How to remember where the hell i'm going?

Hi there,


I hope I have posted this in the right place. But I have recently started properly cycling. It's been going really well and my confidence has soared on the roads. However, my biggest issue is trying to remember routes, now I know this will come with practise but I have to stop every 5 mins or less to check I am going the right way on my phone.


  Does anyone have any suggestions apart from being better at remembering lefts and rights. Say for example, I was thinking of getting one of those handsfree phone holders, to make it easier to look at my phone, or perhaps there is a simple app, with easy to follow direction, or a sat nav that I could pop in my ear, that is especially good for cyclists?


Any help would be greatly appreciated. 


Many thanks




  • By toby at 10:48pm 9 June 2013

Google Maps and Siri on Apple iPhone can read directions out into your earphones as you are cycling along, unfortunately experience has shown me these directions are great in a car but rubbish when it comes to the best cycle routes. My favourite app for discovering Londons back roads and alleys is the CycleStreets app, but like you say I need to keep stopping to check I am taking the correct turning.

I am pretty confident Google or someone will have cycle routes on a speaking map application soon, until then a handle bar phone holster might help. Personally I like trying to remember the hidden back routes.

Good luck with your research,

  • By paul at 11:21am 10 June 2013

This does show the importance of proper signing on the ground rather than relying on maps. Sometimes following a local who looks as if they know where they are going works ...sometimes not.

  • By fernlyn at 3:54pm 10 June 2013

I use an excelent app "bike hub" free on android and iphone.

Checking the phone while riding can really be a hazard so if i dont know the area I stop and check where i am every fifteen minutes or so and if i am a bit off course i change directiona a bit. I try not to take navigaton too seriously and enjoy the ride and find that if i am heading in the right general directon most of the time things work out

Hi Imogen

Be patient. You will build up a better mental map of London if you don't rely on technology.

1)Get the free cycling maps from Transport for London.

2) Plan your route before you go.

3) Take the sheet(s) you need. You'll get a better overview of where you are and where you're going.

4) Take your phone with you as back-up.

Enjoy yourself and be flexible. Some of my best rides through London have been totally unplanned.

And of course the best thing about this approach - you don't have a valuble piece of tech on show.

Have fun, you'll be amazed at the things you've never noticed in London before.


Thanks for all the advice. I certainly think the organic approach is the best and by far the most fun. However, when I need to get somewhere by a certain time it does get a little frustrating if I keep taking a long turning.

  I will check out the apps though for sure and when I haven't got somewhere to be I will go for a few jaunts and get to know the area.

I have been quite surprised at how good some parts of London are for cycling. However, there is so much road repair that needs to be done in my area that it is unreal. Pot holes that could send you flying if your not careful!!



I put a printout from in an A4 punched plastic wallet with a thin piece of card behind it, clip that to the brake cables on my handlebar (checking brakes still work!), and then the directions are there every time I glance down at traffic lights, etc. 

Helps a lot while I learn new routes. Good luck. 

  • By phufbl at 4:49pm 31 July 2013

If I have time before cycling on an unfamiliar route I like to do a "walk through" of it on Google street view. It is then much easier to remember the route and know what landmarks to look out for.

I agree with whoever said that trying to navigate without directions is more helpful in the long run as having to think a bit or taking a guess and getting it right or wrong are more helpful to build up local knowledge.

  • By zoo at 10:45pm 31 July 2013

The cyclestreets andoid app now does voice!

Yes the new CycleStreets voice navigation on Android is really very good, having used it a couple of times now on routes I don't know, I found it reduced the stopping-to-get-the-phone-out rate from once every minute or so to once every 5-10 minutes when the directions aren't quite clear.

In general, though, I found exactly what you describe when I started cycling in London, now a couple of years later it gets so much better as you start to build a mental map, and also get tuned in to spotting the little blue LCN signs etc around the place.

We sympathise with your problem...

Often the safest and most comfortable cycle routes in London follow back streets, avoiding main roads. However, it's difficult to know a city as large as London well enough to ride in back streets all the time, and these are sometimes too slow for longer journeys.

For these reasons, London cyclists are often likely to find themselves following main roads, because these are fast and are easy to navigate. However, there's clearly an increased risk of a collision on main roads and at major junctions. This is a key reason why Dutch-style segregation on main roads and at major junctions is necessary, because these roads will always be popular cycle routes.

A smartphone with maps and route-planning is a useful tool to help find less busy routes that might also be direct. A web browser

As mentioned above, apps like Cyclestreets and Bikehub (they use the same mapping algorithms) can provide a choice of routes that have effectively been chosen by other cyclists. 

Indeed, we use the same route-planner on our home page, where you can plan cycle-friendly routes from anywhere to anywhere.

Another solution is to use Transport for London paper maps (which were originally created using data from our activists). These routes are far from perfectly connected, but they do often provide a good compromise between speed and comfort, using what cycling-specific facilities exist (such as the incomplete but still useful LCN+ routes).

In practice, there's likely to be significant crossover between the Cyclestreets route choices and those on the paper maps.

To sum up: putting extra effort into route-planning is likely to provide safer and more confortable routes, although sometimes at the expense of convenience and directness.

Pre-planning for the route is an investment that pays out in real-time on the journey. CycleStreets has different map views, some of which are dramatically more legible (I made the OSM map my default and then I know I can read the names!), and you can also add the map to your smartphones memory.


CycleSteets also give a wide range of option for your route - and showed me a footpath link that I had never used though I've lived near for 40+ years. It has transformed a frequent journey enabling me to avoid riding uphill on Grand Drive, Merton,  a busy road littered with mindless pinch-points and a high incident rate.


CycleStreets also respond to enquiries - it's great in so many ways.

  • By Loshu at 1:22pm 3 August 2013

A few years ago I used to stop to check the maps on bus stops, but nowdays they seem to be mostly tube line style maps which aren't as helpful.

  • By SimonS at 11:49pm 26 September 2013
I have similar issues sometimes as I have pretty bad ADHD. I have a waterproof phone holder and use both BikeHub and Cyclestreets (or TomTom app if mobile signal is weak). As others say though, staring at the screen whilst riding can be dangerous, so best pull over if you need to check it for more than a moment and never, ever look at your phone near a junction. I personally can't hear the turn instructions from my phone speaker. If you plan to use spoken directions, a few quid spent on bone conducting headphones or a helmet with bluetooth speakers - which both enable you to still hear what's happening around you - could help keep you safe. The TfL print outs can be handy, but the safer, quieter routes can involve a LOT of turns and checking a print out every five mins takes the fun out of riding. I often take Cycle Superhigway or National Cycle Network routes, even if they are longer, as it's safer and more fun to just focus on your surroundings. As my short-term memory is so pants, I've learnt a few simple tips. Getting a highlighter pen and marking a route out by hand in a contrasting colour really helps both in memorising and when checking enroute. When trying to remember a list of street names, waypoints or landmarks, I usually think up a little story (the funnier/ruder, the easier they are to remember) that involves the street names. Another simple tip is to give yourself a few minutes extra every time you ride-the odd detour can help you find interesting places, having time keeps you relaxed and every 'wrong' turn helps you build up a mental area map. Happy cycling!

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