Using a bike computer is a great way to set goals and track cycling progress. However, if you’ve done any shopping around, you’re aware of how expensive it can be. Mobile apps have even gotten so effective in recent years that we wouldn’t blame you for wondering if you needed a bike computer, at all. Depending on your goals, it may make more sense to forgo the handlebar-mounted devices altogether and use your phone to record metrics.
Many cycling-focused apps measure data like speed, distance, and pace, and help with tasks such as route planning, goal setting, community building, coaching, or other bike-related objectives. Because there are so many available, the one you choose depends on what you want to use it for — you may even want to use a few separate apps to accomplish different purposes. To help make the decision process easier, here are the best cycling apps for each type of function.
The best metrics tracker
It’s hard to beat Strava when it comes to tracking fitness data. The long-running app is quick, comprehensive, and extremely accurate. Compared to many of its competitors — like RunKeeper or Runtastic — it offers a deeper suite of features while also performing them faster. You can use the app to track or calculate your time, distance, average pace, speed, and estimated power output — you’re even able to record your routes live.
Strava is straightforward and intuitive, allowing you to add descriptions post-ride to remember what you liked or didn’t like about it, and it pairs with plenty of external devices like heart rate monitors, power meters, cadence sensors, and foot pods. Best of all, you can share your stats on leaderboards and connect with friends via its deep social offering — something it does better than any other app on the market.
The best indoor trainer
If you live in a rainy climate — or prefer the controlled climate and flexible hours of training indoors — Zwift is a fantastic way to push hard, maximize your training, and force yourself to go the extra mile. Better yet, it presents everything in a fun way, gamifying training sessions by allowing you to replicate world class, real-life routes and compete against others.
The app, which works with any turbo trainer, features crystal clear graphics that even show your avatar rising our of your saddle when you’re pumping hard or tucking on fast downhills. You can decide at the beginning whether you prefer to race against others or compete against yourself. Although the mobile app works as its own game, the full experience is enhanced by connecting to a desktop version and using the mobile app as a remote control.
The best route planner
Today, there are dozens of GPS-based apps which offer route planning and live tracking. However, none of them match the original pioneer of route planning when it comes to versatility and ease: MapMyRide. With years of experience under its belt, the app continues to outshine its competitors. Aside from live-tracking, it allows you to fully customize routes from scratch, leapfrogging from one point to the next to create a unique path with a simple, user-friendly interface.
MapMyRide also lets you peruse other users’ favorite routes and shuffle through previous rides you’ve cycled to decide if you want to do them again with audio prompting. Although the app doesn’t showcase as many social features as Strava, it’s the clear winner in terms of simple map creation.
The best motivational coach
Tracking numbers and monitoring your route isn’t the only thing capable of making training successful — you also need a bit of inspiration from time to time. Endomondo offers this in spades, providing easy ways to set goals, devise training programs, and monitor your progress. If your motivation begins to wane en route to achieving them (halfway up a 12 percent gradient, for example), it offers you that little voice of encouragement.
Its audio coaching delivers feedback about your distance, duration, calories, lap time, pace, heart rate, and more. Plus, it even has an amazing feature called “Pep Talks” where you can have a friend send a personalized message while tracking you live, offering fully customized motivation.
The best companion app
If you plan to purchase a fitness tracker to monitor your progress, Garmin is the way to go. Its app is much more user-friendly than some of its competitors and if you own the Garmin Edge cycling computer, you can log everything in a comprehensive daily calendar that breaks down your average speeds, elevations, durations, distances, and other cycling metrics. The app makes it simple to compare your performance with friends — as well as other users — via Garmin Segments and it also crunches detailed charts displaying your data logged over time.
The best visualizer
Once you’ve sweated, grunted, and suffered through a long and tough ride, there’s nothing as rewarding as being able to recap your ride through high-resolution moving images. Relive does just this, working in conjunction with Strava or Garmin Connect to create a compelling, impressively realistic simulation of the ride you just completed.
Although there are a number of apps which offer map graphics after rides, none feature the visual grace and fluidity of Relive — nor its smooth aesthetic. The videos even look similar to the 3D satellite maps commentators often use during TV coverage of big cycling events. Short of wearing a GoPro, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better way to capture your cycling memories.