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As an employee of Singletracks.com, there is no such thing as just “going for a mountain bike ride” anymore. I’m not complaining–working for Singletracks is pretty much the coolest job on the planet, and has taken me places that I never dreamed it would. But since “work” is always in the back of my mind whenever I’m out riding my mountain bike, I need to make sure that I gather quality data from each ride. This includes photos, of course, but especially GPS data for our Trail Map Database.

I rarely use my GPS unit anymore–partly because it has been on the fritz, and partly because I hate carrying a different gadget for everything. Carrying an iPhone is just so much easier, and so I was on the lookout for the perfect GPS app to log my forays into the wilderness. I’ve tried just about everything on the market, from MapMyRide to Strava to AllSport LE… and many more. Finally, after a couple of email nudges from one of the Runtastic marketing people, I gave the Mountain Bike PRO Cycling Computer App (powered by Runtastic) a try… and I’ve fallen in love!

I’ve logged over a thousand miles of mountain biking with this app, and here are my thoughts after many months of use:

Features

When I was looking for a GPS app, there were a few very simple qualifications that it had to meet:

  • It had to be able to export the data easily and give me access to the entire data file.
  • It had to show my progress on screen.
  • It had to record a high number of data points for maximum accuracy.

Data

Customizable HUD

Before I started using Runtastic’s Mountain Bike PRO app, I used MapMyRide pretty religiously. MapMyRide was great… except that (at that time, at least) when I exported the data to their website and tried to download it to my computer for use elsewhere, the time and elevation data were stripped from the file, which made it impossible to use with another program like Strava or even to use as a map on Singletracks. Also, the accuracy left much to be desired.

I also experimented with Strava’s app, and while the data export was very reliable and the accuracy was respectable (although not as good as Runtastic’s), the big deal breaker is that you cannot see your progress on-screen. If you’re out in the woods and want to use the unit to get yourself un-lost, it’s useless.

Runtastic satisfied these three criteria and many more.

It’s easy to export the data from the app to Runtastic’s website, and then download it to your computer with all of the information intact for use wherever you wish. Also, if you are out of cell range when you finish your ride, the Runtastic app will save your data and allow you to upload it later with no fear of losing all your precious work.

Maps

There is a wide variety of background maps to select from.

On-screen tracking is, frankly, superb! This is the first iPhone GPS app that I have seen that makes use of the OpenCycle maps, although we now utilize the OpenCycle maps in our paid Singletracks app as well. And you have options: switch easily between the OpenCycle map, OpenStreets, Google Maps, and satellite imagery. The OpenCycle maps in particular have proved to be extremely useful because they have singletrack trails all around the world already embedded in the background tiles! While riding out in California this summer, I used these maps to navigate countless trails and trail systems that I had never ridden before, and many of which I didn’t even have a paper version of the map. Thanks to the excellent OpenCycle maps, I was able to just hit the trail and map out a loop and ride to my heart’s content.

Of course, OpenCycle doesn’t have every mountain bike trail map in their database, and the areas where they do have good coverage often look like a massive spider web, leaving you helplessly wondering which is the best route for the sweetest singletrack, and which sections of trail are overgrown or no longer exist. As a result, the GPS map overlays (overlaid on an OpenCycle background) in the paid Singletracks App are uber useful.

Track your progress, and navigate the trail system.

Mountain Bike PRO also offers the opportunity to download a section of your map of choice for offline use when you are out in the woods away from a good cell phone signal. If you know what area you are going to be riding ahead of time, use your WiFi (3G works too, but beware the data suck) to pan and zoom and download whatever portion of the map you desire.

Downloading a part of the OpenCycle Map for offline use.

Additional Features

I was looking for an app with the basic features that I viewed as necessary, but Mountain Bike PRO offers every bell and whistle you could desire: elapsed time, distance, current altitude, altitude gained over the course of the ride, calories burned, direction (compass), temperature, weather, speed, average speed, max speed, total elevation lost, pace, average pace, sensors, heart rate, cadence, time, audible updates on many of these statistics, customizable HUD (to show which stats you want to see), easy access to your music, and much, much more. While this might sound overwhelming, the customizable HUD shows you only the data you’re interested in, and you can disable many of these features as well. The HUD can always be hidden to fill the screen with the map for ease of navigation.

Bottom Line

What sort of GPS capabilities do you want your phone to have? If you name it, the Mountain Bike PRO app by Runtastic probably has it! The only feature that it does not have is the ability to load a GPX track and follow a preexisting track. But with the new topo maps feature in the paid Singletracks app, which you probably own already, that’s taken care of!

The PRO version of the app costs $5.99, and there is a free version available with the basic features as well. But in my opinion, this app is well-worth the 6 bucks, especially if you compare it to the cost of a stand-alone GPS unit.

