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The Top 7 iPhone Swim, Bike, and Run apps I use regularly and why

While I certainly get offers to test out physical hardware and gadgets quite often – the number of requests to test out apps far outnumbers that by a fair margin.  The challenge though with apps is that many apps are really rather duplicate in nature with others.  There are literally hundreds of apps out on the App Store (just the iPhone one alone) that track distance using the phones GPS and record it as a run.  Very few of them offer anything unique or compelling.

And while some of these are both legit and interesting, there are only a select few that I actually use on a frequent basis.  So I thought I’d take a chance to share with you the apps that I truly do use often – as well as why I use them.  Note that my goal here isn’t to give you a full review of the apps, or to do this as an app showdown, but rather, just tell ya what I use and why I like it.  Often, I’m really focusing on a specific part of the app as the reason I use it.  And even more importantly, I’m usually selecting apps that ‘just work’ and aren’t duplicate with something I already have. Finally, as noted at the bottom – after this post I’ll also do follow-up posts with both Windows Phone and Android.

Sound good?  Good, let’s get started!

Swim:

SwimRadar

There’s precisely one app that has any relevance to swimming that I use frequently – and that’s SwimRadar.  I talked about the app previously when it first came out, but the quick version is that SwimRadar shows you where the pools are that are around you – as well as the information about them.  Additionally, you can also program a given address in and see the pools closest to that address.

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This is completely and totally awesome for not only travelling around the country – but also even just when I’m in the greater DC area and have a meeting somewhere outside my neighborhood.  This allows me to easily find a pool near the meeting location, rather than trying to fumble about the Internet looking for one.

And because you can filter by all sorts of parameters from length to whether or not the pool is private – you can weed out the pools that would have been fail-boats, even before you arrive with your bag of pool toys.

Bike:

There are tons of bike apps out there – almost as many as running apps.  But since I primarily record my rides on a variety of standalone devices (Garmin Edge, Joule, etc…), most of what I use bike apps for is limited to ancillary support.

MapMyRide:

It may surprise you to learn though that when it comes to riding in funky places that I’m not versed in, I  often use the MapMyRide app over my Garmin Edge 800.  Why you ask?  Well, with the Edge 800 I have to ensure the correct maps are loaded (which cost money, unless you use the Openstreet maps, which instead cost lots of time).  Then I have to create the route (either via Garmin’s tool, or someone else’s), then I have to transfer it to the Edge.  Finally, I’ve gotta check and make sure I did all that right.

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Yet, with MapMyRide, I quickly draw out the route online, then just load up the app and it’s there in my account.  Additionally, if The Girl and I are riding – then she can also easily access it on her phone – since we are often riding different paces.

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Really, it comes down to simplicity.  And in many ways, this is why units like the Garmin Edge 800 are probably taking a beating from phone apps.  If the Edge 800 did everything via WiFi at my house (or via 3G), then it’d be awesome and a viable competitor for my use case.  But for someone with not a lot of time, MapMyRide fits the bill.  Sure, I still record my ride on my Garmin, but I just don’t use it that often for mapping – despite being a better form factor for it (waterproof and all).

Bike Repair

By definition triathletes aren’t the most handy when it comes to fixing our bikes.  Sure, most of us can get by with fixing the basics – a flat tire, adding a water bottle cage, or even changing our helmet chin-strap.  But beyond that?  Well, it’s trouble-time.

Thus, back when I was reviewing apps for a Bicycle Magazine article, I stumbled upon this app (simply called Bike Repair) that has continued to this day as a keeper.  It covers the gazillion different ways you can break your bike – and shows you how to fix it, complete with all sorts of high res photos.  It’s like bike-repair porn.

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Each step has more arrows and itemized plays than the Patriots Super Bowl Hail Mary attempt…the only difference being that these steps actually work.  Since I almost am always cycling with my phone, it’s the perfect companion when crap hits the fan 50 miles from the nearest bike shop.

