Category Archives: gps

Cycling: Belgium Trip September 2011

On the weekend of the 9th until the 11th of September I organised a cycle trip to Belgium as part of the LCC/Bromley Cyclists. There was quite a lot of interest, however due to various things turning up at work, and schools going back, only one other person came along, who I’d never met before.

On the Thursday late morning I headed out to cycle as much of the way to Dover as I could manage within a reasonable time without tiring myself too much on my own. I randomly chose my route to some degree as I went, with as little help from my GPS map as possible. On the way I poped into Bromley Cycle Repair to have a little natter with a couple of friends and a lovely cup of tea.

When I got to just before Rainham I decided to take the train to Canterbury as otherwise I’d arrive in Canterbury far too late to be able to meetup with Gregory Williams, an OSMer and local cycle campaigner that I hadn’t met in ages. He gave me an interesting tour along a new cycle path out to the West of Canterbury, that I had walked part of the way along a couple of years back with another friend. After dinner I headed back on the train down to Dover to the guest house that I was staying in for the night, so that I could add an extra day of cycling, and also not have to get up too early for a train to Dover. I cycled a total of about 50 miles on the first day.

On Friday morning after breakfast I headed down to Dover Priory station to meet my cycling companion for the trip for the first time, before heading down to the docks to check-in and get on the ferry. The ferry journey was pretty uneventful. We set off north up the coast. I took a little diversion off the routes that I have used in the past and went a little further inland and found this lovely cycle path that ran parallel to the main road, however it seemed to be going too far in land for where we were going.

A little further down the road my companion had a little mechanical failure on his bike with the crank arm coming loose. We needed an allon key a size larger than either of us had. While we were stopped to take a look at the problem a French cyclist came past and took a look. He had a check to see if he had the tool that we needed, which he didn’t, he was then helpful in miming directions to us, with some help from my companion’s broken French.

We found a garage (though not the Renault one he directed us to) and managed to ask to borrow the tool needed. About 10 minutes further down the road, the same problem reappeared, so we found another garage and properly tightened it this time. We came across a Decathlon so popped in and bought the tool needed, just in case the same issue occurred again.

 Next mechanical issue was a puncture in my companion’s bike, where something had gone through the sidewall of the tyre. We stopped and changed the inner tube, then about ten minutes later he had another puncture at the point of the split in the tyre, thus we stopped again and replaced the tube. As we were pumping up the tyre, I noticed it bulging, so decided to put some cardboard from the inner tube packet inside the tyre at the split in the tire to stop it bulging. This allowed us to get the next 30 miles to Oostende until we could get a replacement tyre the following morning.

The cycle into Dunkirk is a much nicer experience than cycling in the UK as there are cycle lanes of a reasonable width most of the way, motorists are a lot more patient and closer to the town centre there are cycle paths separating you from the motor traffic. We grabbed lunch in Dunkirk from a nice little sandwich shop.

  We continued heading up the coast to our accommodation in Oostende for the next two nights. We timed it quite well for arriving in the hostel, as another cyclist had just checked-in before us, and was also looking for dinner, so once we’d parked our bikes for the night in the hostel and dumped our bags, we headed out. This guy was pretty insane with the amount that he knew about bikes, and the amount of cycling that he done. He is a Dutch postman, and was pretty shocked to hear that the Royal Mail in the UK were getting rid of bikes for their posties.

It was a pretty pleasant 65 miles that we cycled on the Friday. Route taken.

  On the Saturday after breakfast in the hostel we headed up the coast from Oostende and stopped at a Steak restaurant overlooking the beach in Zeebrugge. It was quite interesting to spot a real pub bike with beer on tap, unlike the pedibuses in London. After lunch we continued up the coast into the Netherlands until we hit the LF1, otherwise known as the North Sea Cycle Route, at which point we started following it south and headed inland towards Brugge.

 At one point just after turning onto a canal towpath I stopped to take a photo of a sign and my companion wasn’t looking where he was going crashed into the back of me breaking my chain case clip. We managed to find some elastic string on his backpack which allowed the case to be strapped together and me to continue using the case for the journey back home. After a few more days the string broke and I had to use masking tape to hold it together until I could get a replacement.

