We wrote an article some time ago about turning a basic symbian phone into a fully featured bike GPS for recording and tracking your mountain bike routes.
Mobile phone technologies moved on heaps since then and we see even less reason to part with your hard earned cash to buy a dedicated bike GPS device when some of the free Android apps featured here can do far more. With basic Android phones starting from 70 quid, buying a dedicated GPS system is a definate no brainer.
In order to map bike routes (or follow someone elseís) your going to need a phone with either built in or an external Bluetooth GPS receiver, although some of the apps by Google can manage to pinpoint your location by triangulating between local mobile towers without GPS, the accuracy and coverage may vary compared to (real) GPS and its beta version means its not yet recommended for accurate GPS positioning. Look out for a phone that has GPS or†A-GPS support in its specs.
The beauty of using a smart phone over cycle specific tracking devices is the combination of GPS positioning to find your location and an internet connection to pull real time data from the web. †This provides up to the minute information such as weather reports which a traditional device canít give. Although an internet connection canít always be guaranteed especially in the Dales, GPS positioning should always work as long as the phone or GPS receiver can see sky.† For this reason, we have featured some apps such as Trekbuddy that donít require an internet connection just GPS.
What kinda stuff can it do then? Howís about real time weather forecast based on your actual location, or GPS photo tagging so you can see on a map exactly where you took that stunning photo and even get directions back to the photo location if you ever want to return. †Stuck in the Dales with no cash and looking for an ATM machine or one of the rare petrol stations? Your phone can give you exact directions, and even information if they are open for business or not.
Once you get on your bike, there are apps for tracking your route and speed, local sunrise and sunset times, how many calories youíre burning, your heart rate. Race against yourself or other bike riderís maps. There are standard GPS tools such as compasses, current location, speedometers and more. After a days riding you can upload your route to the internet for others to follow or race against.
The apps featured in this article relate to Android smart phones only. We are not gonna bore you with the pros and cons regarding competing mobile phone platforms and its highly probable that some of these apps or similar are available on GPS equipped Iphone and Windows mobiles too. You make your choice and we chose Android because of the wider availability of free software, despite being heavily tied to Google (You need a Google account pretty much to do anything more than turn on an Android Phone) On the whole, itís a more open platform (Flash Anybody?).
Our favourite phone based GPS software for years and weíve tracked hundreds of miles on an old symbian phone using this software, Trekbuddy is now available for Android so it was the first GPS software to be installed on my Android phone.
Trekbuddy is a GPS tracking and simple navigation software using offline pre downloaded maps meaning that no internet connection is required to see the map, just a GPS signal to record your location. It records the usual GPS data: minimum/max/average speed, current location, mapping, height, a built in app for taking photos and stamping the location into the jpeg. You can mark and name waypoints on your route such as a good pub, or point of interest. Routes are recorded as GPX files, a standard format which can be uploaded to sites such as Google Maps/Earth etc and widely shared.
Salter Fell mapped on Trekbuddy and played back in Google Earth
Trekbuddys is free and open source, its downside is itís harder to initially setup. First you have to download a graphical interface (GUI) specifically for your mobile screen size, No maps are installed by default so creating your own maps is a bit of a learning curve but if you regularly ride in the same 300 mile(ish) radius you should only have to do it once.
Not requiring an internet connection is a huge plus for reliability and battery life on a long run, (12 hours and more on our phone). You can download our pre made Yorkshire Dales overview map for Trekbuddy here.
CardioTrainer is an application that lets you track and record all of your fitness activity, not just cycling, it allows you to track and record your workouts, everything from walking to yoga to running.
Itís got mapping (internet) and the usual GPS stats and ability to follow previous routes, a pedometer for pace and number of walking steps. Thereís estimates on how many calories your burning whilst exercising, (Gasping my way up Sharphaw the other day burnt a miserable 300 calories or the equivalent to 3 bananas apparently) Cardio trainer allows you to upload your data to Google Health (discontinued) or its own website to compare against others or your own personal records on previous training sessions.
It happily sits on your taskbar summarising how many total calories youíve burnt this week or how much exercise youíve had compared to last week/month, year. Thereís a free and paid for version, and it works without the internet but wont display a map without a web connection.
A simple program to show all your GPS information in one app with large easy to read screen. Standard GPS functions include: speed, compass, altitude, local sunrise and sunset time and more. Test the accuracy of your GPS device. For information only, no data can be recorded.
