Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ride report: Covey Hill 185km (with cue sheet)

The important thing first: I forgot my camera at home, and this will therefore be text-only. Which is a real pity because the ride went through some really lovely countryside.

The triangle between the St. Lawrence, the US border and the A15 is very flat. Covey Hill is the one exception to that rule, and it's a pretty popular destination amongst cyclist. I had read some lovely-sounding ride reports on Montreal Cycle Fun, but up until now I didn't have enough confidence in my abilities to make it there all the way from Montreal, meaning at least 180km of riding.

Yesterday, I finally gave it a try. After some searching on GPSies I initially planned to follow this route by the Club Cycliste Cycle Pop. After looking at the route more closely, however, I realized that there were long stretches where the route needlessed followed busy provinicial highways and I decided to create my own route.

From our apartment on the Lachine Canal, I followed the Route Verte across the Pont Champlain Estacade and then went upstream to the St. Catherine Locks on the Seaway. If you haven't been there before, this stretch is a real cycle super-highway: It's a service road on the dike separating the St. Lawrence river and the Seaway, continuing for about 20 kilometers between Parc Jean Drapeau and the St. Catherine locks. Due to dense vegetation on both sides it's actually a somewhat boring ride in summer and fall -- I guess just like driving on a real highway. Once you're back on the mainland, the route goes more or less straight south, first on cycle tracks and then on quiet country roads. The area south of the Montreal suburbs is primarily farmland and thus not too exciting. After following one of the many versions of "Rue Principale" for many kilometers I turned left on 1er Rang which turns into a gravel road through a forest. In the middle of the forest, I unexpectedly crossed a paved rail trail, the Sentier du Paysan which runs northwest from Lake Champlain towards Beauharnois. My route continued south on Chemin White, however, and soon I reached the junction with Route 219. This road is slightly more busy but still nice to ride on. In Hemmingford, a charming little town, I made my first stop, and I noticed that I now was in a clearly bilingual part of Quebec. Right before getting to the US border, I turned west on Covey Hill Road. It takes a while to get to the actual hill, but the road is a very scenic country road over rolling hills and lined with romantic overgrown stone walls. Covey Hill itself is only 350 meters high but the approach from the east is pretty steep. I used to be a decent climber while still living in hilly Upstate New York, but after a year in Montreal (and in the searing heat) it was tough to get up there with my 34-27 gear.

I was mildly disappointed when getting to the top, as I had expected nice vistas of Vermont's Green Mountain and of Mont Royal. Well, not so much, at least at this time of year, as the trees block the view in all directions. The western approach to the hill is much more gradual and it was very enjoyable to coast down the road to the intersection with Route 209. Ideally one would turn north one road earlier, but Montée Covey Hill has an impassable bridge, thereby requiring a detour.

Once again, despite being a provincial road, 209 had very little traffic, and soon I turned on more quiet country roads through a nature preserve. After not too long you reach the Chateauguay River which I followed on its western side (on the other side is busy Route 138). At this point I had run out of water and the sun and heat were relentless. In general, I don't mind riding in the heat, but in mid-May my body wasn't quite in summer mode yet. Unfortunately, my exhaustion detracted a bit from the great riding along the river. Finally, I arrived in Sainte-Martine and after some confusion stopped at a supermarket. I was feeling pretty crappy at that point, but a 1.5l bottle of water, a can of V8, and a Clif Bar mostly got me back into shape. The most direct way back to Montreal from Ste.-Martine would be on Route 138 but that is definitely not advisable. Instead, I turned southeast again on Route 205 into the little village of St.-Urbain-Premier and then headed left onto Montée de la Grande-Ligne/Route 207 (another very popular road name around here). Another nice and quiet road, even though it probably had the worst pavement, which my hands and lower back did not appreciate. Route 207 leads right into Sainte-Catherine and on a cycle track I got back to the locks.

After less than 10 hours and 185km (this must be a bit off, as the planned route was 188 and I had at least one detour) I arrived back home. I was probably still dehydrated, but after a cold shower and a cold beer I quickly recovered. Overall this is a highly recommended ride, and since there are several campgrounds along the route one could also do it as a two-day trip.

For your convenience, I'm providing a cue sheet for the ride.