As we were cycling south it suddenly got noticeably colder, further on my companion noticed a flash of lightening. Then it started getting very dark rapidly and ahead we could see it raining. As we were passing a village on the other side of the canal the first drops of rain started. As we stood by a bridge deciding whether we should continue on to Brugge and probably get soaked or to find shelter in the village the rain started to come down more. We headed to the nearest restaurant and sat the very heavy thunderstorm out as it took half an hour to pass over us. We were very glad that we didn’t try to continue.

 From there into Brugge was pretty dry, with just the odd spots of rain. We pretty quickly found the central square to get our dinner. On sitting down and being handed the menu the waiter gave a long passage which just sounded like garbage, my companion was just nodding along going yeah, yeah, we’ll have that. I had to ask the waiter to repeat in English, and he said “Oh sorry I thought you were French”, thanks to my companion’s constant broken French whenever he was talking with the locals.

After dinner I decided that it would take too long to cycle back to the hostel that we were staying, such that we got there at a reasonable time and were still awake the following day for the cycle back to Calais. The guy behind the counter wasI cycled 57 miles on the Saturday. Saturday’s route.

Sunday was fairly uneventful. We took a more inland route for the first part back that took in some canal and part of the North Sea Cycle route. It was a very strong head wind, which I found rather tiring and found it very difficult to get any speed going along. The strong wind did mean that we ended up taking the ferry after the one that we were originally booked out, which wasn’t an issue since we had open return tickets.

Whilst we were waiting to board the ferry, we got talking to another larger group of cyclists that had been over in France for the weekend on longer cycle rides than what we done. They were surprised at the size and weight of my Dutch bike, and started a game of see who can lift it. They all found it much heavier than their own bikes, even without the panniers. They were missing a little trick in lifting things like a bike in a way such that the weight is balanced across both hands works better, so if they’d picked it up differently, it would have been easier.

We had just missed a train so had over half an hour to wait for the next one back into London due to be late evening. On the final day I had cycled about 60 miles. Sunday’s journey.

Full set of photos from the trip on Flickr

A week in Dumfries

At the start of October I took a week’s holiday up north in Dumfries in the run up to the Dumfries Mapping Party. It was a great week of mostly cycling, sightseeing and ended with a mapping party, held in the local leisure centre, DG One, which has some council meeting rooms.

Heading out I was waiting on the Royal Mail delivering some OpenStreetMap reflective vests, which were supposed to have been delivered a few days earlier, though unreliable mail delivery is one downside of strike action. It meant that I had to delay my departure from home, thankfully I had bought the flexible train tickets from London to Dumfries, rather than the advance fares where you can’t change the train your travelling on and were only a couple of pounds cheaper when I was purchasing my tickets.

The original trains that I had planned to get had a short, reasonable delay between them, however the train I ended up getting from London meant that there was over an hour wait in Carlisle. I couldn’t be bothered waiting, so I decided to set off towards Dumfries following the National Cycle Network Route 7, which at the time was only mapped to the edge of Carlisle. When I crossed the border, I checked the train times from Gretna Green on my phone and realised that the train that I would have got from Carlisle was due in about the time it would take me to get to the station. Sure enough I had a minute or two to wait on the platform before the train (with space for six bike at one end of the train, yeah ScotRail do know how to transport bikes unlike some other train companies I can think of) appeared. Later on in the week I completed the rest of the NCN7 from South of Dumfries to Gretna Green which hadn’t already been added to OpenStreetMap.

Cycle track from my week in Dumfries

Cycle track from my week in Dumfries

I’ve had a little play with the Party Render scripts to produce the lovely image on the left. I customised the place names that were shown a bit to make it clearer.

On the Wednesday meeting up with the local OSM contact (who goes by the name disgruntled, or known in the real world as Sally) for the first time at the Wednesday Wheelers meetup. It was quite interesting to see and hear the older generation happily cycling 10-30 miles for their regular weekly meetup. I felt quite at home considering my normal commute (well at the time) was 8-10 miles in each direction, and most people I speak to are surprised at the distance I cycle each day.

