If you've been inspired by Team GB's cycling success at the Olympics, you're probably thinking about digging out your bike from the corner of the shed and putting some air back in its tyres.
Before you head out, though, it's well worth using one of the free cycle route planners. Some allow you to find a quiet route away from busy traffic, but there are apps which can guide you along the route when you're cycling.
If you have an iPhone or Android smartphone, the Bike Hub app is free and lets you first plan a route, then guides you along it using your phone's GPS receiver. The latest version allows circular route planning and offline map caching so you don't need a live internet connection.
If you don't have a smartphone or don't want to mount your precious device on your handlebars, there are a few websites which will help you plan your trip. Ideally, you'll upload the final route to a device which you can use to guide you around the route, but you can print it off if you prefer old fashioned paper maps.
Regardless of which site you eventually use, the key is to have access to the OpenCycleMap. This is a version of OpenStreetMap with cyclists in mind, so it highlights roads and paths which are suitable for cycling. Crucially it also has elevation data so you can avoid hills. You can view it at opencyclemap.org.
Many of the routes are part of the National Cycle Network which was created by the charity Sustrans. These are all signposted which makes it easier to follow the route without constantly stopping to check a map or requiring you to have a GPS-enabled smartphone.
There's a dedicated app: The Complete National Cycle Network for iOS and Android. It isn't the worst app for cyclists, but it doesn't offer good turn-by-turn navigation, doesn't show gradients and isn't great for drawing your own route. It's worth downloading since it's free and allows you to store highly detailed Ordnance Survey maps offline.
Another app which is well worth investigating is CycleStreets. This is free and allows you to plan routes and uses OpenCycleMap.
If you prefer to plan a route using your PC's large monitor, there are several good websites to try. One is GPSies. You can create a free account and then use the Track creator section to plan a route using the OpenCycleMap.
You can also search for other people's routes in a particular area and download routes in many different formats including GPX - the most popular for bike GPS devices and GPS apps.
A similar website is www.bikeroutetoaster.com, where you can also create a free account to plan, save and export routes. If you'd rather just ride a route someone else has already planned, check out www.cycle-route.com.
Bear in mind that automatic routing software isn't infallible and that you should check the route before riding to ensure it doesn't take you through any car-only tunnels or on any motorways. Always use common sense!
How to plan a route using GPSies
1 Browse to www.gpsies.com and click the Login/Register link. You don't have to do this, but if you don't you won't be able to save any of your routes. Enter your details and you'll be able to sign in.
2. Click on the Track creator tab at the top of the website. Enter a city or postcode and click Go! to centre the map on your start point. Using the drop-down menu, select OSM Cycle to change the map from Google to OpenCycleMap.
3. Cycle routes are highlighted in blue and red. Click on the map where you want your route to start and click the Follow roads checkbox in the Settings box. Now click further along the route to create a waypoint.