In many ways, the hardware on the smartphone is tailor made for the urban cyclist and all you need are apps to take advantage of it.
I HAVE been a recreational cyclist for many years now, but only recently have taken up cycling more seriously and have started to choose my bicycle over taking a car for short to medium distance trips (and occasionally, much further).
Being a directionally-challenged geek, I couldn’t engage in a low tech pursuit like cycling without injecting a bit of technology.
There’s a lot of high-tech hardware you can add to your bike to track all kinds of things – there are bicycle computers which can track your speed and cadence, and even more advanced ones with GPS chipsets which can map out your rides.
If you’re unwilling to spend more cash, there’s already a powerful little handheld computer in your pocket with an accurate GPS chipset and a constant connection to the Internet – the smartphone.
With the right apps you wouldn’t need to spending extra money buying cycling hardware.
Interestingly, there are actually a lot of apps available for the modern cyclist, ranging from simple cycling computers to helpful bike repair guides for times you need to fix your machine.
Here’s a list of the more interesting ones that we’ve found – we also included honourable mentions for some app types so that you have an alternative choice.
Price: Free (with in-app subscriptions)
No bike apps list is complete without mentioning Strava, by far the most popular app for professional and amateur cyclists and for good reason. The app is elegantly designed and has loads of functions geared towards keeping track of your cycling.
Strava also has an extensive collection of routes in its database that’s uploaded by users, so you can virtually compete against other cyclists who have taken the same route.
Beating other users will score you points on the app.
At its most basic, Strava acts as a bicycle computer, showing you in large, clear fonts your time, average speed and total distance travelled.
Once you start your ride, it will automatically track and show your location while recording the route, speed, distance and calories burned.
Strava’s strength is in its support for a wide variety of third-party Bluetooth and ANT+ sensors such as heart rate monitors, bicycle cadence sensors for more accurate tracking and even some Suunto watches.
As it’s so popular, many other third-party apps also have built-in support for Strava – for example, Strava can link to Garmin Connect and MyFitnessPal so that they can share information.
While the basic app is free and has all the functions we’ve just mentioned, serious cyclists might want to pay for the premium service for features like custom goals, live performance data and personalised training plans.
Also, Strava isn’t just for cycling as it’s also great for tracking your runs.
For owners of smartwatches, Strava also has a companion app for both Android Wear and Apple Watch, which allows you to start and stop your rides from the watch. It also mirrors some of the information available on the phone app.
Honourable mention: Cyclemeter (iOS)Cyclemeter does many of the same things as Strava and even displays the information in the form of graphs.
Unfortunately, the free version serves advertisements when you start the app and the interface isn’t as elegantly designed as Strava.
Bike Repair (Android/iOS)
Price: US$3.99 (RM16)
One of the cool things about owning a bicycle is that most repairs and maintenance – like changing tyres and adjusting brakes – can be done by you without having to go to the bike shop.
This is where Bike Repair comes in. It’s probably one of the most useful apps you could have in your pocket.
The app is divided into sections which you can browse like a physical manual, but it’s more graphically rich and interactive than any printed copy could ever be.
For example, if you tap on brakes, you will be taken to a list of maintenance instructions for not just traditional “V” or caliper brakes, but also modern mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes on how to adjust or replace the pads.
The instructions are clear, concise and comes with extensive photos – we tested the instructions for adjusting mechanical disc brakes and were able to get through some quite complicated brake adjustments with just the app’s instructions alone.
The app also includes links to various cycling websites for the latest news on the sport of cycling. This, of course, requires an Internet connection, but the reference and maintenance manuals are downloaded to your device so you can use it even when you aren’t connected.
Honorable mention: Bike Doctor 2 (iOS)
Bike Doctor 2 is a more focused app and deals only with maintenance and repair of your bike.
However, while the instructions are more user-friendly and there are guides for modern equipment like hydraulic disc brakes, it doesn’t cover as many different brands as Bike Repair.
Bike Gear Calculator (Android/iOS)
Price: Free for Android; US$1.99 (RM8) for iOS
While this app is not for everyone, if you’re a bike mechanic or someone who likes to pick and choose components to build your own bikes, then Bike Gear Calculator is for you.
This app helps you calculate and choose the right gear and chainring options for your bike.
It lets you input info such as tyre sizes and crank lengths to figure out the gear ratios, gain ratios, speed, pedal rotations and other technical information.
You can also use the calculator to figure out how much distance you can cover with a particular gear ratio and how many pedal rotations are required to cover that distance.
If you’re into technical details for gears on your bicycle, this is the app for you.
GPS navigation apps and maps have come a long way in this country, but one of the most glaring issues is the absence of cycling routes.
There is an active community of cyclists mapping out and updating the maps for cycling routes, but for now, their efforts have not been integrated into GPS-enabled apps like Google Maps.
If you’re thinking that you could just use driving or walking directions on Google Maps, you would be wrong.
More often than not the driving directions will take you to busy roads and highways which are dangerous for cyclists and walking directions will often take you to places that are only accessible by pedestrians such as through tiny gates or walkways.
This is where CycleMaps come in – this free app gives you cycling routes that go off the main roads and also tends to choose roads that are more pleasant for cyclists.
The app allows you to choose Google Maps or Apple Maps as the base map – we recommend Google Maps because Apple Maps still isn’t up to snuff when it comes to accuracy.
In our tests we found that CycleMaps chooses different routes than driving or walking directions in Google Maps although it’s still not perfect.
Honorable mention: Bike Citizens (Android/iOS)
Bike Citizens is an excellent and very well-designed navigation app for cyclists. The interface is elegant and easy to understand and is loaded with maps with scenic routes for most cities in the world.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the cut for top app because it doesn’t have any downloadable routes for Malaysia.
Garmin Connect (Android/iOS)
While Garmin Connect isn’t meant to be a standalone app, it merits inclusion in this list because the app is a companion to Garmin’s extensive list of GPS and motion tracking devices, many of which are specifically targeted at cyclists.
These range from the GPS-enabled Edge 25 cycle computer to the innovative Varia Rearview Radar which constantly scans and alerts you to vehicles approaching you from behind.
Connect itself is highly customisable, allowing you to tweak the screens to the activities you indulge in and also supports Strava.
First Aid For Cyclists (Android/iOS)
While none of us ever wants to get into an accident when cycling, we can never rule it out especially because most roads are designed for cars than cyclists. It’s always useful to learn some first aid techniques in case you ever need to help someone (or yourself if you’re still conscious enough to do it).
If you search on Google Play or App Store, you’ll find a bucket load of first aid apps, but the only one we’ve seen so far that’s targeted specifically at cyclists is First Aid For Cyclists.
Always useful to have on your smartphone, this app is produced by St John’s Ambulance and deals with how to administer first aid for common cycling injuries.
Not surprisingly, the app has a whole section dedicated to treating head injuries and has clear illustrations showing you just what to do.
The app is lightweight and while we hope that we’d never have to use it, it’s there if you ever need a quick reference on just what to do when you encounter an injured cyclist.
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