Is Komoot The Most Powerful Route Planning App A Cycle Tourist Could Wish For?

Full disclosure: Komoot was mentioned repeatedly in response to my 2018 round-up of apps for cycle touring. I got in touch with the team and they offered to make a modest contribution to my ride around Armenia in return for a detailed report on my experiences. Here it is.

Lots of people have been asking about the route planning smartphone app I’ve been using on the road in Armenia. The app in question is komoot (with a lowercase ‘k’), the creation of a Berlin-based team of developers, which is finding increasing favour with recreational outdoor users, and just happens to be an excellent tool for cycle tourists.

First things first: why would you use an app for route planning and navigation on a cycle tour?

There are obvious reasons, the main one being to get where you’re going without getting lost. Less obvious are that such apps are now clever enough to calculate – in many cases – better routes than those you might pick on the ground. By better, I don’t mean shorter or more direct, like Google Maps might suggest. I mean quieter, prettier, with gentler gradients, with road surfaces appropriate to the bike you’re riding, and passing by more points of interest along the way – in short, routes that are more cyclist-friendly.

This kind of functionality was hard to come by until pretty recently, and is one reason I’ve never bothered with previous generations of such apps and websites until now. It’s also because I generally like to go low tech. But for this trip I had some specific aims, and

The komoot app (Android/iOS) is free, as is the first of the regional offline basemaps you choose to download. From then on, additional maps are chargeable at £3.99 each, but world travellers might prefer to buy the complete package (£29.99) which covers the whole globe for a one-off purchase.

I’ve been using komoot daily for nearly a month, and my impressions so far have been very positive. There are a couple of caveats which I’ll mention in detail below, but none are deal-breakers – indeed, komoot has become my go-to app for route planning and navigation on cycle tours, and I plan to continue using it for the remainder of this extended tour of Armenia, and likely into the future too.

So what exactly are komoot’s strengths?

To my mind, it isn’t a single feature but rather the package as a whole. Rather than trying to do everything for everyone and cram in every possible piece of functionality, the developers’ goal seems to be simplicity of use combined with powerful key features. To that end, the app’s functionality is broadly split into three parts: route planning, navigation, and social media. Let’s go through each in turn.

Planning mode uses routing algorithms to generate optimal routes between any number of points of your choice, which can be searched for, selected on the map, or chosen from categorised listings of nearby places. The routing happens server-side; you’ll need an active internet connection to carry out this step, but saved routes can then be followed offline.

The resulting routes are generally excellent – I particularly like that I can switch between cycle touring, road biking and mountain biking, which produce different routes based on different criteria – and the database of points of interest is extremely comprehensive.

Of particular use to cycle tourists is that generated routes are displayed not just with elevation and gradient profiles but also track type breakdowns, so you can see in advance what proportions of a route are on dirt or asphalt, highway or provincial road, etc, and adjust as necessary depending your preferences. Also generated are statistics concerning distance, estimated ride duration based on your fitness, total ascent/descent, average grade, highest/lowest elevations, and the like (though in uber-mountainous Armenia these numbers usually give me a sinking feeling!).

It’s worth mentioning that the app has a matching web interface for planning routes in a bit more comfort. Routes planned and saved here are then synced to the app.

In navigation mode, the app is unobtrusive and as accurate as the mapping allows (see below); I prefer to use the audio prompts (turn-by-turn navigation) with the screen switched off, which saves a lot of battery power. The fact that this works offline for pre-planned routes is a big plus. Your actual route is automagically logged, regardless of whether it matches the route you planned, and can later be exported as a GPX file.

The most innovative element is perhaps the social media side of the app. Once you’ve logged your day’s activities, you are encouraged to highlight your favourite spots and sections on the route, and then to share your recommendations with the app’s other users, who can then upvote them. Popular highlights then begin to show up when other users plan routes in the same area, thus enabling them to benefit from good recommendations. Public trips also become searchable and show up on your profile.

You can also embed them in your blog…

The result is a community-generated database of routes and curated highlights which might not otherwise appear on a regular basemap. (On a gamification tip, you also get badges and whatnot for being an active contributor.)

It’s a nice, simple system that seems to have the spirit of exploration at its core, rather than that of competition or showmanship as with some other cycling apps. Does it work? Well, the app has 5 million users to date, so komoot must be doing something right!

I mentioned earlier that there are caveats. Komoot asked for an honest report, so here they are in detail.

The most visible issue stems from the app’s reliance on the OpenStreetMap database and open-source elevation data to provide the underlying data. All of the route planning features depend on it. This means that the functionality will only ever be as good as the data. And while the open-source data is extraordinarily good in some places (including the app’s native Germany, the UK, and most other European countries that dominate its user base), in Armenia it is far from perfect.

To be sure, it’s a lot better than it was – we added or updated more than 5,000km of track data in 2016 alone with the Transcaucasian Trail project – but there are still quirks, mostly relating to road names (which affect the audio prompts), the misclassification of dirt roads as paved (which affects routing for road biking), and the low-resolution elevation model (which creates discrepancies in elevation and gradient profiles).

