Transcontinental Race 2016: Durmitor

I wrote this little piece as a comment on a TCR Facebook group. Re-posting it here to preserve the memory.
On the CP4 parcour, Durmitor, Montenegro

Croatia had been hard on me. A small crash at the border left me a little concussed, and with a slightly bent disc rotor that was dragging me down, perhaps more mentally than physically. Then the heat of Rijeka and the bora wind of the coast nearly beat me to a pulp and I thought my attempt on TCR was all over. Passing through Sinj, things started looking up. I met Rory Bear Kemper in a bus shelter; we shared a few words, the first company I’d had in days. Then a roadside bike workshop appeared like an oasis in the desert, and they straightened my disc in moments. I was rolling again. Bosnia seemed to go by in a flash, and I spent a cheap night in a doss house in Capljina.

Up before dawn, I started on the deserted road through Republika Srpska to the ‘secret’ border with Montenegro, the beginning of maybe the most perfect day’s cycling of my life. Herdsmen led their sheep flocks down the road, but not a soul otherwise. I tweeted there might be radio silence because I had no data allowance in Montenegro, and Kevin, who’d been enjoying my gastrotour, said he *needed* to know what I was eating. I reported it was Nutella straight from the jar, as I rested in a shady grove next to a rough gravel path. The final 5km ascent to the frontier – the unmanned secret border crossing from which some riders had been sent back – was pure rock, a steep hike-a-bike for me (though I later saw photos of Carlos Mazon riding it I think). For all I knew it could have carried on like that all day, or I could have been sent back down for an 80km detour to one of the official crossings. But no! At the border, entering Montenegro and Durmitor National Park, the gravel turned to silky tarmac ( for a gorgeous descent to Pluzine. The cool and funky (but very slow) cafe marked the start of the parcours. It was late afternoon by now and I dawdled – my weakness – using the slow service as excuse for a longer rest. Riders passed through. Mark Booker, with his legs all scraped from a bad fall. Vinicius looking fit and organised. And Hilde, bright and cheerful despite a very painful knee. Eventually I dragged myself back onto the bike leaving Hilde finishing her food. As Mikko describes, the road climbs up from the lake via tunnels dug from the rock. But afterwards it’s bucolic. In the warm, dusky evening, farm workers rested beside the medieval-looking haystacks they’d gathered that day, swigging well-earned beers. The sun set, the air grew cooler and eventually I climbed to the double peak of Prevoj Sedlo in darkness. A pair of motor-bikers passed me and stopped to talk. They told me they’d met Hilde behind and she planned to sleep part way up the climb; I think a family had offered her a barn. Descending was tricky in the darkness. A few days earlier I’d descended the San Pellegrino pass in darkness to reach CP3, and that had been scary enough, even with the benefit of road markings and chevrons at the bends. This descent to Žabljak had no such help. But eventually Žabljak was reached and as I rolled past a restaurant with TCR riders, super-helpful CP volunteer (and future TCR5 finisher) Martin called out to me. The Highlander hostel was full, but Martin arranged a place in an overspill room. I was too tired for food, but elated to have reached CP4. With ‘only’ 1000km to go, and the major climbs all done, I had flipped into the ‘you can do this’ mindset that had deserted me in Croatia.

Next morning I woke up with the ever cheerful Giorsio, who told me that my loud snoring overnight wasn’t a problem at all, as he had noise-cancelling earplugs for *exactly* that purpose. It was the first of a few encounters over the next several days that would see us getting into various scrapes. The weather had turned cold and rainy overnight; I hadn’t expected that. Hilde had rolled in early that morning. The Highlander hostel promised breakfast, and Hilde and I waited, keeping warm under that same blanket Mikko is wrapped in. Martin had contacted a doctor to check out Hilde’s knee, and, after breakfast she sadly climbed into a car. We all thought it was the end of her race. Happily it turned out not to be so, and after a day’s rest she was declared fit and rolled into Çanakkale a day or so after I did.

Using OsmAnd+ for long-distance cycling

OsmAnd+ routeJust as Hoover came to define vacuum cleaners, Garmin has unfortunately become synonymous with GPS navigator for bikes. To the irritating extent that one of my riding groups recently announced Garmins are mandatory on this ride. As Andy Matthews said in an excellent blog post Garmin are a lazy company … They’ve largely captured the market for cycling computers and seemingly not through excellence but from being first to market and being good enough. Caroline and I have collectively owned five Garmin devices and experienced the highs and lows: liberation from the stress and delays of navigating with paper maps, but numerous irritations such as random reboots, confusingly different and proprietary file formats, unreliable navigation, limited configurability.

