Apps for Cyclists

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I’ve tried a number of apps for cycling, but the one I keep returning to is Cyclemeter. Unlike a lot of the others, Cyclemeter is a paid app, and the great thing about that is that it doesn’t nag you constantly to upgrade to a “pro” version.

I am not a pro, have no aspirations to be, and I don’t want to pay for features that don’t interest me. On the other hand, I will pay a reasonable amount of money not to be nagged.

Cyclemeter does one thing really well: it works as a cycle computer with a very clear display, it measures your current, fastest, and average speed, your cadence (if you have a speed/cadence gadget on your bike), your ride time, the distance cycled, and other stuff if you’re interested, which I’m not. It also remembers all your routes and loops and tells you how far behind or ahead of your best or median rides you were. It stores a map of your GPS track, a record of all your rides in the calendar, and a graph of your speed, cadence, elevation, and so on.

It does allow you to share your rides on the Twitter and the Facebook, and post links to your rides online, and it does have some kind of competition feature, but I’ve not paid any attention to it, because I’m not interested in that kind of thing. And because I’m not interested, and it doesn’t include nagware, it doesn’t bother me. Just does what I want it to do, reliably.

MapMyRide, on the other hand, puts the sharing and competition elements up front and centre. It also nags you constantly to upgrade to their paid subscription, which looks really expensive. I don’t mind a one-off cost for something I consider worth it, but I will always steer clear of a monthly or annual subscription. What I did like about MapMyRide was the ability to plan a route using the map on their web site, and then send it to your phone. This allows you to plan routes in areas you’re unfamiliar with, and know in advance the distance and elevation. I’ve used it to plan my ambitious rides around Auxelles Bas this summer. I have an idea of what I want to be able to do each week, with the build up to something big at the end (some hope).

But the thing about MapMyRide, apart from the nagware, is the fact that the app crashed catastrophically the second time I used it. It then demanded every time you tried to relaunch it that you turn on the Bluetooth to connect to your cadence meter before crashing again (whether you complied or not). In the end I had to delete the app and all its data, then re-install it and log in all over again.

So I used that twice and no more.

Which brings us to Strava, which is the more successful and widely used of all the cycling apps. Like MapMyRide, it’s free, but it nags you to upgrade to a subscription. Some of the things it has for “pro” users do interest me, but not enough to pay $4 a month or $60 a year, whatever it is.

(One of those features is to filter the “strava segment” times to show people who are the same age/weight as you, so you can really see how slow and unfit you are, as opposed to comparing yourself to all comers.)

Strava’s main selling point is that it doesn’t care much about routes and loops, but does allow you to record “segments” – stretches of road where you can push it for an interval. So a couple of kilometres here or there, where you can measure your performance on a discrete chunk of road. This works quite well in the sense that there’s always something that stops you doing a whole loop faster: psychotic drivers, sheep, busier-than-usual junctions, strong winds etc. Whereas no matter how bad a day you’re having, you can always pick a bit of hill or road to have a go, and push yourself for a few minutes.

I quite like this feature, because although I’m not interested in my performance against hundreds of other cyclists (many of whom I’m sure are driving the route in their cars to put themselves at the top of the leader board: it’s what I’d do), but because it allows me to push it on those gumption trap sections that always hit me hard and slow me down, for no other reason than habit and psychology.

I’ve written before about a couple of turns and hills that just feel like hitting a wall to me, even though the evidence of my own eyes tells me that they’re not all that steep. Usefully, many of these sections have already been recorded as Strava segments, so I don’t even have to go to the bother of creating my own. So I’m always going to be 230th out of 260 riders who have done that section, but at least I can force myself to go faster and beat my own times up those hills. And because we’re only talking about 5 minutes of effort, it won’t kill me.

There are other apps I’ve tried. The Wahoo app that works with my Wahoo sensors was functional, but didn’t offer anything over and above Cyclemeter, so I don’t use it. The various national cycle routes apps are pretty poor – especially in terms of mapping (ironically) and the need to download tiles in advance, which is inconvenient and takes up space on your phone, which already has two or three lots of maps installed, thanks.

At the moment, I’m using Strava for the novelty, but ultimately I’ll return to Cyclemeter. Every time I go out and don’t use it, I feel guilty, like I’m cheating on my wife.

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