Whether you’re in an unfamiliar place or broadening your horizons in your hometown, there are plenty of online tools to customize a variety of walking, running and cycling routes wherever you are. Not all the online tools we introduce here are created equal, so let’s take a look at the best free options depending on what you’re looking for on the map.
All of the options below have solid reviews and most importantly are either free or have free versions that can get the job done. For all those I recommend using the desktop version by the mobile applicationat least in the beginning; I find it much easier to drag and drop different points on the tracks using the mouse pad instead of the touchscreen.
How to map a bicycle route using Google maps
You are probably familiar with Google Maps, even if you haven’t used the option to customize your bike or running route. Here’s how to map a bike route in Google Maps:
1. Click the direction icon. Make sure you select the walking or cycling icon.
2. Select a starting location and a destination. Since you’re likely creating a loop, click the plus sign to add the starting location again as a third stop.
3. Maps will show you the quickest and most direct route to and from your destination. Drag the blue lines to adjust the loop to the desired distance and direct it to the places you want to pass.
4. When you are ready, click on the option to send directions to your phone.
On your phone, tap profile icon in Google Maps, then select Offline maps. Then tap Set your own map and you will see a reduced map of your current location. Just move the blue rectangle over the area you want to visit, then tap Charge.
With Google Maps, you can safely rely on the accuracy of the route and all its characteristics (time, distance, altitude). However, once you get used to the interface of sites specifically designed for planning bike routes, it becomes obvious that Google Maps is not focused on building routes. However, if you don’t want to try anything new or unknown, you can’t go wrong with Google Maps.
No unnecessary frills: Onthegomap
I have a soft spot for onthegomap. It is simple and easy to use. Build a route by simply clicking on the map to create a point on the route, then drag, drop and delete as needed. It’s faster than Google Maps, but contains much less information (such as traffic reports or detailed terrain profiles) compared to the options below.
Lots of customization tools: Plotaroute
If you like to go into details, Plotaroute.com has a wide range of route editing tools. You can create a route from scratch, combine and split an existing one, and even use the magic “create me a route” feature in an area. The menu on the side of the map is full of icons for taking detours, repeating loops, navigating to different sides of the road, and more.
Once you’ve designed your route, you can check the terrain and see numbered directions on how to follow the route (which I now realize is a very underrated feature on all these sites). Plotaroute is free, although you’ll need to sign up for an account to get all of these customization tools.
For your off-road adventures: Komoot
If you are serious about cycling or trail running, Komoot is the best choice for sports routing. It has an inch by inch of surface and road type analysis, but what really makes it best suited for outdoor adventures are all Komoot ready tracks. Filtered by distance, difficulty and public transport connections, the routes already in Komoot are like the easier-to-use versions of the trail maps found at the entrance to most parks.
The best data from crowdsourcing: BikeMaps.org
BikeMaps.org is like a Waze for cyclists. The website and app are crowdsourcing tools that local cyclists can use to map their riding problems, including accidents, near misses, hazards, and theft.
The interface is aesthetically pleasing, although very sensitive to the zooming in and out of the trackpad. Main BikeMaps Downside: This site appears to be the most popular in Canada, so your experience will depend on how many fellow cyclists are uploading data in your area.
For socializing: Strava
Listen to me. I know the route building feature moved behind the paywall a few years ago but I would still be sloppy, not to mention Strava at all.
For now: if you’re an avid Strava user who will miss a tour-wizard, and then in the list of past activities, you can still click “save to my routes” to use it again in future activities.
As a small teaser… wait for a more detailed post on how to hack a free subscription and make your own routes anyway. Until then: Strava is loved by all athletes and Heatmap is a great tool for finding proven routes in your area.
You can’t go wrong with any of the options above. Some go crazy about inch by inch height profiles, while others just want to lose three points on the map and use the first loop you created. My last tip is to always make sure you’ve downloaded the offline version of your map or, better yet, have written some spare tips on a piece of paper. Better safe than sorry.