Entering the 2016 Transcontinental Race (a single-stage continuous bike race from Flanders to Gallipoli where the clock never stops) prompted me to re-evaluate. In theory a smartphone with OpenStreetMap and a decent mapping application should be capable of overcoming many of these limitations and providing a much better navigation experience. But, as Yogi Berra said, the difference between theory and practice is that in theory there’s no difference but in practice there is.

I identified my requirements:

  • Ability to follow a pre-planned route. For TCR, Audax, tours and indeed most of my training rides, I plan in advance and create GPX files with tools such as bikehike and brouter. The main use case is simply to keep me following the planned route.
  • Ability to navigate on demand to off-route locations. In TCR I expected I would need to find hotels, food stops, bike shops which might be somewhat off-route. I want to be able to rely on the mapping app to choose a fast, bike-suitable route for these relatively short deviations from my planned route.
  • A database of relevant points of interest. Bike shops, supermarkets, fuel stations, restaurants; bonus points for hours of operation (I relied on 24-hour fuel stations for food and drink).
  • Clear, simple map display, easy to control on the move (e.g. change zoom and map orientation)
  • Easy access to good quality maps for all of Europe.
  • Able to record a ride and easily upload to Strava over the air.
  • Physically robust and able to survive heavy rain – Garmin’s trump card; ours have survived several high-speed falls from the bike, and when the rain comes down, we’ll be far more anxious about covering ourselves with waterproofs than covering the Garmins.
  • Ability to ride 15 hours a day without battery worries.

I chose to use the Android app OsmAnd+ on a Motorola Moto G (3rd gen) phone, but carried a Garmin Edge 605 as backup. The good news is that OsmAnd led me through several long Audaxes including the 600km Brimstone in May, a 1,700km tour along the Rhine in June, successful completion of the Transcontinental in August (3,800km in 16 days). OsmAnd has its own quirks, and can be a little daunting at first, but it was the single most valuable piece of kit I carried on that long ride from Geraardsbergen to Çanakkale. OsmAnd never failed and the Garmin remained turned off in my bag.

This piece explains my thought process in selecting OsmAnd and Moto G3, details how I used it, and highlights some of the quirks and areas for improvement. I’ve shared an album of screen shots that show, in some detail, the step-by-step process of installing, configuring and using OsmAnd. I’ve included a few key screen shots directly in this post.

I should perhaps say: I am a techie, I’m not daunted by more complex technology, and perhaps my preference for OsmAnd reflects this. Nonetheless I want to try and make this description as clear and complete as I can, because I feel OsmAnd really rewards the effort to install and learn to use it.

The device

Moto G3I have no knowledge of, or interest in iPhones, so for me it’s an Android. Water-resistant Android phones are becoming far more common. There are self-consciously ruggedised models, including some pretty cheap Chinese brands. There are high-end models such as Sony Experia Z3, which make a song and dance about their water-resistance and have received good feedback from other TCR finishers including Simon Romaine. I chose a Moto G 3rd Generation because I could justify £150 to update my phone even with the risk it wouldn’t meet the more stringent requirements as a navigation device. It’s allegedly IPX7 rated, meaning it can be dunked in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes (with videos to demonstrate). In a lab perhaps, but I was far from confident in real-life conditions. But so far, so good. [Update: the new, 4th gen Moto G no longer has the IPX7 water-resistance rating. My guess is the design hasn’t changed but Motorola is taking a more cautious stance, perhaps due to warranty claims. But you may want to consider alternatives which advertise water-resistance. A helpful commenter here, Jacek, recommends a very different approach, an Android watch.]

If you are planning on riding across Europe, you’ll need plenty of storage space for maps, stored tracks and photos, so I’d suggest getting a phone that will allow you to plug in an SD card. My Moto G3 came with 16GB internal storage, which I use mainly for installed apps, and I plugged in a 32GB SD card. Maybe overkill, but it only cost £10 so why worry.

The mapping software

I was already happily using OpenStreetMap maps on the Garmin so I had no hesitation in choosing them for TCR. For those who don’t know, OSM is the Wikipedia of mapping; it’s compiled through the contributions of volunteers. Mapping coverage was faultless, even throughout the Balkan phase of TCR (I crossed Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia). Oddly enough, the only place I’ve found a few gaps in OSM mapping was in deepest mid-Wales, when I followed-up TCR with Mike Hall’s Valleycat in September. Of course OSM encourages you to correct any errors and we’ve fixed one or two.

