There are several factors that make a great cycle route. Ideally you want to avoid the biggest hills and the worst traffic-filled roads, but you also don’t want to end up on side streets laden with potholes that make mincemeat out of expensive road bikes.
It’s also very pleasant to cycle along certain towpaths and canals, but a nightmare to navigate the hordes of pedestrians that use others. Finally, it’s great to use dedicated cycle lanes where possible, but in the UK’s biggest cities, cycling networks are expanding and changing all the time (and in London at least, regularly closed due to roadworks).
So it’s wise to seek out some help when plotting your cycling routes, either from an app or a dedicated device. Here are the best of both for you to consider.
The Best Cycling GPS Devices
Garmin Edge 1030
Pretenders to the crown come and go, but Garmin remains the king of the cycling satnav world, and its Edge 1030 is at the top of the tree. The huge 3.5in (89mm) colour screen shows all the info on your route and ride in clearer detail than you’ll get from any other cycling computer, and the 20-hour battery life will suffice for even the most committed long-distance riders. You can also access the millions of miles of data from Garmin Connect to find popular road and off-road routes, and even send message to other riders in your group – provided they also have an Edge computer of course. £499.99, buy on garmin.com
The ELEMNT is first and foremost a top-notch tracking computer that connects with basically every cycling app and Bluetooth device you can think of, but it also provides turn-by-turn navigation on the fly. You can plan rides in the partner Wahoo app, or use third-party apps like Strava or Komoot to set up your route, before beaming them over to the ELEMNT, which comes preloaded with apps of everywhere in the world bar Russia and China (which can be downloaded – over WiFi, they’re big places). Speedier cyclists can opt for the ELEMNT Bolt, which sacrifices some screen size and battery life for a more aerodynamic design (and it’s £50 cheaper). £249.99, buy on uk.wahoofitness.com
The BeeLine offers a far simpler method of bike navigation than most devices, showing just a pointer and the distance to your final destination, which you set up with the partner app. On paper it sounds far more stressful than following turn-by-turn directions, but in reality we’ve found the BeeLine gets you places just as quickly. It’s also a great way to actually learn your way around, rather than blindly following exact routes, and if you are worried about going miles off course, you can set waypoints to hit en route to your final destination. £99, buy on beeline.co
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The Best Cycling Navigation Apps
You don’t have to spend a penny to get a decent GPS for your bike because the Google Maps app does a stand-up job of plotting cycling routes and giving audio turn-by-turn directions. And if you have a handlebar mount for your smartphone, even better. A word of warning for London riders, however – Google Maps will send you down the very busy Regent’s Canal at any opportunity, which is more stressful than riding on the roads (in London, that’s really saying something) so you might have to force it to plot an alternate route. Free, App Store and Google Play, maps.google.com
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While not as smooth as Google Maps, CycleStreets is more adept at finding the best routes for cyclists in the UK. It gives three options for mapping routes: fast, balanced and quiet. Opt for the latter and you’ll discover a new world of side streets and cycle paths, while the former is the best pick when you’re late for work. You get every detail on your route, including traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, and CycleStreets is even smart enough to avoid tough climbs wherever possible. Free, App Store and Google Play, cyclestreets.net
The best bike navigation app in the world can be rendered entirely useless if you don’t have an internet connection, or want to avoid pricy roaming charges when abroad. Bike Citizens currently covers 450+ cities and once you download the maps of the area to your phone, you don’t need an active connection to use them, which will also save on battery usage. All the routes it picks are tailor-made for cyclists, and as with CycleStreets, you can pick between faster or quieter roads. Free, City Packs £4.99 each (or £17.99 for all cities), App Store and Google Play, bikecitizens.net