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Posts Tagged ‘Cycling’

Stacy and I have been getting a lot of miles in on our road bikes this summer. One thing that motivates both of us is having an event down the road for which we know we need to prepare. We have a couple of rides were planning on doing this summer. The first is the Team MSFits Ice Cream Ride on June 15. We’re planning on doing their metric century ride (100 Km, 62.1 mi). They offer a shorter, 30 mile route (just in case it’s a scorcher that day and we don’t want to do the long route). That ride ends with ice cream to look forward to at the end, and it benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

We’re also planning on riding in the Velo4Yellow ride on July 20. We’ll also do their metric century route, though they also offer 30 and 100 mile routes. We did Velo4Yellow last year and it was a great ride with lots of support and rest stops. That ride ends with free beer to look forward to at the end of the ride, and it benefits the Livestrong Foundation.

We’re keeping our eye out for other rides too, particularly in the fall once it cools a bit. We did the New Bern Bike MS two years ago. However they raised the entry/fundraising fee to $300 each, which was just too difficult for Stacy and I to raise and/or pay ourselves, especially since we can’t get sponsored by our employers, she’s in social work, and I’m a grad student (we’re poor). That was a fun ride though. We’d like to do a century ride (100 miles) this year, preferably somewhere in the Coastal Plain where it’s flat.

Stacy had a bit of a crash on her bike last Sunday. Luckily it was just bruises, so it will heal soon enough. It was sort of the fault of both of us. I slowed up while approaching a greenway trail bridge that crosses the Neuse River. She swerved to avoid me, and crashed right into a post that prevents vehicles from driving on the trail and bridge. She did a somersault over the handlebars, but was able to ride home. Hopefully she heals quickly so she can both not hurt, and be able to keep training for our upcoming rides.

Anyway, that’s it for cycling talk now (my lunch break is over). For you cyclists out there, keep the rubber side down.

Cheer!

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We’ve had a pretty nice spring so far here in Raleigh. The temperatures were below average for a long time, but have now risen back to what would be expected for this time of year… and the pollen has followed suit.

Pollen collects in the storm drainage water after a spring rain storm

Pollen collects in the storm drainage water after a spring rain storm

Every spring the numerous loblolly pine trees in the area start to pollenate, and the above picture is the result. A dry day and a slight breeze results in a yellow haze that engulfs the city. In the picture above, several days-worth of pollen were washed away in an overnight rain storm. I washed my car that night, and it was covered in pollen withing only a few hours. It gets pretty gross.

Despite the pollen, we’ve been spending as much time as we can on our bikes trying to get back into “cycling shape”. The Neuse River Trail near our house was under construction for most of 2012. Now we can enjoy it. The trail comes to an end eventually (picture below), but we can ride over 20 miles on an “out-and-back” ride from our driveway on the trail. This is great for us as we get our cycling legs back, since the trail follows the river and is mostly flat and traffic free. Once we’re back in shape we’ll be attacking the hills of the rural, eastern Wake County roads as soon as we can.

Stacy Cycling to the end of the Neuse River Trail

Stacy Cycling to the end of the Neuse River Trail

We’ll probably sign up for some charity rides this summer. We’ll have to look into what rides (and causes) are offered in the area, and we’ll plan and train accordingly.

Colby Cycling on the Neuse River Trail

Colby Cycling on the Neuse River Trail

In other springtime-related news, last weekend we went on a camping trip with the Soil and Water Conservation Society at NCSU, a club that I’ve been very involved with over the last four years. We went camping one night, then got some fishing in the next day. I caught a crappie and a white bass. Frank, my friend that was fishing with me, caught a small, small mouth bass. We also saw a hawk catch a fish right out of the water, several bald eagles, and a small cotton mouth snake while we were fishing. Here’s a picture of the group that camped overnight:

The 2013 SWCS at NCSU camping trip campers (Stacy was there, but was behind the camera).

As you can tell, we had our pooches there, and another student had his great big German Sheppard there too.

It was nice to get some camping in again. The dogs loved it too, although they thought it got a little cold at night.

That’s our news for now. Thanks for stopping by.

