A few years ago, following Google maps cycling directions me and a couple of friends on road bikes were led through muddy forest trails, old rail road tracks and green lanes on a London -> Paris <24hr attempt (we took 26hrs).
The difficulty with cycling directions is that there's not a 1 size fits all solution, a roadie needs smooth road but would prefer it quiet and scenic, a mountain biker would rather those trails we found and a commuter/hybrid would be fine on those in short bursts but probably prefer the speeds of the roads.
If I'm doing something of an "epic" route these days I'll spend a bit of time trying to find a suitable GPX that I can sync to my watch for directions - usually that'll come from Movescount, OS maps, Garmin or just someone's blog of a route. For most other things, Google maps works fine.
Yep. It's clear that Google Maps optimises for city riding and that's cool, but it does fall down badly on longer tours. To a large degree this is inevitable - only OSM actually has the level of surface quality information required for this sort of planning.
With my site, cycle.travel, I've taken the opposite tack: generating quiet, safe routes for leisure and touring rides, while still being as fast to generate routes as Google Maps. Sure, I want it to be usable in cities but it's not the main focus.
People have used it successfully to plan month-long tours across Europe and the US. One of my favourite bits of feedback was https://www.cyclechat.net/threads/swindon-to-orkney-a-wet-we... , where someone just punched in a start and end point at opposite ends of the UK, and rode the route it suggested without any tweaking.
https://cycle.travel/map if you want to play - always happy to hear suggestions/feedback (and thanks to Jake for including it in the post!). Currently Europe/North America/Australia/NZ only.
I believe that even in the city it simply maps a path as suitable for cycling and that's the limit of the optimization. It then becomes a "shortest/fastest trip" calculation. They don't mark roads and paths for specific types of cycling and you're not asked to provide such info. So whether it's asphalt, cobblestone, or a dirt road even in the city it will make no difference as long as it's suitable for some bikes. Found out the hard way a couple of times...
At first glance your site shows the local "cycle highways" which is really cool. However I accidentally clicked on the map twice while scrolling around, and then couldn't figure out how to clear the route so I had to reload the page.
On closer inspection I noticed a button called "close route" which seemed to do what I wanted, but I'm not sure if it has other side effects
I do agree with 'overlordalex' on the 'Close Route' button. I couldn't find it at first and 'close' seems like a weird verb to use for 'clearing' the current route. Unless I am misunderstanding what the button is supposed to do. I would personally have a 'Clear' button somewhere close to the 'Get route' buttons (but then again I am no UI/UX expert :)).
Can I get the distances in km instead of mile?
For example, one of our local highways has a speed limit of 55mph and a shoulder that is maybe 10 feet wide with a rumble strip near the cars. Is that a good road for bicycles or not? I'm OK with it but some of my riding friends are not. A bike path can be perfect for a family yet dangerous for practicing time trials.
I've also been surprised at how narrow some of my favorite roads are for driving. Just about any road is great if it doesn't have traffic. So a good road at lunch time is no good during rush hour.
So maybe the ultimate bicycle router would
a) Offer a bunch of preferences just like you see for cars, e.g. "avoid freeways", "avoid tolls".
b) Flag roads as "avoid", e.g. that four lane road with no shoulder next to the sidewalk.
c) Specify roads with gravel. (OSM data can have this; not sure about Google.)
I know they do a lot with determining routing based on what other cyclists prefer, but I'm not sure how granular it is.
Even in cities Google is similarly terrible, and it's actually gotten worse over the last few years as more unsuitable routes are listed as "cycle paths". I was trying to get home through London and Google sent me about a km in the wrong direction so that it could route me onto a muddy canal bank. I found myself wishing that I could simply put it in car navigation mode but avoiding routes that aren't legal for bicycles, but that's not an option either. E.g. from Great Dunmow to Bishops Stortford, all you need is to go straight down the old Roman Road, but there's no setting for Google Maps that will send you there: in bicycle mode it sends you down a muddy track, and in car mode it sends you down the A120 where bicycles are legally banned.
(Not to mention that here in Japan it simply refuses to provide cycling directions at all).
It's just not good enough, IME. It's well worth taking ten minutes to install OSMAnd and get decent directions instead.
These apps should also let you export/import gps data, which Google does not do.
For simple directions around town I agree that Google Maps is good enough, but as soon as you're beyond riding just to get from point A to B, it's nice to have something more.
Note: some bike computers also have built-in mapping, something I find useful on my Garmin Edge 530 is the breadcrumb feature which allows me to explore new territory to my heart's content and not worry about getting lost as I can just turn around at any point and follow the breadcrumbs on the map.
