I like maps. I definitely like maps, and prefer them any day to GPS systems. I’ll admit I’ve never used GPS on my bike, though I’ve used it on Dartmoor walks: having got over the novelty, and marvelled at its precision, I realised that I was more concerned about reaching my waypoints than taking everything around me, despite using it with a good map. I’ll still take it with me on Dartmoor, but just for safety, and not general navigation – it stays turned off, unless the need arises. And I’ll not deny that a bike GPS can have its uses, particularly in unfamiliar big towns, where signage can be erratic and junctions frequent.
But round here there is simply no need for GPS: the towns are not large, and more importantly, the signage is so good that a decent map and the signs are enough.
Firstly, the maps: though I’ve moaned about the paper quality, the IGN 1:100,000 series is ample for cycling, though their elevation data is a bit sparse, and you have to learn to read ‘between the lines’ if you don’t want to get caught out with more climbing than you anticipated.
Then there’s the signage round here – it’s pretty comprehensive, once you know where you’re going. Firstly, there are the general road signs, which always give distances and road numbers. (Note: occasionally a road will have two numbers, if two ‘routes’ share the same road, though there’s only the Grenoble to Gap road round here that I can think of that does that.) Secondly there are the incredibly useful km markers along all but the smallest roads, that give distance from the starting point of the road, distance to the next place, and sometimes elevation and % gradient for the next kilometre. And lastly, there are the river and col signs that can confirm that you’re definitely where you should be.
The point is that if you use a map and your senses you’ll get a much better sense of the geography of wherever you are: not just the narrow strip on which you’re riding, but also the rich landscape around you. And boy, there’s some rich landscape round here.
Photos below come from today’s southerly ride, down to Dieulefit, across to Trente Pas, and back up to return via the Roanne Valley. A pretty awesome ride, both physically and geographically.