Frankly, the Mountain Bike PRO app is so clean, so useful, and so feature-rich that it would take an utterly amazing app to convince me to switch!

Click here to download the Mountain Bike PRO Cycling Computer App Powered by Runtastic.

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# Comments

  • chukt

    Looks like a great app.
    But remember, it ain’t wilderness if you have a Cell signal.

    Where I live our cell coverage ends about 10 miles from town so GPS it is to record tracks for singletracks.com. Gonna check this app out though, the offline feature looks sweet.

    • mtbgreg1

      Most of our trails here don’t have cell signal either, but the GPS on a smartphone will work even without a signal. Of course, not having a signal drains your battery faster as the phone is constantly looking for a tower.

      • maddslacker

        Not if you turn off wifi and phone. ;) (Also, that’s a GSM thing mostly, CDMA phones don’t seem to drain the battery as fast in that scenario)

      • mtbgreg1

        @maddslacker, This was a question that was raised on the other article: I know that on a stock iphone you can turn off the wifi, but is there anyway to turn off the phone while keeping the gps function enabled? I know if you go to airplane mode it seriously conserves battery, but that turns off GPS functionality.

      • maddslacker

        In settings, go to General, then Cellular.

    • mtbgreg1

      @maddslacker, so I can see that it turns off data, data roaming, and voice roaming, but it still looks like it is connecting to a tower. Admittedly, that by itself probably helps save the battery significantly. When I get another good, long ride in, I’ll let ya’ll know!

  • AJ711

    Awesome write-up and the app sounds like something that could easily take the place of a bike computer. That said, do you have your phone mounted to your bars, where you can easily take a quick glance at your stats?

    I’ll keep my phone in my camelbak during my rides, only pulling it out to reference the map if I feel I’m lost. I’ll typically have a printed version for quicker and easier reference, the phone acts as a good backup. I’m not sure how if I’d be able to keep things rubber side down if I had full access to data while biking. Still, this looks like an excellent app for people looking to pair down the quantity of devices they haul with them on their rides. Thanks for posting the review!

    • mtbgreg1

      No problem man!

      Personally, I just toss the phone in my pack and reference it if I have a navigation question. I do have an iphone bar mount that I need to test out, so that may change…

  • dgaddis

    So Greg, what sort of battery run times are you getting while using this (or any of the other) gps apps? That’s my only hesitation with phone gps apps….I generally only want to GPS big rides, but I also need to have a phone without a dead battery in case I need to call someone for help or something.

    • maddslacker

      dgaddis, I can get 4 hours or so tracking with GPS on my iPhone 4. On my old Blackberry curve, with the totally offline GPS Tracker 2 app I could track for 9-11 hours.

      • dgaddis

        Yeah…that’s not enough. We’re doing an 80 miler this weekend….lol.

      • maddslacker

        You’ll just need to ride faster and complete it in less than battery run time!

    • mtbgreg1

      I can usually get almost 6 hours out of my Iphone 4s in a low cell service environment. Much more than that if I have decent cell reception.

    • AJ711

      You can utilize a bluetooth GPS receiver to help increase your phone’s battery life. Holux has a few models to chose from. The GPS receivers have something like 26 hours of battery life, and I’ve heard of people getting 8 hours out of a phone by turning other services off while logging data.

      I’ve debated adding a small solar cell to the back of my camelbak to help offset the battery drain. Or maybe one of those USB battery packs for some added juice.

      • mtbgreg1

        Do you know how much a bluetooth gps receiver runs? ($$)

      • maddslacker

        Jeff reviewed this one or one like it a couple years ago.
        http://goo.gl/MwxrY

      • mtbgreg1

        Gotcha… I must have missed that post.

      • AJ711

        Holux M-1000C $49-$65 on Amazon, plus shipping rates
        Holux M-1200 is a bit older, and not as widely available. You may be able to find it on eBay.

    • maddslacker

      Yeah 4 hours was a guess on mine, but I guess it would probably go longer. I’ve gone 2-3 hours and still have 1/2 battery or more.

      You could just bring along a spare battery … oh wait, that’s an Android thing. :D

      • mtbgreg1

        You can buy external batter packs that attach like a case for the iphone that effectively double the life, get a solar panel like AJ711 mentioned, and there are very cheap options to hook up 4 double A batteries externally to charge via USB. So there are options out there, but I’ve never had to actually use any yet. Thinking about picking up something though…

    • manyturns

      I tried this app, but I the battery drained very fast. By the end of 2 1/2 hour ride, the battery was almost empty on an iphone 4s. For some reason, the backlight never turned off. Is there a way to turn the backlight off?

      • mtbgreg1

        Just click the power button (the button on the top of the phone). That should increase your battery life tremendously.