 

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Update (4-6-2014): This review is now over 12 months old, and as such, is outdated in respect to some of the features and apps that have been incorporated into these three sites. I don’t plan on doing a follow-up post to this one. However, I have now fully adopted RideWithGPS as my website/app of choice. I’m even a premium subscriber and a Beta tester for their Android app. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is. If you still want to read on to compare the three services, please do so, but just note that some new features may not have been available when this was first written.

As many of our regular readers know, Stacy and I are avid cyclists. We ride for the joy of cycling, for the workout, and for the charity rides. Neither of us race much (or at all) but we like to see some data about each ride.

I’ve used MapMyRide for a long time for finding new routes, doing some route recon, and just getting a nice summary of my bike ride data – average speed, duration, etc. It is a pretty easy-to-use program, but it is really laden with advertisements. Also, there have been some competitors that have started to give MapMyRide a challenge, namely Strava and Ride With GPS. I’ve tried them all out, and thought I would share my thoughts here in case anyone else is trying to decide between them (I looked, but didn’t see many good reviews so I thought I’d write one). First, some considerations about what I’m looking for:

  • I’m not a racer
  • I prefer using a handheld GPS for logging data to save my smart phone battery
  • A smart phone app would be nice as a backup to my GPS, but not essential
  • Social network integration is good
  • I use an Android phone (Casio C771)
  • I use a Garmin Etrex Vista HCx GPSr
  • I spend most of my riding time on the road (currently)
  • I like lots of data with big, beautiful maps
  • I’m trying to lose weight
  • I use My Fitness Pal for tracking calories
  • A calorie calculator (for estimating how many calories burned on a ride is a plus)

Now that you somewhat know what I’m looking for, here are my thoughts:

MapMyRide

This is the website that I’m most familiar with. It’s been around a while, and has lots of users. The parent site, Map My Fitness has about a half dozen similarly named apps/websites like MapMyRun, MapMyDogWalk, etc. MapMyRide is great for route recon, and likely has the best social network integration (with Facebook at least). It also has live tracking so you can share your location with other users in real time. The app is great, but sucks battery quick. It has lots of options for syncing workout data including a special Garmin button. However I found that their Garmin feature did not work automatically with my Garmin Etrex Vista HCx. Although it did let me go in and manually select my GPX file from my Garmin while it was synced up with the computer, like selecting a file from a flash drive or something. (Edit, I found out that’s because Garmin Sync only works on IE and Firefox, not Chrome.) It doesn’t really have the competitive features that Strava has, but that’s not a deal breaker. It does have a ton of ads though, and constantly tries to get you to either stare at an ad, or buy a premium membership. It appears that a lot of data features are unlocked behind the pay wall. The premium membership is the cheapest of the three, at $6/month, which seems reasonable.

Pros:

  • Great mapping abilities
  • Great social network integration
  • Has food tracking
  • Has calorie calculator for estimate calories burned, but seems to overestimate calories burned
  • Allows user to log many types of workouts
  • Has Twitter feed
  • Has Google+ page (listed under “Map My Fitness”)

Cons:

  • Way too many ads
  • Not much for competition with strangers (like Strava)
  • Calorie calculator seems like it overestimates actual calories burnt
  • Didn’t support my GPSr, but did allow manual uploads

Strava

Strava is a household name for people in the Fred world (the neon-laden roadie cycling types that wear sponsor kits, even though they’re not sponsored… y0u know the type). Most people like it for the competitive side. You enter your ride data, a GPX file typically, or track your route/data with their great phone app. (Edit: Garmin Sync did not work with my Vista Hcx on Chrome or Firefox, while the other two sites did work w/ Firefox.) Once your data is entered, it compares your data with other people for segments by ranking people based on time/speed over a particular climb, straight away, etc. I actually found that Stacy and my times are in the top 1/3 of times for people in our area. Surprising, considering a I’m built like a lineman, not a cyclist. There isn’t much of a mapping element to Strava so it’s pretty much worthless for route recon. It really only allows you to search for segments so there’s no pre-mapped routes you can follow, which can be handy if you are riding in a new area and don’t know the dangerous roads.