Then on the Thursday I took a rather long ride over the hills of Ae and added the lcn 10 from Dumfries to Moffat. Sally had already mapped the first section of the route, which was a really nice cycle track, which had been converted from an old railway line. It was fairly flat until I got to Ae, where there is the Forest of Ae mountain bike trails, with some really steep hills that I wasn’t expecting. Thankfully just before the climb, and in time for a late lunch there was a nice little cafe, with a bike shop in the same building. Heading over the hills there were some really pretty views. It was also nice being in the middle of nowhere and only being able to hear some birdsong, and the light breeze in the trees. Once I hit the downhill, I found it pretty scary, as I wasn’t used to going down such a long hill with that style of track and occasional cattle grids.

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On my return I took an earlier, but late running, train to Carlisle and cycled round Carlisle to get a bunch of it mapped.

I was really impressed with the way that Sally had managed to write and get published an article in the local paper. She’s also been a great local contact and mapper. Dumfries council organised the nice venue, with the event being part of the Smarter Choices, Smarter Places programme in Scotland.

I’ve been uploading the photos I’ve taken to Flickr in various sets. Then importing them into CycleStreets, so that they will appear in the route listings when you plan a route in the Dumfires area.

The Crap-O-Surface Detector

Even in this day and age, the roads the general public cycle on are riddled with potholes, speed humps falling over themselves, or general unevenness around man hole covers and drains. I’m fed up with having to look at the road in front of me for these bicycle damaging unevenness and potholes instead of at the surrounding traffic, which to be honest is more important.

There is already a service in the UK for reporting these defects to the local council, called FixMyStreet. There is even have an iPhone app for reporting problems while on the ground. However I felt that not enough people knew about FixMyStreet, and even fewer were reporting problems. So I decided to come up with a way to automate these reports to the local councils even further.

I believed that these uneven roads could be crowd sourced through recording a GPS track, and a storage of seismograph by using the accelerometer in the iPhone or iPod Touch. These tracks are merged together and tied to the road network automagically, now that there are enough tracks in the system, analysis is running constantly to find places where many people regularly have a high vibration, when flying over a speed hump, or just about halted as though you have hit the kerb straight on by finding a conspicuous pot hole in the middle of a bus lane, about one bus length away from a sunken drain.

Some of the crowd sourcing community have taken this a step further and provide a video stream of the whole cycle ride, which again is synced up with the GPS trace, and used as evidence of poor quality road surface. The whole sync process is done automagically after you upload. It is even more accurate if you up load a photo of the time on the GPS and the seismometer.

OpenStreetMap is now using this data to enter all the traffic calming, in a few months time the Crap-O-Surface Detector service will start automatically suggesting places where there are speed humps, and giving the appropriate, err smoothness tag* for every road.

CycleStreets have found the data to be so good, that they have decided to postpone implementing traffic lights, specific routes, fixing the OSM to Cycle Streets types, and of course hill avoidance, in favour of using the data from the Crap-O-Surface Detector service. Don’t worry, all the other items are still on the todo list.

So I’m please to announce that the Crap-O-Surface Detector is now out of the private pre-Alpha, and today entering the Beta stage in the software cycle, please head over to to see how you can participate, while watching more roadworks in the places that really, really need them. Once the roadworks are gone, you should (if the council contractor has been doing their job properly) see a marked improvement in the road surface.

New Year cycling

With the extra eating over Christmas, I’ve started out on my (evening) cycling again. On the 1st of January I headed out East and got to Rochester before getting on the train home. On the way near to Ebbsfleet International I found a rather interesting sign that I just had to take a picture of.


After uploading it to Flickr, I check that I had geocoded it right, by looking at the map on Yahoo. I got very confused. It seems that Flickr need to start using OpenStreetMap data for London. Yahoo don’t that the new Channel Tunnel Rail link and some of the new roads around Ebbsfleet International, though they do have the location of Ebbsfleet International. Compare Yahoo with OpenStreetMap.

UPDATE: Looking further it seems that Flickr are using older map tiles compared to, but appear to be the same tiles as used in Yahoo UK


On the way I was testing out some routing using osm data, and found a few data bugs. One very important one being a primary road that goes through a tunnel, which doesn’t allow cyclist, pedestrians, nor horse drawn carriages, hence routing cyclists through it shouldn’t be done.

