Our top three apps to finding new trails and how to use them for free: And when to go old school, use a paper map and join a local ride
Riding a new trail is probably the most exciting part of mountain biking. Secret trails, or those relatively unknown are even better. But the big question is, how do you actually find the best mountain bike routes?
Over the years we’ve developed quite an arsenal of techniques to help you scope out brand new trails, and find existing stuff you’ve never tried before. So whether you’re new to the sport, or an old hand at knobbly tyres, here are the best ways to access the good stuff.
1 Download and learn how to use Strava Heatmap, Komoot, and Trailforks
Best for: Those who don’t want to do any homework
Download these three little beauties to your phone and you’ll get access to a wealth of data, showing where other people are riding. There’s more than one way to skin a cat (if that’s your thing) though, and each of the four do things a little differently, so it pays to know them all.
Strava is very definitely a social media site rather than a route guide, meaning you’re best off using it to see where others have ridden. Fortunately, that’s extremely revealing and can tell you where the best new trails are by how often and when they’ve been ridden.
Use the Heatmaps and Segments features to see which trails get the most traffic, and avoid the ones that get a few lost souls from way back in 2015. Stravas KOM leaderboard is useful too because you can check out other trails the fastest riders are seeking out. It’s also useful to follow a few riders from the top of the leaderboards, and let them show you around virtually somewhere new.
Trailforks is a great resource because there are over half a million trails listed on the site, and they’re all generated by riders and through real-world GPS info, which makes it super accurate. It’s free to use at home on your laptop, but you’ll have to pay $1.99 a month if you want the info on your phone while you’re actually hunting for trails.
If you don’t want to pony up the cash it’s possible to take a screengrab of the trails on your laptop at home, then piece it together with OS maps or Google maps when you’re actually on the hillside.
Komoot is an enormous route planning and navigation app, and as such it’s ideal for putting together natural rides, or creating something out of nothing. That means you can be in the middle of nowhere, on a work trip or on holiday with your family, and Komoot will put together the best route from the available legal trails.
Plan a ride by adding a start and end point to the website, and Komoot will build a route without you having to do any of the boring bits. You can search for specific waypoints or trails and add them in too.
The best thing about Komoot is just how vast it is, while features like Singletrack Scale (which reveal how technical a trail is going to be) to Trail View (users’ images of the trail itself) are genuinely helpful. It’s certainly a good option for building natural routes and sanctioned trails.
2 Use a map
Best for: battery life and low signal areas, people who hate tech, and those needing proof of access rights
For you kids out there a this is a non-streaming printed GPS unit, and for anyone over the age of 40 it’s an OS map. It’s old tech for sure, but it’s not to be overlooked because it works even when it runs out of batteries or gets no signal. Get the right one for the area and It’ll show you bridleways and paths, and you can use the contour lines to reveal you how steep it’s going to be. Get your phone out and cross reference that with the satellite layer on Google Maps and you’ll start to see the singletrack from the fireroad.
Plenty of legal bridleways are marked as footpaths on the ground, but having hard proof of its legal status and your right to access is sometimes useful when you’re dealing with a biped itinerant. Some open access paths and bridleways are inaccurately marked as footpaths on the ground, while landowners have been known to try and close off legal rights of way.
You don’t have to go full retro to get the best out of a map either, Topo GPS is an app with all the latest OS mapping and most detailed 1:25,000 scale. You can buy just what you want and nothing more, one 2x2km square costs just 20p.
3 Ask at the local bike shop, join a local ride or use social media
Best for: Human contact, riders who are after more than just the turns
In the olden days you’d find new trails either by blundering around in the woods until you tripped over a skinny (still works). Or you’d ask real people. Local bike shops are stocked with bikes and gear, but also friendly riders keen as mustard to get out and ride – drop in and see if there are any group rides you could tag on to. Sure, they’ll probably try and sell you a bike, but you can always say no. Check out the local riders clubs too, and ask them where to go, or see if anyone operates guided rides in your area.
Social media has its downsides, but one of the ups is it provides a vast community of riders to tap into. Whether it’s following some athletes on YouTube or checking out some real-world rider clips on Insta, it’s often pretty easy to piece together where the latest riding hotspots are.
4 Head to the mbr routes section
Best for: Finding the best natural trails in the UK
Why didn’t we think of this before?! This should be your number one resource for finding the best places to ride in the UK, and we’re not just saying that because it’s our own sweat and blood. You can choose from over 500 natural rides, complete with GPS downloads and including gems like Hellvellyn and Surrey Hills Classics: Or we’ve detailed every major trail development in recent years, from modern hotspots like Tarland in Scotland or Havok Bike Park, through to revived old gems like Mountain Ash. Trail centre and bike park guides, long distance epics, natural off-piste trails – find them here first.