Google places knows and records your exact location, so itís not for Google conspiracy theorists. But match this with a location based search engine and its winning software. Find and get directions to literally anything, pubs cash points, petrol stations. All based on your real time location. Includes:
Navigation: Free, voice-guided GPS navigation system (roads only not offroad)
Places: Find, rate, and get recommendations for places
Latitude: See friends on the map and check in at places
It requires GPS and internet for real time use but if you know where you are you can key in postcodes or town/street names.
My Tracks allows you to record and share your GPS tracks, its written by Google employees (20 percent project) But it is not yet an official Google release.
They say ďUse My Tracks while you run, bike, hike, or do anything else outdoors, and it will use the GPS sensor in your phone to record the path you took. It will also gather useful statistics such as time, speed, distance, and elevation. You can review all of this data live, or you can save it for use later. While you're out, you can mark relevant waypoints, and can ask to hear automatic voice announcements about your progress.Ē
Itís got a very clear interface, is a breeze to use and to date is the only bike mapping software contender that might make us shift way from Trekbuddy. Getting the routes off your phone and online is where this app excels. You can upload your days riding direct to your Google maps account from the phone, which is a real time saver. Sending maps via email, or to Facebook Twitter or Google earth etc is just a couple of clicks away.
Thereís a myth on the interweb that My Tracks needs an internet connection to work. Whilst it does pull the background map from the web, it can still track your ride accurately without the map just using GPS. We found by viewing the location we were riding in before setting off and scrolling around a bit we were able to cache most of the map onto the mobile phone and thus turn of the internet connection whilst riding. Not ideal but a real battery saver.
Local live weather based on your GPS location. Includes local temperature, long term forecasting, local wind speed, severe weather alerts, maps and more. You can key in your location if your phone doesnít have GPS.
An odd but essential choice for mountain biking. Tracking long routes, taking photos, internet access, occasional phone calls and maybe even listening to mp3`s all eat away at your mobile phones battery life. Juice Defender saves power and extends your mobiles battery life by automatically managing the most battery draining components, such as 3G/4G connectivity and WiFi. Juice Defender also uses CPU scaling, which slows the phone processor (and lowers the power usage) when the phone is idle.
Android doesnít have particularly good built in battery management and GPS tracking on phones is a real battery drainer, (less than 5 hours on some phones) so squeezing every last drop of power can be essential on all day rides.
Our tests indicated a 75% increase in battery duration using Juice Defender.
Camp fire stuff after a few beers, Google Sky Map allows a very accurate pin pointing of where constellations & planets are. Hold your phone up to the sky and Google will tell you what youíre looking at. Looking for Mars or Saturn? Google sky tells you exactly which direction to look.
An official app from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Use the GPS on your phone to find places of interest, well-known visitor attractions, or well-off the beaten track walks.
There are walking, road-cycling and mountain biking routes with Google and Ordnance Survey mapping and 360į panoramic views of the national parkís scenery, with attached GPS locations. Most (but not all) of the data for the app is download on install so an internet connection isnít always needed.
According to the National Park this version only covers the area around Malham in the south and Hawes in the north of the national park, but new locations will apparently be added in the future
A Free and (very) stripped down version of Adobes Photoshop for your Android phone. Features basic colour correction, image cropping, resizing and artistic effects such as colour saturation, black and white etc.
Obviously not as feature ridden as the desktop version of Photoshop, but the effects are cool, its free and good for basic image repair whilst out on the road.
Final Thoughts Itís all about conserving battery life to last the duration of your ride, tracking an 8 hour or sometimes less bike route with GPS will completely drain most phones.
Hereís some things you can try to extend your phones battery life:
Turn off wifi scanning
Turn off Bluetooth unless needed for your GPS device
Without being miserable, keep any phone calls on your ride fairly brief.
Using your phone as an mp3 player in addition to GPS tracking is a pretty unrealistic option unless youíre riding for three hours or less.
If you stop for lunch, pause any tracking software and consider turning off GPS/Internet.
Use power management software such as Juice Defender.
In Google products, map view uses a lot less internet bandwidth than satellite (photo) view. Mapping takes a fair bit of internet bandwidth in general and Android kinda works on the principle of having an always on internet connection. Get yourself a fair use internet policy on a pay monthly deal otherwise its going to eat your phone credit.
Get a car charger for your phone so you can charge right up to the minute you set off/return