Start at the end of the Pont Champlain Ice Control Structure on the St. Lawrence dike.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Measuring rim sidewall thickness

If you're using rim brakes, it's a certain fact of life that at some point you'll have deal with rim wear. Braking gradually grinds down the sidewalls of a rim, and at some point they become so thin that they will break. If you're lucky, this will happen at home while you're pumping up your tires. If you're less lucky, it'll happen somewhere in the middle of nowhere, leaving you stranded. And if you're even less lucky, the exploding rim will cause you to crash. How long a rim will last is very hard to predict, as it very much depends on riding style, brake type, and environmental conditions. I have so far only had one rim failure (I was medium lucky: no crash, but I had to walk home three kilometers through freezing rain), and that happened on my everyday bike after less than 10 000 km. Rims can last much, much longer, or they can fail even earlier.
Sidewall failure

Most modern rims will have indicators for telling you when the sidewalls are getting to thin. There are basically two types: Either it is a thin groove machined into the sidewall, visible from the beginning. With that type it's time to change your rim when the groove is no longer visible. The second type is a little hole not visible on a new rim, and only once enough material has been taken off the rim it will appear. Since the first type can cause some problems with brake pad wear, the second type is more common. The issue with that type, however, is that you basically have no way of telling how close you are to the point of having to change the rim. Additionally, sidewalls often wear unevenly, caused for example by slightly untrue wheels. That means that even if the indicator hasn't appeared yet it's possible that some parts of the sidewall are already dangerously thin.

My somewhat sad attempt of a DIY measuring tool

Consequently, it would useful to have a different way of measuring the thickness of your sidewalls. Unfortunately, you can't just use your calipers because of the lip that holds in place clincher-type tires. Some people use calipers on the outside of the rims, taking one measurement with a deflated tire and then one with a fully inflated or overinflated tire. As a general indicator this is certainly useful, but not very precise. A more precise measurement can be had by using a nifty DIY tool made from an old spoke that will allow you to measure the wear of your rim using calipers. You can find extensive instructions here, but the basic idea is that you have two pieces of a known diameter -- a regular straight gauge spoke measuring 2.0mm --, put them on the rim, measure with the calipers and the subtract the diameter of the spokes times two. I have tried building that tool according to the instructions but even my second attempt doesn't look nearly as nice as the one shown in the article, and that made the measurements tricky and not very precise.

Iwanson gauge on a rim with about 1.25mm sidewall left
If you're similarly mechanically challenged there is hope, though. Fortunately, dentists have similar measurement needs, and they have come up with a dedicated instrument, the Iwanson gauge or Iwanson calipers. Cheap ones can be had for less than 20 dollars shipped on Amazon or on Ebay. With the Iwanson gauge you can measure quickly and directly. Jobst Brandt thinks that 0.5mm is the absolute minimum, and other sources suggest that anything under 1mm is problematic. This, of course, refers to the thinnest spot on the rim. So make sure to take several measurements all around the rim, no matter which measuring method you use. In addition, it might be a good idea to measure your sidewalls when they're still new, in order to have a point of comparison for later measurements.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Creating a bike map for Garmin devices based on OSM data

The end result: a cycle map in Basecamp
Update September 2012: A while ago, Henning suggested minor modifications to the commands in steps 2 and 6 that should improve performance.

I don't think I've written a plug for OpenStreetMap (OSM) on this blog yet, but in case you didn't know: OSM is an awesome project, and I'm a regular contributor to and user of their database.

In preparation for my ride to Toronto I wanted to create a bike map to put on my Garmin GPS. For many regions in Europe pre-made cycling maps for Garmin are available but you have to DIY. I had created a OSM-based cycling map before but it only covered an area of 200km around Montreal. Creating that map had not been without problems, and unfortunately in the meantime I forgot a lot of the steps necessary. Consequently, this time I'm going to document the process for myself and others. I've tried to keep the instructions as dummy-friendly as possible, not requiring any deep understanding of the processes and programs involved. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I'll try to answer them.

Before we get started, I should send out props to OSM-contributor and bike tourer Henning Scholland/aighes. If you live in Europe you don't have to create your owns maps but just download the ones he created. He has also been very helpful in guiding me through the process of generating my first map. Now let's make a map.