OsmAnd stores maps offline so you have no dependence on mobile/Wifi network coverage when you’re on the road. It’s super-easy to download new countries or regions, just click on each of them while you are on-network and wait… they are quite large files: For TCR, I carried 3.3GB of maps for 16 countries (including some contingency countries off my planned route; be prepared!). Smaller countries tend to be packaged as a single map file, larger ones have a file per region, so I ended up with 43 map files. The free version of OsmAnd is limited to 10 downloads (maps, voice files, etc.). So if you only want UK maps you might be able to get by with the free version of OsmAnd, but the paid version (designated OsmAnd+ in the Play store) only costs £5.99 so I’d suggest paying up.

I know some TCR riders have had success with downloading offline Google maps. It seems to me a little more awkward than with OsmAnd, but perhaps I’m just not so familiar. The Google mapping is inferior to OSM for cycling, especially regarding details of road surface and status. And when you need a dry place to spend the night in rural France, it’s truly wonderful to locate and navigate to a bus stop using OSM!

By the way OsmAnd is also available for IPhone but I don’t have any personal experience.

Battery life

Two factors dominate battery usage: network usage and illuminating the screen.

I discovered that switching the phone to aeroplane mode led to a vast improvement in battery life. Connecting to the mobile network seems to be very power-consuming, especially in areas of poor coverage, where the phone is often seeking a signal.

As for the screen, I turn off adaptive brightness, and lower the brightness level, normally to one notch above the lowest setting. The map remains perfectly visible on dull days in the UK. In the TCR, in the middle of bright sunny days, I found I needed to turn the brightness up. Adaptive brightness would seem useful to avoid this faff, but I find that it turns the brightness higher than really necessary, even if the manual slider is at its minimum setting. (In an earlier Android version, adaptive brightness also seemed to have a bug whereby the brightness would occasionally be turned down so low as to be invisible; hard then to find the controls to turn it up again! I think that’s now fixed though.)

Together, aeroplane mode and low brightness give me something between six and nine hours turn-by-turn navigation on my Moto G3 with the screen permanently turned on. For best battery life you should also close any unnecessary apps, but I think aeroplane mode and brightness are the two biggies.

For a long time I was convinced I needed the software to be able to turn off the screen when following a continuous road, but wake the screen and alert me when a turn is coming up. OsmAnd can do this, and it would no doubt extend battery life, but here’s the snag. What is straight on? I found I would sometimes miss a turn when the main road curved right, and my fork went straight on. Conversely, spurious bends in the main road are often announced as turns. Too many times I missed an unannounced turn. So I gave up on turning the screen off, except manually when I absolutely knew the road ahead was long and continuous.

Remember my requirement was 15 hours a day without battery worries? We’re some way short of that, with six to nine hours of low brightness-aeroplane mode. I always carry a small USB battery pack, a Zendure A2, which gives me a couple of full phone charges at a cost of 200g extra weight. I also used a Shutter Precision dynamo hooked up to B&M Luxos U light and USB charger. So I can keep either the phone or battery topped up while riding.

A couple of snags to be aware of though:

  • In theory the Zendure supports charge-through and I’m pretty sure it did when I first started testing. However I had a near-disaster on Day 1 of TCR, when I found every time I tried to charge-through from the Luxos via Zendure to the phone, the front lamp would come on. Eventually I realised it was fine to charge either phone, or battery pack, but not charge-through both. So no disaster but a slight annoyance. I think the Luxos is probably at fault.
  • Charging from dynamo works great on normal days, but alpine climbing days with more than 5,000 meters of ascent are not normal! Because of the long hours at speeds less than 10 km/hour, I wasn’t getting much juice out of the dynamo. I still managed to get through two days riding without need for an additional charge (my pattern was alternate nights in hotels and roadside bivvying). But I was eating into the reserves of my battery pack on those days.

Attaching phone to bike

NC-17 Stem BagI’ve been using an NC-17 Connect Smartphone Stem Bag for the best part of a year. It’s got a lot of good points and one really bad point. The phone slides into a slim pocket underneath the transparent window. The touch screen works pretty well despite the extra layer of plastic. With practice you can still use the screen on-off switch and volume rocker on the right side of the phone. The larger zippered space under the phone has plenty of room for a battery pack, and it has an opening underneath the bag through which I feed the USB output of the Luxos U, so all the vulnerable electrical interconnects are protected within the bag. My Moto G3 is a tight fit within the bag, especially with a micro-USB charging cable plugged in at the bottom. I had to choose a cable with a short ‘collar’ and even then it has become quite deformed from the pressure of the zipped-up bag. I worried that this would cause a broken connection, but so far no problem.