On the 2nd day of the year, I took the train down to Caterham, which is just inside the M25, and then cycled back up mostly using the NCN21. On passing through New Addington, I got a little mapping done on the way, mostly new roads that are completely missing from OSM, there is a lot of mapping required down there. Anyone up for a mapping party?

Bradford Mapping Party

On Saturday 27 September I done a day trip to Bradford for an OpenStreetMap mapping party. It was almost 5 hours of travel in each direction, but was worth having some face to face discussion with some of the other mappers and developers. I mapped most of sector 6, with the exception of the South Western edge.

I wished I could have stayed longer at the pub after the mapping, as there was some interesting discussion about the state of the OpenStreetMap project.

There is an excellent animation of where the mappers were.

Dragheda Mapping Party Review

Last weekend (22-25 August) I went over to Dublin for the Dragheda Mapping Party. I took the train and ferry over, instead of flying, so that I could take my bike. I did get some coding and catching up done on the train and ferry. I found it interesting that Virgin Trains run electric to Crewe, then attach a diesel locomotive on the front to continue into Holyhead. I also found that Virgin Trains now have “enhanced mobile reception” on their trains. I did have to give up trying to use the GPS as Virgins don’t have enhanced gps reception.

I was staying in Dublin and travelling up to Dragheda each day. There has been some considerable progress in the area over the weekend, going from only the main roads mapped to most of the town being mapped by the end of the weekend.


There was some pre-event publicity in a local paper. However the original press release that went out somehow got completely mis-interpreted.

On the Saturday there was a lot of overlap between the mappers, so we got all the traces and photos loaded on to Dermot McNally’s Mac, and done the editing all at once. It prevented people adding the same roads multiple times.

P1050287.JPGOn the Sunday morning I was picked up by Dermot and we done some car mapping on the way to the venue. At one point we had to get out and hold the vegetation back so that we could take a picture of the street sign.

On the way back I hit the start of the 17 day closure of the west coast mainline for rail works, so had to change trains and get lost going from Birmingham New Street to Birmingham Moor Street. I did manage to get a trace all the way back, and map a few streets in Holyhead. Probably should have stayed in Holyhead to do some more mapping and take a later train.

2nd Leeds Mapping Party

Just a quick review of the Leeds Mapping party last week (16th and 17th August), and the Leeds Bar Camp that it was part of. In a few weeks, I’ll do a nonames animation to show the progress over the previous few weeks, similar to what I done for my State of the Map 2008 presentation. It takes a few weeks for everyone to enter the data (I’ve not had time yet), and for it to show up in the weekly planet file. I also want to show the effect of the aftermath.

On the Saturday, it was a BarCamp day. I had various people ask varying questions about OpenStreetMap from the those who didn’t know anything about OSM, to why doesn’t OSM have altitude data. By the end of the day, anyone there should know what OpenStreetMap is. There was many people who were saying that they would have come to the mapping party the following day, but they only had time to be at BarCamp for the one day.

I went to various interesting presentations/discussions and learned some useful things, such as how simple it is to create an iPhone app, though I don’t know if the sample code used was posted somewhere (if that’s allowed under NDA). At the end of the day we all went to the pub across the road for drinks.

On Sunday, there was one stream specifically for OpenStreetMap. We started off at 11am with a mixed group of newbies, and experienced mappers, where I gave a introductory presentation on openstreetmap. The interesting thing about having the 3 other experienced mappers there too, was that they were able to share their techniques too. This usually means that the other mappers learn some keyboard shortcut, or how to do photo mapping, for example.

Before lunch we went out as a 2 groups to do some group mapping. In some places we would split off to map a series of foot paths or the outlines of playgrounds, and then come back together again. We went back to Old Broadcasting House for lunch, and to teach the newbies how to do photo mapping. Later in the afternoon there was some more mapping. By this time my GPS had decided it wanted to kiss the floor once too often, so was no longer working. Instead of going out mapping with the rest of the mappers, I stayed behind to talk to some of the other bar camp folk a bit more about osm and play warewolf for the first and possibly last time.

Overall most of the crowd that were there, were excited about OpenStreetMap and its potential. We should now have some more mappers in the North England. In the future, I’ll try and get to some more BarCamps.

