Computrainer’s Topo Software

A Primer

 

It’s an enticing concept, one that will make avid cyclists salivate at its promise.  Imagine being able to quickly define routes with mapping software and then ride that course on your Computrainer within minutes. Or, record your favorite routes with a GPS unit and then be able to ride them at home.  It is all now possible with the Racermate version of Delorme’s Topo USA 4.0, along with a new utility program called Racermate Course Creator.  Like many cutting edge products, there are still obstacles and bugs to overcome.  For the motivated cycling enthusiast, however, these problems are worth dealing with.

 

Racermate has collaborated with Delorme, a leader in topographical software and mapping. The Topo USA 4.0 software can export routes (in the form of Excel files) that can be converted to Computrainer course files.  The Topo software normally allows for the creation of several types of routes including “Direct”, “Trail”, or “Road”.  They have now added an option called “Racermate”.  This must be selected in the Route Preferences before attempting to map Computrainer routes.  Included is a “Bridge” feature, which allows for adding bridges over waterways, modifying sections of road, and tunneling through mountains!

 

Once a route has been exported from Delorme, it must be converted to a course file with the Racermate Course Creator software.  To be clear, you will end up with three program icons on your desktop to make all this work; Delorme Racermate Topo 4.0, Racermate Topo Course Creator, and your Computrainer software.

 

Delorme’s Topo USA 4.0

I have been using the non-Racermate version of this software for about a year.  It has been a love/hate relationship.  The features are enormous but unfortunately this leads to excessive complexity and functions that are not intuitive.  There is a search function so that you can easily zero in on the area you wish to develop a route for.  You can then pan and magnify the map very easily until the scale is one that you wish to work with.  One of the very coolest features of the software to be able to see any map in a 3D rendition and even accentuate mountains to make them stand out.  You can rotate the view around two axes so that you can see your route from every possible angle.  It is possible to actually “travel” through mountain passes. Sky and clouds can be added to the view for realism.

 

Here are ten tips for using their software.  Hopefully they will save you some time.

 

  1. The software comes with 6 Topographical CD’s, one for each region of the country.  When starting the software, be sure to have one of these CD’s in your computer.  Don’t be alarmed if the software takes a very long time to start up.  It is reading in all the topo information.
  2. Before starting to create a route, be sure to set your route preferences to “Racermate” and select the type of roads you want the program to default to such as “Primary State Roads”. 
  3. To speed up your graphical display of courses within your Computrainer software, courses created in the Delorme software should be created with the “contour shading” feature turned off.  This can be also be accessed through “Route Preferences”.
  4. When defining a new route, you must place a “Start” maker on the map to begin. 
  5. Delorme suggests that you next place and “End” marker at the end of your route. This may work for someone traveling by car but it creates a lot of extra work when defining a bike route.  You will have to go back and “force” the intermediate route onto your intended course.  Instead, place an “End” marker a mile or so down the road from your start.  You will be able to see if the course that is computed is the one intended.  If not, add a “Via” marker somewhere along the route.  Then move the “End” marker further down the road and repeat the process.  You will end up with “Via” markers near many of the turns.  When doubling back on a section of road already included in the route, be sure to “Add a Via” rather than “Insert a Via”.
  6. Courses cannot be exported to Racermate unless you first use Delorme’s “Profile” feature.  You must place the Profile tool over your route and click on it. This will generate a profile chart at the bottom of your screen. All kinds of neat information are available including total climbing, max climb, climbing miles, descending miles, and so forth. 
  7. When ready to export your route to Racermate, simply click on the “export to Racermate” button.  Note: For the file to be saved in the correct folder, you must first define import/export destinations within the Course Creator software Preferences.
  8. Delorme has loaded several “sample” routes into their software including the Sea Otter Classic.  Unfortunately, in order to ride these courses, you will first have to export them and convert them to course files using Course Creator.  Chances are that Racermate will simplify this process in the near future.
  9. When viewing in 3D mode, be sure to check off the “Horizon” box so that blue sky and clouds are added to the scene.
  10. Finally, there is no direct way to save your work.  It is a bit disconcerting.  However, you will find that if you change to a different route, or try to exit the program a dialog box will appear asking you if you want to save your route. 