Garmin Tracker (GTU10)

The Garmin GTU10 cell-based tracker is simply a little waterproof thing the size of a pack of gum that  transmits its GPS position up to every 15 seconds (for up to 4 weeks), and does so via existing cell networks.  This is perfect for tracking friends and family on long rides or races.  Now you may be wondering why I’d be tracking myself – but in reality, it’s for tracking either The Girl, or for letting The Girl track me.  And the free Garmin Tracker app allows easy access to that location data.

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The app is surprisingly thorough (far better than the Garmin Fit app), and there’s almost nothing that you can’t do on the app that you can do online.  Pretty cool.  I can create geofences at the last minute, setup notifications, and even just simply see where the tracker unit is.

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Just to be clear though, this does require that you have a GTU10 unit (or have a friend who has one).  But assuming you or a friend have the unit – it’s a must have app.

Run:

Wahoo Fitness:

I often get asked which app is the best recording app for the Wahoo Fitness ANT+ key…and honestly, the answer may sound silly – but most would say it’s actually Wahoo’s own free app.  The reason is somewhat two-fold.  First, they spend a heck of a lot of time using it as they develop their various products – so it tends to get a lot of pounding.  As such, it has to support a variety of partners to get your data out, since they don’t have their own data website.  Thus, you can post workouts to everything from TrainingPeaks to Garmin Connect (yup, seriously).  And, because the folks at Wahoo are all data geeks, they are very much on the page of ensuring you get clean and correctly recorded data in a ton of downloadable formats.  Secondly, they’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on fixing iPhone GPS issues so that the data is clean.  The same is also said of the other app in this category – RunKeeper.

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In addition to all the standard recording stuff – Wahoo’s app can also download your workout from most Garmin Forerunner devices, then up to any of their partner sites (including Garmin Connect itself).  I’ve found this useful when I’ve just completed a workout and won’t have access to a computer for a while.  For example, I’ve often finished a run and gone straight to the airport for a long flight, this way I can upload while sitting on the plane before takeoff.  Good stuff.

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And again – this is all free.  One could easily charge for the upload functionality alone, let alone everything else it does.

RunKeeper:

There’s no question that when it comes to big-name running apps, RunKeeper is the biggest.  They’re routinely on the Top-10 list of apps out there (from all apps) – and they’ve got a big fan base.  But why do I use it?  Well first off – it’s stupid-simple to use.  Then we have the fact that the user interface is clean.  Many apps misfire on this key point.  If an app is clunky or doesn’t look good, I won’t bother to use it long.  Life is too short to deal with bad user-interface designs.

Additionally, RunKeeper allows you (depending on service level) to do real-time tracking with your iPhone (so does MapMyRun/MapMyRide) – and also real-time social network sharing of your position and finishes in real-time.

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And for me, that’s the primary reason I use it.  Not for recording data (which it does just fine), not for displaying ANT+ or Bluetooth data (which it does fine) – but simply for showing real-time progress – which is does really well.

Triathlon-Specific:

Pele:

I know there are a few different triathlon apps out there like IronApp and similar – but for me, the only app that I really use frequently is Pele.  Pele is simply an app that shows in realtime race results from major triathlon events, mostly 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman branded events.  You can save athletes, look up others, and watch the leaderboard progress of a race.

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This is ideal when I’m tracking a bunch of friends that may be doing a given race – as it makes it easy to quickly glance at the results without having to use the often cumbersome Ironman.com website.  And if you track enough folks (be it pro’s or us regular folks) – this is a huge timesaver.

Final thoughts:

Again – the purpose of this post isn’t to say that there aren’t other cool apps out there in these categories – because there certainly are.  Take for example, Strava.  Cool app, well liked, doing good stuff…but it’s just something I don’t use day to day, thus, it just isn’t something up there on my list.  Make sense?

My plan is to eventually do something similar for Android apps (I also have a handful of Android phones), as well as Windows Phone apps (also have one of them).  Though, in many cases the Android variants of the above apps are what I use on the Android.

I’d be curious though – what are you top apps that you use daily from a health and fitness standpoint (note that Angry Birds does not count as a fitness app)?  And why?  And I’d especially love to hear from any Windows Phone folks on their favorites – since they are a much harder bunch to find good ones for.

Thanks for reading!

