Following a cycling route

Following a cycling route

Say you are the leader of a ride and you need to follow a route. Or, you’ve just bought a copy of the London Cycle Routes eBook and you want to follow one or the rides. Or, you are cycling a sportive from London to Brighton and you want to have the route handy.

Oddly, this is something that perplexed me immensely when I first started cycling. What were you supposed to do? Memorise each turn of the route? Have a small cue sheet in your pocket? Pin the route to your handlebars?

GPS devices for following cycling routes

Fortunately, as time moved on, my simple, primate brain was saved by technology. I now have my iPhone “pinned” to the handlebars whenever I’m following a new, unfamiliar route. The GPS illuminates my position with a simple blue dot and I follow the line. Much like a child working out a simple puzzle.

Uploading rides to my mobile phone is easy. All I need is a copy of the GPX or KML file, I email it to myself and I open it up in an app such as Cyclemeter.

But let’s just say you don’t have an Android phone or an iPhone or a Garmin GPS device and instead have an old Nokia phone that you refuse to upgrade. Or, perhaps you don’t have a KML file and you want to follow a ride the old fashioned way. Using a map or a cue sheet which has the turns listed.

The alternative then is to have some kind of map clipper like you see on the handlebars of motorbikes around London. Side fact: That’s often cabbies learning every single road in London for their “Knowledge” exam.


Zefal have one of these on Amazon which costs £12.99. This provides some waterproofing and is quick and easy to install. It’s a simple and cost effective solution.

A slightly more expensive alternative is the Rixen rotating map holder. The reviews on Amazon seem very positive however there’s a review on Wiggle that states the protective cover started to rip within a few days of using it so you might be better off sticking with the Zefal.

Not as ideal, but worth mentioning, is the Silva Map Trail Case. This has straps to hang it around your neck. Although, when you are cycling, I can see how that would be quite a pain and also not great for quickly referring to directions.

If you are not a fan of paying money for things and much prefer a DIY approach, then there’s a couple of good tutorials on the internet on how to create your own bicycle map holder.

Related: GPS devices for cyclists

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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11 Responses to Following a cycling route

  1. Chris 22/03/2012 at 9:25 am #

    Before doing a new route I always run through it on Google Streetview, that way I can have visual aids in my mind for where I have to take a turn, being dyslexic this is much easier than trying to memorise specific instructions.

    • Andreas 22/03/2012 at 9:47 am #

      That’s a good tip – find myself using Street View for so many little tasks. Wonder if Google have a plan to update the images every 5-10 years as otherwise can see it getting out of date. What’s more exciting is their plan to send bicycles around the streets they couldn’t capture.

    • Harold 22/03/2012 at 12:03 pm #

      I do this too. Another benefit is that clicking through the images at about the speed they load seems to have the street moving at about the same pace as when I’m actually riding. Whether this works for you depends on how fast your internet and legs are, but mine seem to be synchronised.

    • PaulM 23/03/2012 at 12:07 pm #

      I also vote for Streetview. Only snag in London is that the images don’t necessarily alert you to the fact that a street could be closed while a construction site is in operation. You still need to be ready to adapt your route where this happens. Where I found it particularly useful is where the map suggests that there might be a link between two roads or paths but not a continuation of the road proper – for example where a road crosses the Regent’s Canal, can you access the towpath right there? Or can you pass between two blocks of flats to get from one cul de sac to another?

      Some respondents seem to be suggesting that you can make streetview move along the road, like you were in a car travelling along it. How do you do that?

  2. Andrew Ebling 22/03/2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Yeah – another vote for running through the route on Google Street View, or at least taking a look at all the junctions/turning points along the route.

    It can be a safety aid too, as you get an idea of the general environment and what road position you need to take before the turning is right upon you.

    Street View is also very, very useful when planning routes too.

  3. nilling 23/03/2012 at 10:42 am #

    If you must hang a map case around your neck when cycling the chances are that it will spin behind you and you’ll end up being garroted! 🙁

    Treated myself recently to a Garmin 705 off eBay and still getting my head around the pros/cons of the various file formats.

  4. Nick 23/03/2012 at 10:52 am #

    I use the free bikehub app on my iphone, to give audible turn by turn instructions which sound very clear from within my front Rohan chest pocket (ear pieces just give cyclists bad press). One advantage is that the commentary at each junction becomes an inoffensive way to alert pedestrians. I’m thinking of buying one of those battery boosters to ensure I don’t run out of juice, however, as the app runs my battery down after about four hours continuous use.

  5. RSK 23/03/2012 at 10:55 am #

    The map clipper I bought costs £1 from Aldi/Lidl/Poundland/whichever discount shop it was. I’m not thinking that there’s much difference in the quality of a plastic sheet you can clip to your handlebars.

  6. Marc 27/03/2012 at 10:43 am #

    I’ve used bar bags for years – definitely the best way to easily follow a map, and there is space for nibbles, tools, waterproof etc. underneath.

    The Canadian firm Arkel make an excellent bag (but at a price!) It can be obtained from Bikefix in Holborn.

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