 

Racermate Course Creator

The basic function of Course Creator is simply to convert Delorme exported Excel files to Computrainer course files.  It can generate both 3D and PC-1 courses. In general, the software is very easy to use.  It offers the ability to modify any existing course quickly and easily.  You will be presented with a spreadsheet type page, in which distances, grades, and wind speeds can be modified.  Courses that are closed loops can only be modified for wind because changes in other variables will result in a change in the finish point.  Finally, you can quickly display route statistics and profiles.  This will be useful when trying to decide which course to ride on your Computrainer.

 

There are some considerable bugs at this time:

When you examine course profiles and statistics, I found that they often could be wrong.  The profile at the top of the screen may not remotely resemble the profile you created in the Delorme software.  Do not be alarmed, however. When you ride the course from within the Computrainer Software, the correct profile will be presented.  Also, some course statistics were incorrect, particularly “Elevation Gain”.  Finally, the course ratings are incorrect at this time.  Racermate defined a system of difficulty based on “Average Grade”.  Unfortunately, all closed loop courses have an average grade of zero that yields an “Easy” rating.  In fact, all the courses I checked yielded an “easy” rating! I have suggested a rating system to Racermate based on distance and total climbing.

 

Computrainer 3D Software

Once a course has been converted to an ASCII file by Course Creator, it will appear in the list of courses in your Computrainer software.  Generally the software works well, but there is a significant issue relating to out-and-back courses that you should be aware of.  Any course that travels back on the same section of road, or crosses a road previously used will result in “ghosting” images on the screen.  The software actually is trying to display two roads at the same time.  You will see two white lines down the road and the whole image will shimmer a bit.  All trees and scenery are cancelled out for out-and-back routes, and you may see signs appear in the sky, grass strips across the road, or trees without routes!  It is sort of like a ride through fairyland.

 

Racermate has a “work around” for this problem but suggests that you just ride the course with these anomalies.  I agree. The “work around” loses all the accurate turning information and substitutes random turns instead.

 

Extra long routes can be a problem. Delorme suggests putting in a physical “stop” at least every 50 miles.  Racermate says that 100-mile courses can exceed the 32,000 lines of data limited by Windows.  You should divide the routes into two separate parts.

 

Riding the Course

I decided to define a 28-mile course we use on our club Saturday Fitness Ride.  I have ridden the course about 500 times so I know it well.  It is a fast twisty course with rolling hills. None of the climbs are much over 200 feet.  The first 6 miles uses an out-and-back route.  It took about 20 minutes to define the course, mostly because of the numerous turns and the maze of roads in the area.  The exporting and conversion process took less than a minute.  When I started up my Computrainer 3D software, my new course was listed and ready to be loaded.

 

I was excited as I headed out onto the route.  It was amazing that all the turns were exactly in the right place.  Of course the scenery is different and hills to the right and left of the course are randomly generated.  However, all the views of the climbs and descents were very realistic as I approached them.  The hills felt tougher than in real life but I often find this with my Computrainer.

 

I detected a few small climbs and descents that did not seem to be part of the real route.  These can be smoothed out using the “bridge” feature of the Delorme software.  I doubt if I will bother doing this because the course is close enough to reality.

 

At corners you may occasionally find that you ride slightly past the turn before looping back onto the next street.  You can avoid this by placing your “Via” markers slightly before or after the intersection rather than directly in the intersection.

 

Should you buy?

Racermate Topo USA 4.0 is available now at $299.  If you are comfortable with computers, or have someone who can assist you I would say go ahead and buy it.  If you are a computer neophyte, I would suggest waiting until more of the bugs are eliminated. Racermate can only provide tech support for it’s own products.  Delorme provides the tech support for Topo USA 4.0.

 

Almost all of your learning curve will be dedicated to the Delorme software.  Navigation and mapping can be a complicated science.  However, one night spent with the software should get you up to speed.  If you buy the product now, you can expect that there will be further software updates made available on www.computrainer.com for both the Racermate Course Creator software and your Computrainer 3D software.  

 

If you are like me, you can’t wait to get your hands on this product.  Sure, it is cutting edge and has a few bugs. But, being able to pre-ride races or be able to easily create your favorite training routes far outweighs the complications.  It seems like magic. If your winter is anything like we are experiencing here in Massachusetts, it’s a cyclist’s dream.

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