhone that also has a web page you can use on your PC. Take a look at MyFitnessPal and see if this will work for you. What I really like about it is the huge database of foods. Either type it in or scan the food item’s bar-code and it pulls up the information. Set weight goals and I will figure out how many calories you can consume daily. Keeps track of food, nutrients, weight and calories burned during exercise.

On thing about entering calories burned during exercise is to enter accurate data. Many gizmo’s that suppose to track calories spent are grossly inaccurate. Did you really burn up 1000 calories running two miles? I seriously doubt it. Enter realistic data to avoid getting a false sense of calories available to consume.

I don’t weigh myself every day, just on Friday and Monday morning. I choose Mondays, to see how the weekend went and the start of the week and Fridays, to see how the week went and where I stand for the weekend. Simple and it works for me.

Well, that’s how I got past my weight loss plateau. I encourage others to use a food journal. It can be a simple paper journal or an electronic one like the one I mentioned. It helps you decide which foods you have been eating to avoid and which ones you can continue with. For those on sodium restrictions MyFitnessPal also shows that along with complete nutritional information along with a weekly summary.

Let’s hear from you dieters, what type of food journal do you use? What type of success have you had with or without them?