How to generate Urban GPS cycling data

This article is about why cycling data does not generate just by itself and ways how to generate more valuable urban cycling data for urban transport analysis.

The power of GPS cycling data

Of all traffic survey methods available today GPS cycling data provides of the highest level of detail and information depth. At the rate of one GPS point per second Bike Citizens app records information such as location, time and direction. Together with OSM road data, track information, point of origin and destination and whether the rider was navigating or just tracking, GPS cycling data provides valuable information on a road segment basis. A segment is a section of a road is the stretch between two defined locations, mostly entry points and crossings.

Urban cycling vs. leisure cycling

Urban cycling is a means to an end. There is always a purpose: go to work, go shopping, pick up the kids from kindergarden with a trailer or go to meet friends in a pub. The distance is given by origin and destination. Since we are looking at errands, appointments and daily routines, time is a limiting factor as well. Route choice is based on the most convenient connection between point A and B. Well, its fun too but we get to that later. Cycling data generated by people who track their everyday rides provides an insight in what people need from the traffic system to support their daily lives. But to generate data on every day cycling the riders have to be pursuaded to track.

Leisure cycling is its own purpose. Free choice of route, free choice of distance with no other restriction than the available time for the activity. Frequency and intensity of the activity is often determined by a plan or schedule to serve the purpose of training and achievement. The focus is on distance covered, speed or calories burned. Track choice is based on what route suits these factors best. Usually it involves preparation dedicated gear and outfit. The majority of sport and leisure cyclists are a homogenous group of competitive males in the age bracket of 20-40 years. Tracking their activity is a logical thing for sport cyclists. Naturally there is a wealth of data available. The regular city road network offers the least attractive environment for leisure oriented cycling. If at all, the city road network is merely used to get to more suitable places. As a result, sport gps cycling data has little value for overall urban city planning.

The pursuasion of a minimalist

Cycling data is the least available and most sought after traffic data today

Urban everyday bicycle users are true minimalists who reduce effort and cost to an absolute minimum to serve the purpose of transportation for their own benefit.

An initial investement of  €100 or even less, minimal maintenance and zero fuel costs takes you anywhere in the city with an average speed that has been proven to beat motorized transport in many tries. You can park your vehicle right at the front door and parking is also for free. The bicycle is undoubtly the most energy efficient, least expensive, most flexible and arguably also the fastest mode of transport in the city. For single person transportation within a 6km radius the bicycle is by far the smartest and leanest way to get around quickly in the city.

In a way, urban cyclists only ever ride against their own odds and win their very own little competition every single day. If it was for distance and time alone, there is no apparent reason to track and compare your rides or performance. As a result there is no existing natural source of urban cycling data as yet. If you want data, it has to be generated. Tracking your rides as an every day urban bicycle user would only take away from your minimalistic approach to transportation. The minimalist can be persuaded by added value!


  • new to a city
  • riding through an unfamiliar area
  • getting there quicker
  • getting there via a nicer route
  • getting there avoiding traffic
  • proving the shortcomings of the google maps bicycle routing feature



Give feedback to the city, vote with your pedals for the roads you need get from A to B.


Getting rewarded for doing what you are doing anyways? Hell yeah!


Comparison and competition are intrinsic sources for motivation for almost anything we do in our lives. We love to be better and see our names high up on ranking lists. Riding a bicycle in the city is a lot of fun. It gives a sense of freedom, independency and speed. And even if it was only for the purpose of getting somewhere, there is always the thrilling element of taking a smarter route than last time, using secret shortcuts or the leanest route with least traffic lights.

Gamification can be a great motivation to track for urban bike users but the games and rules have to be adapted to suit the situation. The traditional ways to compete in sport do not apply here. Distance is given by the origins and destinations of our individual lives. Speed is dependend on the limitations of the traffic system.  The primary focus of riding a bike in the city is to be efficient in what we have to do. Basically urban bicycle users race against their own odds. Fitness comes with it only as a side effect.

The basis for competition in urban cycling is riding against your own odds vs. other people riding against their own. As a main principle the game has to work without altering the original purpose for your trip or the distance covered. Origins and destinations remain the same. All it does is make people use the bicycle more often for their daily trips and voluntarily track their rides for their own benefit. With it comes a wealth of data as a basis for GPS cycling data analysis. Read more about Bike Citizens CHALLENGES

I am not a cyclist!

Ask people in Groningen, NL (over 70% bicycle in the modal split) if they are cyclists. The answer is no. Ask them how they get to work, to school, to the doctor, to shop groceries or how they travel to have dinner in their favorite restaurant. The answer is most likely by bicycle. Yet, they do not consider them cyclists. In their minds cyclists ride super light carbon fibre bikes, velcro strapped wind channel tested shoesand and dress in neon colored lycra as if the 80ies weren’t over yet.

If the people of Groningen who cycle everywhere they go do not understand themselves as cyclists, how can the rest of the world?