Whether you're a newbie cyclist or have thousands of miles under your belt, cycling software can take your rides to the next level. With apps and software programs, indoor training becomes more challenging and engaging. You can also use software to track your rides outdoors, measuring how far you've traveled and how fast.
Cycling Software vs. Cycling Computer
Once upon a time, if you wanted to track your ride in any way, you needed a cycling computer, which you could mount to the handlebars of your bike. Cycling computers were accurate since you typically had to calibrate the computer to match the rotations of your bike's pedals or wheels, according to Popular Mechanics.
But the drawback of cycling computers is often their price. Lower end models still cost more than $100. If you want the most sophisticated computer out there, you can expect to drop well over $500.
Whether you're a casual cyclist or even a pretty serious one, that can feel like a pretty hefty chunk of cash to drop on a tracking device. Especially when you consider that you probably already carry around a device that can do what a cycling computer does and more -- your smartphone.
These days, you have a wide variety of cycling apps or software for your smartphone to choose from. The cycling software that's best for you depends on a few factors.
How Will You Use the Software?
No two cyclists are the same. One might be an avid road racer while another might enjoy taking to the trails or mountain biking. It might even be that your cycling needs change based on the season.
For example, when it's warm out, you might want cycling software that will track your route or let you plan where you're going to ride. But in the winter or when the weather's no good, you might train indoors and need an app designed for indoor training.
Different Types of Cycling Software
Here's a quick look at the different types of cycling software available. Keep in mind that some apps might overlap and offer the same features you'd find in a software program of a different type.
Indoor training programs
Indoor training has its benefits and drawbacks. One of the biggest drawbacks is that, well, it can be boring. Instead of watching the world whiz past you, you end up staring at a wall.
Indoor training software can help jazz up a ride by providing you with simulated footage of races, turning your workout into a sort of video game. Except instead of working out your thumbs, you're getting to improve your cycling for.
Ride planning/tracking programs
If you do get to ride outdoors, you want to know not only how far you're riding, but where you are going. Ride planning apps help you lay out a route in advance and then help you track it as you go. Some types of software are more barebones and will let you track a ride, telling you stats like distance and elevation, but don't include planning.
How many calories are you burning each ride and what's your heart rate throughout the ride? Software that offers some fitness tracking ability will help you see if your workout is going to help you reach your fitness goals or if you'll need to step things up. Some fitness trackers also monitor your sleep quality.
Ever wonder where you can go on your mountain bike? A trail finding app makes it easy to find new routes or trails to ride on. Some apps also include lists of nearby bike shops and other necessities for cyclists.
Is your bike set up the best it can be for your riding style or cycling goals? A gear calculator software program can help you compare gear ratios and lets you know how many pedal rotations you'll make and the distance you'll go based on the ratios you select. If you are changing your crankset and cassette, the software can help you pick the right size.
Reach Your Goals With Software
Although you might just ride for fun, it's far more likely that you began riding to achieve some goal. Perhaps you want to get more miles under your belt as a rider, or you want to improve the health of your heart. You might also be cycling to lose weight or burn more calories in a day.
For some people, cycling software helps them reach their goals by keeping them on the bike, even in the winter or when the weather's gross.
Choosing Software Based on Your Experience Level
Are there different software programs available for people with varying levels of cycling experience? Although some programs are suitable for cyclists of any skill level, such as ride trackers and fitness trackers, several apps are designed for the beginning cyclist.
These apps often guide you through the process of learning how to use a bike or can teach you how to ride a mountain bike. Some bike coaching apps might be designed for more advanced riders while many are set up for beginners.
Best Cycling Software Out There
Strava isn't exclusively a cycling app. Instead, it's a fitness app that describes itself as the social network for athletes. The program claims to turn your smartphone (whether it's iOS or Android) into a sophisticated cycling computer. It also lets you find and connect with friends so that you can compare your performance to theirs.
It does that by recording a full suite of performance metrics, several of which are exclusive to Strava. The app is available in two forms: a free version and a paid subscription version. You get access to more features when you pony up a small monthly fee, but the free features are still worth checking out.
"It's like a social app for fitness fanatics who are competing against each other and keeping track of what they're doing... I love it ." - Dave Erickson, Endurance Hour
For free, the app will use your phone's GPS to track your route and determine your speed. It then finds others users who have gone on the same route or portions of the same course and compares your speed and stats to theirs. If you're a competitive person, this feature can be pretty addicting.
