Because beautiful routes are more fun
Deciding where to ride is one of the most important parts of having a good time on a bike. In the past, finding the ideal route required friends who knew the surrounding roads inside and out, or hours spent studying a map. Today it's much easier: a few clicks and we have a starting point to work out the perfect route.
And it doesn't even matter if we want to make the daily commute to work a little nicer or if we want to spend several days riding through the Alps Bikepacking. So, in today's blog post, we're going to introduce you to some of the most helpful route planning tools to make your next cycling adventure even easier to prepare and more enjoyable to experience.
We will intentionally focus on opensource tools that provide the most customization as well as ways to actively contribute to the tools and underlying maps.
In fact, the vast majority of bike-specific routing solutions, which also take into account important criteria such as preference for elevation changes, road surfaces or avoiding dangerous roads, are based on OpenStreetMap.
This platform offers you a free editable map of the world created by a global community of volunteers. Users can share, edit and use all kinds of geographic data on OpenStreetMap, so you can find the very last trail, viewpoint, or hidden bike path. Whether in the city or off the beaten path - OpenStreetMap knows every spot. Even bicycle parking and repair stations, which is particularly practical for cyclists. And if it is not there yet, you can add it to the maps database.
What is clear is that this sheer mass of data and detail could never in a lifetime be collected and continuously updated at this density by a single company. OpenStreetMap is therefore a true boon for route planning. From the community, for the community.
Planning and riding a great route in general consists of two parts, the planning before and the navigation during your ride.
BRouter is another opensource project (based on OpenStreetMap) that covers the planning phase. And it works both in the app and on the web.
Here you can find various maps in satellite or topographic view, as well as cycling-specific overlays that give you access to entire libraries of bike trails. Additionally you will also findgravel-, mountain- or road bike specific routing profiles, which you can even customize to your individual needs in a second step. A great feature is the surface and road type view. Here you can see how much of your ride is the types you prefer and by clicking on them they get highlighted live on the map - a great tool for refining the route. Once satisfied, you only need to save the map as a gpx file and download it on your navigation device.
In addition, and this is unfortunately still relatively rare among navigation software, your data is neither shared with third-party providers, nor tracked or stored in any other way. You are also spared from in-app purchases or advertising.
All this makes BRouter a great tool for planning your next trip, although the rich interface might take some time and effort to get used to.
The gpx file from BRrouter can be imported into any navigation device. However, if you just want to use your phone, there are great apps that guide you safely and with ton of additional features. The app OsmAnd is one of them and offers two crucial advantages: Bike-specific maps and turn-by-turn voice navigation. For you, this means: Stash your phone in your pocket or mount it on your handlebar and off you go.
With several available plug-ins you can also connect your favorite weather app, the now familiar BRouter for offline maps, Topography for elevation profiles or even Wikipedia with OsmAnd. The latter accesses your location while driving and informs you about surrounding national parks, statues, monuments, cities and... Well, about pretty much everything, that you cycle past that has a Wikipedia entry. That way you challenge your body and educate yourself at the same time!
The app is free but you have to pay extra for a few plugins. Fortunately, this is not absolutely necessary, as the free version already offers (almost) everything you need. Pro tip: The developers want to foster open source and give you a free pro version when using the alternative app store F-Driod.
OpenStreetMap, BRouter and osmAnd are all opensource projects. While their data base is huge and their opensource character makes them great free democratic tools that benefit us all, they can be a bit hard to navigate and use. So if you're looking for something a bit more user-experience oriented, these next suggestions might be just right for you!
Another tool for the smartphone: This app which has been popular in the US since 2007, offers you different interactive maps, with which you can create your own routes or discoverpredefined routes. Of course, based on distances, altitudes, road surfaces, difficulty levels or other criteria of your choice.
This is an extremely promising start and RideWithGPS continues in that style: You get turn-by-turn directions, voice navigation, detailed elevation profiles and offline maps, all of which makes the app a reliable tool.
But... Only if you pay for the premium version. You have to invest about 10 Euros per month to be able to access HeatMaps, voice guidance and offline maps in addition to regular route creation and saving.
Economically, this is definitely a worse deal than BRouter or OpenStreetMap, but the app is also much more user-friendly.
We can't write an article about bike apps without mentioning the KOM once. Strava is THE app for cyclists and you can also plan and save routes, access popular routes of other users using HeatMaps or track and analyze past performances. But that brings us to the crux of the matter: Navigating and planning with Strava is not wrong, but it is primarily about performance and competition. The app is therefore more of a social network than a good old-fashioned navigation aid.
6. speaking of community...
The fact that millions of routes are recorded in such detail and accuracy and are available to you for free on platforms like OpenStreetMap or BRouter is only possible thanks to the thousands of volunteers who contribute to these opensource maps. And also on OsmAnd or RideWithGPS, everyone benefits from users who create ride reports, comment on saved routes or create new ones on their own.
So we can see: Without the huge community of cyclists worldwide, our sport would not only be a lot duller... No, it would also be a lot more complicated to live and organize.
And so a small appeal to you: Contribute to it! Register on OpenStreetMap and start saving features of your route, updating maps or correcting road surface information. Comment under your favorite routes on OsmAnd, write a short ride report on RideWithGPS or share your last ride on Strava.
Or sell your old bike on buycycle and make another cyclist happy with it! For questions about route planning or the topic of bicycles in general, our team is always there for you. Plus, it always pays off to take a look at the blog and one on buycycle.com. Here you can find not only the next owner of your old bike, but also more than 15,000 used Gravel, Road and mountain bikes for your next adventure. In this sense we wish you, as always: Happy browsing, happy navigating, happy cycling.