Which is the best service to use when you are planning your cycle route? I needed to cycle up to Hampstead to see a friend, so I decided to put the two route planners to the test.
Entering my route
I loaded up the two services in to my web browser.
On Google Maps, it was far quicker to find the address I needed on the familiar interface and get the route up on screen.
This took marginally longer on CycleStreets, as the address took longer to enter and then the route planning needed slightly more time to load.
Round one went to Google Maps.
Customising my route
With the routes up on screen, if I wanted to use some of my local knowledge to tweak the suggested route, it was quick and easy to do on Google Maps – I could simply drag the line across.
On CycleStreets I can choose between three routes. The fastest route, a balanced route and the quietest route are available. However, there is no ability to tweak the route.
Round two also went to Google Maps, as I enjoy having the power to customise my route.
Both the services offer turn by turn directions. However, on a bicycle, I’d find it hard to concentrate on the road and to read off directions. My 21st century male brain was simply not created for this skill. I know that I’d spot a great looking bike coming the other way, lose my concentration and then be searching for the route again.
Fortunately, I use an iPhone bike mount. This makes following a route as easy as glancing at a little blue dot on a screen.
Google Maps is available on the iPhone. However, cycling directions are not. Google is rumoured to be releasing a separate Maps app in the app store, in the new version of the iOS. At which point, Google may add bicycling directions. Until then, getting directions on to the iPhone is a bit of a kerfuffle:
- Log in to Google
- Hit “Save to My Maps” button
- Choose “KML” to export the route in to a file
- Email the file to yourself
- Open it up on your iPhone using an app such as Cyclemeter.
Things are a little simpler on Android phones, where you can just copy the link to your map and it will load inside Google Maps.
Things are much simpler with CycleStreets. I can simply use either the CycleStreets app or the BikeHub app. Both work on iPhone and Android and are free to use.
Points here go to CycleStreets.
Cycling the route
Both the routes started off in the same way, as I was directed down a nice little shortcut on Elm Tree Road.
This is where the similarities largely end. Google Maps then directed me along a busy and horrible A road. The A41 is a nightmare, as large coaches frequently speed along the route. It is a prime candidate for a segregated cycle path – however, I’m not holding my breath.
CycleStreets on the other hand decided to save me from this nightmare. It instead directed me down the quiet St. Johns Wood High Street and then along back routes. There was enough turns in the route to make you dizzy, but the surroundings were very pleasant.
Back on the Google Maps route, I was coming up to a horrible junction. I’d have to filter across three lanes of fast moving traffic, to follow the route that Google suggested.
I pedalled as fast as I could and battled with heavy fast moving chunks of metal to get in to the correct lane.
Meanwhile, on the CycleStreets route I was following a very pleasant path, away from all the traffic. I even felt I had time to stop and take this picture:
On the Google Maps route, with my lungs filled with exhaust fumes, I was finally turning off on to a quiet street. Thank you Google!
I was then directed up a cobblestone street, whilst missing the far more obvious previous turn. It’s unclear why Google would miss a turn to send me the long way around and also why it thinks a cyclist would rather rattle their teeth on cobblestones.
Things were more pleasant on the CycleStreets route, which cleverly used a cycle link to get me to my destination.
Whilst Google Maps may have the edge on speed of route planning and ease of customising your route, it is no match for the results of CycleStreets. The better routing combined with the mobile apps, make this a great companion for cyclists planning their route.
There are two downsides to be aware of. The CycleStreets routes tend to have more zig zagging which can add to the time. However, on a short 18 minute cycle, the difference comes down to around one to two minutes. This is a time penalty I’m happy to pay for more enjoyable cycling.
London Cyclist Test Winner: CycleStreets
The two sites:
Update! Since performing this test a new site has entered the scene. Ride the City have added a London edition to their routing directions. Check them out: ridethecity.com/london# – we’ll have to pit them against CycleStreets in future!
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.