Mrs Google Trips Balls and Heat Maps

Rooted by Mrs Google

Woodend to Macedon - Diary of An eBike Convert

May 12, 2024, 9:31 am

  • distance: 14.8km, 48 minutes
  • elevation gain: 193m at 6.6% average gradient
  • descent: 256m @ -10.5% average gradient

It was supposed to be a ride from Woodend to Sunbury but, by the time I climbed out of the literally 50mm deep hole Mrs Google dug for me (around 4.5km from "Woody") while she was tripping balls in Macedon's satellite shadow, I just wanted to get back home and bailed for the train. Made up the lost distance riding from Southern Cross Station to home.

The route was supposed to take me down past Macedon Reservoir, but was impassable. Middle Gully Rd was the problem, in the satellite shadow, the call to "turn right to stay on Middle Gully Rd" should have been turn left. I wound up at a bricks and mortar, 2m deep, 3m wide drainage culvert. This was NEVER Middle Gully Rd. And forwards was impossible without a bridge. The ride down was at the limit of my technical ability, up was going to be unrideable.

Even with the e-assist, by the time I got out of the hole, I could feel I was pretty close to spent, but still enough in the tank to make Macedon Station. Even then, Ride With GPS heat mapped the F*** out of me and Mrs Google sent me on a wild goose chase ride that only local cafe spinners would ever bother with.

Can we stop heat mapping cycling routes and just go with lowest gradient, most direct routes for basic turn-by-turn? Leave heatmaps to Strava because transport riders like me are sick of being taken where racing/MTB folks want "challenges."

Heatmapping is where GPS systems favour the most popular route. Sounds great, right? Yeah, if you're an athlete in training and you need measures of your progress against others. Then again, do you really, as an elite athlete, need to know you're faster than me, a commuter/tourist/light explorer? Of course you're effing faster than me. A 12yo local club juvenile is faster than me.

The other problem with heat mapping is that most commuters ride where they drive. If you look at RideWithGPS.com, Nepean Hway/Brighton Rd is a "superheated" corridor, everybody in the southern suburbs is cycling it. Yeah, it has bike lanes, yeah it's the shortest route to the CBD, but it's noisy, smelly, is infested with motorists who obstruct the bike lane when the traffic stops. There's a saying in Hamburg that sums it up, cycling is normalised, but marginalised. That is true of Melbourne Australia, and it's because humans are creatures of habit.

After nearly 5 years living in Melbourne, barely 6 months before I retired from work, I discovered a way better route to work - pick up the Elster Creek Trail at Gardenvale shops, turn north onto Broadway, Mitford St, Barkly St, Acland St, Fitzroy St, Albert Park, Clarendon St, Dorcas St and Sturt St to work. 1.2km longer than Brighton Rd/St Kilda Rd, but a full 10 minutes faster because of fewer traffic lights and shorter red light periods. The heat map is NOT the commuter cyclist's friend. Taking the heat map is the lazy ride.

It's a microcosm of what is wrong with the digital data economy. We only get what the unimaginative want, because the majority of humans are too busy, too harried and too focused on their destination to question their journey. And very often, it's Dilbert's Pointy Haired Boss in charge of the feature set scope for the mapping tool. The heatmap is not the best route, it can very often be the worst route for a transport rider. 4 and a half years of the wrong route when I moved to Melbourne, before I discovered the best one. I almost never ride to the city along Brighton and St Kilda Rds anymore. In fact, I've found an even better one since my heart attack. Longer but quicker and quieter at any time of day.

Then there's the satellite shadow. So, having been given the heat mapped route, unsuited to the gravel bike/tourer I ride, especially laden like I was, with the luggage needed for a few days with darling daughter's pets, I now faced panicked turn by turn calls, none of which would put me on the actual route I needed, and could see later on the laptop I'm writing this on. The heatmap was built by mountain bikers and, while I'm an experienced rider, nearly 50 years in traffic, urban and soft roads, I'm not a 20-something and was never very good at mountain biking - a thinker, not a dinker.

In this context, being given a heatmap was irresponsible on RideWithGPS' part. Mrs Google's satellite shadow drug haze only made matters worse. Luckily, as an experienced rider, I turned the GPS apps off altogether and dead reckoned by following the few cars, but this added 4km and nearly 200m elevation and I'm still rebuilding my legs after a long health recovery.

The worst thing about this is, if I turn off my contribution to heat maps, I'll still get sent down the wrong routes for me. I have to keep my heat in the map, or the maps get worse for riders like me, yet my rides make the maps worse for people who need heat maps. I'm a minority rider, so it's not a big effect, but heat maps are piss poor, poorly thought out idea. We need styled heat mapping. What type of rider are you? Select from a list. Then the heat maps for me are built by people like me. The heatmaps for road racers are built by road racers. Most importantly, add a self assessed skill rating, too, maybe even whether you prefer most direct or easiest. Simply heat mapping by every rider for every rider is utterly irresponsible - I just proved that even experienced riders can be led into dangerous places for their riding abilities!

Still, I'm a cycling explorer, I still enjoyed the ride... once I climbed out of the hole. Once I locked Mrs Google in her room to sleep it off. Post ride, my daughter told me that Mrs Google is a serious problem in Macedon Ranges and has sent her on more than a few wild goose chases in her ute. Ride With GPS works in satellite shadow, but the heat maps got me in trouble, then Mrs Google was off her face telling me to take turns that did not exist. The world needs a better app for real world cycling.

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