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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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