Navigation for cycling trips

Posted on October 21 2015

Paper maps, compasses and trip computers have long been the navigational method for cyclists. However, smart phones have become ubiquitous, and they're pretty excellent for cyclists who are going to be travelling across map boundaries, or along back roads that often aren't shown on paper maps.

Here's our guide to pain-free navigation with your phone.

Step 1: Plot your trip

Many websites will allow you to plot your trip. Google Maps is easy to use for straightforward routes. If you want to draw the route yourself, we recommend MapMyRide.

Step 2: Get a GPX file

If you have the route in Google Maps, go to GPS Visualizer and paste the URL of the Google Maps route, and convert to GPX.

MapMyRide will allow you to download a GPX file once the route has been saved.

Step 3: Download a mapping app

There are many apps (both free and paid) that will allow you to load your GPX route onto your smart phone. OsmAnd is free; GaiaGPS is paid (but excellent). If you choose another app, make sure it supports offline maps.

Step 4: Load your GPX file

The method will vary depending on the program you're using. For OsmAnd, connect your phone to your computer, and save the GPX file in the 'Tracks' folder. GaiaGPS can import GPX files from your phone's storage, or by email.

Step 5: Save the map area around your trip

You won't have phone reception, so you need to save the map around where you'll be riding. Again, the method depends on the program. In GaiaGPS, click "Download map" and then it will allow you to select the area on the screen. This can take a long time, so don't start the morning of your trip!

While you're riding

To conserve battery power, put your phone on airplane mode, and enable 'Battery saver' mode (if available). Turn the display off when you're not checking your position.

Depending on the length of your trip you might like to bring a portable battery charger, or upgrade to a setup on your bike that can charge USB devices.

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