Note 2: I don't even have my phone out, it's always in my under-seat bag. Cycling computers are great, battery lasts forever (well in excess of 10 hours of riding with the computer on), visible in all lighting conditions, show a plethora of data at the same time (I have 8 live metrics shown at once), and are mounted in such a way that if you fall they likely won't get damaged, because a) they're unlikely to take a direct hit, and b) aren't big & heavy like a $1k iPhone 11 Pro Max with lots of glass that can shatter.
It also didn’t understand the impact of hills, which is why I cut the attempt short (1080 km) after it redirected me up a Swiss hill instead of keeping me close to the Rhine.
I would’ve preferred a GPX to follow, but I couldn’t find any of that route.
(Also, it's well-signposted, and in any case the whole point of the route is to follow the biggest river in Europe, you don't need a lot of navigational aids).
I took a wrong turn in Eiken, which isn’t directly next to the river, and didn’t notice my mistake until I’d already exhausted myself. The nice scenery was a pleasant but unfortunate distraction.
This is unacceptable given that cycling the wrong way is illegal and dangerous.
The US in San Francisco, where cycling against traffic is illegal.
Google Maps' cycling instructions route me onto streets with bicycle lanes. I haven't had any problems with it and I think it's a fine option. Maybe because NYC is the type of location google has excellent data on.
Citymapper is also good. The fastest vs quietest distinction doesn't often yield much of a change in route. What I like about citymapper is you can distinguish between riding a personal bike, or riding a bike rental. Sometimes when bringing a friend along, they rent a citibike, and it's nice to have the option for directions to take you to a docking station close to the destination.
Then again, this is a really really hard problem to solve for, and Google probably has it the best no matter where I am, so that's what my default is. I'm excited to see how Apple's will work in iOS 14 though.
I think it's what almost all very serious cyclists use.
I've done 150 mile turn by turn routes on my Garmin. I've had various models for near 20 years of cycling. The only time ironically they ever have trouble is if you download a route generated by one of the various apps on the internet.. you need to be quite careful with those. The on the fly routes they generate don't ever have those issues.
When they started using the Garmin curated version of OSM it was a massive upgrade. Near me it's very near 100% coverage even of mountain bike singletrack trails through the woods. OSM has gotten incredibly good for cyclists. If you are not a road cyclist OSM has amazing coverage of bike lanes & paved paths too.
And you can actually see it in the sun and don't need to carry a pocketful of USB powerbanks to make it to your destination. The only people who need to recharge with a powerbank are the .01% who ride more than 150-200 miles without stopping at a place to charge.
It's packed with features, the track recording is solid, you can use a couple different online track providers or install brouter for offline routing, and the list of map tile providers is impressive. It seems to be targeted at Europe, but the US maps are excellent too. You can use OSM as a base layer (online, or pay ~$1 per state for their pre-rendered OSM tiles for use offline), or you can use the USGS national topo map tiles. You can also import your own.
We went on a trip to Micronesia a few years back and I used it to mark POIs and record our boat trips around the islands to show our friends when we got home. There were no available maps of the area in the app, but I was able to find some high-resolution scanned images of USGS topo maps for the islands we visited and was able to import them into the app as an offline base layer. Worked great.
We’ve been working on improving walking, cycling and scooting recently, so it’s good to hear people are finding it useful! We recently added turn-by-turn and voice instructions (in early access as part of Citymapper Club) and we’re going to be continuing to make improvements over the coming months. Want to help out? Get in touch.
sadly its not available in my city Warsaw, Poland :(
Thank you for taking time
I'd try OSMAnd as the next best pick, it's extremely customizable and works on iOS and Android!
This post was super helpful. Citymapper wasn't even on my radar, but now I want to go grab a bike rental and give it a shot.
I also don't have any problem with respect to no bike lanes and crowded streets though, so that might be a bit more difficult to discover. I use Google Maps and it's pretty solid at taking you an extra .25 miles or so just to get you on a dedicated bike lane within the city, and you can always streetview points on your route if you want to double check what it looks like.
What app do you generally use for directions that might tell you about elevation?
One thing that was a bit irritating was the directions at intersections, where you clearly had to go straight, but it told me to turn right and then immediately turn left. This happened when the bike path took a slight turn before the intersection, e.g. to guide you towards pedestrian traffic lights. Not sure which one of the two apps is to blame here.
Oh and when I tried Google Maps for a bit, to find my accommodation, it immediately tried to guide me through the middle of a field, with no discernible path whatsoever. So much for that..
It's your workflow that's to blame: using a GPX erases that information. If you'd planned the route in OSMAnd it would have been able to give you more road-layout-aware navigation.
OsmAnd is also decent. Google map is terribly bad.
