In days gone by, wrong turns and epic detours were part and parcel of cycling. In more recent times however, cycling has embraced modern technology. With interactive mapping software, dedicated cycle computers, and the modern smartphone, you can now plan your cycling route with ultimate precision.
How to plan your cycling route
Technology can be a real pain in our modern lives. Some of us are too old to understand it, while others are young and hopelessly addicted! However, when harnessed correctly, technology can greatly enhance the cycling experience.
We can now plan out our Sunday run days beforehand. We can accurately calculate routes, specifying distance, the amount of climbing and the types of road surfaces we want to take in.
Several tailored solutions exist on the market from smartphone apps to purpose-built GPS units that provide everything from basic metrics to complete navigation. Let’s take a deeper look.
Smartphone or a GPS cycling computer?
It’s a question that many beginners often puzzle over. While both can provide the perfect solution to your navigation needs, they both come with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Navigating with a smartphone
Almost everyone has a smartphone, so why spend more? There are a plethora of apps available to fulfil all your navigation needs. All you need to do is enable your GPS and data connection and you have a working solution. Large screens that are easy to read with vibrant colours and complete connectivity mean that modern smartphones provide a convenient solution.
However, that convenience comes at a cost. Battery life can be a problem, and with the screen turned on during long rides, it can quickly drain. Unless you have a way to maintain the charge on your phone while riding, you may be left with a dead phone at the most inopportune moment.
Smartphones are designed to live in your pocket, not your handlebars. They generally require a complex mounting solution that also offers weatherproofing.
Navigating with a GPS cycling computer
Dedicated GPS cycling computers are designed for cycling. Weatherproofed and with a battery life that operates well beyond that of a smartphone, they’re often the preferred solution for the serious cyclist. Additionally, with transflective screens and no backlighting, it makes them much easier to read on a bright day.
Many can be easily connected to smartphones via Bluetooth connections, or via USB to computers for uploading and downloading of data.
Whether you use a smartphone or a specialised GPS cycling computer, there are a variety of 3rd party apps that can help you plan your cycling route. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular.
Strava is the number one app for cyclists. It has been the dominant force ever since the day they hit upon the idea of segments! They latched onto the competitive instinct of every cyclist and have never looked back since.
To plan a cycling route on Strava you can use the built-in map feature. It allows you to make your own rote, ride the most popular routes, or just target particular segments. All the while you can avoid busy, dangerous or badly surfaced roads.
Bikely has a large database of routes which are uploaded by fellow cyclists who know the area. On their webpage, you can view the route details and download a file in the format appropriate to your device. It provides a convenient solution, particularly if you're new to an area or are holidaying there.
A wonderfully simple website. All you need to do is specify your start and end point, choose the road surface you prefer, and let it generate the best route for you. It will provide you with a simple file that you can then download to your device.
The read daddy of mapping. World renowned accuracy and usability, the Ordnance Survey has added to is incredible range of paper maps with a full digital route and map guide. Download the app to your phone and get started. Even transfer routes to your GPS unit. The detail is incredible and ideal for the wilder off road rider amongst us.
For those who own a Garmin device, this is the app of choice. It provides a fully interactive interface where you can plan your cycling route and also log your own activities and follow those of friends. It offers supreme connectivity to all Garmin devices and smartphones, and is one of the most convenient solutions available.
Perhaps the most convenient solution for smartphone users is to plan a cycle route directly on google maps. You simply select your start and end point and have it present you with the route options. Select the bicycle option and you’ll be presented with the directions which you can then follow.
Following a route
Once you plan your cycling route and download it to the device of your choice, just how do you go about following it?
Well, generally it’s achieved in one of two ways. The most common is to follow turn by turn directions. This is where the app will alert you to a turn just before it arrives. This makes for a simple, stress-free method of navigation. You simply hear the beep and glance down to see the upcoming turn.
The alternative is less user-friendly. On some apps, your location is pinpointed on the map and a coloured line represents the direction to follow. It requires more concentration, but with some practice, you can quickly adapt.
By embracing technology you can finally wave goodbye to that age-old problem of getting lost on your bike! Smartphones and GPS cycling computers help you plan your cycling route, and with a myriad of options available they cater for the casual cyclist as well as those much more serious. Time to embrace that tech!