Jake Coppinger / Blog / The Best Apps for Bicycle Directions, 2020

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 (on web, iOS & Android). A bit about the app:

Some (possible) downsides to CityMapper (depending on your point of view):

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]!

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