Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How to Turn an Old Smart Phone into a Bicycle GPS Unit

By now many of you are on your second or third generation smart phone. If you still have the old one about, rather than tossing it, there's a very good use for it. If you have a paid RideWithGps account, or if you're a CRW member and want to do one of the rides on the RideWithGps club account, you can use the old phone for navigation. Here's how.
Get the RideWithGps phone app
Download the Ride With GPS app from the App Store (iPhone) or Play Store (Android). The app is free and you can look at routes on it but you need a paid account ($50/year) to use it for navigation. If you want to navigate a CRW ride on the CRW club account, and you are a CRW member, you will be able to do this without a paid account. You will need to create a RideWithGps account if you don't already have one to use the app.
Set up the app
Most of the default settings will work just fine, but you may want to tweak it a bit, for example, to extend battery life. Here are some setting I use:
This will stop logging when it figures you are not riding, and start up again when you are, I set this feature on.
Advance cue warnings
Not necessary, but nice to have, it will tell you how far to the next cue after completing one.
Audio Alerts/Spoken Alerts
These two should be on, it will make a loud noise as your near a cue and speak the cue.
Off-course alerts
Lets you know when you stray from the course. Sounds like a good idea, but I have it turned off, since I often deliberately deviate from the set course. One thing to be aware of, though, is that once off course, it won't try to navigate you back on course like a real GPS unit. If you're worried that you haven't heard any cues in a long time, you can check the map to see if you're still on course.
Handlebar Mode
Screen on for Cues/Keep Screen On
This is where the battery saving comes on. You can have the screen turn on for cues only. So you can pick "never" for "Keep Screen on " and check "Screen on for Cues". I don't even check the latter, since the only time I really need to see the turn on the map is when the spoken cue is ambiguous, in which case I just turn the display on, have a look then turn it off again.
Attach it to your bike
If you want to look at the map or the statistics (speed, distance, etc) while riding, you will need a handlebar mount for it. I use the Delta Smartphone Caddy  It's well designed and has a locking mechanism so your phone won't go flying no matter how massive a pothole you hit. If are nervous about subjecting your phone to being pounded by bumps, or if you want to save money, you could just put the phone in your jersey pocket and rely on the voice cues. Problem with this is that if you get to an ambiguous intersection, you have to stop, take out your phone, turn on the screen and check the map.
Download a route
The beauty of this is that you do not have to have phone service on your old phone. All you need is an internet connection to download the routes before you ride and upload your ride info when you're done riding. Open the route, press the download arrow,
select "Save map & route" and wait for it to download.
TIP: If you want to download someone else's ride, the way to easily find it on your phone is to pin the ride when you view it. Then you can select the "Pinned" menu item on the phone to find it.
When you're ready to ride, put the phone in airplane mode, press "Available Offline" on the menu, then select the route to ride by pressing the ride icon:
Make sure you press the big red button to start navigating. You should see the distance, speed, etc, measurements at the bottom fill in with numbers.
After the Ride
Press or long press the big button which is grey now to stop recording. If you're in range of a wifi hotspot, turn off airplane mode, click the check box to save the ride and upload to your RideWithGps account. If you're not in wifi range, the app will store the ride internally and upload when you are. You may have to turn the phone off and on again to make this happen.
To see this all in action, watch the RideWithGps video:
TIP: You can always get back to your map/statistics screen by pressing the "GO RIDE" button at the bottom


  1. Very interesting! The key is that it will download the map too, thus obviating a network connection during the ride. I will buy a battery for my old smartphone's failed battery, and delete some unneeded apps from it to make room for the new apps. I ride so slowly that I will also need an external battery for most rides, but it's nice to have a third navigation aid (on top of Garmin eTrex 20 and cue sheet) that could also serve in a pinch as a motel or library email device and Ooma phone too if my main smartphone fails somehow.

    1. I find the battery will last for most rides I do. It died at mile 74 on a century, but that may have been before I figured out to use airplane mode so it wasn't constantly searching for a signal.

    2. I find the battery will last for most rides I do. It died at mile 74 on a century, but that may have been before I figured out to use airplane mode so it wasn't constantly searching for a signal.

  2. Thanks for all your help. I just got a mount from REI for my Samsung. I would like to test it on a local ride. Any chance someone could upload the New Year's Day ride to Ride with GPS? Thanks again.

  3. Hey Jack, this is great! I was about to give my old phone to my son, but now I have a better use for it.
    One thing that was not clear to me was how the "RideWithGps club account" worked, but after I went to the "Members Only" area on the CRW web site and followed the link to join the CRW club account, I could then see the list of "Club Routes" in my phone's app.

  4. even though it is running in Airplane mode, it might be looking for WiFi too, so turn that off so that is not draining the battery on really long rides.
    I have always prefered leaving my Android phone turned off for rides (airplane mode) that has no data plan anyway. I just use the free MapMyRide App for logging rides to upload later.