Ever since Google Maps added directions for cyclists, I’ve been a very regular user.
Google Maps does a fairly good job of choosing a bike friendly route and it’s a pretty good interface.
However, as a cyclist and someone who likes to complain about things, there are a few additions I’d love to see.
On a recent short weekend away in Maidenhead, we decided to visit the Cliveden National Trust. Google Maps was soon up on the phone and we tapped to get our directions.
Laden with our backpacks, we started our cycle. Soon we were face to face with a rather tough uphill.
Now I don’t mind an uphill challenge, but it’s nice to receive a little warning.
The original map gives no indication of elevation. The obvious choice is to add a little elevation chart which you could tap in to find out more. The other option is to have different colours that indicate the elevation along the route – this would give you a nice level of detail. Finally, you could just keep it really simple, as in the third option where it says: “Be ready for a challenge!”
I’m not a huge fan of the elevation chart, because I think it takes up too much screen space. Also, I don’t think the charts are necessarily that easy to read, especially on a small screen.
The preferred option is the coloured line. This works well in apps that track your running for example and show you at which sections you were pushing yourself the most. This also has the benefit of not taking up any extra space.
The coloured route line could also be useful for other areas such as to warn about busy sections. Google Maps already has different coloured route lines to show you traffic up ahead, so it’s not a huge jump to adapt this for cycling.
Estimated time of arrival
I’m not sure how Google currently estimates your cycling time, but I imagine they just take a standard speed measurement and multiply it by the distance. However, this could be more advanced. If Google is keeping track of me whilst cycling, walking and driving, it should know my average pace. It could look at my historical data for this kind of distance and elevation and give a really accurate estimate of how long it’ll take me.
This would be both very scary and very impressive! I’m certain that smart algorithms are already heading in this direction.
Pick a type of route
Sometimes you just need to get to your destination quickly, at other times you’re organised enough to have a little extra time, so you want a nice balanced route. Then somedays the sun is out and you just want the most car free, relaxing route you can find. Google Maps does give you some choice between routes occasionally, depending on the destination. However, it might be nice to see a similar functionality as you see in CycleStreets. This is where you pick the most quiet route, a balanced route or the quickest route.
Overall, Google Maps is a really excellent tool for cyclists. It’s great that the Google engineers added cycling directions and it’s a shame to see that Apple Maps still hasn’t made any moves in this area. I’d love to see Google Maps continue to improve for cyclists and perhaps the suggestions above give some hint to new functionality we may one day see.
What changes would you make to Google Maps, as a cyclist?
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.