Last updated: July 30th, 2020
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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?
In my personal opinion, Citymapper
A bit about the 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
Disagree with my analysis? Have you found a really good alternative? I'd love to hear, please
contact me at [email protected]!