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Gear Prudence: I love to bike and would do it to more places, but I have a problem: I’m severely (severely!) navigationally challenged. It seems like every time I try to ride somewhere new I get lost. I spend more time looking at the map on my phone than actually riding, and even then, I still manage to get lost. It’s very discouraging and sometimes makes me not want to bike at all. Do you have any advice on how to overcome this? —Lousy, Overwhelmed, Stranded, Tired
Dear LOST: Lesser bike advice columnists would recite some trite cliche about embracing the joys of getting lost and discovering a new sense of adventure and how if not for mistakes, countless discoveries would never have been made. Maybe they’d reference some fake Edison quote or try to make an analogy about Christopher Columbus that leaves out all the unsavory parts. GP calls bullshit. Getting lost on your bike sucks, and while “embracing a spirit of adventure” looks good embroidered on a throw pillow or said by the best friend in a Julia Roberts movie, it’s less fun when you’re standing on the side of a road you don’t know, needlessly delayed and pissed at yourself for not being able to achieve the seemingly simple task of just getting where you’re going. It’s a pain in the ass, and dealing with it will invariably make you a much happier cyclist.
Assuming that you don’t want to stop going new places and also assuming that you’re not going to hire an Uber to drive in front of you and lead the way, you still have a few options to mitigate your distress. GP doesn’t like to bike anywhere new without first taking a good long look at the map before leaving to see if there are any parts of the route that might seem familiar. Having even one or two roads that you know from previous rides can reduce some of the anxiety that comes with novelty. If none of the roads are familiar, it’s at least smart to try to remember one or two “big” roads that are key to the route. Also, a lot of the stress of navigation can be reduced if you keep your route as simple as possible.
But you don’t need to dismiss technology entirely. Your phone is there to help you, and your local bike shop sells devices that allow you to mount it to your bike for exactly these purposes. Or, depending on your level of commitment to not getting lost, you could invest in a bike computer with turn-by-turn directions. In either case, don’t let your worry about getting lost overwhelm your primary responsibility of staying upright.
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.