With the iPhone now onto its 6th 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 April 2014 from our original picks in 2012). Each is free, but with some of them you can 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 Android and iPhone apps for cycling
5. Wahoo Fitness
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)
3. Google Maps
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.
2. 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 for speed and distance, most riders use the app with their phone in their jersey pocket to record their route, and times on Strava segments, while out on the ride. Once done, uploading a ride results in automatic ranking of your times over popular stretches of road and trail. The premium edition facilitates decent post-ride and long-term analysis, too.
Strava’s special sauce is its 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 Instagram photos that automatically link with your own rides. Many riders use a Garmin to record and upload their rides — and then use the app to scroll through and see what their friends are up to.
BikeRadar is on Strava. Come join us at the BikeRadar Strava club.
Other apps you might want to check out include Kinetic, MyFitnessPal and IMBA Project Trail Finder. Got a favorite app? Leave a comment below.