3 Additions to Make Google Maps Perfect for Cyclists

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.

Elevation charts

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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25 Responses to 3 Additions to Make Google Maps Perfect for Cyclists

  1. Bryan 02/03/2017 at 3:53 pm #

    First feature I’d add: the ability to avoid canals in a route!

    • Me 03/03/2017 at 8:44 am #

      So true and so annoying!

    • John Highet 03/03/2017 at 12:07 pm #

      I second the canal avoidance option! I ride a velomobile (enclosed trike) and because I Iive beside the Lea towpath Google maps always tries to send me that way. Unfortunately there are many obstacles to a trike on the towpath so it’s not a usable option. If I change the bike option to a car then it tries to send me via motorways so that’s no use either.

      • Andreas 07/03/2017 at 3:35 pm #

        I think I’d be making use of this a fair bit too!

  2. Peter Johnson 02/03/2017 at 4:13 pm #

    I’d use Cyclestreets instead. Designed by cyclists for cyclists. Takes account of gradient. Offers 3 choices of route – fastest / normal / quietest. https://www.cyclestreets.net/

  3. Human Cyclist 02/03/2017 at 6:43 pm #

    Sounds like you need to switch to Strava which has elevation and estimated duration based on your speed. Although not sure if these are desktop features only.

    Google maps route choice by bike is pretty poor. Too many busy roads. I guess it is fine for routing on the fly.

    You also can’t export routes to other devices. At the moment there’s no single perfect cycle routing tool and I often find myself using a combination of tools to merge elevation, street view, good route recommendations and then exporting.

  4. Stu 02/03/2017 at 9:34 pm #

    There’s no choice between “I’m on my road bike and don’t care about the traffic” and “I’m cycling with my toddler on the back and want a slow, quiet and ideally flat route, aka canal”.

    There was another dedicated cycling site that offered that but whose user interface was pretty average, so sure it can be done.

    • Me 03/03/2017 at 8:46 am #

      Yep, it’s CycleStreets. The problem is that their turn by turn navigation is not that great and the UI rather poor.

      • JonathanGM 03/03/2017 at 11:01 am #

        The Bike Hub app is similar but better, I think.

        UI not the greatest, prone to freezing position if you have other tracking apps running.

        However, it gives fairly decent turn-by-turn instructions, and the elevation chart is a scroll away when you’re preparing your route on your mobile. It might not be there at the bottom of the map when you’re riding, but by then you should know why the pedalling got harder(!)

      • Rocio 06/03/2017 at 6:13 pm #

        Try Cyclemaps (free, no subscription), it has the option of fast or quiet routes and the UI is pretty good

  5. Sam 02/03/2017 at 10:32 pm #

    At least on desktop the elevation shows! https://goo.gl/swypjo

  6. Richard Fairhurst 03/03/2017 at 12:51 am #

    Better still – use a route-planning site that’s designed by and for cyclists, rather than by a (self-driving) car company!

    Ok, I’ll admit I’m completely biased: I run cycle.travel (http://cycle.travel/map). But there are other great cycle route-planning sites, too, such as CycleStreets (http://cyclestreets.net).

    Looking at your three suggestions, both sites do elevation charts and contour lines on the map – you can even have a 3D plot with cycle.travel. cycle.travel lets you set your average cycling speed to get a better time estimate. CycleStreets gives you three choices of route (fast, balanced, quiet).

    They’re both based on OpenStreetMap data, which is much more detailed for cyclists than Google Maps (because lots of OSM volunteers are cyclists too) – it knows about surface quality of off-road routes, little cut-throughs, and much more. cycle.travel also adds real traffic data, so it can keep you off the roads that are busy with cars.

