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.

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