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(Updated: April 2017. After completing our South America tour, we felt it was important to update this post with new content. We often get questions about specific apps and our intention is to cover applications that are useful for offline mapping tools for cycle touring, not tracking distances, or social features.)
As we’ve traversed Europe and South America during our cycle tour, we have become quite familiar with the various offline navigation mapping apps. Given that we have used an Apple iPhone, an Android tablet, and a Mac laptop, we are no strangers to the variety of tools available. Below, we provide a review of some of the best offline mapping tools for cycle touring.
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Phone and Tablet
Android and iOS | $6.99 | www.osmand.net
Pros: It has several must have features for cycle touring like cycle route overlays, turn-by-turn directions, contour lines and hill shading, GPS coordinate mapping, and point-of-interest searching for things like camp sites and grocery stores. We are huge fans of the offline Wikipedia articles based on geo-location. When you cycle into a town and see an interesting monument, you have the ability to immediately and easily pull-up the article without an Internet connection.
We also love the “more details” and “road quality” features. This has been useful when touring in Albania where the roads can be suspect and can easily ruin your day. No other app offers this amount of detail and information with such ease.
Another feature that has been invaluable is the contour lines package. We often encounter multiple route options when planning. The contour lines feature gives us the ability to compare the hills and climbs on different routes. This has saved our legs and quads many times.
Cons: The user interface takes a little getting used to and you have to manually enable the cycle maps overlay. It can be slow to load when you add several map overlays like contour lines, hill-shades, and cycling routes. It’s initially free, though, you’re limited to only a few offline downloads. If you’re cycle touring, it’s easy to burn through a few free maps.
The iOS version is not nearly as powerful as the Android version. When we tested the iOS version it lacked turn-by-turn directions and was incredibly slow on our older iPhone 4. With an updated iPhone 6s, the app ran much faster and without issue.
Cost: Free for a few map downloads. $6.99 for unlimited map downloading. $1.99 for contour lines.
Bottom line: From our experience, this is an excellent offline-mapping tool, especially in Europe or well-developed countries. It’s worth the money to get the contour lines if you want to size up a hill while being offline. The interface takes a little getting used to, however, anyone can pick it up after a little experimenting.
(2017 update) In South America we found ourselves not using OsmAnd, as it wasn’t very accurate with road qualities and didn’t have nearly the same amount of Points of Interest as other applications. We actually stopped using it all together and saved the download space on our phones. See below for more information on what we used. Hint hint, it ends in .Me.
Android | Free | www.oruxmaps.com
Pros: Orux gets a lot of mentions for being one of the best offline navigation app on various social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Friendster, etc.) We gave Orux a try and noticed its comprehensive and expert-like features. Orux has a plethora of options, overlays, and GPS mapping tools. It has everything you could possibly want in an app and more. Plus, it’s free.
Cons: The user interface is difficult to use. I spent about 30 minutes trying to understand it and eventually realized that it wasn’t worth the time with other easier-to-use mapping tools available. A deer in headlights look consumed my face.
Bottom line: This app has everything. If you’re willing to invest the time into learning the interface, it may be worth it. We didn’t use the GPS file loading, however, Orux’s GPS functionality offers the ability to really nerd out on route planning. The free price tag is a nice bonus. At the end of the day, we felt the interface was just too cumbersome compared to competitor apps.
(2017 update) Due to the painful experience we had trying to use this app in Europe, we deleted it off the phone. In our South America travels, I didn’t come across a single person using it.
Android and iOS | $3.99 | www.galileo-app.com
Pros: We first heard about Galileo from our friend Pablo of Bike Canine. He suggested we give it a try as it has an easy to use interface and it includes bike maps. In Europe, we used Galileo daily and couldn’t agree more! The interface is simple, elegant, and downloading maps is very simple. The different types of maps available including the cycle routes via www.opencyclemap.org are helpful when cycle touring, especially finding a bike shop, which are automatically labeled in the cycle route map. It was our go to tool in Europe when needing to quickly check our directions. We’d simply whip out our phone, enable GPS, and know exactly where we were located.
Galileo also has a very basic search tool for points-of-interest. Not as powerful as OsmAnd POI locater, but good enough depending on where you’re traveling.
