Choosing Your Route to Work Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about how the immense differences between cars and bikes lead to different choices about the route you take to work. In this post I’ll review some techniques you can use to find your ideal route.

Picture of a remote road sign
Your route may be off the beaten path, but probably not too far off. Photo by celesteh.

Before you pick a route, you should revisit the question of why you want to ride a bike to work in the first place. If you want a good workout, but don’t live to far from the office, you may want to take a roundabout route, or add some hills; if you are replacing your car with a bike and you have children, you may want to consider an option that takes you by their school or daycare. My priorities are avoiding car exhaust and hills, so I look for unused roads that are flat. (You can see my extreme sidestreet route here.)

Three Steps to the Ideal Route: Research, Scout, Test

Ask
The best research you can do is to ask around. Talk to coworkers who may have biked to work or who might know someone who does. Visit a local bike shop and ask for advice on routes (I suggest visiting a shop near your office and they will know the immediate neighborhood). Talk to your neighbors and ask if they know anyone who commutes by bicycle. Maybe you can arrange a caravan to help you navigate your first few days biking to work.

Bike to work with Google Maps
Google can help you find a route.

Study

Pull up your town on Google Maps. You can use this great tool in a couple of ways: look at the most direct line between your house and your office and then identify streets that are close to that line. Google Maps allows you to zoom in on streets, gives you a birds-eye view, and even let’s you see a biker’s eye view of the street. Google Maps also has a relatively new feature that lets you put in two addresses and click on the bicycle icon to get directions that use bike paths. (Note: this is not always accurate, but it gives you a good place to start.) Once you have a proposed route, it’s time to look for surprises and find out how long it takes.

  • Scout by Car. Drive your proposed route during your commute time, but drive with a cyclist eye. Look at the width of the road and the condition of the shoulder, see if there are bike lanes, consider the amount of traffic. Imagine yourself riding on the road you are driving and see if you are comfortable. Remember, if you don’t like the road you’re on, going a block out of your way can give you an entirely different experience (see the video below).
  • Scout by Bike. Get on your bike one Saturday morning and ride your proposed route. Watch for blind corners, potholes, broken glass, railroad tracks and sewer grates. Also time your ride; this will let you know what time you have to leave to get to work on time.

Test
Once you start riding and are comfortable with your route, you can start to find refinements. You will learn that, for instance, hitting this light then turning on that street means you will hit this other light. My commute changed one morning when I realized that the park around city hall was deserted during my commute times and provided a great short cut. (Note: some parks and pedestrian plazas are off limits to bikes; keep an eye open for signs). In a future post, I’ll talk about the power of “owning your route.”

By continuing to question your commute even after you have found a good route, you experience new scenery, learn new things about your community, and identify the route that best meets your goals for biking to work.

Update: Since posting this article I have found an even more perfect route — never stop looking.

Question: What worries you most about your bike route? Let us know in the comments below.