Let’s say you’ve made the wise decision to cycle to work instead of taking the car. There are many good health and economic reasons for doing this.
But how do you get started? Assuming you’ve acquired a commuting bike, one of your first tasks is to decide on a route to work.
Even if you ride solely on asphalt, the route to go to work by bike won’t always be the same one you’d choose in a car.
This article will help you plan that route and give you confidence ahead of your first ride.
How To Plan Your Bike Commute Route To Work
When planning a bike-commuting route, there are various tools and resources you can use to your advantage. They are detailed below.
Your Local Knowledge
Let’s say you’ve been driving to work for a few years and know a bit about the surrounding environment. Maybe you live in the same town or city that you work in. If any of this is true, think about what you’d like to see on your bike ride to work.
Cycling is more enjoyable when you take in the best views and access places you can’t reach or stop at in a car. Maybe you can cross a scenic river or take an easy trail surrounded by nature. Pick a route you’ll enjoy, even if it’s a few yards longer.
You’re more likely to stick to bike commuting if it’s enjoyable, so don’t subject yourself to a boring ride if there are pleasant alternatives. Use your local knowledge to adjust any auto-routing tools you have at your disposal.
If you’ve already been driving into the same job for a few years, think about the roads you want to avoid on a bike (assuming they’re legal to ride anyway). Most people want to separate themselves from busy traffic as much as possible.
Most people in the modern era have access to Google Maps, which you can use for route suggestions to any destination from any starting point.
This is how you use Google Maps to find a route:
- Type in the precise address of your workplace including the street number.
- Click on the “Directions” icon that appears to the left of other icons.
- Click on the “Cycling” icon at the top left of the screen.
- Enter your address or starting point or click on it using the map.
- Click on the “details” of the route and note them down.
- Send the route to your phone if you’re using a PC.
Having the route on your phone is only truly useful if you can safely view your phone as you ride, which means attaching it to your bike. However, you do now have a cycling-specific route you can use.
If you own a bike computer, unfortunately, you cannot download a route file directly from Google Maps that works with it. You can try an intermediary tool like Maps To GPX, which creates a GPX file from the Google link. This should work on a bike computer.
Google Street View
In many instances, you can use Google Street View to “virtually” ride your planned route and see how busy it’s likely to be. This only works if you’re not taking minor side roads and trails uncovered by Google, but it’s still a useful tool for studying bigger roads.
Plotaroute is an online tool that will create multiple routes for you based on your chosen criteria. It does this for free, though Premium membership provides more routing options and an unlimited number of routes.
Once you’ve created a route, you can download it in the file format of your choice and use it on a bike commuter, or you can print the route and follow it the old-fashioned way.
If you generate routes automatically like this, create a separate one for the return journey to account for one-way streets or in case it’s complex to remember.
Check the routes as much as possible before attempting them “in anger”, either by riding them on a weekend or studying them on Google Street View.
Video: Plotaroute – Make Me A Route Tutorial
There are several fitness apps and associated websites that allow you to either plot a route or auto-generate one. These include:
Some of these apps, like Strava, require a subscription before you can create a route. Thus, you’d have to subscribe for at least a month before you could access the route-planning tools.
Strava has a “heat map” that shows you the roads and routes that other cyclists prefer. These inevitably include quieter roads with less traffic. Most apps will auto-generate a route for you once you’ve worked out where that feature is buried and how to use it.
Unlike Google Maps, these apps will always let you download a GPS file for use with a bike computer. Typically, you’ll have a choice of downloading GPX or TCX files for use with your device.
Talk With Others
If you’re not used to riding a bike and are completely oblivious to local cycling routes, try asking cycling colleagues at work about the route they take. Naturally, it will help if they live in the same direction as you.
In the event you don’t know any cyclists where you work, there are social media to consider. Is there a Facebook group for your town or the area where you work? Many people love imparting useful advice online.
