So at a time when the whole hipster stripped-down fixed-gear bike phenomenon has just passed its inevitable pop cultural zenith, this post will come across as impossibly nerdy. Yesterday I finally got around to strapping my small handheld GPS unit to the handlebars of my road bike and I can say that this particular combination of 19th century technology and 20th century electronics rocks.
The only sane way to get around Los Angeles and most large American cities on a bike is to find alternate routes: quiet side streets well away from the major arterials. Over the past few years I’ve gotten pretty good at studying a map to find bike friendly streets. I go well out of my way to avoid six lane boulevards, not so much because I think they are more dangerous, but simply because I don’t like getting into altercations with motorists. I’ll zig and zag, hopping from one residential street to another. The problem has been having to print out maps and pull them out of a pocket every few blocks, since I tend to easily forget directions.
My GPS unit (an earlier version of this Garmin handheld with a handlebar mount) and the accompanying software nicely solves this problem. I can use the mapping software to draw a route and load it into the handheld. The GPS unit beeps before I approach a turn and points the way. I generally don’t like anything that distracts from the craziness of our roads, so I’ve never used a cyclometer. I’ve found that the GPS unit actually cuts down on distractions since I don’t have to swivel my head around to figure out where I’m going. I can just pay attention to the road and let those GPS satellites tell me when to make a turn. It’s kinda like the way the military guides in “smart” bombs, except instead of an explosion you get me, a middle-aged eco-blogging dork on a bike.
The next step will be to try the even more incongruous combination of a camel and a GPS, though I’m sure that this high-tech/low-tech combo is being done quite effectively elsewhere in the world. But here in LA, a surly camel might come in handy the next time someone yells, “get off the road!”