First, an exception. For the kind of biker who cares how fast he climbs hills, a free app called Strava offers functionality akin to a dedicated GPS device. The app records the time, distance and average speed of a ride, and then allows riders to save their times in their profiles.
The neatest part, though, is comparing yourself with other riders who have done the same ride. This can be humbling. I’m proud to say that I can hit 30 miles an hour on the downhills in Central Park. But a rider named Rod Millott’s average speed for the entire loop around the park is nearly that fast, and he has done the six-mile route in 12 minutes 33 seconds. Sheesh. Be warned, there are a lot of people like Mr. Millott using this app. For some more reasonable competition, you can also follow your friends.
If you want a full biking GPS device, Strava will not replace it. On the other hand, Strava is free. (You can subscribe to the app’s advanced analytics for $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year.)
But not all bikers need something like this. I went looking for the biking equivalent of clever subway apps likeExit Strategy or
EmbarkNYC, and was surprised at how little inventive thinking I found.
For iPhone users, at least, there is not even a great way to get directions on a phone.
For Android users, this is easy enough. Google Maps for Android gives biking directions. The iPhone version doesn’t. Those users have several alternatives, but all of them are frustrating. They can use the mobile site for Google Maps by typing maps.google.com into their mobile browser. Using the mobile site, though, is a good reminder of why Google built a smoothly running app as an alternative.
The best app for biking directions is probably RidetheCity, $1.99 for Android and iPhone. It gives bike routes and offers choices among safest (the default, which searches for bike lanes), safe (which balances safety versus the convenience of a direct route) and direct (which the app’s creators do not recommend). Its map also lists the locations of bike shops, which can come in handy. Ride the City covers several dozen cities worldwide.
In my experience, the directions the app gave seemed reasonable. It would be nice if Ride the City allowed users to alter the directions to route themselves along certain trails, for instance. It does not show your current location. The app is also slow and tends to crash.
HopStop, a good app for transit directions, provides biking directions. It is free, which is nice, but the maps it provides are laughably undetailed.
If all you want is a digital version of the city’s bike map, there is a free app called NewYork City Bike Map, which offers just what it says, current as of November. Once the app has been downloaded, it works without an Internet connection, and it has a nice little feature that allows a user to rotate the map by twisting two fingers.