(But not everywhere yet. I'm in the midwest, and the beta just says cycling directions aren't available in my area.)
When I was searching a couple of years ago, there were no open source bike tracking android apps, and most of the "free" ones were trialware that popped up a subscription screen as soon as you tried to do anything complicated.
Also, I love the use of the <table> tag in this article.
Cycle apps using OpenStreetMap will try to find the safest routes. If using Citymapper you can explicitly choose between faster or safer (slower) routes. OSMAnd let's you choose particular types of lane.
This is great for a lot of cases, although sometimes it’ll pick a road that’s great for road biking on the weekend but not so great for commuting on weekdays.
I wonder if Strava could create two heat maps based on what I imagine are the two big clusters on their user base: road bikes and casual commuter cyclists.
I want this really badly. Around me (North Germany) the cycling infrastructure is great for the casual commuter, but the quality of paths for road bikes varies dramatically - some bike paths are beautifully smooth and wide, whilst others are bumpy/gravelly and too narrow for safely overtaking slower riders. Distinguishing between them using Strava heatmaps or other mapping tools seems impossible until I actually go out and ride them. Alternatively, an app where I could simply mark myself the roads I have ridden and a quality indicator would be useful (maybe this exists?).
OsmAnd will show you the surface types along a route as you're planning, and you can adjust which surfaces you'd like to cycle on!
In my city there's a 5 lane bridge, shoulder just wide enough for drains, and nothing but a 3-ft concrete barrier 60 or 70 feet above the river. The speed limit is 45, but people drive like that's a mild suggestion. This is a very hot cycle route on Strava for some reason, but I think it's frightening.
It's a simple arrow that points towards your destination, leaving you to work out the route as you cycle. Not the quickest way to get you there but I enjoy the discovery aspect of it.
Google should be smart enough to know that there is co-mingled car/bike traffic and safely route my bike away from the cars.
In the past, I've tried to plan a route in google maps (for just driving), but once you import and try to use it, it recalculates your route.
Also relevant to your excellent remark is https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200724-will-covid-19-....
- strava heatmaps (https://www.strava.com/heatmap)
- ridewithgps routes (https://ridewithgps.com/find)
- club routes posted on club websites (like sf2g routes for getting down the peninsula from SF https://sf2g.com/routes.html)
- google maps streetview to check quality of bike lanes
- city-specific cycling forums (ex: https://reddit.com/r/nycbike where the first decent routes using the new tappan zee / cuomo bridge bike lanes have popped up)
It's still a lot of work to plan a decent 50+ mile ride if it's through an area you're not familiar with. I really wish google maps could do more to show me traffic volume to help select between different routes... I'll take an empty wide road over a bike-lane running next to parked cars any day.
I just use Google Maps's cycling directions, combined with my own mental map of things like "tree coverage" which is kind of important for avoiding heatstroke in a tropical city. I've never seen a map provider that even begins to track that.
All the cycling apps seem to be designed for people who want to train to be racers. I give zero fucks about that. I just wanna get where I need to go, or drift aimlessly around the city when I need some exercise.
Citymapper and OsmAnd are brilliant for this!
Also +1 on milk crates strapped to the back, I do that too and they're great for groceries :D
Komoot is good too, but at least in my area of NA the elevation calculation is off by quite a bit. When I've used it for longer routes, I've ended up putting in at least 1,000 ft more of climbing than it has told me would be on the route. Trailforks doesn't have that problem.
If you have a local IMBA chapter, most of them have accurate trail profiles as well.
For road cycling routes, I use Strava. If you want detailed routes that are popular with local cycling clubs, Trek stores usually have surprisingly good handouts on local routes.
However, my go to website and app for off-road adventures (on foot and two wheels) is ViewRanger. Maybe it's a bit too UK and EU focused for you, but I've found it to be really good and the app's improved a lot over the last five years. Their BuddyBeacon is also a nice feature.
While not open source, the best part is they provide a direct apk download, so you're not locked to Google or Apple's store to download and install.
 https://www.viewranger.com/software/software.php - visit on your phone.
I don’t ever use komoot for recording though, phone uses too much battery. Recording is done through a polar watch, synced to strava. Watch is also best for wind and kitesurfing, no need to bring a big expensive watch on the water.
Ah, the bell with compass, it's cute. Looks a bit like sailboat nav gear.
When I plan my route on garmin I am not getting a turn-by-turn list but rather a gps trace to follow, so I can plan the route to go arbitrarily anywhere I want. Personally I use the strava heat map and garmin to do everything since that represents where people actually go and not what some algorithm thinks will be good.
But please don't ride against traffic flow just because you think that rules only apply to cars, that can be very dangerous to other cyclists who go in the right direction.