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.
Next page: complete your route, save, export and print it
4. It's best to make a waypoint at each junction, otherwise the automatic routing may use roads which aren't part of the cycle route. If you need to follow a cycle path which isn't a road, untick 'Follow roads' until you reach a road again.
5. If you make a mistake, click the 'undo' button. You can see the hills on your route in the elevation graph to the right of the map, and the total distance and estimated riding time in the Settings panel.
6. Name your track and click 'save on GPSies'. Choose whether it's public or not and click Save at the bottom. Choose a format in which to download the route, or click the print link to the right of your route name if you don't have a GPS device.
If you're the type to get lost on a cycle ride, a bike satnav can be the key to a much more enjoyable day. Most cycle route planner tools are designed to export routes in a format that a bike satnav can read. This means you can enjoy the ride without having to work out which way to turn at each junction.
We've already mentioned several free apps for your smartphone, but there are a few downsides to using your phone on a bike.
One is the screen. As anyone who's ever tried to take a photo in sunny conditions will know, a phone's reflective screen isn't really bright enough. Invariably you'll see a reflection of yourself instead of the map you're supposed to be following. Your phone's speaker is unlikely to be loud enough to hear voice prompts, either.
If it rains, you'll have to put your smartphone away almost none are waterproof. Of course, the answer is a waterproof bike mount such as the Tigra for £35 from London Cyclist. This keeps your phone dry and securely attached to your bike.
Battery life, though, is the main problem. GPS receivers are fairly power hungry, as is a 3G internet connection if you're downloading maps on the fly. You can download maps so they're stored on your phone which means you can disable 3G and mobile data. However, the screen is the biggest power drain, and you'll need it at maximum brightness to have any chance of reading it.
Dedicated bike satnavs are the best choice, but these aren't cheap. The best models, such as Garmin's Edge 800, have transflective screens which are easy to see without a backlight. This means their batteries last for a whole day's cycling. You'll be lucky if your phone lasts more than two hours without an external battery connected. These cost from £20 to around £80.