Strava is not that great for social network integration, though it does allow users to post rides to Twitter and Facebook. It does have a lot of pro cyclist endorsements. It seems like it could also be useful for gauging personal fitness, and celebrating personal bests. Their premium accounts cost $59/year (or $6/month) and the features listed sound like it basically liberates more data for the user, and allows you to compare yourself against people who are similar in age, weight, and sex.

Pros:

  • Good for gauging personal fitness
  • Great for pseudo-competition with strangers
  • Not many ads
  • Has Twitter feed
  • Has a good app
  • Allows users to track workouts that aren’t rides and runs

Cons:

  • Useless for route recon
  • Not much for social network integration
  • Doesn’t have a Google+ page
  • All of the data is behind a pay wall
  • Privacy – the app doesn’t incorporate a home buffer, so if you ride from your front door, strangers know where you live to within a few meters.
  • Didn’t support my GPS unit, but allowed manual uploads

Ride With GPS

Ride with GPS is the stats guy’s cycling website. It puts so much data in front of you (even for the free version that I use) that you don’t really know what to do with it all. I find that very useful. I’d rather have too much data than too little. It’s mapping software seems to be on par with MapMyRide. It doesn’t have any ads, and is subtle about how it asks you to sign on with a premium account. It has Garmin integration, but I found that it didn’t work that with with my Garmin Etrex Vista HCx. It did allow me to manually load it, as with MapMyRide. (Edit, I found out that’s because Garmin Sync only works on IE and Firefox, not Chrome.) It doesn’t have an app. However, if you use an Android device, you can upload files from Google’s My Tracks app. Since I prefer to use an actual GPSr instead of my smartphone, this wasn’t really a big deal. By the way, the My Tracks import option didn’t really seem to work that well when I tried it. A reader (comment below) added that Ride With GPS has the advantage of allowing people to host maps as pictures on their site so you can upload them to blogs like this one. That may be useful for some.

Ride With GPS offers two levels of premium accounts, $59/year ($6/month), or $80/year ($10/month). Premium accounts allow mostly increased benefits for navigation and GPS integration. It doesn’t add much for data since they give you so much for the free account. It also allows you to better analyze your rides as a whole through a tagging feature, so you could compare your weekend rides against each other, or rides on one specific bike, as examples. (Edit: RWGPS has been redesigned with a completely new look. Check it out, or read the edit at the bottom of this post.)

Pros:

  • Great mapping environment for route recon
  • It seems to be under active development, so improvements are common
  • Has tons and tons of data – even for the free version
  • Has lots of pre-mapped routes
  • Has Twitter Feed
  • Has Google+ page
  • Edit: Now has a cue-sheet feature for your phone’s internet browser

Cons:

  • No app (does allow imports from Google My Tracks for Android users)
  • Doesn’t have great social network integration – doesn’t have a “find friend via Facebook/Twitter/email/etc. feature
  • Doesn’t have competitive features that Strava does
  • Syncing with my GPSr didn’t work that well, but did allow manual upload

In summary, If social networks and mapping are your thing, or if you do a wide variety of workouts that you want to log, go with MapMyRide. If straight-up competition, personal bests, etc. are your thing, go with Strava. If you like mapping and data, go with Ride With GPS.

I’m going to give Ride With GPS and Strava the old college try. Ride With GPS seems like it fits my needs for cycling the best. However, MapMyRide allows me to log more workouts than cycling only (Ride With GPS) or cycling and running only (Strava). I play tennis, go on hikes, walk my dogs, and lift weights, and I would like to keep a record of my workouts. The ability to log those activities may give MapMyRide the upper hand. It would be nice if RideWithGPS would develop their own app someday, since the use of the Google My Tracks app is kind of clunky with their website. However, since I was looking primarily for a website that worked well with a normal GPSr, their site will do just fine for me.

If you have thoughts about any of these sites, leave a comment. I’m open to being convinced which site/app is the best.

Update (5/1/2013): I used all three services for several weeks, and have since come to the conclusion that Ride With GPS and Strava are the best of the three. I think Ride With GPS has the most upside, and I am considering subscribing to their premium services (maybe that can be a reward if I lose 30 lbs). I’ve also been surprised on how motivating it is to “compete” on Strava segments. At the moment, I have been updating both my Ride With GPS and Strava accounts. It only takes an extra minute to do both. I’ll keep an eye on these two sites as they develop. 