50 Comments

  1. Sagar

    Nothing much to contribute except to say first post! Hehe, always wanted to do that. I'm a Symbian user and Nokia Sport Tracker is still the app to beat on that plaform

    Reply
  2. The only one I really use is endomondo...Mainly because it was one of the few that worked on a blackberry when I had one and now it works fine on an android to.

    I don't use it for the recording so much, but more so my wife can just log on and see the live tracking so she knows where I am on route and see that I'm still moving and hopefully not stationary because I am in a ditch or something.

    Reply
    • Duncan replied

      I alos use Endomondo, it's a great App easy to to use and the premium version (which enables training programe guides) is reasonably priced.

      Reply
  3. For Android you were previously keen on Google's My Tracks. We've done an app, Avocado My Tracks Bridge, to suck data out of My Tracks and display it live on MapMyTracks which we used in the recent UCI Tour Down Under as described at link to blog.urremote.com

    Reply
  4. SSB

    I use Pele all the time. Seems to work about as good as the IMLive tracker, slows from time to time during the big races. I wish it had an elapsed time feature on it. Or my family wishes it had that.

    I downloaded SwimRadar. Even though I know where most of the pools are by me, they frequently change hours and none of them really have websites, so it's handy to have all the phone #s. And I did find a new pool less than 1 mile from my house. Brings me to 7 free pools under 1 mile from my house. I have no excuse not to swim.

    And I'm going to check out bike repair and see if I can diagnose my derailleur problem.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Using MotionX-GPS on my iPhone while biking. Mainly for it's high detailed offline map capabilities. I then find tracks on gpsies.com and e-mail them to motionX and two minutes later they are one my iPhone. Nice and simple.

    Kinomap.com is also a great app, if you have a mount for your phone, to record video and gps-track while riding. Never seen another app with this functionality. Anyone?

    Reply
  6. Hannes

    On my Xperia Active I most often use Endomondo and runtastic, but the last one does not have ANT+ support. :-( But for livetracking I did not find something better than runtastic up to now.

    Mapmyfitness (which was already installed on the phone when it was shipped to me) refuses to show my position in the web when I am out for a run/bike tour.

    I wonder if I should test the swim cap method with the xperia active in an Ironman?

    Reply
  7. Luc

    Just bought the Wahoo sensors and starting out with fitness so the iPhone apps are a great starting point.

    Wahoo to record the workout and upload to MapMyfitness for runs and cycling.

    Reply
  8. Ray, great as always.

    Just one question, if should skip the Edge 800 for recording (power, speed, cadence etc) which app would you use then, still mapmyride?

    Reply
  9. I bought Bike Repair, and it's downloading now. Thanks for the recommendation! It's nice to read about products and apps that people actually use.

    Reply
  10. I use strava for Android, but I think the phones really lose out to the Garmin devices on route mapping and navigation. Yes, the Garmin has a few more steps to load a route, but it has a dedicated mount, longer battery life, and more shock resistance than a phone. Phones are ok to stop and check your position if you're on a simple route, but if there are complicated turns and you want to keep a decent pace, I think the Garmins are the way to go.

    Reply
  11. I use my FR 305 for almost all my activities, but should I forget it for some reason, I use Endomondo.

    After each workout I upload my training to Endomondo.
    I use Endomondo because I've been using it for such a long time now and mostly because it's so simple to share your workouts on Facebook, which I do a lot. Most of my friends use it as well so it's easy to check out your friends workouts.

    The whole community thing, really inspires my training.

    Reply
  12. I use the Garmin 610 for everything, but if I don't have it for some reason then I'm using Endomondo, which beats out Runkeeper in all aspects EXCEPT live race tracking (like you said)

    Reply
  13. I use Runmeter if I bring my iPhone along. It provides (at least to me) the most sophisticated yet very easy way to program complex workout program, while Runkeeper or some other programs I look at do not offer.
    But I still think in general iPhone does not provide accurate GPS distance measure, which is a shame.

    Reply
  14. I am still boycotting any MapMyRun/MapMyRide products as I find their web interface to be so clunky and unusable. Seriously, something as simple as searching for the RSVP route doesn't work, when the route is called "RSVP" and you can find it manually if you scroll through pages and pages.

