Could Solar Flares Cause Garmin Glitches

Sunspot AR 12192 is the largest active sunspot in 24 years.   It is about 20 times the surface area of Earth has has recently produced six solar flares, the largest of which produced as much energy as a billion thermonuclear weapons.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that these solar flares can affect the pick up of gps signals from satellites.  For cyclists using Garmins or other GPS computers, the consequences obviously aren’t as important as they are for airline pilots, but according to experts there could be anomalies in ride data.

“All GPS units can be affected,” said Bifford Williams, a research scientist at Global Atmospheric Technology and Sciences. “GPS works by timing signals from multiple satellites to determine your distance from each satellite and triangulate your position. Flares and coronal mass ejections can deposit particles (electrons, ions) in the upper atmosphere concentrated towards the poles that change the index of refraction which can delay or change the angle of the signals. Too strong an ionized layer can block the signals completely.”

“The effect depends on the accuracy you need, how many satellites are in unobstructed view, and if you can tolerate intermittent dropouts,” Williams said. “Flares will produce effects that are highly variable in time and space, but mostly at higher latitudes.”

So how much will your data be affected?  Garmin spokesperson Amy Nouri said that accuracy for the company’s GPS units is “typically better than 3 meters”, and that any solar-flare related issues would only result in “a slight decrease in accuracy for consumer grade GPS units, which is short lived and typically not observable by the consumer”. Garmin has not had any customer-reported issues.

More of an issue for users relying totally on gps, i.e. with no magnet sensor picking up ‘manual’ readings from the rotation of the wheel, is getting an uninterrupted view of the satellites in the first place.  Solar flare activity is likely to result in a few seconds difference in results whereas cycling under trees or through tunnels will have a much more dramatic effect.

In short, I don’t think I can use it to explain away the extra 10 minutes it took me to cycle home yesterday.  Perhaps I should have spent the last hour training rather than researching excuses!

Road Safety Week – 17th to 23rd November 2014

It is Road Safety Week in the UK.  A week where safety on the road is being publicised.  A week where road users are being urged to look out for each other, especially those most vulnerable on the roads like school children, pedestrians and cyclists.  A week where everyone on the road is being made aware of the lethal weapons that are hurtling about ready to maim and kill if they are not kept under proper control.

No, I hadn’t heard of it either until I received an email asking me to promote it and raise funds to support it.  I would have been happy to do something but the email arrived today, nearly halfway through the week.  Surely it would have been better arriving a few weeks ago to give people a chance to get organised and to start getting the message out there before the week actually started.

Never mind.  I will do what I can because it is an important issue.  For instance, just this morning I was overtaken by an articulated lorry whilst going downhill in a residential area at 25 mph.  It squeezed between me and an oncoming car and then slammed its brakes on for the roundabout not far ahead.  Anticipating the problem I was already on the brakes.  Unfortunately his brakes were rather more effective than mine.  Wet leaves all over the road didn’t help.  Things went into slow motion as I watched the rear of the lorry getting closer and closer as I tried to control my skidding back wheel as it snaked from side to side.  I was inches from impact when the lorry picked up a little speed as it started the turn.  The gap grew to about a foot and then I was able to slither between the lorry and the railed kerb and take the first exit to escape.

I don’t think the lorry driver had been reading much about looking out for other.  Maybe if we can raise some funds there will be the resources to get the message out better next year.

With such a short time scale the best fund raiser I can think of is a pledge by me to donate the profits from all the sales of my week this week to the cause.  So if you have been thinking about buying now is the time to do it.  Just visit for purchase options.

Cycling Land’s End to John O’Groats – The Alternative Route

As an alternative to following my new ‘Safer Way’ route from Land’s End to John O’Groats how about a completely car and lorry free route?

If you invest in the new Schiller X1 ( $6,495, or about £4,000) you could make the entire ride traffic free: you can go by sea!

Pedal-powered watercraft are nothing new but with a cruising speed of about 9mph, this Schiller X1 is quite nippy.  My average speed on a number of sections on my last two cycles across the country was only 10mph.

The Schiller X1 uses twin oscillating propellors so there’s no need for a rudder, and has a Gates Carbon drive belt to avoid the obvious problems of running a chain in wet conditions. It can even go in reverse.

Company founder Judah Schiller says the X1 can be assembled and dismantled in ten minutes and packs down small enough to fit in the boot of a car, though being he’s from Marin County, California, he may be thinking of the trunk of a Lincoln Continental and not the boot of a Smart car.

Here it is in action:


Full details from Schiller Bikes.