Shower CapThe major flaw though is that it’s not at all waterproof. It’s billed as water repellent but the seams leak water like a sieve. And, though the ingress of water caused no apparent damage to the phone (it’s IPX7, remember?), once the bag is saturated, the clear plastic cover gets covered in mist and water droplets and it’s nigh-on impossible to see the screen. The solution, which, though crude, I’m rather proud of, is to carry a hotel shower cap and slap it over the phone at the first drop of rain.

[Update: I now have an Aquapac bike-mounted case. The small size is a tight but satisfactory fit for Moto G 3rd Gen. Reviews consider this decent, but overpriced at full retail price. I got mine for a knock-down price at SportPursuit, so I’m not complaining. I haven’t yet put this to a full test; I will update when I’ve used it on the road for a while.]

If you really trust the waterproofness of the phone, you could use a free-range alternative such as Quad Lock or Finn. These seem a neater solution than my rather ugly stem bag, but on the other hand I’d fear for the vulnerability of charging connections on a wet day.

Installing OsmAnd

The version I’m describing is OsmAnd 2.5.4. It’s a straightforward install from the Play store. You’ll want to do the following from a WiFi network, as it involves downloading a lot of application and map files. I’m going to assume you will install OsmAnd (the free version) first, and you can then later install OsmAnd+ if you want a greater number of maps or the additional features of the paid version. [Update: I discovered while writing this that OsmAnd+ installs as a separate app alongside the free OsmAnd, so if you later pay for OsmAnd+ you would need to repeat the configuration and map download.]

Search for OsmAnd on the Play store, and hit install. When the install completes and you tap the new OsmAnd icon on your home screen, you will be invited to Get Started, and then OsmAnd will detect your location and suggest a first map. Before you download the map, if you have an SD card, I suggest you tap the button at the bottom of the screen to change data storage location. You need to Allow OsmAnd to access photos, media, etc. Choose Memory card as the data storage folder.

You can now tap Download to get your first map. You’ll see your local map, and the World overview map gradually downloading.

When the download has completed you can go to map. You might need to Allow OsmAnd to access this device’s location. You can tap the + icon to zoom in and you should see a detailed map of your local area.

Now is a good time to download voice files if you want to hear turn-by-turn announcements. At the bottom-left you will see an icon with three horizontal bars. Let’s call this the Menu button. If it’s not visible, just tap anywhere on the map and it should appear. Tap Menu then select Download maps (oddly, voice files are downloaded from the same menu as maps). Scroll to the very bottom, where you will see Voice prompts. Text-to-speech (TTS)-synthesised voices are recommended by OsmAnd. There are many TTS language options, including English and English (UK). Sadly the English (UK) option actually has a US accent. Tap the down-arrow on the right to download your chosen TTS language. Alternatively you can choose Voice prompts (recorded), and under this there is a UK English voice, which has a nicer accent, but is a bit staccato. By all means install several voice files and see which you prefer. Back-arrow to the map screen when you’ve downloaded your voice files.

General settingsYou now probably want to set up defaults for bicycle use. Tap Menu then Settings. On the next screen, tap General settings and then Default profile and finally select Bicycle. Still on the Global app settings screen, scroll down and tap Voice guidance then select your preferred voice file that you recently downloaded.

If you wish you can set personal preferences here, such as language and units of measure. Back-arrow until you get back to the map.

Configure mapTap Menu once more, then Configure map. Mid-way down the Configure map screen are icons for car, bicycle and walking. If it’s not already highlighted, tap the bike. Scroll down to Map rendering. Your tastes may differ, but I usually switch Map mode to Day; Text size to 75%; Map language to English. Back-arrow to the map screen.

You are now ready to navigate your first route.

Navigating a pre-planned route

I’ll spare you (for now) the details of how I prepared my routes. That will make a whole other blog post. In short though: good routing software that can offer multiple route options and evaluate distance and climbing; meticulous attention to details especially road surface, Google street view and and satellite images. On the whole I was really pleased with my route choices. This section is about how to follow them.