    Reply
  15. I totally agree with Danielle in Iowa in Seattle. Furthermore, I am very disappointed that they still do not take advantage of their broad ANT+ sensor compatibility in Terms of data recording. Can't be too hard to add, can it?

    Reply
  16. Always interesting to read what people are using. I also use MotionX GPS. Mainly because it was the first decent recorder that allowed for file transfer to SportTracks. At that point I was using a Polar 725x for HR data and MotionX for gps and merging them together. Great features, downloaded maps, tracking, follow etc.
    Ray, interested that you don't use any "data" apps on your devices. I had downloaded the MYTraining app for Iphone, Beginner Tri & TrainingPeaks apps all with a view to answer "what have I done & what do I need to do". The problem is none are quite right, and data management between any and all is such a pain. TP is probably the closest.
    When you're data obsessed as almost every triathlete is you always want to have a view with you to fill any dead time.

    Reply
  17. Ray - another Symbian phone owner on Sports Tracker. It has been available for iOS, Android and Windows 7 phones for a while and it is free. Do check it out and let us know what you think.

    I only wish there was a dual transmitter heart rate monitor - I take my phone and MotoACTV for bike rides and runs and wearing two HRMS (bluetooth and ANT+).

    Reply
  18. Anonymous

    Thanks for the post about my app Bike Repair. If you have any suggestions or comments for the app, don't hesitate to contact me.
    http://www.bikerepairapp.com.

    Patrick

    Reply
  19. With all the Aps, gadgets, toys, etc and the various software that you run, how and where does all the data ultimately end up. For me, with Polar, Garmin, WKO and TP I still end up with a mishmash of data in various locations. There has to be a better way?

    Reply
  20. BillW

    I use AllSport GPS. It does a nice job of eliminating stops and slow spots from your track, bases your average speed on your active time/distance, has a decent web site, and I think it has a follow me feature too.

    Reply
  21. I just wanted to know if you can use the wahoo app to record data in the background while having another app like iheart running inthe foreground? BTW, great site!

    Reply
  22. Rodrigo

    Hi there. Do you know if there's a way to upload my edge 800 workouts to Garmin connect via iphone or ipad with a wahoo fitness ant+ adapter? I was able to do this with my 910xt swims, runs and rides but have not been able to do so with my edge 800. Thanks!

    Reply
  23. Unfortunately Garmin hasn't enabled the Edge 500 (or Edge 800) for downloading via ANT+. Thus, at this point you can't do it. I keep pressing them, and it's silly how easy it is.

    Once that's done I'm certain the Wahoo folks will add support immediately.

    Reply
  24. I cannot locate the Pele iPhone app. Has it been removed from iTunes store? Is there a website / address to contact the developer?

    Reply
  25. Consider also LogMyTraining. I'm the developer. A complete "offline" log of training from all your devices and multiuser. There is no other app that does this.
    You can currently download directly from Garmin Connect, but also handles data transfer via FTP of Polar, .tcx formats as well as transferring activities from other apps which can export them via Open In. Also exports activities in various formats.
    link to logmytraining.info

    P.S. I'm currently working on integration with Wahoo so you can download activities directly from the watch to LogMyTraining.

    Reply
  26. Jonoogle: Oops. I didn't know you have one already, and I also wanted one, so I wrote one too.

    link to ro-z.net

    Well, now there are 2. I guess the biggest problem is to find the app exists. My app is also multi user and multi sport. Hope will be useful to some.

    Reply
  27. Terry

    I have been using Allsport on Android for some time. So far its the only (i know of) free Android running apps that gives you auto lap. When I ride long distance, I can shut down everything (3G, wifi, BT) except GPS and still record GPS data. I bought an extended battery for my Galaxy, after finishing 165k(10 hours, yes, i am slow), still has half battery left!
    On its website, you can download GPX file, then I upload it to Strava which my bike club uses.

