If you’re looking for a new cycle route then online maps can help you avoid the traffic and take you to some interesting places. At the moment they are no substitue for a proper printed map (or a helpful guide/ride leader, who can also fix punctures), but they can certainly spark interest in where to go next.
Free Online Mapping
There are a number of free online maps that you can use to help you decide on a route, so here is a selection of some of the ones I’ve used.
Google Maps has a number of display modes including Aerial photo (Satelite), road map and also has an excellent option to include ‘Bicycling’ routes. This includes Trails, Cycle Friendly roads and dedicated cycle routes. You can also plan a cycle ride from point to point using cycle friendly routes then save and share a copy via email (Clive does this for most of his rides). Printing the map falls short of ideal when venturing off-road. The map willl show the route in relation to highways and towns, but will it not show O/S style features or paths, thus making it quite useless for off-highway excursions.
StreetMap has a range of OS maps at different scales that are free to browse. You can print a very small section with OS detail for free, but not enough to be useful when you’re out on your bike.
Bing Maps is Microsoft’s own offering, and like Google it has Satelite and Road Map options. But unlike Google it drops the ability to see cycle friendly routes in favour of an excellent O/S option. Like Google the printed version is a basic road map and you lose the OS overlay that is important when venturing off road.
Ordnance Survey provide superbly detailled maps that are invaluable for the off-road explorer, and their online ‘Get a Map’ service is a free way to get a piece of the action. A half-page a4 O/S map is free to print, and might just about be enough if you know most of the route but need a little help on a small section. Anything larger is by paid subscription or one-off fee.
ESCC RoW maps use a combination of O/S maps overlayed with Rights of Way data that make new routes very easy to find. For cyclists it’s very easy to see Bridleways and Byways, along with Stiles, Gates, Bridges and planned closures. There’s no print option, but it’s a great way to discover what’s out there.
Friston Forest has a great network of trails for families and the more experienced off-roader. There are many unofficial trails in the forest, so we recommend you take care when following trails as you may come across jumps and other trail features.
Paid for electronic mapping
If you are serious about electronic mapping then you may consider paying for the priveledge.
Memory Map provides PC, tablet and smartphone software for O/S mapping. You can define and download your own maps, plot routes and upload/download to and from most GPS devices.
Ordnance Survey have a similar service to Memory Map, but it’s all done online.
Cycle GPS Devices
Dedicated cycle-specfic GPS devices have been available for a while from companies such as Garmin and Memory Map. These fit onto your handlebars; some provide a map with a ‘you are here’ pointer to make navigation easier, while others simply remember where you’ve been and how fast you were going.
Smartphones are often very capable GPS devices with free apps such as Strava, Endomondo, MapMyRide, and many more. Free versions can be upgraded to paid-for version for improved functionality including navigation. Most of these apps don’t require a data connection for basic functionality, so you shouldn’t rack up any additional data bills. If in doubt then check with the developers or disable data on your phone. Battery life may suffer when running these apps. To preserve battery life try turning off WiFi and any data hungry features you don’t need.
Online GPS Sites
A GPS device on your bike can give you basic information like speed, average speed, total height climbed and distance, but they come into their own when coupled with mapping software. This software lets you review the route you took and lets you share it with others. Some also compare your ride with the last time you took the same route, so you can see if you’re getting quicker or are having a bad day. Many allow you to ‘race’ against others over defined ‘segments’, placing you on a leaderboard with all other riders with the same app.
Here are a couple of free GPS mapping and tracking apps for smartphones, though there are many more:
RideWithGPS – We have a number of club rides mapped with this free software on our website here: http://cycleseahaven.org.uk/routemaps/
For worry free navigation when you’re on your bike you can’t beat a paper map, ideally laminated or printed on plastic for proof against the rain and hard use. They don’t run out of batteries and there’s no problem with small screens. But they do get out of date, and may not show the latest rights of way.
If you have a favourite mapping application that’s also free then we’d love to hear about it.
See you on the trails.