By Max Glaskin
A new kind of route planner for cyclists promises to save your legs. It will work out how to get from A to B for the smallest effort.
It's not been done before. Google Maps can plot the most direct route and CycleStreets has an option that shows how best to avoid traffic.
But the latest software, still in development, aims to calculate which roads will deliver you to your destination as fresh as possible.
It's a dream for the lazy cyclist and is designed to help cycle tourers who are not concerned with speed.
It can generate a complete itinerary for a two week tour even include diversions to places of interest.
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Road cyclists could also benefit when it eventually comes online. Nobody wants to waste energy before a road race or time trial so a quick check would reveal how to arrive at the start, warmed up but with maximum power still available.
Even audax and endurance riders could tap into it, says Josh Ibbett. He won this year's Trans-Continental race, choosing his own route between checkpoints from Flanders to Istanbul and finished the 4000 km in 9 days, 23 hours and 54 minutes.
"If you're low on food, a long way from shops or cafés to buy more or running out of cash, it could be really useful to find a route that helps you conserve your limited resources," says Ibbett, brand manager at Hunt Wheels.
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The routeplanner's inventors, from the University of Arizona, reckon they've cracked a hard problem.
In flat areas, the shortest route demands the least energy. But in hilly areas, with many changes of gradient and twisting roads, it's difficult to predict the least strenuous route.
Would it be better to add a few miles by skirting around a big hill or to sweat to the top and freewheel down the other side?
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The routeplanner breaks down every road into segments and scores their difficulty, like a very subtle and detailed version of the technique used to categorise the climbs of the Grand Tours.
Crucially, it also recognises that descents cost zero in terms of a cyclist's energy.
By adding together all the scores for every section of a route, it can estimate which is the easiest path between the start and the destination.
Novice cyclists, people returning to cycling or those with known heart conditions could specify their maximum energy outputs and find a route that suits them.
It's not quite foolproof because there are factors which affect a cyclist's effort that it can't take into account - wind speed and temperature change with the weather.
The inventors are specialists in data management and have patented their software. Now they are looking for a commercial deal so it can be perfected and made available to all cyclists.
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