    Reply
  28. Joe Meehan

    For running, when the RunKeeper GPS and Live Tracking (I'm an Elite aka I-paid-for-it user) got buggy and before they incorporated auto-pause and some other features, I found the best app to use for iPhones was iSmoothRun. iSR does everything RunKeeper does and more, and it does it better. More reliable, easier interface, more activities, etc. The best part is that it auto-pushes to the RunKeeper (and others like Training Peaks and GarminConnect) website so you can continue to use the RK website. Plus, if you have any questions or concerns, the developer is very responsive to email- MUCH more so than the folks at RunKeeper who never answered any concerns or questions on their own support forums when they had them running.

    Not spam, I'm just very happy with iSmoothRun.

    PS-- Loving the videos of The Girl, more please. No offense, she's just much easier on the eyes than you are :)

    Reply
  29. Matthew Cortez

    I am surprised there are not more strava users.

    Reply
  30. Gareth

    I've been using Cyclemeter for a couple of years now and have found it the best app for my varied biking (commuting and mountain biking). With the addition of the Wahoo Blue HR heart rate monitor, it makes it the complete package. I have used Strava app before, but find Cyclemeter very accurate and links with my iPhone calendar seamlessly and I can export to all styles of format if I want to upload to a more specific fitness site (Srava.com, Garmin.com etc.) The developer seems very good in keeping the app updated and I have never had the app quit on me or cause problems. Battery drain seems slightly high when in use, but this is most likely due to bluetooth, gps and screen brightness demands.

    Reply
  31. Matt

    I had been using Strava exclusively for cycling but wanted more real-time data. I use a Lifeproof case/bar mount and like to check out elevation grade, cadence, distance, etc. I've been using Runmeter for running so I thought I'd give Runmeter a try with my cycling and then just export to .gpx for Strava. Worked well for me. 2 hour ride and was hit with a 20% battery drop but I can live with that and carry a "lipstick" size external for the real long rides. Personally, I think Runmeter is one of those underrated apps that hardly anyone talks about (and there could be various reasons why someone wouldn't like it, no doubt). I have also used MotionX on a casual ride and it worked great as well but I found it a lot easier with Runmeter to customize the main info screen - I don't want to be swiping the screen while moving.

    Reply
  32. Mark Landry

    Ray

    So if you are using various apps & devices to record your workouts - Wahoo Fitness, MapmyRide, Garmin, RunKeeper, etc - do you then upload from all of these to one central location such as Garmin Connect so that all of your date is in one place?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Yup, it all goes into Garmin Connect for me. And in cases where I need data, some of the apps support spitting out a file via e-mail (ideally I'll use .FIT or .TCX).

      Reply
  33. Gareth

    I tend to keep Cyclemeter recorded activities in Cyclemeter, which automatically updates iCal. I also upload to Strava so I have an online record. I don't use Garmin site any more. Therefore I have a non-cloud set of stats on Cyclemeter and a Cloud based set of stats on Strava.

    Reply
  34. So you don't have an online review of all of the apps you tested? From the link I gather that it was published in tangible but not digital form.

    A couple questions on apps:
    - I love mapmyride+, what other mapping/tracking apps have you tested?
    - I'm interested in testing out several of the other apps more (Strava, etc.) but like everyone, I only have so many rides in a week and I don't want to want to have to compare my rides across mulitple platforms/devices. Can you run multiple apps at once?

    Thanks.
    TJ

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      No, I tend to generally shy away from doing app reviews because the apps literally change every week. Thus I write something this week and it's useless the next.

      I've tried a lot of apps out, but the ones I use the most still remain those noted above (especially Wahoo). I tend to use Strava on the backend, but not to collect data. Many apps do work concurrently, though it depends a bit on if it's using any sensors (i.e. Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, which depending on the sensor type can be locked to a single app).

      Reply
  35. Francois

    iSmoothRun is, by far, my main iPhone app.
    It can read most Ant+ / BLE sensors (including 4iiii Ant+ bridge) and track your shoes/bike mileage.
    And the best is that literally exports everywhere (Garmin, Strava, RunKepper, Nike+), including raw files on Dropbox or email - the best way to ensure that your data are never "locked" with a vendors.

    Finally I had a quick email exchange with the developers, they are very responsive.

