Wednesday, November 21, 2012

on user-friendly technology

A teammate who is temporarily laid up from a racing injury has posted to our team list that, as a winter project of sorts, she'd like to compile a list of routes for some of our favorite rides in the area. She has asked us to share our favorite rides with her, and has kindly provided a place to post the routes online. One can either insert a link to an online mapping service (such as, or they can add a formatted cue sheet.

While I appreciate the gesture, I probably can't help her out.

When I go for long rides, I take water, a sack lunch (if I know I'll be out all day), and a Portland bike map -- the old-fashioned, fold-out paper kind. If I get "lost", I'll consult the map, get re-oriented and find my way again. When, on rare occasions, I want to figure out a route in advance, I often use a site called Ride The City ( When I enter the starting and ending locations, the program allows me to choose between a "normal" route, a "safer" route and the "safest" route. It then lays out a route and provides directions which I can cut and paste into an RTF document and, with a lot of manipulation, alter to make it printable and readable. The process, especially transferring the directions to an RTF file, is still time-consuming. As I've grown more proficient with it I've gotten it down to about twenty to thirty minutes to find, re-format and print a route. But when given a choice between printing out a cue sheet and simply taking along a map, nine times out of ten I will choose the latter. It saves time, even if I take a wrong turn and get temporarily "lost".

I maintain a stubborn belief that technology needs to be user-friendly and affordable, or I simply won't use it.
Technology that requires me to upgrade my computer every year and my computer knowledge every week is not, in my thinking, user-friendly. I have neither the time nor the patience to learn entire new ways of thinking technologically, and I certainly don't have the money to buy another computer. It holds little allure for me, and frankly even less incentive.

Hell, when I built up my most recent project, I installed a totally mechanical Huret Multito cyclometer on the fork. No batteries, no shorting out in the rain, and an acceptably rough estimate of mileage (it was made for a 26" x 1 3/8" wheel, not for a smaller 26" mountain bike wheel; so it's off by perhaps a few inches per mile. My rides are never long enough in distance for that discrepancy to become a serious issue). When the rubber band drive belt breaks, I replace it with another from my stash of Huret drive belts.

I found both the cyclometer and the extra drive belts for pennies on the dollar on craigslist and ebay.

This is an example of user-friendly technology. It doesn't require that I learn a whole new language, or even a whole new way ot learning and thinking. It honors my visual/kinesthetic learning style and makes clear and obvious sense to me.

And I guess that's why, when my friend is well enough to ride again, I will probably just take her out for a nice bike ride and some coffee; and not worry about creating a cue sheet.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You are not alone in your attitude toward technology. I too am not overly impressed by whiz-bang bike computers or internet based mapping programs. I keep a few maps in my bag that cover most of the areas I ride, and some spares to give away as well. When you think about it, if you're on your bike, you can't have gone far enough to be really lost if you have a map & some reasoning skill. Besides that, I hate appliances that are smarter than me.