Keegan Robbins Blog
One of the first mistakes many people (myself included) make when they make the switch from car-commuting to cycle-commuting is that they ride their bike along the same route they normally drive down. It makes sense - that's the route you're used to, after all, and it gets you to where you're going. But in many cases, the best route for a car is NOT the best route for a bike.
The route you drive by car is most likely the quickest way to get to where you're going... by car. But what that means is, it probably has busy roads and high speed limits: the exact opposite of the type of road you want to be biking on, as I quickly learned. Starting to bike commute requires re-evaluating the path you take, and it often leads to a much more pleasant, scenic, and even more direct path! So how can you figure out a smarter, safer bike commuting route?
To your right here, just the fact that they offer this option makes me happy!
Step 1: Pull up Google Maps.
It doesn't have to be Google maps, specifically, but they have a great feature where you can select "Cycling" as an option and it will suggest bike-friendly routes to you. This isn't definitive, and you may be able to find a better path on your own, but it's a great place to start.
Step 2: Look for Side Streets
Look at the map and, besides what Google suggests, find other side-streets, cycling paths, or other low-traffic areas that run parallel to the roads you typically drive down. Often, you can find a path that is shorter than the one you drive, because you can cut down side-streets, bike paths, trails, and other areas that don't make sense for drivers but reduce overall mileage. When I started bike commuting, I was able to take advantage of both low-traffic side streets and an amazing greenway that enabled me to avoid all but a few busy streets. Not only was it a safer path, it was a lot more fun to ride!
Step 3: Do a Practice Run
If you're just starting to bike commute and you're planning on regularly biking to work or school, you don't want to be late or get lost. The only way to really gauge how long it will take is to do a practice run and time yourself. When I started bicycle commuting in college, I picked a weekend and rode all the way to the campus, which gave me a chance to familiarize myself with the route and to time how long it was going to take. Doing this made it much easier and less stressful when I rode to class on Monday.
As a rule-of-thumb, I've found that bike commuting takes roughly twice as long as going by car, but weather, fitness level, and other variables can impact this. A practice ride is also tremendously valuable because it gives you the opportunity to get a feel for where you'll be riding and to identify traffic patterns, pavement conditions, and other potential hazards. You might even find alternate paths that are better than the one you had planned! That's part of the beauty of bicycle commuting - you get to explore.
Step 4: Adapt
Once you start bike commuting regularly, you'll get into a habit and probably follow the same roads or trails each day. This is fine, but it's good to know alternate routes. For example, if you take a nice greenway path along a river and, one day after heavy rains, it's closed due to flooding, you better have an alternate path you can take! It's happened to me on multiple occasions, and having options is essential. Not to mention, switching things up every now and then keeps your commute interesting and gives you a chance to discover new places. Some of my most enjoyable commutes have been when I took a detour and found a road I'd never been down before.
Following this approach will make a world of difference if you've just been following the same roads you're used to driving, and it makes the transition from car to bike commuting both safer and much more enjoyable. Also, finding side-paths and taking the scenic route is part of the fun of bike commuting! It gives you a chance to explore where you live in a way you never would by car. When you bike, you're a part of your surroundings, not just passing through.
Have fun exploring!
Your Comments from Above!
Andrew Besold, wrote:
I think the article gives some sound advice for bike commuters. I'd like to also suggest driving the route once before committing to do it on a bike, particularly if your commute is long and will take you on roads you are not familiar with. Of course you won't be able to ride on the bike trails but the on-road sections should be scoped out ahead of time.
I've also been impressed with Google's "Bike There" algorithm and I'm sure its improved more since I last used it several years ago. I used it to route a ride from downtown, Newark NJ to a biergarten 17 miles away that would go through many old, inner-ring suburbs and the route Google's "Bike There" choose was near perfect. There were a few stressful sections but the route was much better and totally different than the one I came up with using paper maps, Google Maps and my own knowledge of the area. Much of the route "Bike There" choose were on quite roadways and neighborhood streets which made for a really fun ride for a bunch of rowdy and "thirsty" cyclists. Only towards the end of the route did Google's "Bike There" make some bad road choices but I knew that area very well and knew exactly what changes to make to keep the ride almost stress-free.
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