    Reply
  36. Todd

    I've been using Cyclemeter to record most of my cycling data and uploading gpx to multiple resources. A lot has been mentioned about "owning our workout data". What file type should I be archiving for posterity and maximum compatibility, GPX, KML, CSV,TCX, all of them? Have you done a write up on the technical aspects of sports data file types?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Hi Todd-

      For sport data (with HR/etc...), TCX tends to be best (well, .FIT file is a bit better in many respects). For track-style data, GPX is definitely the widest understood, but it can also lack a lot of the additional sport metric.

      Of course, CSV is nice if you're doing your own analysis, but when it comes time to upload it to sites, it all falls apart because there are no standards on what fields go where. So it's a crapshoot. And KML is sorta in the same boat as GPX.

      So, in short, go with TCX when possible for workout type data.

      Reply
  37. avi oster

    https://www.endomondo.com

    this iphone tracker very effective .
    as im using

    what do you think ?

    very best
    Avi

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      It's not bad, but I find the fact that I have to use that platform somewhat limiting (compared to other 3rd party apps that push to multiple platforms).

      Reply
  38. Fran

    From your experience, is Swimradar an usefull app for tracking pools while traveling around Europe?

    thanks!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Yup, it's great.

      Sometimes the contact information isn't quite as up to date, but that's fine. As long as it spits back a pool name (which it always does), then I can easily find the rest with just typing the name into Google.

      Reply
    • Fran replied

      Thanks for your prompt reply. Maybe your text above suggested me that the app would focus in U.S. pools, glad to know I will be able to track euro pools as well. Jumping to iTunes to make the puechase!

      Reply
  39. Luc

    I am a RunKeeper fan! Unfortunately, I lost my Samsung Galaxy phone when I lost my job and I had to revert to an old iPhone 3G as I am starting my PixelToner business. The old iPhone does not support ANY GPS tracking app... so I installed a stopwatch app and then create my route on the RunKeeper site.

    Thank you Ray for your extraordinary contribution! You love what you do and I love to eat-up ever word you type!

    Reply
  40. Keith Blair

    Have to throw in another vote for Runtastic. Available (and equally good) on both Android and iOS it offers live tracking with fun motivation sounds other Runtastic users can send you (live while you're out doing what you're doing). The live tracking also seems to update much faster than Runkeeper does. The GPS accuracy has yet to deviate from what my 910XT shows me after a run or ride so I'm confident in it being correct. There are a lot of options in the app itself and a very large amount of the geeky reporting and data I love from recorded workouts on its web site. And for your tracking pleasure, Runtastic is integrated with MyFitnessPal as well. (As well as Withings and Fitbit Aria scales)

    Thanks to this web site I discovered the Viiiiva HRM so now I'm live tracking my HRM and all my Garmin ANT+ feeds as well. When I'm done with my run/ride my 910XT automatically syncs to Garmin and my Runtastic session is automatically shared as well. Of all Android apps Runtastic was the first one to provide full functionality for the Viiiiva.

    I've tried nearly all of the popular and many of the unpopular apps on both platforms and in the end I always come back to Runtastic. If you don't want to pay anything at all then Runkeeper is certainly the way to go and is my #2 go-to app. If you don't mind paying a bit and getting a huge amount of functionality for your money then Runtastic can't be beat. Just like Runkeeper you can do any sport you want with Runtastic simply by changing the sport in the app. I always read people say Endomondo is a great app for socializing, but personally I find Runtastic to be superior in every way. And if you really want to socialize you should probably be at the Daily Mile site anyway.

    Reply
  41. Tom

    Ray -- Fantastic website. I actually purchased the Garmin Edge 510 based on your review. With that said, I'm looking to follow a map on my iPhone (which, will also be clipped to my aerobars) for longer rides. I noticed your comment under the bike apps .."with MapMyRide, I quickly draw out the route online, then just load up the app and it’s there in my account." I've tested this out and I can see it just fine with the pin and red line.

    My follow-up question to you would be, is there any app out there that provides turn-by-turn navigation where you can plot the map on your desktop and then find it on your iPhone. The MapMyRide app is great, but I find the actual map to be small and it would be nice if something would alert me on when to turn next.

    Thank you!

    Reply

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