Route Planning and Mapping Software: A guest post from MadeGood.org

Maps and Apps

Finding one’s way around on a bike is one of those tricky things that every cyclist needs to master. Back in the days before the internet, GPS and smartphones the only options we would have had would have been to either be very good at navigating or carry paper maps with us. Indeed, to a lot of people that is still the case (and it can be a much more reliable way of navigating when out of battery or signal reception). One invention that didn’t quite catch on back in the 1950s was a map that you wore like a wristwatch.

As mentioned, we have a multitude of options available to us these days to plan a bike ride, navigate during one and also to review a ride:

– Google Maps (desktop). https://maps.google.co.uk
The desktop version of Google maps is probably the best and most used mapping site, with its streetview feature revolutionising how maps can be used. It it now features the option to plan routes using a bike. The route that it suggests sometimes takes you onto big and busy roads, so it is best to double check routes and compare with other sites. The feature displays all the different cycle routes and paths, and has been a massive help when I have needed to quickly find a route via cycle paths.

– Google Maps (mobile app)
The new version of Google Maps benefits from the Google’s outstanding and detailed mapping software and its extensive database of businesses and data. Upon its re-introduction to Apple’s app store it was welcomed back with open arms, and now it has the added bonus of turn by turn navigation – useful if you have a handlebar mount for your phone. If you need to find a landmark or particular address, the mobile app is a Godsend.

– Apple Maps (iphone)
The much maligned apple maps has turn by turn navigation, which is probably its only positive. Hated by iPhone users when it was forced on them despite it not being ready or at all accurate, I haven’t opened the app since Google Maps returned.

– Cyclestreets (desktop and mobile app) www.cyclestreets.net
My go to app and website for when I want to plan a ride. Cyclestreets is accurate, well built and it works. My experience with this software has only been positive and you can adjust the route depending on estimated speed. It shows an itinerary for you to follow and go through step by step, with a photo map available for when you are planning your journey. You can also choose to display different mapping software, like Google maps.

– Cycle Network (mobile app)
This app from Sustrans (the charity that aims to improve cycling and walking infrastructure) puts the national cycling routes at your fingertips, so no matter where you are in the country you will be able to find your nearest route. Sustrans do fantastic work and although this app is not as smooth or easy to use as Cyclestreets, it is a useful resource and has a great feature to allow you to find nearby attractions and bike shops.The routes can also be found on Sustrans’ website, www.sustrans.org.uk/map

– iOSMaps(mobile app)
More of a resource for walkers, the ordnance survey’s mapping app is simply a way to display their maps. It lacks easy route planning functionality. Dull.
– Map My Ride (desktop and mobile app). www.mapmyride.com
A social ride logging service, Map My Ride allows you to… map rides. You can then share them with your friends and other users so that they can try them out themselves. So, if you are thinking of going on a ride from London to Brighton you can search for a route and follow it.

– Strava (mobile app)
Strava is similar to other sites in that it allows you to record where you have ridden via your phone’s GPS. What makes it different, however, is that it adds gamification to your rides. Sections of road are split up on Strava and you can take a look at them to see how you match up with Strava users.

– TFL Journey Planner http://cyclejourneyplanner.tfl.gov.uk/
TFL has its own journey planner for if you live in London. Like Cyclestreets, you can edit the journey for to be easy, moderate and fast. It’s very clear and simple, and also show Barclays Hire docking stations. The map is nice to use, and is interactive, featuring other TFL transport options like bus stops that you can click on. You can also plan a journey incorporating public transport.

As mentioned, a good old trusty paper map can be invaluable. On my coast to coast ride from Newcastle to Cumbria the map that I had with me was vital. It was easy to reach and view whilst riding, was immune to bad weather (it was treated with a waterproof finish) and bad reception and didn’t have a battery to run out on me. I could also look at it without having to take off my gloves, and I was able to show it to my riding companion and anyone we needed to check re: directions.

At the same time, I used my phone to look at maps and search for facilities. At the end of the day, different things work for different people, but there really are some brilliant websites and mobile phone apps on the market. Take a look at them and see which ones work for you, and why not check out MadeGood in the near future. We are working on featuring bike rides that we think people will be inspired by on an interactive map showing terrain profiles as well as good places to stop for food, drink and accommodation.

By Duncan Palmer – @cyclodunc