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I want to bike along the Oxford Canal for several days. I need a way to determine distances to plan for where to sleep and eat.

Mapping apps tend to tell you where to go instead of telling you about where you decide to go.

Are there any websites or apps¹ that make it easy to determine the distance along a path I will indicate?

¹I prefer IOS, but I do have an Android device.

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    Strava is quite good for cycle paths - you can drag way points on the route to tell it where to go rather than it telling. It does depend on the route being a recognised cycle path though. Having said that, RideWithGPS has an option that allows you to set up routes that are literally just straight lines between points, which would work if they're not recognised as cycle paths. – Diado Jun 27 '18 at 11:37
  • I'll check out Strava. "straight lines between points" is not practical when it takes hundreds of points to approximate the route of a waterway. – WGroleau Jun 27 '18 at 12:33
  • Just to clarify, RideWithGPS allows you to create routes in the same way as other popular apps such as Strava and Google Maps, using way points, but the advantage over those if you're going off the beaten track is that if the others won't let you route along a canal because it's not a recognised track / path / route etc, you can tell RideWithGPS that you don't care and to do it anyway, which can be handy. Personally I use Strava, but then I cycle on lanes rather than paths the majority of the time. – Diado Jun 27 '18 at 14:22
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    No need to be super accurate when plotting a route on google maps, just approximate the route, and add enough "slack" for particularly wiggly bits. And then round the final number up a bit to give a "close enough" figure within 5% of reality. – Criggie Jun 28 '18 at 2:17
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    There will be a legal right to take your bike along the tow path but that is a very different thing to whether the tow path is in a fit state for a bike. It's exactly the same with any bridleway in the UK although I would of assumed the tow path would be good where as for most bridleways you have to be prepared to detour if you don't know them. – Ifor Jun 29 '18 at 13:34
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I use Google maps (set to 'cycling mode') and Strava to plan routes. Both try to find the 'best' route between the start and end points but allow fine control of the route by setting intermediate waypoints.

Each will give you details of the route including distance and a gradient profile.

Google maps tends to find routes based on cyclepaths, bike friendly roads and trails. Strava uses its 'heat map' built up from recorded rides. Both have their pros and cons. It can be a bit of a struggle to get both Google maps and Strava to adhere to a specific route, but it is doable with judicious placement of waypoints. Strava can be made a little more controllable by turning the 'use popularity' option off.

I tend to use Strava if I want to upload the route to my Wahoo bike computer app.

I've not used RideWithGPS but I assume it has the same fine control over route planning.

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  • I did manage to plot the first day on Google, but it was a bit of a nuisance dragging around enough points to force it to stay along the canal. Especially since Google doesn't label the canal, so I had to use maps.me to keep track of where it was. Unfortunately, neither WarmShowers, BeWelcome, nor AirBNB show any place to stay after Rugby which is only half as far as I'd like to go the first day. – WGroleau Jun 27 '18 at 13:36
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All the services I've used (Strava, Google Maps, Bing Maps) seem to be essentially the same. They're route planners, so they want to plan your route for you. When you have a specific route you want to follow, that inevitably means you have to drag the route back to where you actually want to ride, rather than what the software thinks is the shortest, fastest, safest or whatever.

Remember that the software tries to find the best route between waypoints. That means that the most efficient way to correct it is to find a large segment that's strayed from your desired route, and drag the middle of that segment back to the correct place. Also, it sounds like your intended route is "just ride along the towpath" so you don't need directions along the ride. In that case, you don't really need to correct every single deviation from your intended route: a 10% error won't make much difference to your trip.

Strava's map knows where the Oxford Canal is and knows about its towpath. Just now, it took me maybe ten minutes to plot the 60km from Rugby to Banbury, being fairly careful to follow the canal. A further advantage of Strava is that you can upload the route to your GPS device or follow it on your phone. Strava requires you to create an account to edit routes and so on, but I've not had any spam from them or anyone else on the email address I gave them. For route planning, you need to use the Strava website, rather than the mobile app.

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  • No, I don't need directions,but as I said, I do need distances. Maps.me lets me add not more than three waypoints, which makes it include enough of the canal to see that the actual path I want is more than the 58 kilometers the app claims. Google maps took me a lot longer than ten minutes to get the entire path, but claims it is only 26 miles (40 km). And I can remember when I could make such a path, and switch from bike to walk without it deleting all my waypoints. (Have to switch to walking to see the elevation profile). – WGroleau Jun 27 '18 at 21:57
  • Strava's app store entry devotes a lot of words to certain features without even mentioning planning a route. – WGroleau Jun 29 '18 at 13:01
  • @WGroleau Strava's a little confusing like that. Route planning is only available on the website; the app has the "turn my phone into a cycle computer" functionality. I'll edit that into my answer. – David Richerby Jun 29 '18 at 14:56
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If it's only distances you want why not do it the old fashioned way - use the appropriate Ordnance Survey map, piece of paper to measure the distance and then get accurate distance from the scale shown on the map. Pretty certain you could do it in 5 minutes, and you get a nice map to look at to plan other excursions whilst you're having a pint along the way. Think the cost for an Explorer edition (1:25000 scale) is less than UK£10, and if bought online you get a code to download same map to your phone...

As @davidricherby states, absolute accuracy probably isn't required. If you plot it to be 25M, riding at a leisurely 10mph takes you roughly 2 1/2 hours. If it turns out to be 20 or 30 miles, you're only +/- 30 minutes.

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  • Right. Ask around in a small town where to buy a paper map. I already spent two hours trying to find the place I was supposed to sleep. – WGroleau Jun 29 '18 at 12:59
  • I have found that the local shop (the only one or if more, the one that has newspapers and such) often has the local map and often one or two adjoining ones. That does depend on the town having shops. – Willeke Jun 29 '18 at 18:16

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