This article on Best Online Maps for Cyclists is part of a larger one: The ultimate guide to online maps
Plan the best cycle route by using the right maps
When planning a cycle route, you often use local knowledge about which roads are quietest, and which of the busier ones have cycle lanes. You’ll often want to ride in unfamiliar places, though and that’s where maps and mapping software comes in.
Google has recently introduced a ‘Bicycling’ map to Maps, which you can enable by hovering over the satellite or map icon (depending on which one you’re already viewing) and clicking the Bicycling layer.
It shows bike trails and routes, and you can now select cycling as a mode of transport when using the ‘Get directions’ feature. Enter a start point and destination and Google will calculate a route. The whole thing is very much still in beta and isn’t nearly as impressive or useful as other resources online.
One of the best is Garmin’s Connect course creator. This cycle route planner is free to use, even if you don’t own a Garmin product – just sign up for a free account. You have a choice of Google or OpenStreetMap, and you can click to set a start and end point. The best cycle route will be calculated, but you can easily adjust the route (as you can in Google Maps) by dragging the control points to the roads on which you want to ride.
Instead of selecting just two points, you can click at each junction to plan a route manually, and it can be helpful to use Garmin’s planner in conjunction with Google Street View to gauge whether the road is suitable for cycling.
Below the map is an elevation graph so you can see how hilly the route will be, and it’s easy to share the route with friends or download it to a bike satnav.
Speaking of which, unless you plan to print your map and a list of directions, you’ll want to use a satnav of some description to make your ride more enjoyable. Dedicated devices are best as they’re waterproof, have screens visible in bright sunlight and have long battery life. We like Garmin’s Edge 810, but Mio’s Cyclo 505 is also good.
There are plenty of smartphone apps, of course, including Bike Hub (which also offers good route planning on its website), CycleStreets, MapMyRide and others, but we wouldn’t recommend any of these over a dedicated device.
Don’t forget, too, that the Garmin and Mio devices don’t need to be fed a pre-planned route on which to direct you: they’ll also calculate a route just like a car satnav.
No system is perfect, and you’ll occasionally be directed the wrong way down a one-way street, or find yourself on roads busier than you’d ideally like. But the only solution is to plan ahead and try to choose the route yourself.