Step 1: Download data

First you have to download the data of the desired region. In the ideal case somebody will already have prepared an extract for that region. If that's the case you can move to step 3. In Canada, however, it is tricky: on the one hand, you probably won't want a map of all Canada (I heard Canada is big and cycling in the Northern Territories is kinda lonesome); on the other hand you probably want to include some parts of the US. In order to achieve that you will have to create your own extract, either from the "planet," i.e. the entirety of all OSM data, or from the North America extract which has a more manageable download size of about 5GB.

Step 2: Determine the bounding box and extract data

Once you have downloaded the several gigabytes of data you will use the tool osmosis to extract the chunk of data that you want. That chunk is called the "bounding box", and it is basically a rectangle, defined by the coordinates of its four corners. 

Install and run Osmosis: Download Osmosis and extract it into a folder. Open the command line and navigate to that folder. Run Osmosis as follows:

osmosis --read-pbf file="c:\Users\Harald\Downloads\america_north.osm.pbf" --bounding-box left=-81.0131836 top=47.2195681 right=-69.8730469 bottom=42.5368920 cascadingRelations --write-pbf file=Northeast.osm

The read-pbf option tells osmosis what kind of input file it is dealing with. The file parameter is the map data file you downloaded in step 1. The easiest way for entering the correct  bounding box values is by using the export function on the slippy map: zoom to the desired area, click "Export," and copy the four coordinates you need (if you don't have quite the bounding box you want you can click "Select area manually" and then draw a rectangle). What cascadingRelations does I don't really know but it's probably good to include it. write-xml determines the output format and shouldn't be changed. The final file then determines where to the output will be written.

Extracting the bounding box for a large region can take a while and create big files (in my case it was 8GB for an area of 520 by 880 km).

Step 3: Split the tiles

For reasons that don't need to concern you the bounding box extract will now have to be split up into tiles before the actual map making begins. For that download the tool splitter and extract it to a folder.  Install and run splitter with the following parameters:

C:\Users\Harald\Desktop\splitter-r200\java -Xmx1500m -jar splitter.jar c:\Users\Harald\Desktop\osmosis-0.40.1\bin\Northeast.osm

Depending on how big your extract is and how much memory your machine has you will have to adjust the memory allocation with the Xmx parameter. Stated simply: you want to allocate as much memory as possible. If you try to allocate too much you'll get an error message and can adjust the value down. My system has 4GB RAM and I couldn't assign 2000M but 1500M worked. If you don't have enough memory assigned the splitting process will fail. Once again, the splitting will take a while (in my case about 10 minutes). The end result will be a whole bunch of .pbf files, a file called template.args, and one file called areas.list.

Step 4: Download boundaries

In order to have a functioning address search on your Garmin, you will need to integrate administrative boundaries while making the map (i.e. the boundaries of countries, states/provinces, municipalities). Download the file from here and unzip into the same directory as your tiles. (Please note that searching for addresses doesn't work all that well in Canada because of a lack of boundary data.)

Step 5: Download map style

If you want to use the style of the aighes's RadReiseKarte (bike touring map), download from his homepage and extract the contents of the data directory into the folder containing your map data. You should now install mkgmap. After the installation you can do a quick test of the style file: run mkgmap as follows (depending on where you put your files you have to modify the path to the style folder):

java -jar mkgmap.jar --style-file=data/style_rrk -- list-styles

This should produce an output of
The following styles are available:
style_rrk            1: No summary available

Step 6: Create the map with mkgmap

Now run the following, very long command from the directory containing your map data and the style directory:

java -Xmx1500m -jar mkgmap.jar --max-jobs=4 --read-config=data\style_rrk\options --code-page=1252 --mapname=66000000 --overview-mapname=66000000 --family-name="Cyclemap Northeast" --series-name="Cyclemap Northeast April 2012" --description="Cyclemap April 2012" --family-id=6600 --output-dir=maps\ 

Unless you know what you're doing (I certainly didn't when I was doing this myself) I don't recommend changing anything except for the series name and family name parameters and the path to the desired output directory. Once again, you'll have to wait a while until mkgmap finishes.

Step 7: Install map into Mapsource/Basecamp

Mkgmap can create IMG files which you can copy directly onto your Garmin device. In general, however, it's easier to install the map in Mapsource/Basecamp first. This requires you to download the NSIS installation system. Start the program, select the output-dir defined in the previous step, and voila: you have an installer for your new map.

This is what the map will look like in Basecamp at a higher zoom level (I couldn't get a good pic of the map on my Garmin Etrex).