    The acid test is Land’s End to John O’Groats. Ask Google Maps for a route and it’ll send you up the lethal A30 and some barely rideable muddy canal paths. cycle.travel keeps you safe and avoids the mud. Most important of all – it has pubs and cafes marked prominently. 🙂

    • andy 17/07/2017 at 10:10 pm #

      Hi Richard, are you developing an app? (android please ;))

  7. Vince 03/03/2017 at 9:07 am #

    google maps shows elevation, but only desktop version I guess

  8. Geoff Trimm 03/03/2017 at 12:32 pm #

    In 2015 I cycled from London to South West France (1153 km’s) over a week. I used Ridewithgps.com which gets it feed from Google maps. Generally followed cycle paths & quiet roads and all went generally ok, except sometimes Google maps would read cycle paths which were essentially tracks in fields. Great on a MTB, not great on a touring bike (15kgs) plus kit (35kg’s). It would be great if they could grade the cycle tracks or you could opt in or out of using them.

    Googlemaps is very useful if you get lost though – you can plug in destination , put your ear phones or one earphone in, and let it tell you where to go.

    • MJ Ray 20/03/2017 at 9:44 am #

      The venerable osmand will announce turns too, so it’s still not a reason to suffer Google’s awful busy routes.

  9. Lampros 03/03/2017 at 3:44 pm #

    I don’t agree, google maps isn’t that great for cycling routes.
    Citymapper’s route suggestions are much better, gives you the option of normal, fastest and quiet routes and the routes are usually less heavy on traffic and cars.
    It does lack voice navigation though, and that’s the main reason I do use google maps often instead.

  10. finalharvest 03/03/2017 at 10:08 pm #

    I love komoot, which let’s you pick what kind of bike you ride and how fit you are.
    However, I think it’s only in German.

  11. Giles. 04/03/2017 at 1:30 am #

    I must say the most interesting thing I find about this article and some of the posts below it, is that you think the google “does a fairly good job of choosing a bike friendly route”. Personally I think they are nothing but an amusing joke.

    They are not usually the most direct, they are seldom the least hilly, rarely the most interesting and often uneccassarily involve traffic or even walking footpath sections. They are depicted on delicate devices that are so small you have scarcely any overview or context of the surrounding terrain and heaps of equipment or trouble to keep charged up.

    OS (Ordinance Survey) solved all these problems years ago with their 1;50,000 or better for longer distence cycling 1;25,000 maps which can be printed on durable materials. Worth bearing in mind that hardly any lanes or bridleways change their routes over the years, although they do sometimes change there grading.

  12. Paul 04/03/2017 at 11:51 pm #

    The elevation charts are already there! Once you make directions for cycling they are visible.

    • Giles. 15/03/2017 at 9:39 pm #

      The elevation charts a quite good for dichotomising and statistically analysing before or after. Unfortunately pretty uselless for knowing that you face a sharp incline as you turn a certain corner or pass a particular building etc.

      They give you quite a good overview – but then you tend to know the sort of terrain you are in anyway. So not a great deal of use on the road, I find. eg if I’am in hill country wether or not I climb another 500′ is no never mind really.

  13. Rocio 06/03/2017 at 6:11 pm #

    Google maps it’s not great for cycling, there are better alternatives with nicer UI for cyclist and better routes. I always use Cyclemaps, it gives nice routes and have the option of fast or quiet routes, the UI is very straightforward and focuses on features that matter to cyclists.

  14. Nick 13/03/2017 at 9:45 am #

    Echoing much of what’s been said already, the basic problem with Googlemaps is that it doesn’t “understand” that the bulk of so-called cycle infrastructure in this country is not fit for purpose. Most people, when they select the “by-bike” option, want a road, just a quieter one.

    Someone mentioned Strava and, while there are good reasons to despise it, I’d add my vote for its route planner. Google may know almost all of our deep, dark secrets but the advantage Strava has is knowing where cyclists *actually* go – because thousands of us tell it every day. It’s able to aggregate the user-provided data and, from that, build a cycling-friendly world road-map based on popularity.

    For me this is less of an issue in London than in the countryside. On more than one occasion Googlemaps has sent along a treacherous tow-paths for which my slick 23 inch tyres were most unsuitable! Never with Strava.

    • MJ Ray 20/03/2017 at 9:46 am #

      Strava knows where a certain type of cyclists go. It’ll ignore even some pretty good cycle tracks just because its time triallists do.

  15. Max 07/06/2017 at 4:49 pm #

    The ability to locate London City (Santander) bike stations like city mapper can

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