How to use online tracking

Online tracking allows any CTC member to use a smartphone or tablet to record their position on this web site while they ride.

Any member can display the latest positions of one or more riders. Further, members can issue non-members a guest password (which should not be made public) so they can follow riders too.

Online tracking has a number of uses. For example, it can be used by:

  • Partners who would like to know:
    • when to get a meal ready
    • where someone is if they are later than expected
  • Someone wanting to contact a rider (it's easier to hear and handle a phone call at a stop)
  • A rider who has lost the group
  • A leader who has lost a rider

During testing, John Rosbottom's wife, Wendy, called him on his mobile to ask him why he'd taken a wrong turn!

It could also be used for a variety of purposes unrelated to cycling; for example my daughter in Horwich could track my progress up the motorways when Margaret and I visit.

There are a number of similar services available on the web - and they have their benefits. Our service is:

  • Designed to meet our specific needs and (should be) easier to use
  • Advert-free
  • Minimal overhead
  • Free to members

This note explains how to use the service to record your tracks online, and how to monitor positions using the web site.

How to record positions online

Click any of the following to see more information...

You will need a portable device with capabilities to:

  • Access the internet
  • Use the Global Positioning System (GPS) - technically it is also possible for devices to determine their rough position by triangulating mobile phone towers, but it's highly likely a modern phone will have GPS which is far more accurate
  • Store the maps needed by your chosen tracking software - it's unlikely that will be a problem for a modern phone

Typically you will use a 'smart' phone or a tablet with phone capabilities. You don't need to be able to see the display to use the service so it needn't be fixed to your handlebars. Instead, you can put it in a back pocket, for example.

Internet access. There are two kinds of access:

  1. Pay-as-you-go: you pay for using the internet at a rate per megabyte determined by your provider.
  2. Tariff: you pay a certain amount per month and, for that, you get an allowed amount of free internet use over mobile data.

Normally, you don't have to do anything to continue to use the same service abroad. Instead, your provider probably has a roaming arrangement with other providers which take over as you leave the country. Roaming charges can involve a premium, however, so regular travellers sometimes use a SIM card bought in the country to take advantage of local rates.

You also need access to the members' area of our web site (only to log positions - you can invite non-members to see positions, see below). If you don't have access and you are a member of Cycling UK, click here to find out how to get access.

You need an app that can:

  • Track your position
  • Log your position to our web site

Note that if all you want to do is keep a record of where you've been on a ride, you don't need online tracking. Online tracking is not designed to keep a detailed record of your track - that's best done on your phone.

The software we've been using to test the online tracking software is OsmAnd. It has a number of benefits:

  • The app is free
  • You can download up to 7 maps for free (England is one map) and costs for additional maps are low
  • Maps are downloaded to your phone so you don't need internet access to use them
  • Maps can be downloaded to an SD card (useful if your device has an SD slot and limited main memory)
  • You can track your route, and/or follow a pre-planned route
  • Includes route planning
  • Includes a feature to interface with our online tracking service
  • Lots of features and options

Note, however, that although there is an Apple IOS version of OsmAnd, at the time of writing it cannot interface with online tracking. We are looking for a suitable IOS alternative - can you help?

We'll update this section as we learn of other apps that can also use our online tracking service.

At the foot of your profile page you will see options to enter two passwords. The first is the password you will need to connect your mobile device to our online tracking service. The second is a guest password you can issue to non-members so they can monitor positions online without having to go to the members' area first.

We will write separate articles to describe how to set up individual software products. We expect that compatible products will allow you to specify a web address using tokens that get replaced by data when logging each point.

In OsmAnd (the app we used to test the tracking service), the web address for online tracking looks like this:

https://www.portsmouthctc.org.uk/ctc-trackme.php?lat={0}&lon={1}&timestamp={2}&user=xxx&pwd=yyy

Where:

  • {0} is replaced by the longitude of the position being logged in degrees and fractions of a degree
  • {1} is replaced by the latitude
  • {2} is replaced by the number of thousandths of a second since midnight (GMT) on 1st January 1970 - sometimes known as a Unix timestamp
  • xxx is your username (the Id you use to log in to the site
  • yyy is a tracking password; you set that up through your user profile

We expect that all apps that can interface to online tracking services will allow you to create a similar web address. If, however, your app supplies data in a different way (for example, using a date and time rather than a time stamp) it's not hard for us to adapt our software to fit.

