One of the best things about riding a bike is the ability to wander, to see a side lane and ride it to see what’s around the corner. But if you prefer to plan a route ahead of time and stick to a schedule, that’s great too.
So how do you plan a ride? What do you need to plan a cycle route in Scotland?
Smartphone vs bike computer
First, let’s tackle the question of equipment. Namely whether to use a smartphone or a dedicated bike computer.
For commuting to work or riding around your local area, a smartphone will suffice. The battery should last long enough, you can protect it from the weather and you are unlikely to need it for navigation unless you get lost.
For all other types of riding, including days out in Scotland, you should invest in a bike computer with some form of GPS or navigation.
If budget is an issue, a waterproof cover for your phone will help and a battery pack is essential. If not, consider investing in a bike computer.
Dedicated bike computers come in all shapes and sizes but they all have some things in common.
They are weatherproof – The weather in Scotland can be temperamental so your device needs to be able to cope!
Better battery life – If you’re in the saddle for hours, you need a device that can keep up. Most smartphones struggle to last a day with basic use. Add GPS and Bluetooth running during that time and it will struggle even more.
Accuracy – If you’re tracking mileage or Strava PBs, it’s bike computer all the way. Phone GPS isn’t always as accurate and Strava will use its own extrapolation to calculate times and distance. Use a bike computer and it’s all done on board.
Navigation – A more relevant feature for your Scottish road trip is navigation. Phones have access to Google or Apple Maps and work well but it isn’t easy to plan a route in advance or use turn-by-turn navigation.
Other data – If you want to track heart rate, power, cadence or other metrics, you’ll need to use a bike computer. A phone has Bluetooth but this is a single connection only. If you use a power meter and heart rate monitor, you can usually only receive the signal from one. Bike computers can track multiple metrics at once.
If you’re out exploring in rural locations, it’s always best to ensure your phone has battery left in case you need to make an emergency phone call.
Planning your adventure
There are several websites out there that can help you plan your routes well in advance of arriving at your start point.
We recommend planning these in the comfort of your own home so you can do it using home broadband, plus route planning is best done on larger screens rather than small ones!
Some websites to help you plan routes include:
Some are free while others require a subscription to access all navigation features.
All have a navigation option where you can plot a start and endpoint and drag a marker around to create your route.
Garmin and Strava let you see heat maps and can be very useful for exploring popular routes.
Some will also provide climbs, traffic and other data too.
We recommend spending as long as you can planning your journey. Be mindful of time, terrain, climbs and the weather.
Factor in rest or cake stops, note down bike shops for critical spares and play around with routes until you’re happy.
Save each route with a recognisable name so you know which route is which. Then you should be able to transfer the routes directly to your bike computer or download a TCX or GPX file and upload it to your device.
Once uploaded, open each map using the bike computer to make sure it didn’t get corrupted and that it works properly. Do this before you leave home and you’ll avoid ending up in the middle of nowhere with no route to follow!
There is a simple joy in aimlessly exploring or getting lost but there’s also the efficiency and satisfaction of planning a route and following it.
As long as you’re out on your bike and enjoying the experience, there’s no wrong way to explore Scotland!