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Reviewing 9 trail-finding apps, tools and techniques

 Whether you love to ride park, explore never-before ridden areas, take the truck to the top of downhill runs, or enjoy the hard ride up the hills to really “earn” the downs, then you’re going to need a number of training rides in your pack to pull out and use. Training rides are great to practice intervals or just to take a measure on how your fitness is progressing. However you need to spice them up, even the most exciting trail can get routine, and if you ride from your house you’ll need to ride on some uninspiring bits to get to where you want to have physically or mentally achieved something on the ride.

So, how do you find good loops, or a good balance of terrain and location that matches your style and approach to riding?  You’ll need some tools as well as the ones you take with you on a ride.  I’ll attempt to write some very short summaries of a number of mobile, online and other items you might benefit from using.

  1. Real topographic maps - whether you last looked at a map on a hiking trip, at school or every day in the armed forces - look for the dotted lined routes, old monuments, cairns, and ancient settlement markers that might show you a place people rarely go for exploring never-ridden trails, or even places where trails may have been purpose built
    1. Advantages: Portable in a pack, 1:25000 scaled, and potentially waterproof, with no batteries required they make a good backup or for emergencies on long long rides.
    2. Disadvantages: Writing on them may be a problem, the cost and the need to carry a compass to make full use of them.
  2. Strava - The motivational and social competitive and “keep watch where your friends are” app, and website.  Multisport too.
    1. Advantages: Use the website on your computer to mark routes, and great for getting some basic data after your ride (or complex with power meters and HRM equipment).  Not that dependent on mobile phone signal wherever you are, as it fills in the blanks after the ride.  Pretty much the staple of cyclists these-days as everyone from casual first-timers to professionals are on here.
    2. Disadvantages: Mobile app doesn’t always show up cycle paths and other particularly suited routes. Segments are often too short and don’t often summarise the full extent of a bike-park trail or well known look published in a magazine.  Not great for getting a feel of the terrain ahead of the ride.  Premium version not really feature packed enough, but cheap for the improved data.
  3. Sportstracker - This is a mobile app and website showing rides and other as “public” events taken by users of the app.  Those events automatically appear when activity is recorded in a way others can follow and see where you went.
    1. Advantages: You can get to a new area, fire up the app and look back at long term historical rides and other sports done in that area.  Great searchability across areas you have not yet visited and you can “ghost” other rider’s routes riding against them or yourself if you go for he premium version.  Good photos taken by contributors helps understand the terrain and a truly international presence.
    2. Premium accounts are expensive, and there are more historical rides than there are current activities, would be good to have a “happening now” feature too.
  4. Trailforks - Application designed to support trail builders, report trail condition and to add new trails as you make / trailblaze them.
    1. Advantages: LOTS of secret trails, and all those signs and potential signs of trails while travelling you might see can be investigated.  You can also download data on the region you are travelling too, making this a great app for holiday-riding without using loads of data.  Topographic data pretty decent.  Emergency information / alerting feature built in showing Lat. and Long.
    2. Disadvantages: Signup for an account can be a bit laborious but worth it.  App is a bit clunky and slow.
  5. Garmin connect / Publically accessible .GPX or other satnav data - Available anywhere and where folk often upload or convert GPX or similar to strava routes, garmin connect is often the go-to system for avid-riders.
    1. Advantages: This requires a garmin cycle computer for maximum benefit.  However you can still use others’ data to help your ride planning, showing waypoints, sequence, elevation and speed for the ride.  This data really helps plan pacing and new places to explore as well as comparing your effort against the person making the original route.  The ability to “find” these “links” to a garmin-connect recorded session anywhere on social media, blogs or other websites.
    2. The cost of the Garmin hardware if required, and the mobile app isn’t a patch on the website functionality.
  6. - Another app favoured by circular-route / touring afficionados, and some clubs with some premium per-month features. (free applicaiton only reviewed)
    1. Advantages: Good sync and print/output functionality from the map, / website and good mapping / planning ability there, but very similar to Garmin connect, fully offline mode, bluetooth headset turn-by-turn navigation, club calendars etc.
    2. Disadvantages: Highlights their own RFLKT external display for use with your phone tucked away, though doesn’t have the same functionality for your Garmin device (importing garmin events only).
  7. 1 SW Cycle adventure ( - Visitors site for the South/South-West with a huge degree of small scale and trailpark data.
    1. Advantages: split into Landscape, Trailpark and other promoted greenlane and touring routes.  Great photos, weather, elevation and description data including conditioons of each trail,   Great levels of detail and other supporting info to link off and find out more about the route in advance.  Photographs and videos along routes, linked directly on the map.  Bike shops/Businesses and car-parks also listed.
    2. Disadvantages: Doesn’t have the capability to export to any device with the data held there.  Map filtering and zoom functionality a little clunky and in need of improvement.

  1. Published Trail Routes (from books/magazines)
    1. Advantages: Tend to have good supporting information for people absolutely new to an area, and gives you a tried and tested route that more or less guarantees a good run while you are exploring, or finding some locals.
    2. Disadvantages: Soon after publication this can make these “locals” rides very busy.  With many long-distance visitors this can cause issues sometimes with some not showing decent courtesy or understanding of times to avoid on the trail(s).  Sometimes the routes depend on locals helping out magazine contributors, or are contributed by locals. At other times the magazine may not have kept up to date with local conditions, or changes to the trail in a while.  For example. You might expect berms and gravel hardpack - and when you get there the mud is 4 inches deep.
  2. Locals
    1. Advantages: Chance meetings with riders as they get back from their ride will often give you some opportunities to learn about conditions or places of interest to particularly enjoy and not miss out on.  Of course if you are new to an area and keep coming back at the same time, you will soon find yourself being the local.  So, gen up on all the local routes otherwise you might well not be able to do your job as a local if you don’t ride their regularly.
    2. Disadvantages: Almost none.  There are often locals terms for certain portions or segments of the trails which will be lost on newcomers to an area.  Try to give good compass directions if you can or show someone on a route-map or topographic map about where you are talking about if you are the local. (see #1) :)

I hope that long rundown will keep some websites as regulars on your browsers TABs or installed on your phone soon.
Be the local, and remember what it was like before you were one, and see you on the trails.

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