Of course, komoot is by no means alone in suffering from incomplete or inaccurate mapping data. In fact, the same issues affect all apps using OpenStreetMap (which is most of them). But coverage and accuracy continues to improve worldwide, and a bit of common sense is enough to overcome most routing issues – and it’s practically a non-issue in much of Europe nowadays. That’s why it isn’t a deal-breaker. The fact that it even has such sophisticated routing features is already a game changer – find me an app five years ago that could do that!

And if the map really is blank at any point, you can draw a straight line between A and B, or switch the basemap to aerial imagery and trace the routes you see. This much-requested new feature is called ‘off-grid routing’ and surfaced in an update midway through the most recent leg of my ride. It has given komoot a big leg-up in the planning of intrepid, off-trail routes, though I am yet to make use of the feature myself.

On the topic of routing, komoot does have a particular type of user in mind with these features. While they are extremely powerful given good underlying data, users who like doing fine-grained, turn-by-turn route planning themselves will find the algorithms too dominant and the ability to micro-adjust a route too cumbersome, necessitating adding endless additional points to ‘force’ the app to take the route you want.

But this would be missing the point: komoot’s focus is clearly on making the routing feature as strong as it can possibly be and appealing to people who will utilise it rather than try to override it.

(Case in point: I’ve found plenty of new routes in Armenia that I wouldn’t have known about had I not followed the app’s suggestions.)

There are a few minor niggles that could be improved:

  • It is somewhat fiddly to add new points to a route mid ride; I’d prefer to be able show preset categories on the map at all times and then simply tap to add them.
  • I’d like to be able to join a pre-planned route midway, rather than replanning it with a new starting point (necessitating an internet connection).
  • If I make an intentional detour, I’d like the app to recognise this rather than instructing me to make a U-turn for the next several minutes.
  • If I’m going (downhill?) too fast to be able to hear the audio prompts, it would be cool if the app would detect this and show a visual prompt as well.
  • And if my phone’s screen is locked, I would prefer to be able to unlock it without pausing my tour to do so.

The specific phone I’ve been using – a cheap Huawei Y6 – also has a habit of terminating the app at unpredictable intervals when the screen is off. Having looked into the issue I believe it is an issue with Huawei’s proprietary version of Android, rather than a fault with the app itself. It doesn’t happen with my Google Nexus 6P, which runs the regular flavour of Android.

Finally, I don’t believe I’ve got the best out of the social features, purely because of where in the world I’m located. I think I’m a komoot Pioneer in Armenia by default, as nobody else here seems to be using it (yet).

The verdict?

Komoot is certainly the most powerful route planning app I’ve come across to date – as long as you let it do its thing and don’t try too hard to override it. And if you’re cycle touring in new places and you don’t know the area, who wouldn’t want optimally calculated routes together with curated community highlights?

Throw in offline voice navigation and you’ve got one of the most powerful apps a cycle tourist could wish for. My only regret is that I didn’t know about it when I was riding across southern Thailand earlier this year.

If you’re keen to see how it actually works, check out my public komoot profile, which includes all my tracked rides (and a few hikes) in Armenia so far. Onwards to the north!

6 Responses to “Is Komoot The Most Powerful Route Planning App A Cycle Tourist Could Wish For?”

  1. Sonny Bennett

    Hi Tom
    Great article. I’m also new to komoot, but I find the lack of offline (no internet) planning a bit of a pain.
    Also, I’ve not found a way in the app to export GPX files, only on the website.

    With the lack of offline planning, I use MapOut app on my iPad/iPhone (currently not available on other platforms) to create a route offline, it also relies on OpenStreetMap data, then export the GPX file then import that to the komoot app to provide turn by turn navigation or rerouting in the event I want to go off route.

    Maybe for the people who are into their cycle stats, these could be expanded, as well as being able to change the view, to show the stats you want on a ride, similar to what you can do on a Garmin GPS cycle computer, but with voice navigation.

    All-in-all I think komoot is on the right track, and look forward to seeing this product develop
    Sonny

    Reply
  2. Lois

    Nice, I did not know of komoot.
    I think the best thing is really that they address bike touring, no other app has done it before. It’s either athlete riding, commuting or mountain biking that apps are usually addressed, and they always miss those little things that a bike tourer would want.

    I just tried komoot (although I still not mastered it) around town with the free region, and I found it really good. There are some drawbacks, like not being able to create offline routes and the map style looks confusing, it could be a little cleaner and easier to understand, maybe have several options like 3 or 5 map styles to chose from, including satellite.

    Because the app is also directed to Bike Touring, it gives me high hopes that they will improve it with time, so I’ll leave some suggestions for improvement after I tell the current pros of the app.

