How to plan your bike route

In today’s car-centric world, we’re conditioned to believe that we belong on motorways and major roadways. But there’s more than one way to get from A to B, and going by bike can give you access to far more efficient and beautiful routes.

Whether on the tarmac or the trail, rides are more fun when we know where we’re going. Taking the time to plan your ride reduces stress and confusion so you can focus on the important things like traffic, pedestrians, obstacles, wildlife and having a good time.

There’s an app for that

Wherever you roam, there’s an app to help you find the perfect route and directions to get you where you’re going. Here, we’ll guide you through some of the top route-planning apps, explain their best features and show you how to use them to plan your route.

Strava

Strava is a fitness-tracking app that allows you to find local rides, track your progress and compare your metrics on segments of your ride to other cyclists in your area. It's a great platform for discovering fun, popular bike rides on any surface, and it’s ideal for keeping track of training and fitness. With Strava, it’s free to find and log your rides, but you can upgrade to Strava Plus for extra training features, segment creating abilities and more.

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bikemap

Plot your course on an online map with bikemap, then upload the file to your compatible bike computer for turn-by-turn directions – or, discover a ride that's new to you by choosing an existing route from the millions of options in this app's collection. Most of bikemap’s features are free to use, but if you’d like added functions you can upgrade to premium for US $34.99/year.

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RIDE SPOT

RIDE SPOT is a free app from PeopleForBikes that gives you route options directly on your phone. Follow simple, on-screen navigation or audible turn-by-turn directions and tell your ride story when you’re done by uploading photos! RIDE SPOT will also let you know about upcoming rides and events that may interest you.

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Ride with GPS

Like Strava, Ride with GPS allows you to record and navigate your ride and share it with friends. On this app, it’s super easy to find pre-mapped rides in your area and also create your own. It works offline as long as you download the route beforehand, otherwise it needs GPS to keep you on track. The free starter version packs in a ton of routes and rides, but if you’re looking for more features there are two paid options. The Basic option (US $6/month) enables tools for navigating, downloading and sharing rides. For US $10/monthly you can upgrade to Premium with advanced route editing, heat maps for route planning and more.

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MapMyRide

MapMyRide is a ride-tracking app that’s built to log any kind of workout from your phone. You can find routes, analyse data to train smarter, find local support through other riders and runners, and upload data from your ride with photos and comments. MapMyRide also offers frequent challenges for setting new goals and pushing yourself further. With the free version of the app, you can create routes on the website. Upgrade to Premium for US $6/monthly for features like Route Genius, which finds circular routes for you based on the distance you would like to ride.

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Only planning on tarmac?

These apps are perfect for dialling in greenway joyrides, city commutes and road rides alike.

Google Maps

Google Maps has a built-in bike map feature that’ll give you your best bike route along low-traffic roads and bike paths – and it’ll even give you a ride time estimate. Drop in your destination and swipe over to the bike icon, then use it just like you’d use Google Maps in a car. Google Maps is completely free to use and doesn’t require any memberships.

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AppleMaps

Available in some cities, AppleMaps will guide you on bike paths, lanes and bike-friendly roads (where available). The app plays directions through your phone’s audio and allows you to check how busy traffic is on your route or see the elevation of your route and plan a ride to avoid steep hills. AppleMaps is free of any fees or memberships.

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Scout your off-road routes

Navigate the trails less taken with apps for mapping your mountain bike and gravel rides.

TrailForks

Map out routes, check conditions and explore trails wherever you roam with the TrailForks app. TrailForks is a management tool and trail map for trail users and trail builders alike, providing great information for all who explore the outdoors. The app is free if you only need to download and explore a single region, or you can upgrade to TrailForks Pro for $2.99/month to explore and load maps for regions all over the world.

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MTB Project

MTB Project is a crowd-sourced mountain bike guide that allows riders to search for trails, rate rides, share photos and offer updated trail conditions. Download the state where you’ll be riding before you head out and you’ll have maps all day with trail difficulty ratings, elevation, and distance – even if you’re out of service. MTB project does not require any fees or paid memberships to use.

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GravelMap.com

Feel like taking on the road less travelled? GravelMap.com is a website for planning and finding gravel and dirt road rides all around the world. It offers a simple way to discover gravel roads and allows you to post photos of your rides and manage your favourite routes for others to discover. All routes are user-created and free to access, so be sure to check signage on roads before you embark on your adventure and share as many details as you can to help others find the best rides.

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What’s next?

An aerial view of a casually-dressed rider turning the corner on an empty city street.

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