Update (5/21/2013): I took the plunge and signed up for the basic service ($6/month). I think this service has a lot to offer, and I wanted to help it develop. I have been really impressed with their “activity center” which allows me to more easily analyze my rides. I can also track maintenance on my bikes. I don’t think I’ll use the cue sheet feature of the basic service, but at least I know it’s there. If you enjoy the RWGPS free service, I’d recommend subscribing to their basic service. Strava has the best user interface, and a great app. I just wish it wasn’t limited to just competition. Adding a route planner and some other features for cyclists who aren’t looking to compete would go a long way towards improving their service. 

Update (8/15/2013): I’m still using both RWGPS and Strava. RWGPS just recently completely renovated their website. It’s a lot more aesthetically pleasing, and is a little easier to use. Also, since I’ve started using my GPS for cycling, I’ve been using OpenStreetMap (OSM) data for a basemap. It’s free, open-source data. OpenStreetMap is sort of like Wikipedia for geography, with several million users worldwide contributing geographic information to the map. I’ve started to contribute to it as well, adding all of the data for the greenway trail that runs by my house, as well as add the on-street bicycle routes for the Raleigh, NC area. I want it to be useful for cyclists, and somewhat selfishly, useful for myself when I ride. The reason I mention this is that RWGPS supports OSM maps. That may be something to consider, especially if you’re in an area where Google Maps data isn’t fleshed out, or even used, or if you just like to support open-source projects and free maps.  

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With Le Tour de France officially underway this weekend, it’s only fitting that I put up a cycling-related post today. Maximum temperature records are being broken up and down the east coast this weekend with a huge heat wave. It’s been around 105 degrees F for the last two days here in Raleigh, and it will likely reach those temperatures again today. Stacy and I usually get a ride or two in on the weekends. We didn’t want the heat to get in our way so we set out early yesterday and today around 6:30 AM.

Yesterday we went out on a greenway trail that goes through Raleigh. It was about a 27 mile round trip. The night before the heat caused a huge wind storm that swept through town around midnight. There were lots of broken branches. The greenway trail was covered with debris that made the trip a little more difficult than expected. We also had other obstacles that were construction related.

Summertime is for bike path construction work too!

The above picture is an excavator that was parked on the trail. A crew has been working on sewer lines for a while along that trail, and this must have been part of that project. My dad works with these machines on a daily basis with his work. He is also a cyclist so I had to post that pic on his Facebook page and complain about the “darn construction workers”. Parts of the trail were very quiet, and other parts were busy with cyclists, runners, and walkers trying to get their workouts in before the temperature rose.

Today we went out early again. There is a trail behind our community that goes along the Neuse River. It is in the process of being paved, but there is just enough pavement that we can walk down to the paved part, and follow it all of the way to a new pedestrian bridge that crosses the river, and ride on into the Wake County countryside.

When we first went onto the trail, the first sign of life we saw was a man (who I presume was homeless) “popping a squat” on the side of the trail. It was very awkward so we just rode on at a faster pace. That was a weird way to start a ride. We continued onto the country roads and found this gem of a homemade slip-n-slide.

Homemade Slip-n-slide along our cycling route this morning

It is a kids playhouse with which they added some tarps and plastic to the slide, and dug out a “channel” into their front yard to make for one huge slip-n-slide. That family definitely found a fun way to beat the heat. You can’t have fun like that when you live in an HOA neighborhood.

The rest of this morning’s ride went well. It was a shorter ride, about 22 miles. It was still a good ride nonetheless.

We’re training up for a couple charity rides we’re participating in this month. On July 14 we will be riding in the Velo4Yellow ride, which is a benefit ride put on by a local cycling club to benefit the Livestrong Foundation. They have 30, 60, and 100 mile options. It’s a hilly course in the countryside north of Raleigh, so we’re opting for the 60 mile route.

On July 28 we will be riding in the Cup-n-Cone Tour in the Cary, NC area. It is a 67 mile ride with lots of good food and good ice cream. That ride benefits the MS Society.

