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Even though some cities have dedicated bicycle infrastructure, it’s of no use if you don’t know where it is. While Google Maps is excellent for car navigation (and the dominant market leader), it often has patchy cycle infrastructure coverage and tends to generate cycle routes on busy roads.
The best dataset of cycle infrastructure worldwide (and in Sydney) is OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap is like Wikipedia but a map; anybody can edit it, and the sheer number of contributors ensures accurate data. Many cyclists (including myself) contribute to this dataset.
While the data is extremely detailed (see this page for some of the detail OSM captures), the niche market of cyclist navigation means there aren’t many apps that have a polished user experience. This comparison of navigation apps is biased towards commuter-focused, easy to use apps.
Below: Display of OpenStreetMap cycling data in Sydney using cycleosm.org – it’s pretty detailed hey! Check the data near where you live – chances are it’s great, and if not head to openstreetmap.org to fix it. (note: you’ll need to zoom in to see new features like some pop-up cycleways, zoomed out views are updated once a week on this map)
What’s the best app?
- It gives excellent cycle directions (routes)
- The underlying data comes from OpenStreetMap, which anybody can edit
- It uses the route generation algorithm designed by CycleStreets.net, a not-for-profit spun out of research at Cambridge. It takes into account:
- The path surface quality and infrastructure design
- Delays caused by traffic signals
- Delays (or savings) caused by topography and hills
- One-way streets
- Private access
- Bicycle dismount signs
- It’s free to use
- It’s delightful (and easy) to use:
- When navigating it shows your path in psuedo-3D, easy to follow
- Apple: Apps of the year 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
- Google Play: Editors’ Choice + Best Apps of 2016, 2017
- London Design Museum: Designs of the Year
- MTA New York: Grand Prize Winner
- It’s available on the web at https://citymapper.com/, iPhone and Android devices
- It lets the user choose between safe (but slower) routes, medium, and fast (but more dangerous) ones
- The app is solely designed for transit and cycling
- Citymapper (the company) is pro-transit:
- They write about their transit research on Medium
- They launched a travel pass in London for mobility as a service
Some (possible) downsides to CityMapper (depending on your point of view):
- It doesn’t give voice annoucements, turn directions or reroute when you diverge from the route (Note: A Citymapper employee reached out and said this is coming soon!
- It’s only available in select cities (though Sydney and Melbourne are included)
- It’s closed source by a private company
- The basemap (background imagery) is Google Maps, not OSM
- It doesn’t display OpenStreetMap or encourage editing due to this
Disclosure of interests
I have no personal or financial interest in Citymapper or any of the apps below, just a user. I am, however, strongly pro-cycling, pro-transit, and a frequent volunteer surveyor for OpenStreetMap 😀 Thoughts on bicycle routing apps In rough order of what I would use for commuter cycling in Sydney. For a more detailed feature comparison, see the Wikipedia article Comparison of bicycle route planning websites
|App||Platforms||Notes||Path Data Source||Routing algorithm||Basemap (visual) Data Source|
|Citymapper||Free, iOS, Android, web||Top-notch bike routing with an option for Quiet/Regular/Fastest depending if you want to stay off roads or go as quick as possible Great interface 3d navigation Uses the top-notch CycleStreets algorithm||OpenStreetMap||CycleStreets||Google Maps visual basemap|
|OsmAnd||Free, iOS, Android, Amazon||Hugely customisable; effectively every variable in routing and map display can be adjusted Best “source of truth” on mobile for what is on the ground, shows all OSM data Store map and create routes offline (without WiFi/4g) Decent bicycle routing (I’d use over Gmaps) Automatic rerouting Really bad POI and address search (geocoding), but can select start/end on map Interface can be confusing With $2/month subscription, gets hourly updates of OpenStreetMap data Open source, mostly GPLv3||OpenStreetMap||BRouter (Android)/Custom||Anything: Custom vector, OpenCycleMap, NSW LPI, any raster|
|cycle.travel||Free, Web||Very friendly website Great quality routes made by a custom algorithm designed for cycling Uses live traffic to keep you on quiet streets (in US, UK, France, Spain, Australia, NZ) Can download PDF maps! Works in Europe/UK, North America, and Australia/NZ iOS app coming later this year (though has GPX export for apps like OsmAnd, maps.me or MapOut) Each country has its own specialised routing preferences (even down to county level in the US) Author has been an OpenStreetMap activist since 2004 (!!) The author reached out to me and is very friendly and knowlegable about path finding algorithms!||OpenStreetMap||Custom (OSRM based), designed in house)||Mapbox/Mapnik (Raster)|
|Maps.me||Free, iOS, Android||User-friendly good general purpose map Pretty decent cycling directions Open source||OpenStreetMap||Unknown (custom)||Custom, vector|
|Google Maps||Free, iOS, Android, web||Routing algorithm seems to route onto busy/dangerous roads Limited infrastructure data, slow to add new data Excellent search, UX and point of interest search||Google Maps||Proprietary||Google Maps|
|Bike Citizens||Paid, iOS, Android, Web||Each city is a $7 in-app purchase Cycle routing seems pretty bad User-friendly (I haven’t used this much)||OpenStreetMap||Unknown||Mapbox/OpenMapTiles (Vector)|
|CycleStreets||Free, Web||Horrible interface, best cycling routing algorithm Technically doesn’t support outside of the UK Can route anywhere in the world if you click “Detect my location” and drag the pins manually||OpenStreetMap||CycleStreets||OpenCycleMap|
|CityCyclist||Paid, iOS||I haven’t been able to test as I don’t have an iPhone Only available in the UK and Ireland at this point Please let me know what it’s like to use! The author reached out to me and seems like a pretty friendly guy 🙂||OpenStreetMap||CycleStreets||Mapbox/OpenMapTiles (Vector)|
|Komoot||Paid (one region free, sign in required), Web/iOS/Android||“Outdoors” oriented route planner with options for bike touring/mountain biking/gravel riding/road cycling Sign in required on mobile Not oriented to commuting Can customise fitness for routes See pricing here Lots of existing routes with more info (not in Aus though): komoot.com/discover||OpenStreetMap||CycleStreets||Unknown OSM based (Raster)|
Disagree with my analysis? Have you found a really good alternative? I’d love to hear, please contact me at [email protected]!