It seems like it was just yesterday that we were planning our routes from a printed road map and marking our turnings on Post-It Notes stuck to the handlebars. Now, with so many manufacturers vying for your hard earned cash, the market has GPS devices for all price points, meaning you (theoretically) never have to get lost again. We have tested some of the most popular ones to help you decide how to plan your next adventure.
Both loved and loathed, Strava offers a lot more than just simple route planning. Its route planning function, however is easy to get started with.
The interface is uncluttered and lets you get started by choosing whether you want to ride or run, then clicking on your desired starting point.
Then it's just a matter of clicking on your desired destination, or intermediate points. We found that on smaller screens the elevation profile took up too much of the screen space, and forced us to zoom out more than we'd like, which makes it harder to see some of the finer details on the map, such as junctions or alternative roads. There is the option, however, to minimise the elevation profile pane.
One of the features we liked is the minimise elevation button. This forces the planner to plot your route with the flattest elevation profile. This could be useful if you are recovering from injury, building base fitness, or looking for a recovery ride route.
There is also the possibility to switch to manual mode, which allows you to take over all route planning controls, rather than allowing Strava to calculate the route based on popularity or flattest possible elevation profile.
The Global Heatmap function allows the user to view the most ridden routes. Those which are redder in colour are ridden more frequently than those in blue. This could be useful, but also meaningless if there aren't many cyclists in your area. Nor is there any clear distinction between trails and roads, so relying on this feature might provide you a route which may not suit your prefered riding style. We also liked the Bike Paths/Lanes feature, which could help you to find the safest way out of the city and into the country.
We liked the features it offers, but other features, such as the Heat Map can be confusing and overwhelming. On smaller screens the layout feels cramped.
Ridewithgps is a slightly less mainstream version of Strava. Perhaps better suited for those who don't want to be overwhelmed with every small segment on their ride.
The interface is clean, uncluttered and easy to navigate. Each pane can be hidden and the elevation pane can be switched to gradient, which is a nice touch if you want to avoid the super steep climbs.
One noticable difference between Ridewithgps and Strava is that, Ridewithgps can be used to plan for driving as well as riding or running. This could prevent road cyclists from accidentaly heading on to a trail.
Ridewithgps also offers the user the possibility to plot their routes along known cycle paths.
OSM Cycle view shows not only local cycle paths, but also national cycle ways, which are well labeled, and not at all overwhelming. For potential touring cyclists, this is a nice feature.
As with most online route planning sites, it's simple to save and export your route. You can also choose whether to make your route public, and how much information to include.
One disadvantage of Ridewithgps is that we often found ourselves being routed along very busy roads and often along trails. As a result, we would most likely check each route carefuly before downloading it to our device.
We liked the clean interface and simplicity of planning a route, but more competitive cyclists might prefer the segment oriented Strava.
MapMyRide is certainly no newcomer to the market. It has been online since long before the likes of Strava appeared, and popular with both cyclists and runners.
The site has a slick corporate look, or at least what we were able to see from it. The mapping tools were not able to load with Firefox. We had more success with Chrome, but were instantly unimpressed
with how at least a quarter of the page was reserved for advertising. Fortunately, this doesn't affect the usabilty, as the user can scroll them out of view, or hide the offending pane.
The user interface is clean, and puts the most important controls instantly in front of the user.
Plotting a route is simple, and no different to its contenders.
The elevation profile takes up a large section of the pane. However, we liked the gradient view.
Browser compatibility frustrated us, as did so much of the window being taken up by advertising. The mapping tools are good, but not better than its competitors'.
Bikely: Bikely has been around for quite some time and puts emphasis on route sharing. Users are prompted to search for routes in their area, upload and share routes. This could be useful if you are looking for something a little more random. As with any community, it's only as good as those who are part of it.
Bikeroutetoaster: Really professional interface and packed full of features. No sign up required before you start plotting. We had some difficulties getting the system to draw a route, but is certainly worth persevering with.