The first aspect is file format. Garmin uses some proprietary file formats such as TCX. Standard GPX flavours include Routes, Waypoints and Tracks that differ in the type of GPX coordinates they use, and how closely-spaced they are (some GPX routes have the points far apart and expect the navigation device or human to fill in the gaps). I experimented with all of these and I find GPX Tracks absolutely the best. This type of file contains GPX track points spaced just a few metres apart, so there are essentially no navigation decisions left for OsmAnd. The tools I typically use to make GPX tracks are brouter and bikehike, but I’m sure many other tools are capable.

Now you need to get the GPX file onto the phone. I’m going to assume you know how to get files onto the phone. Either by plugging the phone into your computer via USB cable. Or, what I do, connect over WiFi to our home network file server and use an app such as ES File Explorer to copy the GPX file from the server to phone. I guess Dropbox would be another way.

Whatever the method, the key thing is to put the GPX file into the folder from which OsmAnd loads tracks. If you have set up OsmAnd to use an SD card for storage, the folder will be:

SD card/Android/data/

Now, from the OsmAnd home screen, tap Menu (bottom left of screen), then Configure map, then GPX track, then tap on the name of the GPX file. A tick should appear on the right of the file name. Then OK at the bottom, and back-arrow to go back the home map screen. Your GPX track should now be visible on the map, perhaps as a red line if you haven’t changed the defaults.

When it comes to riding, you might be happy just to follow the red line. The map should pan as it tracks your current position (if it doesn’t, tap the blue compass icon at the bottom towards the right).

Mini-mapBut if you prefer turn-by-turn directions, with voice prompts, you need to tap the curved arrow icon at the bottom towards the left). A menu will pop up asking whether you want to use the displayed track for navigation. Tap yes, and you’ll see a mini-map with your planned route highlighted in purple. The first time you do this, you’ll want to set some default options for cycling. Make sure the bike icon is highlighted above the From: and To: addresses. Tap the cog icon at the bottom of the screen. Set options as follows:

Voice guidance
Select the voice you downloaded in the previous section.
Pass along entire track
Make sure this is NOT ticked, however tempting!
Calculate OsmAnd route for first and last route segment

And then tap Navigation settings, check that the following screen references Bicycle at the top, and then select Navigation options as follows:

I suggest you tick Avoid motorways and Avoid stairs, but suit yourself!
Snap to road
I have always had this ticked (which is the default) but as I write, it occurs to me that unticked might be better, especially if you are taking off-road routes.
I generally untick all except GPX waypoints.
Unit of speed
Your choice.
Turn screen on
This allows OsmAnd to turn on the screen when you are approaching a turn, and specifies how long to leave it turned on. It’s worth selecting a time here, e.g. 30 seconds, even if you generally intend to keep the screen turned on permanently as discussed under Battery Life. You will then be asked to Activate device administrator for lock screen; tap Activate at the bottom of the screen.

Back-arrow to the navigation screen and tap Go next to the blue arrow.

Navigation modeYou are now in turn-by-turn mode. The fat purple line shows your route, with yellow arrows indicating turns. An icon on the left-middle of the screen controls the orientation of the map. It has three options: North up, To direction of movement, or To compass. The menu and navigation icons at bottom left will disappear after a short while, to give you a clearer view of the map, but you can make them re-appear by tapping anywhere on the map.

One thing you might want to configure is the display at the top-right of the routing screen. By default you get distance to destination, OsmAnd’s estimated arrival time, speed and altitude. To select different display data, tap Menu and then Configure screen. You can turn off the default data items, and add preferred items to your heart’s content. There are similar options for the navigation display in the left panel, which by default shows distance to and direction of the next turn (and below that the second next turn).

If you want to stop navigation, tap on the map to make the icons at bottom left reappear, tap the blue arrow, and then X in the bottom left to dismiss the route.

One important note. If you are resuming a GPX track part-way through, you will want to set the From: location to ‘My Position’ rather than the beginning of the track.

Ad-hoc Routing

So far, so good. We’ve installed OsmAnd and used it to follow a pre-planned route. But now we want to divert and find food, or a hotel, or a bus stop. There are three main ways I do this: search by category, free-text search, or directly selecting a point on the map.