NB do not start the web address with "http" - use "https" instead.

Click here to see how to install OsmAnd to an Android device and connect it to our online tracking service.

It's not uncommon to hear people concerned that using GPS flattens batteries. And it's possible, that's the case with some phones. However, my (limited) experience with modern phones is that using GPS has very little effect on battery drain. I can easily record a day's ride and still have my battery at 80% plus - and that is using one of the cheapest phones.

Battery capacities tend to go down over time, so the effect might be more pronounced with an older phone. It shouldn't, however, be a major issue for a modern or new one.

Logging your position over the internet will use power and therefore increase battery drain. Again, however, I've not seen a significant drain additional to the power lost by having your phone switched on and listening for phone calls.

We have designed the online tracking service to use very small amounts of data to minimise any cost to you.

If you pay a monthly tariff to use your device, that will almost certainly include an amount of free internet access. If you are frugal with internet use, it's likely you will not have to pay any extra.

If you pay for usage 'as you go' you will pay for using the online tracking service. In my experience, logging my position every 5 minutes on a day ride uses significantly less than a megabyte of data. Your additional cost should therefore be less than 10p per ride.

Note, however, that when you allow your phone to access the internet over mobile data (i.e. using the phone signal rather than wifi) several apps will want to start using it as well as the online tracking service. The amounts of data used by these apps will be considerable and can quickly drain your monthly allowance or force you into an early PAYG top-up. To address this problem, you need to take charge of how apps use the internet. I intend to produce an article about that shortly.

On the other hand, if you have a large monthly allowance and already have your phone connected to the internet while you are out and about, you will not notice the additional data used by the online tracking service.

How to monitor positions online

You monitor positions using a web browser like the one you are using now. To do that go to the online tracking page. It's available via the 'Routes' menu in the menu bar at the top of our pages.

The rest of this section explains how to use the monitoring page. Click any of the following to see more information. Click any of the screen shots to see a larger version...

If you are logged in to the members' area of the site, you can start using the page straightaway.

If you are not logged in, you will see the following:

Log in page

If you have member access to the site, click the log in link to log in the usual way. You are returned to the tracking page when you log in.

If you have been given guest access to the tracking page, enter the user name of the person who invited you and the guest password you were given, then click 'Submit' to get access to the tracking page.

If you go to the monitoring page and someone is tracking their position, you will see a map like this:

Map display

Below the map, you will see a key that explains the icons shown on the map:

A position recorded in the first half of the track
A stop recorded in the first half of the track
A position recorded in the second half of the track
A stop recorded in the second half of the track
The rider's latest position

You can click any icon to find out more information.

A stop is defined as two consecutive positions that are less than 50 metres apart.

We use different colours for each half of the track to make it easier to see what's happening if a ride returns along a similar route to the outgoing leg.

The map is a Google map and you can use the usual methods to zoom into a portion of the map. You can also switch between map and satellite views. When you click 'Update the display' the page shows the latest recorded positions using the same map settings so you don't have to keep zooming in to the map.

If you want to redraw the map so you can see all the recorded positions for the day, use the 'Change date' button to re-select 'today'.

If more than one rider is recording their position on a given day, you see a selector like this:

onlineTracking3

If you want to see the progress of just one rider, click their name in the 'Show selected riders' section and click 'Update the display'.

On some days there will be multiple riders on the road following different routes - possibly in different countries! To show a group of riders following the same route, pick one of them (you can see people's names by clicking on a map icon), click their name in the 'Show riders with' section and click 'Update the display'. The map shows all the riders whose latest position is within 5km of the last position of the person you selected. The check boxes in the 'Show selected riders' selection are updated to show the riders you selected. That allows you to add or remove riders to fine tune your selection.

Note that following multiple riders on the same ride is likely to give you a better indication of progress than following a single rider - especially in places where phone coverage is poor.

Click 'Update the display' to redraw the map. The page retains the map's position, zoom level and map type (i.e. map or satellite).

Refreshing the page will lose all your selections and will show 'today's' tracks on a map display. That's unlikely to be what you want.

To keep your rider selections but redraw the map so all logged positions are visible, use the 'Change date' button to reselect the same date...

By default, the tracking page shows you positions logged 'today'.

If you want to see positions recorded for a previous day, click 'Change date' to see a date selector. Simply click the date you want to see.

Selecting a date automatically repositions the display and zoom level to show all the positions recorded on the given day. It also sets the map type to 'map'.