How Important is Navigation?

When you follow a set route, providing the signposts are there, you can get from A to B on a bike very well including in most countries that don’t speak the same language as you. If you grew up in Australia though, or the US or many other countries, the signposts are associated with roads frequented by through traffic. These will often be the best roads to take. Less chance of getting lost, often more places you can stop and get refreshments. Often the best inclines and bridges.

Sometimes there are other routes that are nicer to cycle along, depending on what you like. Maybe the only reason you are not on them is that you don’t have the time to explore dead end roads so you’d only be there, off the main road, if you knew where to go. How do you find your way where the signposts are “spotty”, and where the signs don’t mention your destination because they are just to places nearby?

Paper maps will need to be very high resolution so for just one day you could need two maps. It is a bit unmanageable to do that. So signposted bike routes that do get you off the highway are great when you can get them. Europe is blessed with its long distance network plus several areas where there are networks such as most if not all river valleys.

Paper maps are what just about everyone on the road uses. The point is that they are necessarily, mostly on a scale that could not include many roads and paths that are actually there. Roads and paths that are often sealed, often no further, and almost always very nice. The only problem is you need a route along them as signposts are not there.

However a route is not enough if you can’t plot your location, on that route, at any point in time. Of course, on the paper map you generally could not pinpoint your actual location but you were just waiting for the next signpost and it did not matter precisely where you were.

But on a route on back roads the next turn might be an unsealed track across a forest without a sign

It might be a gorgeous track. It might even be a shortcut. But you’d miss it or take the wrong one if you didn’t have a GPS chip in a device that was accessible as you cycled along.

A route on unmarked back roads and a GPS chip may sound like the stuff of nerds stuck in their bedrooms but it is actually these days readily available to you on a bike tour.

You may have the above reasons for getting set up but when you are on the road with it you get additional benefits. For example, you might not even bother to buy paper maps. So you don’t pay for them or carry them. The map on your device will have the street directory of every town and city you are in. Your location is overlaid onto that by the GPS. A compass on your wrist orients the physical streets around you with the screen map. Although you have just arrived you have got it crystal clear. You can also see options to the route if there are other roads and paths. You can see some things about the land.

The best thing however is being given the security and confidence to take better routes that you probably could not have worked out.

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