Category search

Search by category
Tap Menu, then Search, then Categories, and you will see a list of categories e.g. Cafe and restaurant. Tap a category and you will see a list of items of this category, in this case restaurants, ordered closest first. I found this absolutely brilliant on TCR, when I would frequently need to know where is the closest food store, or restaurant, or filling station, or hotel. You will even find opening hours for some items, if the good people of OSM have captured this information. Now tap one of the items and you’ll be taken back to the map, with a push-pin marker showing the location of that item. If you want to go there, tap the blue arrow or blue flag (depends whether you are currently in turn-by-turn routing), and OsmAnd will choose a route and present it to you. Just tap Go and you’ll get turn-by-turn directions.
Free-text search
Tap Menu, then Search. At the top of the Search screen is a free-text entry box. You can type pizza or parking or Brighton or Acacia Avenue or doctors… whatever you want. OsmAnd will do a text search across all items and display them below in order of distance from your current location. Tap an item in the search results and it might take you into a more detailed list of search items, e.g. tapping Brighton will show a list of Brighton street names. Alternatively, if you tap a specific item such as Pizza Express, Bridge Street, Winchester, it will take you to the map with the usual push-pin marker and blue arrow/flag.
Directly select a point on the map
If you know where you want to go, and you can find it on the map, just long-press on the map, and the usual push-pin will appear, with an invitation to route to that point.

OsmAnd’s route selection seems pretty good. I wouldn’t trust it to plan an all-day route; I’d definitely want to review that on a large screen map ahead of time. But for short, spontaneous diversions it seems to pick sensible cycling routes (obviously assuming you’ve set suitable options such as Avoid Motorways).

Recording rides

Many of us want to record our rides, e.g. to upload to Strava. OsmAnd has a free plugin to record a GPX file of your ride. I would imagine it’s a pretty battery-efficient way to do it, given you’re already using OsmAnd for navigation. But I don’t use it as a rule, instead I use the Strava app for Android. The reason is simply that the Strava app makes it so easy to upload its track at the end of a ride, whereas uploading a GPX file captured by a different device is a bit fiddly (you have to use a web browser to visit and repeatedly say ‘no, I don’t want to use the Strava app’).

The Strava app is pretty battery-efficient (I understand it uses around 2% of battery per hour) so it’s no big deal, but perhaps one day I’ll experiment with using OsmAnd to capture ride logs. If you want to do this: Menu, Plugins, Trip recording, three-dots, Enable. You’ll then see an additional item ‘GPX’ on the top right of the map. Tap this and the circle next to GPX will light up in red and you are capturing a track.

Other cool features

There is a plugin for Contour lines. I’ve never tried it. I think you need the plugin enabled, and also you need to download the contour data for the relevant country, so it will count as an additional one of your ten downloads if you are sticking with the free version of the app.

Map with finance POIs displayedPoints of Interest (POIs): You can choose to display markers for categories of interest. For instance, on TCR when I had a non-urgent need for an ATM, I wouldn’t necessarily search for a specific one and then route to it, but instead turn on POI display for category:Finance, and then keep an eye on the map in case I passed near a bank. To enable display of POIs: Menu, Configure map, POI, select category. If you want to display more than one category of POI at the same time, you need to tap the double-tick icon at bottom-left whereupon tick boxes will appear alongside the categories.

From the Download maps menu option, you can also download Wikipedia data for each country (this feature is available only in OsmAnd+). You then have the option to display these as POIs on the map, and tap for additional text. I guess this could be very useful if you are touring and want to access interesting facts about landmarks you see along the way.

Favourites: You can create your own list of favourite locations, and then use them as routing destinations. Any time you see a push-pin marker on the screen, e.g. after a search, or after directly-selecting a point on the map, there should be a five-pointed star at bottom left. Tap that and you will be invited to add this point as a favourite. I added all the TCR checkpoints and parcours as favourites. If you have coordinates of multiple favourites like TCR checkpoints, a quicker way is to create a GPX file of these points and open the file in OsmAnd. This document describes a way to do this.

Map updates: There is a very active community constantly making improvements so it’s well worth updating your downloaded maps from time to time (Menu, Download maps, Update).

Alternative offline routers: OsmAnd has an architecture to allow alternative routing engines to be plugged-in. You set up your preferred routing engine via Menu, Settings, Navigation settings, Navigation service. OSMAND is the only out-of-the-box offline router that supports bikes, so it’s the obvious choice and does a good job. But my favourite web routing engine, brouter, also offers an offline engine for installation in OsmAnd. I briefly tried this and couldn’t immediately make it work, but it’s worth knowing that alternatives do exist.

Quirks and annoyances

I already mentioned the issue of occasional turns that are not announced (because the fork goes straight ahead) and more often, random bends on the road being announced as turns. As far as I can see, OSM doesn’t seem to have a way to model the dashed white lines at a junction that indicate right-of-way, so it simply relies on the shape of the road to guess. It’s a pretty common issue for all navigation systems.