Apple’s Developer Site has Crashed

With the news that Apple has released the SDK for the iPhone, their developer site is currently unavailable. It seems to be have exceeded Apple’s expectations in terms of demand.

I’m currently wondering if there will be access to the Bluetooth in the SDK so that I can connect a bluetooth GPS and produce some nice mapping application for OpenStreetMap. With unlimited data, a fairly large (for a mobile device) touch display, it may well be an idea device to do the mapping in the field.
Hopefully I’ll earn a bit more soon, so that I can afford the mobile contract.

Cycling: Edinburgh to Berwick and Back

Further to my previous post about my bike. I had problems getting a proper chainring from half the bike shops in Edinburgh, so instead I got a second hand bike that was similar to my old one.

Just over a year ago, I cycled from Edinburgh to Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Since then I have been trying to do it in both directions. However the past occasions that I tried to do it something came up. On Saturday I left home for a rather long cycle. Before I left I loaded TrekBuddy with a map of South East Scotland so that I had some idea of where I was.
The overall cycle was tough. First I headed out East from Edinburgh through Musselburgh on to the A199, out to Dunbar. Parts of the A199 have some nice cycle lanes. As the road is fairly flat and straight you can easily get the speed up to do a nice sprint. This was the easy part of the route, as I have done it before.

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At Dunbar I started to head south towards Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Parts of this part of the A1 can be scary, however it the only way south close to the coast that I know of. In the middle of the Borders, I decided to head through Pease Bay again. It is a steep road down to the bay, where the caravan park is, however it is even steeper on the other side heading out of the bay.
As I had the map in TrekBuddy, I was able to find the A1107, which joins the A1 with Eyemouth in a loop. This helped me to stay off the A1 for a lot longer than I did the last time. It was a nice road into Eyemouth, with some great views of the North Sea. From Eyemouth I headed along the “Berwickshire Coastal Route”, which meant that I was on the A1 for even less, and I’d have even more data to be able to add to
At the border between Scotland and England, I took a snack and photo break.
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From the Border, it is only a few miles more into Berwick, where I joined the National Cycle Network Route 1 to head back to Edinburgh.
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The National Cycle Network takes you on the quietest roads possible. This will usually mean that they are quite hilly, longer and going into the middle of nowhere.  There were some points where you could just see fields or trees, but no lights apart from my own bike or the occasional car. As you are heading west along the National Cycle Network, it does zig zag between Scotland and England a few times. At one point there is a bridge that was built in 1820, and still in use today.
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In Norham there was a sign that was rather confusing, as it had the wrong National Cycle Network Route number. Just as well I used the name of the city I wanted to head towards, rather than the route number.
Just before Galashiels, I stopped to check the GPS and found that the phone no longer seen it. Unfortunately the battery in the bluetooth GPS that I’m currently using only lasts for about 12 hours according to the manufacturer. It lasted about half an hour longer, than the manufacturer’s stated operating time, so should I be happy that I couldn’t get the last bit of the trip? The cold weather didn’t help either, as batteries tend to have a shorter life when they are cold.
From there on, there was no point in me taking any more pictures as I wouldn’t be able to Geotag them. Also it was dark so it was difficult to take any decent pictures. Finally stopping to take pictures does slow my average speed down considerably, and I was wanting to get home rather than be on the bike for a whole 24 hours.
From Galashiels I just hit the A7 north to Edinburgh. I did notice on the way that the signs appeared to change from green to white like a yo-yo. Is it a trunk road or a primary road?
Total Distance was about 150 miles in 17 and three quarter hours. Next up on the longer distance cycling is to head round the Forth again.
Now I just need to get the tracks from yesterday added to OSM (amongst the numerous other things I need to do).

Cycling:Saturday CTC cycle 2008-01-19

Today I took part on the CTC Saturday cycle for the first time. Total distance including getting to and from the start and finish was 51 miles.

As I raced to the meeting point of the Commonwealth Pool, I found the first part of the ride slow. Later on, especially with the head wind I found the pace of the group to be about right. I’m not able to sustain a high speed over a long enough distance to be able to move up to the next level of the road club.