The smartphone enhanced cyclist

iPhone app in action next to a red bike

Back in the day is a phrase I find myself increasingly using.

Back in the day, I didn’t get a mobile phone until I was 18. Back in the day, the internet made funny noises when it connected. Back in the day, I had to use a bike computer to measure how fast I was going.

Now, I just attach my iPhone to my handlebars and start pedalling. 

I’m a “smartphone enhanced cyclist” and I’m sure they’ll be people reading this thinking “me too!” 

Whether it’s competing via Strava, discovering a better route to work through BikeHub or repairing your bike using Bike Doctor.

Back in the day, 2009, August 16th, to be exact, my girlfriend at the time was visiting me from France. By this point I’d convinced her of the joys of cycling. She suggested cycling from London to Brighton for my birthday.

We set off with a rough plan:

“Head South”

Our excitement matched that of a young explorer, eager to discover the world. I swear I could already smell the sea breeze in the first mile.

As the pedals kept turning, our camaraderie was soon failing us, as was my memory of the route.

After a particularly tough hill, we settled down on a patch of grass next to an A road. Munching through our meagre supplies, we needed help.

Who should we ask? Everyone around was shielded inside their car and travelling at speed. Even if they did stop, I doubt they would know a great cycle route to Brighton.

It was time for the smartphone to come to the rescue. 

I found a great route inside the Everytrail app. The route avoided the busiest roads and made it clear that we were about half way there. 

Armed with our new found knowledge, we found our strength once more and we set off. The rest of the route was pleasant, and my iPhone made it easy to see where we were going.

While the smartphone can’t pedal for you when you reach a tough hill, or after you’ve had a big pub meal and you don’t feel like moving, for us, it made the difference between turning around or continuing on.

Does it kill some of the old romance of cycling and getting lost?

Perhaps, however, I’m sure Christopher Columbus wouldn’t have turned down an iPhone.

We reached Brighton tired, but filled with that fleeting feeling of achievement. Having travelled the distance, under our own steam, made us feel like we’d done something useful with our day. The fact that I remember that day so well, is a testament to the the humble bicycle and indeed the smartphone that played its role. 

The Carphone Warehouse is currently running a campaign looking for inspirational ways people use their smartphones. You can enter on their website or hear about how a smartphone is helping a marathon runner who is blind

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14 Responses to The smartphone enhanced cyclist

  1. Over 40 Cyclist 29/05/2013 at 8:44 am #

    “While the smartphone can’t pedal for you”

    It’s only a matter of time, it can do just about everything else!

  2. Jack 29/05/2013 at 8:52 am #

    I think it *has* ruined the romance of cycling. While I use Strava etc for my short rides around London, for long rides that haven’t been tackled before, and that are generally planned more in advance, part of the fun and the excitement is in sitting down with a map and working it out – that gives me a real buzz ahead of doing the ride. I’ll admit, occasionally I’ll turn to the iphone for clarification that my route isn’t far off the quickest or nicest, but long rides for me aren’t about speed they’re about countryside, scenery and enjoying the bike!

  3. Izzy 29/05/2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Smartphones have made no difference to me. Every spring a new local OS map gets its cover ripped off and is carefully rolled into it’s plastic bag, together with a pencil, and popped into a back pocket. I cycle my area and I shade out the km squares when I’ve ridden all the roads in them. I leave out motorways and city streets, but the rest of them all have to be ticked off.

  4. Andrea 30/05/2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Back in the day no mobiles, no internet and if you wanted to check your speed you’d ask someone in a car,
    Not a problem though, as I was too busy riding!

    …. back in the day…

  5. Vincent 30/05/2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Apps are great to avoid getting lost and sharing great routes and POIs.

  6. Andrew 31/05/2013 at 10:23 am #

    A tip for regular users of Strava, especially if you ride with a heart rate monitor and/or cadence sensor: it’s best to use a third party app to record the trip, otherwise all your data except the GPX trail will be locked into Strava. Any app which supports TCX export will work fine.

    I’ve also discovered a great Web app called which provides better quality analysis than Strava does, especially if you don’t pony up for the premium account.

  7. Stewart 31/05/2013 at 11:24 am #

    Andrew – great tip – I was on the verge of trying to get something built like that as I didn’t like the idea of my data being stuck.

  8. Ross 01/06/2013 at 8:03 am #

    Hi. I have a Samsung galaxy note 2. Does anybody know where I can get a holder for it so I can use it whilst cycling?

    • Audrius 02/06/2013 at 3:58 pm #

      I’m looking for one as well. The closest I get was 5 quid worth of plastic which I wouldn’t trust to hold my phone.

      • Ross 04/06/2013 at 6:55 am #

        There is lots out there for the iphone but who wants an ipone when you have the much more superior note 2 ay? Lol

  9. Brian of Welwyn 03/06/2013 at 7:31 am #

    Does this mean your bday is 16th August? Snap!

  10. Hugo 07/06/2013 at 10:08 am #

    Hi Andreas, your previous reply got filtered so only just picked it up.
    Your point on the size of the Nokia 920 is valid, just play with a tablet for a while and then go back to it and it ‘magically’ doesn’t seen so oversized!!!
    Found that using the Nokia on the bike is great, especially using a Nokia Carrying Case CP-532 (which you can only find on ebay now as sadly discontinued) which mounts around the headset and onto the top tube.
    As I have a trip computer I use the phone for maps, directions and Endomondo tracking. It’s great as it’s like a little dashboard and using the phone in the case is great as the weather conditions are null and void because of the extra sensitive ‘glove setting’ that works through the plastic window. Now Galaxy/iPhones you can’t do that now can you!!! 🙂

  11. Nick Foster 25/06/2013 at 8:46 pm #

    I use a neoprene armband holder like this one: – in my view this has many advantages over a bar holder – easier to see, water resistant, phone is always with you, less clutter on the bars, cheaper! Inconvenient if you want to use the camera though!

  12. R4 30/07/2013 at 7:16 am #

    Smartphones have made no difference to me. I cycle my area and I shade out the km squares when I’ve ridden all the roads in them. I leave out motorways and city streets, but the rest of them all have to be ticked off.

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