A related problem is that the voice announcements try to describe the approach, entry and exit from a roundabout using only the words left and right. There’s no enter roundabout and leave by the third exit. Of course it’s perfectly clear when you look on the map, but the voice announcements alone can be misleading.

When you are navigating a GPX track turn-by-turn, but you go off-route, OsmAnd tends to be quite persistent in telling you to go back and complete the whole planned route. Of course, by looking at the map you have probably found a way to divert then re-converge with the route a little further down the road. OsmAnd may panic but you shouldn’t! Just keep navigating to the convergence point and OsmAnd will eventually calm down and recognise that you are back on track.

As I already mentioned, when you install OsmAnd+ (to lift restrictions on number of downloads) after starting out with free OsmAnd, you will need to repeat the initial configuration, and download maps once again. In this case you will most likely want to uninstall free OsmAnd and delete its associated folders, to save storage space on your phone.

I haven’t found a way to show a profile of elevation along the route. When I used Garmin, I used to torture myself by looking at the elevation profile and watching my slow progress towards the top of a hill. Unless I’ve overlooked it, it seems OsmAnd doesn’t allow that masochistic experience.

Summary and recommendation

I heartily recommend OsmAnd+ for navigating long-distance cycling events. Compared to the Garmin devices I have owned, I find it has a larger and clearer display, fewer software problems, and it has powerful and easy-to-use features for ad-hoc routing on the move. I ran OsmAnd+ on an inexpensive phone, which I would in any case have taken on TCR for communication, thus potentially saving one device. That said, I would still recommend TCR competitors have a backup navigation device of some form.

I’d really like a fully waterproof bag to protect phone, battery pack and USB charging connections, so I could retire my hotel shower caps! This remains my biggest concern.

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this subject. Have you tried OsmAnd? Was it successful for you? Have you solved the bike-mounting issue? Is there anything I haven’t described clearly? Please use comments to provide feedback.

Visit to V Beach Gallipoli

Yesterday I took a trip to the Gallipoli beach where my grandfather landed 101 years ago, in one of the most futile missions of WW1.

I had little appetite to cycle, but it turned out to be a beautiful ride. From Kilitbayir the road curves around bays of blue-green sea, then turns inland through a landscape of olive and pine trees and scrubby, herby ground cover. I enjoyed the absence of 5 or 6 kg of luggage and felt that tremendous tailwind at my back.

I stopped at Namazgah, where a small museum has been established in a castle / artillery battery. Looking across the narrow straits of the Dardanelles between here and Çanakkale, you appreciate the importance of control of this passage into the Black Sea and with it access to Russia, Ukraine and the middle east. The allies intended to inflict decisive damage on Turkish defences with a naval attack in March 1915, but the mission was the worst-kept secret, the Turks were prepared with artillery and mines, and allied ships suffered heavy losses. The museum gave a flavour of the ‘rightness’ of Ottoman control of this waterway, which had historically been seized by Greek, Persian and Macedonian invaders, and so nearly lost to Russia in the Crimean war.

Continuing on to Seddülbahir I reached the area of V beach, where my grandfather and namesake Robert Jordan was disgorged on April 25th 1915, from a converted, armoured coal barge, the River Clyde, along with around 1000 troops of Munster, Dublin and Hampshire regiments. In that hail of bullets some 600 were immediately killed. Bob Jordan somehow survived, we know not how.

There was a big restoration project going on at V Beach with “No entry, no photos” signs. I thought it was going to be a futile visit, but I made a fuss, showed my photo of Grandpa Jordan to the man on the gate (who spoke no English) and told him I had cycled from England to see this. He shrugged and said “no way” but I just hung around and he phoned a few people and eventually an archeologist, Matt, who spoke some English came out and said he would take me around due to my special situation. Matt was quite interested in my story, and showed me some finds and photos.

As it turned out, the area under restoration was the Turkish fort overlooking the landing beach. The beach itself is free to access. But still I’m glad a made a fuss because it was very interesting to see the beach from the perspective of the Turkish defenders, as well as the landing invaders. There is a couple of years work to complete this restoration, it will be a fascinating visit when finished.

Moving on to the beach itself, I saw the small spit of rocks at the end of which the River Clyde beached, leaving the troops 20 or 30 metres of water to wade or swim across, fully laden with packs and under fire. Those who made it to the shore had the benefit of a small sandbank, no more than 1 metre high, for cover. There they waited for darkness and regrouped for further advance.

