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Cycling maps - John C. Kirk

Jun. 21st, 2009

07:01 pm - Cycling maps

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This morning I was out on duty at the London to Brighton bike ride. That went well, and there was an interesting variety of bikes going past. In particular, there were quite a few tandems: they were still in the minority, but I saw at least one every 10-15 minutes, and they were more common than recumbents or Bromptons. (No trandems, but there were a couple of unicycles.) I've never ridden a tandem, but I'd be interested to try one out some time. The strangest bike I saw was a "semi-recumbent tandem": the person on the back was in a normal seated position, while the person in front was in a recumbent position (both seats were at about the same height).

There were also a few people with trailer bikes. They look a bit like tandems, but the riders don't have to pedal in time with each other, since they have separate chains. I didn't notice any child trailers, but I did like the comment on that linked page: "It's annoying when a child asks why you're wet and they aren't." (It would be tempting to answer that with the aid of a water bottle, but that's probably not an approved parenting technique.)

While I was there, I spent a while studying the maps: that way, if we needed to take the ambulance somewhere, I could avoid the cycle route. This brings up another topic; a couple of months ago, I bought three Sustrans maps. They weren't quite what I was expecting, so I think it's useful to clarify what you actually get for your money.

Here are the maps I bought:

(NCN = National Cycle Network.)

The NCN poster is the same as this pdf, but I thought it was worth buying a copy so that I can see it all at once without scrolling around (or zooming in), especially since it only cost £1. I haven't actually stuck it to my wall yet, mainly because I've mislaid my Blu-Tack, and I think that a bigger version would be better (e.g. A1 rather than A2), but it's certainly legible. Mind you, I'm not sure how much I'll actually use this; it's really just a starting point, so that you can say "Ah, NCN route 57 might be useful", then go elsewhere for more details.

I bought the other two maps thinking that they'd be useful to show me cycle routes around Oxford, and between London and Brighton. For instance, if I went up to Oxford to visit friends/family, I could then do a bit of cycling around there. I assumed that they would be similar to a road atlas, except that they'd draw special attention to the London/National Cycle Network, and might offer a selection of specific rides. However, I was pretty much wrong on all counts. (I'm not suggesting that Sustrans are trying to mislead anyone, just that I got the wrong end of the stick. Looking at their website now, it seems a lot clearer, so either they've updated it or I was just being a bit dim before.)

When I unfold the Thames Valley map (London to Oxford), it looks like this:
Thames Valley map

Hopefully that picture is clear enough for you to get the idea, while still being blurry enough that I'm not infringing copyright. Basically, this map is actually giving one specific route: the 99 mile journey from London to Oxford. Similarly, the Downs & Weald map gives a specific route from London to Brighton, but it doesn't cover all of the ground in between. Each map is divided into strips, and you follow these sequentially, i.e. each new strip starts where the previous one finishes.

There's a key in each map that shows how these fit together:
Brighton keyOxford key

An individual strip then looks like this:
Section of Oxford route
Unlike most maps, north isn't necessarily pointing up, and it's also not necessarily the same from strip to strip, so they indicate which way it is. One nice feature is the elevation chart at the bottom, which shows you what the hills are like.

Presumably the idea is to break the route up into "bite sized chunks", and for each chunk you have all the necessary information on one page, so you don't need to flick back and forth in your map book as you cycle along. If you are planning to travel to the specific destination that they mention, these could be quite useful. However, if I'm just looking to have a general pootle around, I'd be better off with an Ordnance Survey map. In fairness, Sustrans do have some free maps on their website (e.g. for Oxfordshire), so they'd also be worth a look. All in all, though, I don't think I'll get much use out of the maps I bought. Ah well, live and learn.

Regarding the London to Brighton map, it looks completely different to the route that the cyclists used today, at least until you hit the M23/M25 (I didn't pay too much attention to today's route after that). This may reflect the target audience, so I'm guessing that the NCN route is a bit more relaxed, avoiding main roads.

(By the way, I'm aware that this seems to be turning into a cycling blog; I will return to other topics soon.)

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Date:June 22nd, 2009 09:03 am (UTC)
To be perfectly fair to Sustrans, their shop does rather strongly suggest that the latter 2 maps are for the purpose of cycling from London to Oxford/Brighton/Hastings. The only potentially misleading things are the names of the maps, but all the explanatory text is pretty explanatory.
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