It’s also not a resource drag on our iPhones. It loads fast and rarely crashes.
Cons: Bike maps or terrain maps need to be manually downloaded offline. This encompasses scrolling over the area you want to view while the tile downloads. The tile pieces are then cached in memory. Each night we’d review the planned route and scroll over the bike map tiles to make sure we got what we wanted, if WiFi is available. This included the various zoom levels that require individual tile downloads. We’ve been stuck on a number occasions where we don’t have the tile downloaded at the zoom level needed.
Cost: Free for a trial. $3.99 for unlimited downloading.
Bottom line: Galileo was our go to offline mapping tool in Europe, especially mid-ride for quickly checking our location and confirming we are on the right path. It’s not the de facto planning tool for us and lacks turn-by-turn directions, but it can get you from point A to point B. We found that Galileo can be a useful addition to a more detailed route planning offline navigation tool.
(2017 update) We have continued to use Galileo on a regular basis, though our usage dropped considerably in South America. The manual need to download tiles while being connected to the Internet proved to a pain, as WiFi access can be sparse in Patagonia and throughout South America. Plus, we found the routes to be so straight forward and the lack of Points of Interest data meant that Galileo was more helpful when finding off-road hiking trails than actually planning a cycling route.
Android and iOS | Free | www.maps.me
(2017 update) In South America, everyone is using Maps.Me for backpacking, hiking, and cycle touring. And with good reason, in the last two years, the application has undergone extensive updates. So, we updated the content below provide a new overview.
Pros: We heard so many good things about Maps.Me and used it for the beginning of our trip. It’s open source, has a ton of data including cycle routes, integrated Uber options, walking, and cycling. We like the turn-by-turn directions and user-friendly search functions that make it easy to find locations for accommodations or restaurants. The user interface is well-designed and a quick study for the non-techies.
A recent release included live traffic for when you’re connected to the Internet. Plus, cycle directions from point A to point B include a visual elevation profile. This is HUGE when planning and comparing cycle routes. You can save Points of Interest, and even add new places you’ve found that will be synced with the master database for the whole application when you get back online.
Another fantastic feature is the integration of hotels with Booking.com. You can book directly from the app if online, however, if you’re offline you can only see the rating (1-10) and cost estimate ($- $$$). This proved to be incredibly valuable for us when rolling into a town late at night and wanting to see if the nearby accommodations fit our budget and had a decent rating.
Cons: A recent release crashed every single time we used it. A quick update fixed the problem, but was a pain in the rump when we were relying on it.
The route directions when cycling from point A to point B are laughable at best. The directions are so bad that it became a joke between us. Why would I want to climb over a 1,000M mountain than ride the flat road? I cannot stress enough poor how the point A to point B route directions for cycling are. Further, there is no option to drag the route to a preferred one.
Jen mapped a biking route in Portland, OR and discovered to her shock that the suggested route took her down one of the busiest roads in the city, which has no bike infrastructure, despite having Greenways on two sides of where we are staying.
Cost: Free. Maps.Me was bought in 2014 and made all content free of charge.
Bottom line: We love Maps.Me and there is a reason it has won a bunch of awards. The interface is modest and anyone can pick it up and use it immediately. The integration with Uber and Booking.com is a complete bonus and something that separates itself from other apps. The main drawback is the route directions for cycling are horrible and generally unsafe.
5. Google Maps
Android and iOS | Free | www.google.com/maps
Pros: Everyone uses Google Maps and the interface is about as simple as it gets. We love the directions, integration with other Google features, and street views. The Terrain view is super helpful when wanting to gauge how difficult a potential route will be with respect to hills and mountains. There is offline functionality as of recent releases, though still limited by region.
Cons: Believe it or not, Google has not mapped the entire world. We ran into many occasions, like Italy, where Google has no cycling option in that country. Likewise, most of South America outside of big cities is little mapped. Open source mapping data is much more consistent when outside of the highly-developed world. We’ve also discovered that offline caching of maps can be clumsy at best. We have had maps disappear, or no longer work once offline, despite using the Save feature. Google Maps also lacks a road quality feature.
