Cycling has come a heck of a long way in the last twenty years. If you were to ask a cyclist from the 80s that you can buy equipment that tells you where you are, where you?ve been and where your going, they would?ve thought you were pulling their leg.

Combine that with the fact that that equipment can also record your heart rate, the speed you are travelling, what time you will be arriving at your destination and can even help shape your training plans, they would ask you what sort of hallucinogenic drug have you?ve been using.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are the new ?in thing? sweeping the cycling nation. We see them more and more often in cars and they are now becoming more popular with road cyclists, and is seen now as an almost necessity for any sportive rider.

Although they seem rather complex, they are actually quite straightforward and easy to use, some of which only require attaching to your bike and you’re ready to ride. To put is simply, a GPS satellite navigation system is made up of a network of 24 satellites that were placed into orbit by the US Department of Defence.

These satellites are specifically positioned so that a GPS receiver anywhere in the World can receive a signal from at least four of them at any time. These satellites constantly send radio signals to the Earth and can pass through most objects, however the signal will become weak when passing through objects that contain a lot of metal or water.

The receiver that you have collects and processes the sent signals available and is able to determine your location, speed etc. ? Remember, your receiver does not send any information back to the satellites.

But why do we need this extra technology? Well, getting lost can be a pain, many people are put off riding in new areas and stick to their usual routes, especially now with the winter months drawing in. No one wants to be stuck in the rain not knowing where they are.

However, with GPS receivers, getting lost is a thing of the past. They have become so accurate in their reading, that your location can be pinpointed to a matter of metres. Many have in built locations such as main ?A? roads and petrol stations. You can even type in a postcode and it will give you the exact location and distance to where you need to be going.

If you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, you can scroll around the map and flag a specific location. The GPS will recalculate itself, giving you the route, distance and time it will take to get there. What more, it will not only give you the route, but choose quiet, safe, cycling specific roads instead of sending you down the motorway.

Riders are in a position now where they can choose their own route or area to ride. www.memory-map.co.uk has maps from all over the UK and the rest of the World. From road trips to marine trips, it?s all there for you. Memory map allows you to look up a map on the Internet and co ordinate your own personal circuit (free hand) and copy it onto your computer or straight onto your GPS.

Garmin have also created downloadable software, which enables you to store all the routes you have ridden. The Garmin Training Centre let?s you upload your own favourite routes on to the webpage so that others can see and try them out for themselves. You can also view other people?s favourite routes becoming apart of an almost cycling community. This is becoming extremely popular and we are now seeing event organisers uploading their own routes on these websites for anyone to download.

The Dragon Ride is just one of the routes that you can download onto your GPS. Event Organiser Lou Lusardi states that he is always being asked about his route. Whether it be the length of certain routes, severity of the climbs or even predicted weather conditions. ?If we didn?t put the route up we would be overloaded with complaints. Sportive riders in particular want to know as much information as possible. Anything to make their ride easier and stress free as possible.? Lusardi explained that if he didn?t put the route up, not only would complaints rise, but could put people off from attending.

gps cyclingA helping hand

Feedback is the most important aspect when training. The Majority of Garmin GPS?s store virtually every training session you do and are able to analyze it at a later date, enabling you to set training goals and targets based on your past performances. You are even now in a position where you can link your GPS to a computer and review your data with interactive graphs that chart your pace, time, distance and heart rate. You can store your previous rides in the memory bank or alternatively copy them over to your computer. In essence, you can review a whole years work from your computer screen, and see how you have improved in what places at what times.

You can even train with a friend – A ?Virtual Partner? function is available, which competes with you automatically during quick workouts and courses, the readout informs you how fast you are travelling in relation to your ?partner? and encourages and motivates you to keep your pace throughout the session. Alternatively, if you have a favoured route, you can race against a pre recording of yourself, giving you a real indication of how you are improving.

However, there are some drawbacks to the units. The biggest problem or shall we say smallest, is the size of the screen. Although they have made them as big as they can, it is still too small and is a problem that I don?t think can ever be resolved. It is extremely hard to make out some of the routes, and although it does beep when you need to make a change of direction, the screen itself only covers a small area. To look further on in the route would require you to stop and zoom out which can be terribly frustrating.

Mountain Bike Rider magazine writer Jamie Darlow isn?t a huge fan of GPS systems at all and believes they are a solution to a problem that doesn?t need fixing.

?I do know I find a greater appreciation of the routes I ride without a GPS. You feel a real connection with the forests and moorland you?re riding through, instead of just staring at a screen.?

There?s no doubt that there are ups and downs to GPS?s. Some people hate them; some can?t live (ride) without them. However, before we jump to conclusions, what we must remember is that these GPS?s are the first of their time.

They aren?t going to be the finished product. Let us think back to when mobile phones first hit the scene. Everyone was a bit sceptical about them. You needed biceps the size of Popeye to lift the phone to your ear. But through the weeks, month and years technology developed to such a point where now mobile phones are a household item and are no bigger than a credit card with multiple features and gadgets.

Some of the GPS?s we see today are a bit chunky, but with big name manufacturers like Nokia entering the market will no doubt step up the competition and push the development forward.

Who knows how GPS?s will develop in the next ten years and what new contraptions will surface.

TOP TIP

For a more accurate reading that travels from GPS satellites to your receiver, make sure you turn it on in an area where there are little obstructions between you and the sky. Stand still for a minute allowing your GPS to get a good signal from the satellites.

DID YOU KNOW?

* It takes between 65 and 85 milliseconds for a signal to travel from a GPS satellite to a receiver on the surface of the Earth.

* It was the year 1983 that the GPS ceased being primarily a military system and was made available for public use.

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