There were advances and small gains over the next few months, but no breakthrough, and ultimately the Allies evacuated (ironically the evacuation was considered a masterpiece of military planning and execution, unlike the invasion).

I was lucky to grow up with three living grandparents; Bob Jordan was the one I never knew, as he died in his fifties shortly after the end of WW2. Sitting on that beach in the Turkish sun, I felt some kind of connection to that young man, sent fearful into a foreign land by reckless politicians and generals.

Transcontinental Race #4 Round-up

TCR04 completed brevet cardHi folks, here’s the potted round-up of my race, sorry I didn’t keep Facebook updated.

First of all the bum is much better; thanks for asking. Soreness / chafing goes away after about 5 days, battered / bruised feeling never goes away but that’s life!

As you may have seen I finished the race yesterday in 16 days 8 hours 25 minutes. I think finishing position was 90th across the line (70th solo rider). That’s 90th of a starting lineup of 216 including pairs and solos. I’m pretty happy with that! My total distance turned out to be 3,797km and about 51,000m of climbing.

Some highlights:

The Alpine climbs were incredible and plenty of time to enjoy them as typical speed on a steep climb is 8km/hr, so for instance Furka Pass (2400m) took about 5 hours of constant effort. And that was one of 6 big climbs in the Alps alone.

You might have seen the video of me arriving at CP3 in Dolomites. That was the end of a fantastic day of last big Alp (Ofenpass) before breakfast, huge descent into Italy and along beautiful river through orchards before climbing again to 2000m through San Pellegrino pass to reach CP3 at eleven in the evening, having covered 255 mountainous km.

Another long descent from Italy to Croatia where I had ‘meltdown Sunday’. Very minor bike crash left me with a bit of equipment damage but seemed to also knock confidence and the house of cards teetered and I almost quit. My saviour Caroline Maynard ordered me to find hotel and rest. Normal service next day.

Into Balkans for more huge climbs in Montenegro and fascinating diverse ways of life in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. Definitely a region to go back and explore at leisure.

Greece was predictably baking hot and to be endured not enjoyed (I tried but failed to find my fave Greek dishes of Briam or Imam) but when I passed the Turkish border I had a surge of ecstatic energy and rode almost 24 hours straight (360km) to the finish line. I never felt tired until the last 10km and then I never felt so tired in my whole life.

The photo is me at Eceabat ferry terminal about to get boat to Çanakkale for the last 100 meters to the finish line. Maximum tiredness and dishevelment, I hadn’t slept in a bed for 72 hours and 930km of cycling. Amazingly I forgot to take picture at actual finish!

Now enjoying a little holiday in Çanakkale, some riders left already, others relaxing, some more arriving at finish. I’ll be going to Gallipoli beach tomorrow where my grandad landed 101 years ago.

Thanks so much to friends who gave encouragement along the way on FB, Twitter, Strava, email. It all helped motivate me for another day in the saddle.

I’m thinking of doing a show and tell about my TCR experience, somewhere near Winchester one evening maybe in a month or so. Would that be of interest? (I know you are a far-flung lot so maybe not practical for FB friends).

Transcontinental Race, Belgium-Turkey, 2,400 miles 59,000m ascent (that’s six and a half Everests)

IMG_20160726_202350917-50On Friday 29th July I will join around 250 other cyclists on the start line of the Transcontinental Race in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. The race is quite unusual in several ways:

  • The clock never stops, racers choose where, when and if at all to rest.
  • No outside support is permitted, we can use only what we take with us, or find en route at commercially available services.
  • There is no defined route, just four mandatory controls; naturally they are located at high altitude in the Massif Central, Alps, Dolomites and Balkans.

The finish is at Çanakkale near the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. Part of my motivation is to remember my grandfather who survived an extraordinary bloodbath when he landed at Gallipoli 101 years ago.

I hope to complete the course in 18 days or less, but it’s a very tough race and last year almost 50% did not finish. I’m not seeking sponsorship but I’d be thrilled to receive any words of encouragement en route. My race number is 61 and you can read brief updates from me on Twitter (@robjordan and #TCRNo4s061), view my daily rides by following me on Strava (Rob Jordan, Winchester) or email me: [email protected]. We will each carry a satellite tracker and you can view position updates every 5 minutes here: (beware, it can be addictive!)

You can read lots more about the race at