You have to be a bit wary of advice offered by an experienced cyclist to a novice cyclist. They may be willing to ride busier roads than you are. Don’t be tempted to ride on roads that make you nervous. Safe cycling requires a level of confidence, which grows.
Intermodal Bike Commutes
An intermodal commute is one where you use various modes of transport to get to work.
This is often a practical solution for people who live many miles from their workplace. The cycling leg of the journey still gives them a workout and saves a bit of money. And using public transport is more environmentally friendly than taking your car.
Whether this is practical or not depends a little on the type and size of bike you have and the space or facilities available on the transport you intend to use.
Some trains have bike racks, for instance, which are not usually usable if you have a fat bike with 4” wide tires. Again, you want to research this before the first ride to work. Some underground train lines don’t accept bikes at peak hours.
Weigh Up Your Bike
The type of bike you have will dictate to some extent what routes you take to work. If you have a road bike, for instance, you’re pretty much limited to paved surfaces unless you stick some robust tires on.
A hybrid bike is a versatile bike you can take off-road, but you still wouldn’t want to ride rough trails on it. You can ride a gravel bike on many MTB trails, but an MTB is still better for the roughest terrain.
Hardtail MTBs are better on smooth roads than full-suspension MTBs, though the latter is still rideable on the road. Bikes are always designed with a specific purpose in mind. Except hybrids, perhaps, which are a cross between road bikes and MTBs.
If you’re a fitness fanatic who is weighing up long commutes of, say, 10 to 30 miles each way, a road bike will suit you well. Its faster speed and efficiency on roads make it good for distance, too.
Climbing (Or Avoiding) Steep Hills
One geographical feature you’ll want to account for when planning a route is hills. Wherever there is a steep hill, there is often a flatter way around with a steadier gradient.
Steep hills are an effective way of increasing your fitness, but they’ll also increase your heart rate and body temperature and cause you to sweat.
Most apps that generate routes give you the option of cutting out hills. An elevation profile is also useful, so you can see any pronounced bumps on your proposed ride.
If you’re commuting to work in the same clothes you’ll wear at work, you may want to save the more strenuous ride for the journey home. This is particularly easy with e-bikes.
Video: Picking A Route To Reduce Sweating
A commuting route that is perfectly pleasant in the summer may become treacherous in cold weather. You’d want to stick to very flat terrain on slippery surfaces. Conversely, in extreme heat, you might favor a tree-lined route with a lot of natural shade.
It’s a good idea to have a contingency route for difficult riding conditions. Maybe it’ll involve taking public transport for some of the way. Whatever keeps you safe.
Without question, you should test your proposed commuting route ahead of time if you can, especially if you’re also a new cyclist who isn’t overly confident on a bike.
If you intend to take your bike onto a train, check out the facilities of the service you’ll be using. These vary across the world.
You might have to forego the dummy run if your commute involves a long train ride. Or do a partial one, maybe as far as the railway station.
Time Of Day
Even the time of day may cause you to alter your planned route. If you’re cycling towards a low sun on a busy road, you can be sure that visibility is impaired for the motorists behind you. Use trails and bike paths wherever possible.
Familiarize yourself with alternative routes so that you’re flexible on your commute and can react to conditions. As soon as you sense a risk, go another way if it’s an option.
The amount of artificial light available if you’re riding in the dark is also a concern. It might inform your decisions when buying equipment, like the amount of light your front lamp throws out in lumens. Bright clothing takes on extra importance, too.
There may also be areas on a commute that are safer in broad daylight than they are after dark. Follow your instincts with this type of thing. If it feels unsafe, to some extent it probably is. Take a more populated route if personal safety is an issue.
Conclusion: Bike Commute Route Planning
Planning a bike commute route might be a breeze if you’re used to riding a bike around your workplace locale. But it could equally be daunting for new bike commuters. Not knowing which way to go is a natural worry.
The good news is that a little planning goes a long way. You don’t have to address every issue in this article. Read through it and see what applies more to you!
We hope you’ve found this article useful. Please feel free to leave a comment or share it with friends or family. Enjoy your commute!