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Hands Free: Five Best Smart Phone Apps for Cyclists

Monday, September 01, 2014


The Bike Doctor app teaches you how to do your own bike repairs.

Think back to the old days, way back before smartphones … The days when cyclists were limited to simple bike computers for measuring their performance. They did little more than record mileage, average and top speeds, and perhaps an estimated caloric output.

They had wires you had to wrap around your handlebars and fork.

Nowadays, with GPS-enabled smart phones in every urban cyclist’s pocket, riders can tap into technology with apps that make needing a separate cycling computer all but obsolete. These high-tech tools range from highly analytical training programs to social sharing apps and handy navigational guidance. Add a Bluetooth accessory like a heart-rate monitor, speed sensor or power meter and your smartphone can perform like an expensive, high-end cycling computer.

As with most apps available for iPhone and Android, there are countless variations and options, but a handful rise to the top—both in functionality, reliability and user satisfaction and enjoyment. The pluses to adopting smart phone apps over dedicated cycling computer are ease of use, access and social sharing. The downside is any GPS-based app will drain your phone’s battery, so keep in mind the more epic the ride, the less phone charge you’ll have in case of emergency.

Here are five cycling apps that are all offered free of charge; additional features can be unlocked in each case with an inexpensive fee upgrade.

5. Road ID

This app is the latest development from the folks who brought us the Road ID bracelet, which provides wearable information for First Responders in case of emergency. The new RoadID App features location tracking (called eCrumb) and a Stationary Alert, which notifies your emergency contacts in the event you don’t reach your specified destination in a reasonable amount of time.

While the Road ID App is intended to complement the Road ID bracelet, not replace it, you can customize your phone’s lock screen to provide the same critical information in the event of an accident or injury such as your name, city and state, three emergency contacts and important medical information such as allergies, medical history and blood type.

With the ability to track your workouts in real time, you can effortlessly stay connected with friends and family whenever you head outdoors.

Download Road ID here.

4. Bike Doctor

Whether you’re an everyday commuter, a weekend warrior or a fitness enthusiast, keeping your bike in good operating condition is important. Sometimes the smallest glitches require the simplest of fixes, which is where the Bike Doctor app comes in handy.

For Portland’s rabidly do-it-yourself crowd, this smartphone tutorial is a joy to use. The app offers step-by-step instructions for the most common bike repairs, such as replacing a shifter cable, as well as more complex mechanical problems such as bleeding hydraulic disk brakes. Having the Bike Doctor on your phone is the closest thing to having a mechanic in your pocket at all times. The app is designed by a UK firm, so some of the terminology may seem a little off, but the level of instruction for basic repairs is solid, regardless of whether you speak the King’s English.

The Bike Doctor costs $4.99 for the Apple iPhone and iPad versions, and $2.87 for Android; you’ll more than make up the cost of the app by doing your own repairs. Download Bike Doctor for iPhone or iPad or Bike Doctor for Android.

3. Google Maps

The latest Google Maps app is arguably the world’s best navigation tool for your smartphone. Need to find a safe, bike-friendly route to get to your favorite noodle house? Often times you can simply search for the same of the business and chose the correct location, and select the bike option for routes. Reports of misdirects abound, and if you’re unsure of a destination’s location I’d still recommend typing in the street address for accuracy.

Other, similar apps purport to offer even better bike boulevard directions, but in my experience the directions provided by Google Maps are more than adequate, easy to follow along with the audible voice cues, and best of all—free.

Download Google Maps for iPhone or Google Maps for Android.

2. Map My Ride

Map My Ride allows users to capture ride beta via their GPS enabled phones. When finished riding, users save and upload the ride details to the website where they can be reviewed, analyzed and compared to or shared with friends. Users can also create routes on the app, which they can then easily follow, with turn by turn directions, if the phone is mounted to the handlebar. You can also follow other riders’ routes which is handy when trying out a new course.

On the down side, Map My Ride seems to drain battery life very quickly when recording. I’ve had to cancel recording a long ride because I didn’t want to be without service in case of emergency. The app also crashes mid-ride more frequently than I would like, losing ride data, but perhaps it’s my antique iPhone 4s.

The premium version offers additional features such as training plans, more advanced routing options and shareable live tracking. Perhaps equally important, the premium version eliminates the overwhelming number of advertisements you’re stuck with on the free app.

Download Map My Ride for iPhone or Map My Ride for Android

1. Strava

You know you’ve hit the big time when the name of your app becomes a verb. Today, millions of cyclists all over the world “Strava” their rides. Strava offers a very similar service as Map My Ride, with two key advantages: less battery drain and better social connectivity. With Strava, after you’ve recorded your distance and speed, including timed segments set by you or others in the system, your ride data is uploaded and ranked, against riders who have completed the same ride.

Unlike Map My Ride, which offers a points-based ranking system, with Strava you go head to head with real riders, virtually. You can follow your Strava friends and see where and how hard they’re riding, leave comments and give kudos on their rides, challenge them to a “race”, and post Instagram photos linked to your rides, and share on Facebook. Garmin users can record and upload their rides to their Strava account, then scroll through the app to compare to their friends’ rides.

For serious athletes, the premium edition features useful post-ride and long-term analysis.

Download Strava for iPhone or Strava for Android.

Üma on her bike

Üma Kleppinger is a Portland-based copy writer and advocate for full-contact anti-bummer living. She is a recovering sesquipedalian who writes about life in the saddle and outdoor adventure. She is also the author of BikeYoga, a yoga program for cyclists. When not writing, she can be found riding and racing her mountain bike throughout the Pacific Northwest.


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