Being an avid motorcyclist in western NY is tough. If I’m lucky, I’ll get 8 months out of the year where I am able to get around on the bike in reasonably comfortable temperatures. Here it is October, for example, and I’ve already ridden in 30 degree temps. Add in the salt that my county throws down on the roads to melt snow, and my riding season can easily be cut to 6 months if the first snow comes early (October) and the last arrives late (April). It makes for a long winter.
One of the things that usually keeps me going through those winter doldrums is planning out road trips. I probably have over a dozen saved on various mapping sites spread across the internet, and in fact used one exclusively to fine-tune my 2400 mile trip last August. The problem with online route-planning sites, however, is that they are online, and if I happen to wander in an area with no connection for the laptop, I am stuck with no convenient way to do additional route research when I am stopped for the night (other than paper maps, of course, which I always have with me since I currently don’t own a dedicated GPS unit).
To make matters worse, RouteBuddy is the only stand-alone routing and mapping solution for the Mac, and it is horribly cost prohibitive. The software itself retails at $100.00, but that doesn’t include any maps! If you want to actually use that $100 piece of software, you’ll have to shell out another $60 for North American street maps. To be fair, I’ve heard pretty good things about it, but $160 is quite simply outrageous, and the “fully functioning demo” only includes “an example road map of Santa Fe, and a topographic map of Yosemite Valley.” Hardly full functioning if there’s not enough map data included for someone in NY to test out all the features of the product. It isn’t even a consideration at this point.
There are some alternatives though. I’ve tried out the demo of Microsoft’s Streets and Trips ($40.00) while running the demo of VMWare’s Fusion PC virtualization software ($80.00). It worked well, even if it did feel a bit clunky, but the 2011 version of S&T should be coming out any day, so I don’t want to plunk down the money until it’s available. I also know I’m going to be picking up a GPS unit for the bike (no I haven’t quite decided which one yet, but most likely the Zumo 660), and even though I haven’t heard many good things about Garmin’s MapSource for Mac, I’ll likely hold off until I can try it out for myself since I think it’s free with the GPS unit.
Which leaves me for now with all the different online routing and trip planning services. I’ve used more than a dozen of them over the years as I tried to find a single solution that lets me do what I want. There are some pretty specific things I look for in a trip planning solution, most of which I consider a deal breaker if violated:
- Choice of Road Type
- Avoid Highways – There’s nothing more boring for me than four to twelve lanes of tarmac that plows straight through the countryside.
- Avoid Toll Roads – What can I say… I’m a cheap bastard.
- Allow Seasonal Roads – Since I picked up the GS, this is actually really, really important. When I only had the Indian I kept an eye out for them when I was on the road, but now I actively seek them out.
- Route by Shortest Distance rather than by Fastest Time – Fast time usually means increased traffic on highways or well-traveled byways. I’d rather keep looking for “short-cuts” which often reveals much more interesting roads than trying to get there quick.
- No built-in limit for mileage, number of roads traveled, types of roads traveled, or number of stops. My early planning stages tend to start out long – REALLY long. My current plan, for example, started as a trip to the four corners of the US – over 10,000 miles through seven Canadian provinces and twenty-four states. It may not be that long when I finally figure out where I am going, but I need the ability to accommodate those longer trips.
- Ability to modify the route “by hand.”
- Ability to save multiple routes.
In separate posts over the next few weeks, I’ll take a look at what I consider the major players in online Routing Solutions:
If you think I missed a good one, post a link in the comments and I’ll work it in.