Navigating your way around cycling route planning apps

When anyone asks me which route planning app they should use for cycling, I am not able to give them quite the answer they are looking for. There are quite a few route planning apps specifically for cycling now. So much so that it makes it quite hard to choose one to use. Most people, naturally, are looking for one app that they can use that does everything they need- myself included! Until I find it, I will have to continue with what I do now, which is to use three different apps according to what I need.

Here I am going to tell you about the three that I like and why, and a few comments on others that I’ve tried. I’m sure that others will have their own views on these apps and they may disagree with what I say below. You may find just one you like, and it may do everything you need. In which case, that’s fantastic and congratulations! Sadly I haven’t found this myself, as all the apps I’ve tried are limited to some degree, and also it comes down to personal preference.

In the last 15 months that I have been cycling to commute (for the second period in my life, the first being a long time ago, but that’s another story) the three apps I use together form a good trio to help me get around by bike are :

Strava

Strava is primarily an activity tracker- but as I mentioned in my previous post, because people are recording cool routes that they have done, it has now grown into a way of finding new routes and then following them.

Pros

  • Discover new routes others have planned or done and then follow them
  • Use one app to follow a route and record it, rather than two apps if you want to record your activity on Strava and also use navigation. This limits the excessive drain on your battery. This point may become clearer as you read on!

Cons

  • The map doesn’t move screen as you ride, you need to swipe the screen to get to the next part of the ride. This is a pretty major flaw!
  • You can’t plan a new route via the app on your phone. You have to go to the desktop version of the site which is easiest on a PC or laptop.

Komoot

Komoot is, contrary to Strava, a navigational tool first and an activity tracker second. It opens up straight into a screen where you can plan a route and key in your destination. You get one region of maps for free (which would cover one city) and you can purchase additional regions. You can download routes once planned for offline use to limit mobile data while out. You can change your type of ride, and also can set your fitness level to get a more accurate estimate of journey time. Komoot allows you to share your activities with other Komoot users and you can build up followers in the same way that you can do on Strava.

Pros

  • Easy to plan routes on mobile phone and also save them for later
  • Audible directions for each turn are given.
  • The screen actually moves as you are riding along the route, yay!

Cons

  • The routes that are suggested are often not my preferred route. There are a few different types of riding that you can select to modify the way Komoot selects a route, from Mountain biking, road cycling, bike touring and even gravel riding. I have tried out the ‘road cycling’ option, which comes up with the fastest on road route. Sometimes though I want to avoid really busy major roads, for example if I have my youngest daughter in the trailer with me, or days when I just want the ride to be a bit more relaxed. I tried switching to ‘Mountain biking’, and this just took me through parks for the sake of it, even when going through that particular park involved a major detour just to go through about 50m of off road track and then head back onto the road.
  • Map design is not the nicest one out there

Bike Citizens

Bike Citizens is a recent discovery of mine, and I’ve been using it for about six months. A fellow cycling instructor recommended it, after he used it to cycle to, and around, Amsterdam on a bike tour with his family. Like Komoot it opens up into a map where you can easily plan your route straight away. You get a free city, and need to purchase more if needed.

Pros

  • Really nice routes- lovely quiet routes are chosen, although you can change this easily as well to faster routes should you prefer
  • You can learn some fantastic cycling shortcuts you didn’t even know existed
  • Like Komoot you get audible instructions and the map moves with you
  • Map is nicer and more colourful than Komoot

Cons

  • You can’t plan a route in advance on the app. Like Strava you need to go on to the desktop version of the site
  • It has less functions overall, eg you can only modify the route planning by selecting one of three options (easy/balanced /fast)

Other route planning apps I’ve tried

Google maps

I didn’t like this because I found the routes were too busy, based on driving routes by car. I have heard anecdotally that this is improving, however the algorithms used by Google are still from what I have read primarily based on car routes.

Not that long ago in an article in the Guardian in 2017, Elizabeth Eden of Southwark Cyclists, summed it up well when she said:

“Google Maps assumes that cyclists are car drivers who can occasionally use parks

OSMand

This comes up with routes similar to those on Bike Citizens. Nice quiet routes with some great shortcuts. However it always seemed difficult to just switch the app off! I’m sure there is a trick with this that I missed, but it happened enough times that I would go into a shop with my phone in my pocket still shouting out instructions to me and me not being able to switch it off, that I wasn’t interested in figuring it out and giving this more of a chance.

Cycle Streets

I found this quite difficult to enter street names to plan a route. You need to find the borough first but even then there is no guarantee it will find your street in my experience. However there are enough cyclists that really like this app that mean it’s worth a try – you might get on better with it than I did!

Summary

I use a combo of Strava, Bike Citizens and Komoot, in this way:

Strava is good for finding cool routes others have done. If the route is new and looks complex then I will often add this into Komoot (see my last blog post on how to do this).

Bike Citizens is good for finding a new route with great cycling shortcuts.

Komoot is great for getting audible instructions and a self-moving map, and route planning on your phone.

If I don’t like a route suggested by Komoot I will often look it up on Bike Citizens on my phone and then change the route on Komoot by adding new ways points so that it ends up following the route Bike Citizens suggested. The advantage of doing this as opposed to just using Bike Citizens is for route planning in advance, as I can then save this route having done all the work on my phone and find it later- you can only do this on Bike Citizens on their website.

Do you have any thoughts on these route planning apps? Are there any others you have used that you really like or are best avoided? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!