I think July is a good month for Cycling around the world, from North Carolina with rides like the ones I mentioned, to Iowa with RAGBRAI, to France with Le Tour.

We’ve been busy lately, but we’ve had several big events that need to be blogged about. Look for those later today as I stay indoors with the AC during this heat wave.

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Hello all. Stacy and I, and our friend Amanda Morris participated in a Bike MS ride in New Bern, North Carolina. It is an annual charity ride that benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and supports people living with MS in eastern NC. We had some previous post about this ride here, and here. Each of us had to raise $200 each to participate. Thanks to all of our family and friends who found it in their hearts and wallets to donate.

***All of the following pictures can be found here.***

We drove over to New Bern, NC on Friday night just in time to register, find a camping spot, and get some dinner before everything closed. We went to bed early since we knew we had a lot of work to do the next morning.

On Saturday we woke up around 6am, got our bikes ready, got changed, and got some breakfast. Then, at 8am they did the opening ceremonies, gave us a police record out of town, and we were one our way.

Saturday Morning Opening Ceremonies

The ride was interesting. We did 75 miles on both Saturday and Sunday. The area had just been hit directly by Hurricane Irene. New Bern was cleaned up pretty well, but the broken branches, downed trees, etc were very apparent. On parts of the route we had to be careful about debris on the road surface. There were rest stops about ever 15 miles that were fully stocked with food, drinks, water, and music. The rest stops were usually at churches or schools, and were sponsored by different groups, companies, and restaurants. The Saturday ride was very flat, but wasn’t as scenic as Sunday.

Here are some rest stop shots:

Rest Stop

Rest Stop

Here are our three bikes parked in front of a scenic, rural North Carolina neighborhood

Saturday Lunch Break

Saturday Lunch Break

We stopped and sat in the shade for some lunch

We stopped and sat in the shade for some lunch

Saturday Lunch Stop

Finish Line

As we rode to the finish line on Saturday they had a huge welcoming committee at the finished line that gave everyone a hearty welcome, cheer, applause, and thanks – a perfect way to end a long ride. They had two shower trailers waiting for us. I didn’t even have to wait for a shower which is a rarity among supported bike rides. We all got cleaned up and rehydrated, then went to the convention center for happy hour that was supported by the Carolina Brewing Company. I called it “carb loading”. As we were hanging out in the AC drinking some beers, I was getting text updates with scores to the Iowa at Iowa State football game from my brother, Matt – an Iowa State student who cheers for the Hawks (I know, I’ve tried to convert him to no avail). Suddenly the text messages stopped, so I called my dad who said ISU won in triple overtime (Matt apparently didn’t want to tell me the good news).

After we were cooled off from happy hour in the air conditioning, we walked to the historic downtown area to find an ice cream shop we heard about. It was called Cow Cafe. The place was a mom and pop ice cream place that made their own ice cream on site. They also had just about anything cow-related for sale in the place too, as well as a toy train that did circles around the ceiling that had a black and white spotted caboose. Their canopy on the front of the store was torn up from Hurricane Irene.

New Bern Convention Center

Cow Cafe

A local church put on a memorial for all of the fallen first responders of 9-11 (picture was taken on 9-10) in which they put up a small flag for each person, along with their photo and obituary.

9-11 Memorial at a Local Church

New Bern was the colonial capital of North Carolina. It’s a very old city, and and all of the old, coastal city that you’d expect. It’s also known as the “Bear City”. They have  bear in their city crest. They also have 50 decorated bears all over the city, painted to different themes. Here are a few that we walked by.

That evening they had a buffet dinner for all of the 2400 cyclists and 400 volunteers. After dinner there was an awards ceremony, but since our team consisted of only 3 people, we elected to walk the water front, and speak with some other cyclists. Later we hung out under the Bald Cypress tree (the species that I research in my graduate work) at our camp site, then went to bed early… we were pretty tired. Here are some pictures of the New Bern waterfront on the Neuse River (the river that flows through Raleigh).

