Dark mapping app for overnight cycling
August 4, 2012 4:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm going on an overnight bike ride tonight, and I think I'm fine with all my supplies except for routing. I've got a handlebar mount for my phone, but I need a mapping app which I can use overnight which won't affect my night vision, and will save energy. Is there an Android app which I can import a .GPX file into and which can follow my progress and make sure I don't miss any turns on a minimal grey on black street map? I'm in the UK and all the route will be on Open Street Map.
posted by ambrosen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I use a backlit Garmin Edge 800 GPS unit for night riding (when I do it, which isn't too often). In my experience, using my smartphone for navigation while cycling drains the battery too quickly to work all night. You might check out a local electronics shop for an external USB battery pack (like this one), so that when your phone runs low on its battery you can charge it up (or even better, run it off the external battery from the start, so when it starts raining you can unplug it and eliminate the risk of a short.

(I know this isn't exactly an answer to your question, but if you're planning to use your phone for navigating, backup power is essential.)
posted by brianogilvie at 5:52 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

<retrogrouch> if you're planning to use your phone for navigating, having a paper printout of your cues and a helmet light is essential. </retrogrouch>
posted by bl1nk at 7:18 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

WOuldn't it be simpler to just use a standard navigation app and adjust the brightness/contrast settings for your phone's display?
posted by Kololo at 9:17 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seems the closest match is cyclestreets, but that doesn't appear to allow gpx imports.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:38 AM on August 4, 2012

Get a red filter-- a cheap plastic thing you can tape on with masking tape (which, applied temporarily, won't goo your smartphone). Bring several of these filters, which you can probably find in some kind of A4 size and cut to fit. Mask any blinking LEDs on your phone that will be beacon-bright in a dark night-- I know people who can't sleep with their phones in the same room for this reason. (electrical tape, while on the gooier end of tapes, is light-opaque and dirt-cheap.

Have a great ride!
posted by Sunburnt at 10:31 AM on August 4, 2012

In the dark, your battery will last many hours longer if you use automatic brightness adjustment. If your ride is <5hours, you should be able to use only the internal battery if you forego wifi, BT and 3G and use offline maps. I use MyTrails to display .gpx tracks on top of a map. You can choose out of at least 30 tile providers (even Ordnance Survey if you pay for the subscription), but none of those is optimized for night-riding (black background).
posted by Akeem at 4:15 PM on August 5, 2012

So did you find an app? And how was the ride? I might try it next year if I'm back in the UK.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:10 AM on August 7, 2012

Thanks for the answers all.

I didn't find an app I was especially happy with in the end. OSMAnd has a night mode, but it seems to run the battery pretty fast. Like urbanwhaleshark said, cyclestreets is an excellent option, and indeed I did plot my route home with that (of which more later). The developers got hold of me on Twitter and apologised for the lack of .GPX import. Apparently they ran out of funding. It was definitely good to get in touch with them, as their interest is in developing cycle routes throughout the country, and I'd promised CycleBath that I'd help with their mapping. Anyway. So, cyclestreets was the best option.

In the end, it turned out best not to be using a map at all. Certainly for the first half hour there were movie style rainstorms, bouncing raindrops and all, and my phone would have been broken had it been out of the saddlebag. Following the route was no problem though, as there were lots of other people on it. (200 riders, approximately. Every single one of them a lovely person).

I certainly did get hold of extra battery power for the phone, but for a much lower price (worked fine for me until I dropped the bike with it plugged in), and that was great. The phone did last me all the way home with minimal extra charging, but not that much use.

Anyway, I got 30 miles into the ride, to the first tea stop, and the fact my stomach had been playing up caught up with me. I'd not eaten a meal happily for about 48 hours, and only had one meal on the day. So I was out of energy and thought I'd turn back home.

Cyclestreets found me a solo route home and worked like a dream (although it follows you on the map, it doesn't update what leg of the route you're on). That said, the route it chose back to Bath from Cheddar was the shortest cycle legal route. It wasn't exactly convenient, on account of how it exited Cheddar Gorge on a (slightly inaccurately marked due to OSM) bridleway. I made a foolish decision not to open a tricky gate and followed a footpath instead. That was when I dropped the bike while pushing up the hill and broke the plug in charger.

But still, cyclestreets got me back home on the remains of my charge. Which took a while as I was utterly out of energy. Napping in laybys and the forest and everything.

So, brianogilvie, it's definitely worth entering the ride. Really friendly, great fun, and I'm sure sunrise looks even better if you come across it on the route down to Exmouth rather than as a superbonked person on his own in north west Mendip.

And, no, there's no way to get a Samsung Galaxy S2 suitably dim at night that I found (f.lux might do it if they find a way to deploy it for the general public), and no particularly suitable app. Maybe cyclestreets can get a theme for it in the future.
posted by ambrosen at 1:33 PM on August 7, 2012

Also, just to say that my £30 commute front light was fine for my lighting purposes, and ran on one set of AAs (even though I had like 10 spare sets). And having 26 inch wheels with fattish Schwalbe Marathons on meant I found myself catching up with people on the descents. The roads aren't the best.
posted by ambrosen at 1:35 PM on August 7, 2012

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