With the iPhone now onto its sixth incarnation and great new Android smartphones launching regularly, there are more cycling apps than ever – ranging from highly analytical training tools to simpler social apps and useful navigational resources.
For some – Google Maps, for instance – you’ll need to have your device on the handlebars to take full advantage. For others, like Strava, you can just press Start, put your phone in your jersey pocket, and go.
With Bluetooth accessories such as heart-rate monitors, speed sensors and even power meters becoming more common, you can get your smartphone’s BT connection and processor to do the work that used to require a separate computer and, not so long ago, wires.
Here are our picks of the five best iPhone and Android apps for riding (updated November 2015 from our original picks in 2012). Some are totally free, some cost up front and with some of them allow you to unlock more bells and whistles for a fee. Fair warning: Any GPS-based app will tax your phone's battery, so these are generally better suited to shorter rides.
Video: Best apps for cycling
Perhaps the biggest draw of this app is the fact that is plays nicely with others. It pairs easily with Bluetooth sensors like heart-rate monitors, speed sensors and progressive power meters such as Stages. (With a Wahoo Key plugin you can pair with ANT+ sensors, too.)
In a world where many companies defensively guard your data in their various ecosystems, Wahoo Fitness uploads to all the good sites – Strava, MapMyFitness, TrainingPeaks, MyFitnessPal – and, if you like, can push your data in your choice of five file formats via email or Dropbox. If you’re an engineer, or just a data hound, you’ll love the number-heavy presentation of the app, too, with eight customizable pages of data on speed, power, heart rate and more. Plus, there’s a GPS map – though it burns through the battery pretty quickly.
We also use this app indoors — with the Kickr power trainer, a best-in-class indoor trainer.
Cyclemeter turns your iPhone into a great cycling computer – if you’re down for putting your iPhone on your handlebars. It is similar to Wahoo Fitness in its wealth of customizable options during the ride, but you also get a smorgasboard of post-ride analysis. Plus, you don’t have to log in to any site: the data stays on your iPhone.
You can start/stop rides with your iPhone earphone remote button, and integrated Google Maps can assist you in unfamiliar areas. Want to compete against a prior time on a course? You can do that. Want to configure audio alerts for time, heart rate, distance or other variables? No problem. Want to set up a training program with intervals, power and heart-rate zones and online calendar integration? Yep, you can do that too.
Cyclemeter also plays nice with Strava, Facebook, Twitter and more – and importing and exporting routes is easy.
Download Cyclemeter for iPhone (not available for Android)
Apple has done some amazing things, but it hasn’t beat Google at mapping. The latest Google Maps app, although still in beta for cycling, is the world’s best navigation tool for your phone. Just like you use your phone on the fly to find places, read a few reviews, and then go to the one you select, you can use Google Maps to do so – but get there on bike paths and bike-friendly routes.
Like any app, it’s not perfect or magic. But in its category, it is the best there is. The audio turn-by-turn instructions are nice when riding, too; with headphones you can have your phone in your pocket and easily get where you need to go.
Map My Ride
MapMyRide is similar to CycleMeter, but it benefits from the parent company’s online history with route mapping software. The app is better equipped for tracking – not only rides but your nutrition, weight and more – but it can also get you where you need to go.
The app works with any Bluetooth Smart sensor (and ANT+ sensors with a plug-in), and it offers a competitive option for popular routes.
The premium version gets you training plans, more advanced routing options and live tracking you can share with family and friends. Also, and perhaps equally important, the premium version ditches the advertisements you’re stuck with on the free app.
While you can use Strava like a cycle computer on your phone, most riders use a Garmin to record and upload their rides, and then use the app to see what their friends are up to. All rides uploaded to Strava deliver automatic rankings of your times over popular stretches of road and trail, with a GPS map of where you rode. The premium edition facilitates decent post-ride analysis, too, with the ability to map out future rides and get real-time feedback. The real-time feature, which tells you how fast you are tracking on a selected segment like the local hard climb, works on smartphones but also newer Garmin Edge computers, too.
Strava’s special sauce is the social component. Much like Facebook, you can follow your friends and see where and how hard they’re riding, leave comments and give kudos on their rides, and post photos with your own rides.
BikeRadar is on Strava. Come join us at the BikeRadar Strava club.
While Google maps is great for roadies or finding your way to the trails, this mapping app is really useful for mountain bikers who enjoy a bit of exploring. It’s free to download and comes with a very useable and free OpenCycle base map of the entire world, so you’re able to free yourself from ‘navigational uncertainty’ whenever the need arises. In addition to that, you can buy super detailed large scale topographical mapping for over 20 countries around the world. The maps are stored on your phone and it uses your phone’s GPS, so it doesn’t need a signal or data connection to work.
You can create and share your own routes in app and also download other people’s tracks or just explore the riding around you. There’s even a live tracking ‘Buddy Beacon’ function that allows you to share you ride with your adoring public or just selected friends, as well as seeing who’s around you.
First Aid by British Red Cross
In a perfect world, you’d get very little usage out of this app, but if the worst should happen on a ride it pays to be prepared. While it’s hard to beat going on a proper first aid course, this is probably the next best thing. Using a range of videos, quizzes and step-by-step advice, it aims to help you learn how to deal with common first aid emergencies, as well as being an invaluable reference when things have gone badly wrong. All of the information is stored on the phone, so it’ll work just fine when you don’t have a data connection too.
You know what separates the average YouTube riding video from the epic on-board footage that most pros post up on a regular basis? Well, apart from talent, bravery, a sense of artistry and a budget for travel to stunning scenery, it’s that they manage to actually get the shot framed properly. This app won’t let you huck a 50ft cliff while doing a backflip, but it will help with the latter point as you can use it to view what your GoPro is pointed at in real time, avoiding the kind of videos that mostly consist of a close-up view of a top tube for ten minutes before a lump of mud mercifully ends the ‘action’. In addition to easing that basic bit of filmmaking, it also lets you control the camera’s settings as well as being able to create and upload video clips directly to the likes of Instagram, YouTube and Facebook for your adoring fans / family / long-suffering partner to view.
If you’re always the one that’s relying on mates to fix your bike or spending a small fortune every month in bike workshop charges, then this app could be a the best $5 / £4 you’ve ever lavished on your hobby. It’s got step by step guides to help you through the most common mechanical maladies you’re likely to encounter.
If you want to take a more scientific approach to knowing what to wear on a ride than ‘taking everything’ or ‘suffering’, then this highly detailed weather app will give you seven day forecasts with three hourly updates and live weather radar maps. As well as giving you the temperature, it also offers up a more useful ‘feels like’ indication so you will know exactly what to expect. It costs £0.79 / $1 but you can buy premium forecasts that stretch 14 days into the future. You’ll also get ‘precipitation type radar’ which usefully shows exactly what kind of rain will be lashing down on you.
Usually skills coaching requires a coach willing to share their skills, but UK-based Dirt School has decided to allow people further afield to benefit from their mountain bike skills training know-how for £5 / $7. You watch the video examples of certain skills being demonstrated and then record yourself attempting the same technique, allowing you to see the difference between the ideal execution and your efforts. Each of the 11 fundamental techniques covered in the videos also has written guidance about where to practise, what to do and look for as well as letting you know what getting it right or wrong will feel like. For an extra fee, you can submit your videos to the Dirt School instructors for personal feedback and coaching too. No more excuses for not clearing that technical section now…
Download Dirt School for iTunes. It's not available for Android users, sorry.
Got another app you love? Let us know in the comments below.