  • maddslacker

    Alright Greg, you’re going to force me to do a write-up on the Trimble Outdoors GPS app. :D

  • maddslacker

    Greg, what screenshot app do you use on your iPhone?

    • dgaddis

      You don’t need an app. Hold the Home button then click the Lock/Power button. BAM! Screenshot!

      • maddslacker

        Well that was easy!

      • dgaddis

        Did you also know you can use the volume up button to take pictures when using the camera? Often it’s a lot easier than trying to use the on screen button.

        The iPhone has lots of hidden/little known ways of doing stuff…I’m still discovering things lol.

  • Jared13

    That’s a huge list of available data for the app!

    Question from a dumbphone user:
    The $5.99 is a one time fee, right?

    • AJ711

      Yup.

      Well, I’m not sure what happens if you get another smartphone. You may be able to port the apps over through some process (memory cards, direct transfer, not sure, really) but I’m not entirely sure as I’m still running my HTC Incredible.

      • maddslacker

        If you stay with the same vendor, (iPhone, Android, Blackberry) then you just re-download it from your store account.

      • mtbgreg1

        With an Iphone, you should just be able to restore on your computer from Itunes.

  • bonkedagain

    In Google Play I see Runtastic, but not the Mountain Bike app. Does anybody know if there is really any significant difference between the Android Runtastic and the iPhone Mountain Bike Pro?

    • maddslacker

      I tried the free Runtastic app and it lacks some of the features that Greg really likes. (like the ability to export your GPX files)

      For Android, MyTracks is a good choice, as is Trimble Outdoors Navigator.

      • mtbgreg1

        Does Runtastic have a paid app on Android?

      • maddslacker

        No clue .. most Android users roll with MyTracks.

      • mtbgreg1

        Sorry, let me answer my own question: yes they do. Was just looking at the description in the Google Play store, and it sounds like its much more running and road bike-centric, but I imagine it will still have most of the same features. Not sure if it will have some of the really key features (access to the OpenCycle maps, for instance) or not…

      • bonkedagain

        Offline topo maps is a big thing for me. That’s why I don’t only use MyTracks. Last I looked at Trimble Outdoors I was underwhelmed but I suppose I could try it again. If I can’t get the OpenCycle maps with RunTastic I won’t bother. I suppose I could try it…

      • mtbgreg1

        Maybe download the free version first and see if that indicates whether or not the OpenCyclemaps are available?

  • WaynePageAnderson@gmail.com

    This is the reason I got a smart phone! I run it on Android and love it!

  • JRLeyva

    It sounds like a good app, do you know if it works with Symbian in a Nokia N8?

    Well, I will look for it, and let’s see,

  • paulgoss

    HR: Anyone using the heart rate function via bluetooth?
    Runtastic store seems to not allow shipping to the US.
    Amazon reviews of the Wahoo and Polar straps don’t seem too encouraging though many negatives are folks trying to use the strap with the wrong phone..
    I have been using the app and really like it and would like to add HR data.. any feedback would be much appreciated.
    Thanks and Happy Trails!!

    • paulgoss

      finally gave up on this one and went back to Strava.. everything seems to work better for our area

      • mtbgreg1

        My main beef with Strava has been the lack of a way to navigate once you’re out on the trails, but I just saw today that they’ve supposedly rolled out better map navigation with the latest update. I’m interested to try it out on the trail tonight.

      • paulgoss

        never used it for navigation.. like the suffer score! :) .. look forward to hearing your opinion/experience..

  • gbiegun

    Could you do an article with tips/instructions on how to build a map of my own local trail network?

  • RJen

    Does the PRO version create better tracks than the free version? I’m trying the free version and even though it’s plotting more points than another tracker I’m using I’m losing, I’ve lost over a half mile in a 10 mile ride. The short cuts are obvious when played back in GEarth and many of the shortenings are in open satellite view.

    • mtbgreg1

      Small short sections happen every now and again in every GPS logging app that I’ve used. Does it happen every time you ride? How is the GPS satellite reception where you’re riding?

      • RJen

        Every time with this app, and it happens in open sky as well as under cover. That’s what’s so annoying. I’ve not noticed any dropped points in MyTracks or Orux. Misplaced because of cover occurs in these apps, but not a 5% loss of trail. I usually have 8 to 11 satellites in view with better than 5-10 meter position error.
        A good portion of our 10 mile singletrack is visible with GoogleEarth, so it’s easy to see tracking error. 5% trail loss probably isn’t critical for trail documentation, but Runtastic is selling a fitness training app where time and distance accuracy is a concern.

      • mtbgreg1

        Interesting. What phone are you using?

    • mtbgreg1

      Hmm I’m using it on an iPhone 4s. Maybe the actual hardware is making the difference, or maybe there’s some issue with their Android version of the app?

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