Combining bicycle touring, fitness tech, and software development, I’ve embarked upon a virtual tour around Lake Superior. Although cycling around Lake Superior is definitely still on my bucket list, the advent of immersive indoor cycling applications such as Zwift and Rouvy presented the potential for a “virtual” tour that I can undertake until the opportunity for the real tour comes around. Sort of a “practice run” done in the comfort of my home.
In September of 2020, I completed the 1,182 virtual mile circumnavigation and arrived (virtually) back in Sault Ste. Marie right where I had begn almost 2 years earlier. It’s somewhat surprising how “real” some of the memories seem. I sometimes feel as if I really have cycled around Lake Superior. I’ve also started re-riding some of the routes from the other 4 lakes that were previously done in real life and find it it surprising how often a view from the satellite imagery will trigger very vivid memories from the actual ride.
There really is something surprisingly immersive with this approach. The realistic (albeit virtual) speed based on your power output, the gradient changes reproduced by the trainer, and the quality of the satellite imagery definitely creates a sense of realism. It will be interesting to see if there’s a feeling of deja-vu when the opportunity to do this tour in real life comes around.
The technical stuff for those interested in how it’s being done
- Define the route using Google Maps. The route is created on numerous “layers” that each represent a typical day for the actual tour (approximately 60-80 miles.)
- Export a single layer as a KML file.
- use GPS Visualizer to convert the KML to GPX. The KML won’t contain elevation data so it’s important to select “Add DEM elevation data” to “best available source” in order for the trainer (ie: Wahoo Kickr) to simulate the gradients. DEM stands for “Digital Elevation Model” and is a database of known elevations for many points on the earth derived from topographic surveys and/or from orbiting radar or lidar. High-resolution DEMs can produce pretty good estimates, especially for roads and other places where the trees have been cleared and the remote-sensing spacecraft can see clearly all the way to the surface.
- Import the GPX file into Rouvy’s “route editor” and upload to Rouvy’s cloud if necessary.
- Ride the new route with Google Maps satellite view.
- Rouvy is paired with my Wahoo Kickr which simulates the gradients nicely.
- The map shown above is a simple “leaflet” page that pulls the trackpoints from a collection of TCX files downloaded from Rouvy following each ride. There’s also a stand-alone page at virtualbicycletours.com that shows some overall statistics about the progress being made on the virtual tour.
- Rouvy doesn’t give you the option of continuing a ride at the point you ended an earlier one. You can move the rider’s location along the gradient map at the bottom of the screen but it’s a little tedious to find that exact point along a potentially long route (ie: 23 miles into a 60 mile route). It helps to end each ride at a very visible landmark such as a intersection or bridge or simply note the exact distance remaining before ending the session.