There’s nothing more relaxing than heading on a long bike ride. Being out on the open road, disconnected from the world, with nothing but the wind and wildlife to bother you, can really help you unwind.
Over the last few years, cycling tech has come on leaps and bounds, making this experience even easier, more comfortable, safer, and more fun. Everything has been upgraded, from the composite materials that modern bikes are made from to the advanced lights that can keep us safe while we ride.
Smartphones have also helped to improve the cycling experience, especially for when we’re cycling long distances, over several days, and in areas we don’t know too well. The hardware contained within our phones is, in most cases, just as advanced as what you find in expensive speciality cycling equipment.
So with some of these apps, we can harness our phones to get the most from our cycling trips.
Cycling long distances usually means we’re going to be riding routes we’re unfamiliar with, so it’s important to have an app (or several apps) that can help keep you on the right track. There are a few different options you can choose, and you may find you’ll have to switch between them depending on where you are in the world.
- Google Maps — You probably already have it on your phone since it’s almost universally used. Google Maps is the best navigation app for when you’re trying to find your way around built-up areas or across the country by car or public transport. It’s great for cycling too, though it generally needs a data connection to keep working properly. In civilisation, that’s not a problem, but when you’re cycling in remote areas, it can become an issue.
- Maps.Me — Maps.Me is a Google Maps competitor that offers better offline coverage for when you’re without data.
- BackCountry Navigator — If you’re heading away from roads and into the wilderness, BackCountry Navigator can help you understand topographical information and can be loaded with data from sources OpenCycleMap.
- Russian Topo Maps — Formerly known as Soviet Military Maps, this app uses, as its old name suggests Soviet Military Maps. This means some can be slightly out of date, but in parts of the world where map coverage is weak, little has probably changed from when the Soviet military created detailed maps of the entire world. These old maps can be overlaid with data from other sources as well as your GPS, which is great for when you’re cycling far out in the sticks.
Most of these maps also give you the ability to track your current speed and map the route you have taken, which can be helpful if you need to retrace your steps or brag to your friends about where you’ve been.
The apps you may find useful don’t just apply to navigation and tracking when you’re cycling for several days, it’s also important to rest at night to give your muscles time to recover for another day of riding.
Your smartphone or tablet can pack in plenty of forms of entertainment for this overnight rest. If you enjoy reading, then the built-in Apple Books or Google Play Books are great e-readers. Alternatively, third-party apps like Amazon’s Kindle, Kobo Books, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook are all great options for reading everything from a gripping spy thriller to the latest issue of your favourite cycling magazine.
For those that love to play games, you’re spoilt for choice. Provided you can access the hotel’s WiFi or your own mobile data, you can enjoy free spins from online casinos or take part in a battle royale match in Fortnite. If you don’t have access to data, there are plenty of offline options, including the PlayStation 2 era Grand Theft Auto titles, RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic, and Mini Metro. Just remember to download them before you set off.
First Aid Apps
Of course, we all like to think we’re great cyclists and we’re never going to fall off or get injured. But this risk is always present, no matter how skilled we are. Whether you’re riding on your own or with your friends, knowing how to perform first aid is important should something happen.
There is no substitution for a full first aid course given by a qualified trainer for a reputable organisation, but even having an app that will give you instructions on everything from applying a plaster to performing CPR is better than nothing at all.
There are several good options for first aid apps, including the First Aid by British Red Cross and the St John Ambulance First Aid apps. Both are free to download and provide instructions for many different emergency situations.
In addition to planning your route, it’s important to check the forecasted weather conditions. Especially if you’re cycling long distances or over several days. The native weather app on your phone may be enough, but if you’re in a part of the world where extreme or wet weather conditions are possible, you may want something more detailed:
- Windy – This app will give you more weather data than you could ever possibly need, including rainfall maps and wind directions
- Yr – Using data from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and NRK, Yr gives you easy-to-understand forecasts in a clean interface, without compromising on the data it provides
While it helps to plan where you’re staying ahead of time, there are times where you may have to find accommodation for the night while you’re out on the road. In this case, you’ll need an app to help you.
Normal hotel booking apps like Booking.com and Hotels.com are useful for when you’re travelling between towns and cities. For those on a budget Hostelworld and Airbnb may be more suitable.
iOverlander can be helpful for those looking for bike-friendly campsites, hostels, and other places where you can rest your head. The data is crowd-sourced though, so it isn’t 100% reliable.
For those that are a little more adventurous, WarmShowers and Couchsurfing can help you find locals willing to put you up for the night. While this certainly isn’t for everyone, many cyclists highly rate this as a great way to travel cheaply and make new friends.