    Pros and highlights:
    -Importing of GPX, FIT and TCX files. These can be added as a completed route if you recorded the ride with another app, or a future plan, which is nice.
    -Way types and surfaces graphics. I love this, although I have the feeling that in more remote areas this will be inaccurate and so I shouldn’t trust it too much. But I’m sure that with time this will keep improving.
    -Interface. It’s very clean and beautiful, nice colours and ride/route details are clear, no ads. Except the map style, not bad, but also not so good.
    -Elevation profile, with elevation gains and other details.
    -The option that let’s you chose the riding type (Bike Touring, Gravel Biking, Road Cycling etc…), and each type will give you a different route type according to the style.
    -You can store routes for offline use, and as Tom said, if you turn off the screen and follow the voice commands then you will save a good deal of battery
    -The social media integration. It’s nice to share routes and all, but the best is that it engages the community, with the hopes of creating a more powerful app. I haven’t explored it enough, but it seems well thought.

    But if this app wants to truly excel over the others, I have some suggestions that could be useful:

    -Battery saving mode, or Light mode> I’m not sure how much battery this app drains. But in critical situations when you only need to follow the route, it could disable all other unnecessary terms. Bike touring is about long days on a bike, usually with no access to power, so battery saving is always welcome.

    -Surface/road condition contribution. It would be incredibly useful if the community could contribute in recording the unlisted surfaces of the roads. Sometimes through Google Maps I can’t see if the road is rideable, if it’s sand, gravel, rocky, etc.. So my suggestion is, once you go into an unknown road, take a picture of the surface and post it geo-locationed, and if there are any obstacles, post it as well, like gates or even cattle. Have a different category for this, like Warnings.

    -Like Maps.me, I think komoot should have the world divided by downloadable regions, and with this, being able to plan routes offline. It doesn’t seem to have the rest of the world apart from western/developed regions.

    -Special points of interest, Maps.me has this feature. You can add categorised POI, that later will be added to OSM. But with special I mean, a selected number of bike-touring oriented POI, such as water-points, shelter or garage/bike shops. The recommendations I see on the app from the community are too random, that I just wish they were turned off. I think this has to be improved.

    -Customisable maps. OSM has a lot of information that has to be filtered to become understandable. From that, imagine if we could select which layers to be visible, from a wide range of options, parks, gas-stations, hotels, viewpoints, caves, beaches, museums etc…

    -Map style could be improved. The current one is too much packed with information. It could be cleaner like the default Maps.me style. Having 3-4 styles to chose from would be great.

    -Messaging feature to message other users.

    -Organize planned routes into “folders”. Having everything in the same page makes it confusing once you have many plans. Would be smart and useful to divide into trips.

    -Desktop version could have a complete Tour planner, for long +month rides. The best is to check out Furkot website and how they do it and create something similar.

    -Windy integration. This suggestions might be a little farfetched, but here it goes. Windy is the God of weather apps. Basically the app revolves around the world map with all layers for different weather conditions, and you can zoom in well enough to understand the climate in your town. The layers are also animated, so you can see how the wind, air pressure, rain, etc, is affecting the areas. Great if you want to plan routes and maybe avoid rain in certain areas, or want to take advantage of a tailwind. If komoot could somehow integrate some of the basic features like Temperature, Precipitation and Wind speed/direction, onto the planned routes that would be fantastic, and recording rides with more metadata such as this weather conditions would be 5 stars. Not a priority thou, you can always use this app, Windy, separately and you’ll be good.
    Check the app, it’s free, no ads, and POWERFUL https://www.windy.com/ you’ll get addicted.

    This is how I would imagine the perfect Bike-touring app
    Sorry for the long post, hope komoot reads this. It’s a great app, so it should become even better!

    What are your thought?

    Reply
    • Shaun

      For a more cycling specific weather forecasting app, try https://mywindsock.com though that adds weather info to Strava routes, not komoot.

      While I’m at it, being able to connect to Strava from komoot would be nice. I usually plan in Komoot, ride with komoot but then upload the GPX at the end into Strava as Strava’s social side is much more advanced than Komoot. I also use Veloviewer which only works with Strava also.

      Reply
  3. Lassi

    Hi! I might be a bit off topic here but anyway: Making a perfect papermap for touring is pretty simple. All you need is a good plastic coated roadmap with distances, contour lines, scenic, quiet routes and some places to visit (museums, caves, whatever). Having this info in one layer on a digital map would be great. At least for planning. Smartphone apps need to generate routes because the screen is so small its hard to read the map. Plan the routes first on a laptop and save them to be used and modified on your smartphone on the way? Or simply print the maps with your planned routes and only use the app if you get lost? OpenStreetMap looks like a good map. Someone should build a layer for bike touring there.

    Going touring next week. That is if I got the right antibiotics for an inflamed knee.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Have you looked at OpenCycleMap? It’s based on OSM data and highlights most of the features you mention. Several apps can display the tileset too.

      Reply
      • Lassi

        Thanks! OpenCycleMap has great potential. Add distances and it’s the only map I’ll ever need. It looks like most official bike routes are allready there! I try to avoid digital gadgets on tour because I feel they are a distraction. Distances have been the only tool I’ve used planning the route and measuring the days ride.

        Reply

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