Wed, 15 Dec 2010
Being something of a geek, I couldn't start cycling without looking around at what online aids there are available. Below I give details of three websites that I've found useful: Ride With GPS, Bike Route Toaster, and CycleStreets.
Ride With GPS
Ride With GPS is the site that I've been using most often. It allows you to create routes and then log trips along those routes. From that information, it will give you a breakdown of how long you've spent on your bike, how much distance you've covered and how much elevation you've gained.
The creation of routes is done using Google Maps data. You add waypoints along the route and use either straight lines or automated routing to join them up. As you create your route, the elevation profile is displayed, as well as the route distance and the total elevation gained and lost. Excitingly, when you move your mouse over the elevation profile it shows where on the map that elevation is, so you can correlate what you were feeling and the actual facts.
The automated routing is performed by the Google Maps' routing algorithms (either car or walking). This can cause problems, as the car algorithm is likely to choose a poor/dangerous route for a cyclist, and the walking algorithm (unhelpfully labelled 'Cycling' by Ride With GPS) will do things like sending you the wrong way up a one-way street. As such, you have to switch between the two to ensure that you are getting a good, cycleable route.
As the name suggests, Ride With GPS is designed for use with a GPS device. None of the functionality above requires a GPS, but there is other functionality that I haven't described as I've never used it. The most obvious example is that you can upload a trip from your GPS and it can/will be used as a route. This obviates the need for the route planner, so I do wonder how much improvement/work it will receive from the developers.
A few examples from my Ride With GPS profile:
Bike Route Toaster
Bike Route Toaster is a bike route planning website. It doesn't include any of the non-routing features of Ride With GPS, but it does include integration with OpenStreetMap, which has considerably more detailed information about cycle-only routes (and won't send you the wrong way down one-way streets). This makes it a good choice for planning a route through somewhat unknown areas, where Google may well screw you.
One thing that Bike Route Toaster does lack (as far as I've been able to tell) is a location-finder. So I have to find my house every time I'm planning a route from my house, and I have to look up the exact location of places I'm not familiar with on Google Maps or OpenStreetMap to be able to route to them.
With both Bike Route Toaster and CycleStreets, you can use their routes in Ride With GPS. This is done by exporting to GPX (the GPS eXchange format) and then importing that into Ride With GPS. There are some complications, so this isn't a good solution for every route, but if you're planning a particularly tricky or regularly-used route, it is worth it.
As with Bike Route Toaster, CycleStreets is solely designed to plan routes from Point A to Point B. Also like Bike Route Toaster, it uses OpenStreetMap's data, which gives you better routing than Ride With GPS. However, unlike the other two websites, it doesn't allow you to specify points C, D or E in between your Points A and B. You give it start and end points, it does the rest.
After spending some time deliberating, CycleStreets generates not one, not two, but three (potentially) different routes to get you to your destination. These consist of a Fastest route, which ignores any niceties to give you the shortest distance A to B; a Quietest route, which prefers a longer route with minimal traffic; and a Balanced route, which takes a little from column A, a little from column B. You get a map, an elevation profile (though it's not as shiny as the Ride With GPS one), and step-by-step instructions with mini-maps (which is better than either of the other sites).
Of the three projects, CycleStreets is probably the one that I'm most excited about. It's run on a not-for-profit basis, and they plan on releasing the code as open source. They're also looking to expand and allow your points C, D and E, as well as to improve their use of the OSM data.