Bottom Line: Google Maps makes sense when you’re online and in countries with well-developed roads and infrastructure. It also helps when Google has mapped the country with their vehicles, as the catalogue of information is going to be accurate. With so many other apps specifically designed for offline navigation that include more features, Google Maps is a dinosaur.
(2017 update) Despite being one of the largest tech companies in the world, Google simply has not mapped large swaths of South America. We rarely used it outside of cities as it wouldn’t even show the road we were currently on. It also struggles with using addresses outside of Europe and the US. It sent us to so many wrong locations that we stopped using it.
Android and iOS | Free – online. $-$$ offline | https://ridewithgps.com
Pros: RideWithGPS.com gets a lot of fanfare online and has so many features that it packs a punch. You can find routes that others have completed and really dial in to what you’re going to be expecting when riding. It also offers a nice route planning tool on their website. You can also share rides with friends, and track all your stats.
Cons: RideWithGPS.com is first and foremost a tracking app. It’s primary function is follow your route, give you speed, distance, climbs, and all the data you want to know. This comes at a price though, as a) you have to have GPS enabled on your device which is a no-no when doing long tour cycle touring as electricity can be sparse, and b) it’s expensive at $6/month for the basic upgrade or $10/month for the premium package. You can’t download routes offline without paying. For us, this is a deal breaker. Why pay nearly 12x more with a reoccurring expense to get offline elevation charts?
Cost: Free for online. $6/month and $10/month for upgraded versions that allow offline usage.
Bottom Line: I can imagine RideWithGPS.com being the go-to app for road riders out for the weekend jaunt. However, for long distance tourers, the app really only offers elevation profiles offline, and at a premium price. If elevation profiles are important and all you care about, there are plenty of other apps that are significantly cheaper and offer more information about upcoming climbs.
(2017 update) We used RideWithGPS.com during our ride through Ecuador. The application was helpful in planning distances and climbs, but the price point coupled with battery drainage meant usage was short-lived.
Laptop – Online Planning
Pros: OpenStreetMap is like Google Maps but way better. It includes several map overlays like the cycling maps from www.opencyclemap.org or transportation map (in case you want to see the route trucks might travel). It has turn-by-turn directions for cycling in places like Italy, which Google Maps does not have. Its user interface makes for a quick learn and the minimalist approach offers just enough features to make it worth your time.
All of the data on the site is crowdsourced, which yields far better information than what Google can offer. We’ve found roads in Bosnia only labeled on OpenStreetMap.
Cons: The lack of a terrain view makes it challenging to gauge the level of difficulty of a proposed route. The auto-locate feature doesn’t work 100% of the time, and the lack of map details can be a bit annoying.
Bottom Line: We used OpenStreetMap.org on a daily basis for route planning in Europe. The cycle map overlay is a fantastic feature and can add value when planning longer routes that span over multiple countries and cities. The lack of terrain still makes use rely on Google Maps; however, 90% of our planning was done in OpenStreetMaps.org
(2017 update) There is very little cycle infrastructure in South America, so we didn’t use OpenStreetMaps. We instead used the same open source data through Maps.Me on our phones and offline.
Pros: Elevation charts with a grading scale. That’s it. We only use mapmyride.com for this feature. It’s great (and often daunting) to see how steep those hills are going to be and how many kilometers of pain awaits you. Plus, you can save those routes to review later.
Cons: Owned by Under Armor this site is really dedicated to the gamification of active lifestyles. It’s filled with so many additional features it can be overwhelming and a bit of a turn off. The user interface is way too crowded and be challenging to grasp.
Bottom Line: We wish other sites, like OpenStreetMaps.org included elevation charts and grading scales, but they don’t, so we use Mapmyride.com. On the positive side, it does have a nice visual of the elevation gains.
(2017 update) When planning big climbs or really needing to compare different routes, we still used Map MyRide. We’re not big fans of Under Armor due to their political lobbying, however, their site is super helpful for seeing elevation profiles. Unfortunately, you can only create and plan routes on your phone with the paid version. This is a major bummer and kept us from using the tool all the time.
If you like this article, you may enjoy our 10 Items You MUST Bring on Cycle Tour that includes some gear pro tips and our favorite items to bring with us when touring.
What are your favorite offline mapping tools for cycle touring? Which countries did you use them in?