New Bern is also the birthplace of Pepsi, hence the giant Pepsi can vending trailor:

Our campsite under the Bald Cypress tree

The next morning, on 9-11, we had a morning similar to Saturday, but at the morning ceremonies they had a short memorial for the tragedies of September 11, 2001. One of the local fireman played amazing grace and the national anthem on the bag pipes. There were some words spoken, a moment of silence, then the soldiers, officers, firemen, and other first responder  who were riding lead our group of cyclists out onto the route.

The Sunday route had more hills, but the reward of amazing views was worth it. On both days we averaged around 16 mph.

Sunday Morning Start

Amanda ready for another 75 miles

Stacy and Colby ready for another 75 miles

Sunday morning ceremonies

The "campground" in Union Point Park

We stopped for a scenic picture opportunity on the top of a bridge in Oriental, North Carolina – home to some of the world’s best sailing so I’m told.

Colby and Stacy in Oriental, NC; Pamilico Sound in the background

The lady in pink is Theresa. Her group would only do the 30 mile route and she wanted to do 75, so she drafted us all day.

A Marina in Oriental, NC

Colby, Stacy, and Amanda on Bike MS - New Bern

We had an amazing time on this ride. This was by far the best organized ride I’ve ever been on. Everything was planned to the smallest details. Most importantly it is for a great cause. We have one family member who has MS, and one friend from college. Hopefully rides like this will help us get closer to finding a cure. We plan on doing this ride again next year.

We also plan on participating in an upcoming, one-day ride that raises funds for a MS bike team that was at the New Bern ride. It’s called the “Making Room for Turkey Ride“. It’s a 50 mile ride in the Raleigh area. It will be hilly, but it’s not as long so we should have fun.

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Since selling the Ford Ranger in December we’ve needed a way to transport our bicycles. I saved up my money from my birthday in February and I sold the old receiver hitch rack I had on the Ranger via Craigslist.com. We put all of that money and our REI dividend towards a new Yakima roof rack for the Fusion. I’ve been eyeing a roof rack for a while because they are the most secure and safe way to transport bikes and they look kind of cool. In addition, they’re very versatile since I can add attachments to carry just about anything I want on my roof (up to 130 lbs – the Fusion’s roof capacity).

The roof rack was pretty easy to install. It did take a lot longer to put together than I had expected. I had to buy special clips to attach on to the towers (the black, vertical things that touch the roof) that are specially made for Fusions. Once it was all put together on the ground I had to place the rack on a very specific place on the roof. All in all, it took about 2 or 3 hours to put together. I expect that from now on it will only take about 15 minutes to put on or take off.

I also bought some special attachments for the rack. I bought locks for the rack which lock the towers so they can’t be taken off as well as locks that lock the bike holders to the rack. All have a matching key. The two bike attachments require the front tire to be removed so the bike can be secured via the quick releases. I also bought a fairing, the “ramp” that is on the front of the rack that says Yakima. This pushes the air over the rack and prevents annoying hums, whistles, and other annoying wind sounds.

For those shopping for a rack, there are really only two companies worth looking at – Yakima and Thule. Both are very similar in quality and in price. The difference is that Yakima is American made. My last rack (the receiver hitch rack for my truck) was very trustworthy and I thought I would keep it “in the family country” so I went with Yakima. Also, the rack came with lots of stick-on protectants that keep my car’s paint job nice – one thing I was pretty concerned about.

In the pictures you might notice that the car is wet. Well, in North Carolina we’re blessed with warm Aprils, but cursed with ungodly amounts of pollen. Everything has a yellow tint to it. I had to hose off the cars and our front porch, mostly from the tree next to our driveway. This morning Stacy even had to wash her windows off on her car because she couldn’t see through them. It’s kind of like the dust bowl – pollen style down here.

Lastly, for those Wolfpack fans out there, the NC State baseball team is kicking butt. They’ve beat three ranked teams now, taking two games out of three against #1 ranked Virginia this weekend (I was at the park for both). They pulled both games out with style too with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 11th inning on Friday, and a 7th inning grand slam for the lead and the game on Sunday. I’ll be traveling to Chapel Hill this coming weekend to see them play the bandwagon team of the state – the UNC Tarheels. UNC is kind of like the UofI of North Carolina – lots of fans statewide but only a few that actually went to school there.

Go Pack, and thanks for stopping by!

-Colby-

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