What's the paid model get you? Considerably more features, including personalized coaching. You're able to create goals in the paid version of the software, such as how far you hope to bike each week. You also get access to workout videos that can help you build up stamina or prepare for races.
Another perk of the paid or premium version of Strava is Beacon, which lets you share your location with another person during your ride. Beacon can be a lifesaver if you are out on a trail or exploring a new route and something happens. It can help others find you quickly.
Bike Gear Calculator
Bike Gear Calculator, available for iOS and Android phones, can seem like a highly specialized and niche bike app. But rest assured, it's not just for cycling nerds and mechanics. It's there for anyone who's interested in improving their ride and a general interest in how cycling works.
Essentially, what Bike Gear Calculator does is let you customize and improve your ride. You put in the size of your gears, both the cassette (the sprocket on the back wheel) and the crankset (the gear that's attached to your pedals). You can also put in things like the width of your tires and crank length.
You can also use the app to set goals for speed and time, and it will let you know if you've got the right gear set up or not. If you're looking to improve your ride or just want to learn more about the mechanics of cycling, Bike Gear Calculator can be a great software program to use.
The Sufferfest sounds like a nightmare in the making. You want to go for a bike ride . . . You don't want to "suffer," right? Well, the name of the app comes from the brutality of the fitness training programs it uses to help you get in a workout when you're stuck indoors.
It's an indoor training app that puts you in the heart of some of the most popular races out there. You'll get to train along the routes of the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France, for example. Race footage can be streamed over WiFi, or you can download it and play it back on your computer screen or TV later.
"You very quickly become use to it. Sufferfest means that you work to your personal limits. You don't have to be Lizzy Armstea [...] to be able to complete a Sufferfest session to the best of your ability and the best of your limits." - Laura Winter, Vox Women
Another thing that sets Sufferfest apart from other indoor cycling programs is that each race comes with clearly defined storylines and instructions. As you begin a program, you learn who your archrivals are, who you want to pass on the route, and what you're working towards. The software also gives you clear instructions, which appear on the screen at the start of a workout.
Along with giving you engaging footage and helping you forget the drudgery of indoor training, the Sufferfest also offers a range of fitness tracking features and will adjust the intensity of each workout to match your fitness level. The program connects to ANT+ or Bluetooth devices, including heart rate monitors, so you get a clear sense of how you're doing each time you train.
BikeBrain claims to turn your iPhone or iOS device into a cycling computer. The app includes features such as altitude and distance tracking, speed monitoring, GPS mapping and pace modes.
In many ways, BikeBrain is similar to Strava, with two main differences. It's not so much a social network, so you don't get to compete against others. It does let you connect to Facebook so that you can share photos of your ride. It's also exclusively made for cyclists, while Strava has features for runners as well. BikeBrain is only available for iOS while Android users can use Strava.
Like Strava, BikeBrain offers a few premium upgrades. You can purchase a social sharing module, which lets you connect to Facebook and share the details of your ride. You can also buy a training module, which lets you save your heart rate data and trip information.
If Strava and the Sufferfest got together and had a baby, they might have named their child Zwift. Designed for indoor training, Zwift lets you pretend to ride along some of the biggest race routes in the world. While the Sufferfest offers real video footage, the footage you get with Zwift is all computer generated.
When you set up your trainer and monitors to Zwift, you get to participate in a sort-of real-life multiplayer game or race. You're competing against other players, er, riders, who also use Zwift. You can find other riders to compete against by joining a club or by signing up for one of many Zwift events.
The program is available as an iPhone app, but it's important to understand that you need a fair amount of equipment to use Zwift. That equipment includes a bike connected to a trainer (with sensors), a PC or Mac, and often, some sort of dongle. You also need to purchase a subscription to Zwift, for $10 per month.
Cycle Tracker Pro
Cycle Tracker Pro is another iOS app that will keep track of your stats when you ride. It tells you your average speed, current speed, calories burned, distance traveled, altitude, and ride time. One fun feature of the app is that it lets you "race" against your previous times, so you are inclined to continually try to improve.
The app also connects to your iPod, so that you can play songs from a particular playlist or listen to podcasts during your workout. If you choose one playlist but get tired of it mid-ride, you can switch without exiting out of the program.
Although this is a good, basic software program, it's worth noting that it costs $2.99 to download and hasn't been updated since 2014.