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Tech Update – Part 2: Software and services

In our first installment we discussed hardware – then and now, going waaaayyyy back to the beginnings of Sound RIDER! – some 14 years ago. Now we'll take a look at software and services available to the rider.

14 years ago it was pretty much all software we used to get around on our computers, with the exception of one service which was search engines. Today with the availability of apps, that’s all changed.

In 1999 we did 100% of our authoring using Microsoft Word. We still do today. In fact, we could author on the original Word 97 platform from back then if it was still supported across newer operating systems, but it’s not. Shame. Simple is fast and sometimes it’s the older software that was simpler and quicker to use.

Above: Using Lightspeeds online FicheFinder makes it simple to shop for parts with local dealers before actually going to the store.

But I must say, the most recent Word 2013, available as part of our MS Surface Tablet purchase, is pretty simple too. You can get into the minutia if you want, but that’s all hidden from the screen until you call it up. For basic authoring and editing, we don’t need the minutia for the magazine.

Now – when it comes to publishing books, which we do annually, the bells and whistles are necessary. Creating indexes, formatting several layers of headings and so forth. That had to get better from those older versions and it did.

But you’re probably not in the publishing business, so not much of this matters for most. You’re a rider, so what software and services have changed the way we ride?

In the late 90s, there were some low level software applications on the market for mapping. You still couldn’t map on the web. Rand McNally had a dreadful piece of software that went away almost as fast as it arrived. Microsoft birthed their Streets & Trips, which was okay aside from the fact their original maps came from a dusty amalgamation of out-of-date US road information. They finally moved to the NavTech platform which was better, but still evolving.

By the mid 2000s we were seeing web services like Microsoft Virtual Earth, Google Earth and Google Maps. Mapping a route using the web was becoming a reality, and for the most part the data was better. Kind of…

Meanwhile, Garmin was hard at work perfecting their maps and products. The software continued to evolve into what we know today as City Navigator, a far more robust mapping and routing tool than any web based service at present. But because of firmware variances in the hardware, where you place a viapoint or waypoint to create a route, your results may vary.

The biggest issue plaguing motorcyclists is the software and service provider's ability to tell us if a road is paved or not. Whether you tour on a cruiser, or ride off-road on an adventure bike, this is a key issue. To date we continue to use the only atlas series we know that does this well, Benchmark Maps, to get the best reference. Now and then we open Google Earth and take a closer look. Satellite photos do a fair job revealing what is paved and what is not, but it takes a long time to cross reference a route this way, so the paper atlases still rule. And Benchmark is entering the app market.

We know of iPhone users who have attempted to use their phone for navigation, but there’s still not a way to load a GPX file into a phone app. Not yet at least. We think it will happen sooner than later.

Sourcing parts for your motorcycle is another key issue for motorcyclists.

Looking back. In the 20th century we went to the motorcycle shop, they looked up the part on microfiche and if they could get it, they ordered it up. If not, you went to a salvage house like Bent Bike. Maybe they had a used one, maybe they didn’t. You would not know until you went and you better wear scrubs, because after several hours of digging through tote bins of parts you got pretty greasy and smelly. Think rotting 2-stroke oil.

eBay comes along and sticks a fork in that pretty quickly. Looking for hard-to-find parts was never simpler. Some salvage yards, while it appeared they vanished, simply went underground and did all their selling on eBay.

Looking for current OEM parts was never easier than it is now. When PSN partnered with Lightspeed to put fiche onto the web, you could buy your parts online and never needed to go to the shop. Then the price wars started and parts pricing came down. Prior to that, markups were high in many stores and this was the unspoken cash cow at many dealers, some setting their pricing at 100% markup and more.

The used motorcycle market changed significantly as well. In the late 90s, dealers would place ads in local newspapers. The paper version of Cycle Trader was king and companies like The Seattle Times made good money off used vehicle ads. Not today.

ebay, dealer websites and freebies like craigslist snatched up all those dollars as peoples eyes spent more time on the web and less time reading paper. And while the web is the way to go in most cases for selling a bike, the trouble is it’s very fragmented. Where you had two paper sources to look at used bikes, you now have dozens of places to hunt online, so the task takes awhile.

When the internet was created, there was something else we needed to go with it, but didn’t get. Today there are still only 24 hours in a day. Who couldn’t use a little more time to read the slough of web pages out there that we want to.

Which brings us to the biggest mind suck of all – social networking.

In 1999, you could access a newsgroup and talk with other like-minded riders. A news group like alt.seattle.motorcycle was the equivalent to getting on a CB radio in the 1970s and putting any information out there you wanted to, good or bad, right or wrong.

Today we have forums, Facebook, twitter and a plethora of other social networking sites. And if you want advice, you just post and you'll get it. If you want some bad advice you’ll get that too. If you want someone else’s opinion, you’ll get plenty of it, good and bad  - on the planet Social Networking. We like to think of it more as Social Notworking.

The days of physical motorcycle clubs are numbered. Older clubs are dying off and the new ones are primarily cyber-clubs with no bylaws, no member dues and wide open membership. Rides and events are impromptu at best and an actual organization with a future is unlikely. When we update our clubs and organizations directory each fall we strip away dozens of cyber-club startups because most come and go in 24 months or less.

From navigation, to parts sourcing, to being a part of the community, software and online apps have certainly had an effect on how we pick and choose what to ride and who to ride with. Just remember the golden rule – there are still only 24 hours in a day. As often as possible, spend more of those hours riding than looking at a screen!

SR!/Winter 2013


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