Summer 2021 means the return of travel and the opportunity to explore new cities, trails, and horizons—by bike, of course. Although many of us have gotten used to navigating our immediate surroundings over the last year and a half (have you also taken up riding in every possible direction from your home in an attempt to mix it up?), we’re understandably a little rusty when it comes to getting our bearings in a new place.
Thankfully, cycling apps have come a long way over the last few years. There is now ample selection if you’re looking for a navigation app that clearly shows where cycle lanes are and offers decent route-planning functionality. Of course, some work better than others, depending on your location, but here’s an overview of our top picks for you to try out this summer.
Initially built with outdoor adventures in mind, this app has also become a favourite of urbanites. It is, therefore, an excellent option for those looking to combine a city break with a little off-the-beaten-path exploring. Komoot is a paid service in which you buy the product outright—currently $29.99 for lifetime global use. However, you can also test it free for one city or region, so that’s worth a try if you just need it while travelling to one new place.
In general, though, you might find that the full product is worth the price of entry. The app is slick, offers multiple options for each route (e.g., road versus MTB versus touring) and can be set to accommodate different fitness levels. It’ll also show the road surfaces your route takes, and rerouting on the mobile app is easy. Komoot uses map data from OpenStreetMap as a map base and enriches it with additional text and photos from Wikipedia. For topography data, they rely on NASA for info—so you can certainly trust the accuracy. Komoot works worldwide and has excellent data for most European cities and the surrounding area.
A flipped approach to Komoot, Bike Citizens, was designed first and foremost with the urban cyclist in mind. With its growing functionality, though, it also won’t let you down if you venture into the countryside. It offers route planning, navigation, tracking and more, and you automatically get one self-selected Premium Areas for free to start. Within this 7-km diameter area, you’ll have access to multi-stop route planning, navigation and many more features. Still, you’ll have to pay for individual city guides if you want to venture beyond those parameters.
The city guides come in at a reasonable price point for what they offer, though. Bike Citizens provides a vast, constantly updated database of maps worldwide, in addition to a whole slew of tips and points of interest that can help make your experience in a new destination more rewarding. Not to mention, the Bike Citizens map material is based on OpenStreetMap, which is constantly evolving. There are plenty of enjoyable user-submitted rides to check out on the app, and the route planner has voice commands, so you needn’t be staring at your phone while trying to navigate. There are over 450 European cities on its database, with many others worldwide.
Bikemap is another super useful app that offers route planning, navigation, real-time updates and plenty more. The free version is a solid alternative to Komoot for route planning, and many an extensive bike adventure has been successfully navigated with the help of this app. It also has a built-in safety function with real-time updates that allow you to alert other users if you encounter a problem during your ride. This feature could be particularly appealing to cyclists who are adjusting to exploring a new urban environment.
Additional features include an extensive user-generated route archive, route collections, and a solid selection of in-app ride stats. You can get a lot out of the free version of Bikemap, but if you opt for Premium, you’ll get access to additional mapping options such as offline navigation and cycling-friendly map layers, and 3D views of your planned routes.
Ride with GPS
Launched in 2007, Ride with GPS has established itself as a reliable navigation app, capable of providing in-depth ride analysis, turn-by-turn navigation, and even has Garmin Varia compatibility. It also boasts a much-praised and extensive library of user-uploaded routes that allow you to check out where others have ridden and create a course that works for you.
It can also be used to navigate offline, making it an essential companion on longer rides when keeping an eye on battery power is critical. In addition, the route data on offer supplies detailed elevation profiles to help you determine if a climb is within your paygrade on any given day. Further, the free version allows you to create routes, record your rides, and even set personal goals.
Google Maps still belong on any list dedicated to the best maps available. If it’s there, they’ve mapped it—and this is helpful for cyclists in many cities too. However, if Google Maps isn’t compatible with cycling in your home location, you might not be used to using it, so be sure to check it’s available while you travel.
When exploring new lands, the audio turn-by-turn instructions are easy to follow, and you can trust that the route info is up to date and reliable. If you’re one for taking the scenic route, though, keep in mind that Google Maps is programmed with efficiency in mind and will try to find the fastest route to your destination, not the most beautiful. Nevertheless, Google Maps offers a practical overview and is often a solid starting point for further tour planning.
As cities work to make their streets more hospitable to cyclists, many have invested in creating local navigation apps that offer reliable routing and are easy to use. Barcelona’s well-established Bicing bicycle scheme, for example, also provides an app for its users. You can use the app for navigating the city in addition to searching for a list of Bicing stations and their locations as well as the available number of bicycles or vacant spots.
In Amsterdam, there is an excellent app called Fietsknoop. There are route markers for a nationwide recreational network for bikes on cycle paths throughout the city, and this app makes planning a route using this network a breeze. Prague, meanwhile, has Na kole Prahou/ Prague on Bike, a super user-friendly navigation tool that offers various routes and provides detailed information about how bike-friendly each one is, in addition to where you can expect to find cycle paths.
As you can see, there are plenty of options. Once you’ve got your travel destination settled—do a little research in local forums and social media groups to see what the riders who live there are using. With the many apps available, you should have no problem navigating your new surroundings with ease. Before you venture out, though, be sure to familiarise yourself with the local rules of the road. Don’t be afraid to hop in a local bike shop and ask questions if anything remains unclear concerning local safety protocol or convention. It doesn’t get much better than discovering a new place by bike, so get your wheels ready, your app set, and go explore!