Not only is May Bike Month, but this week is also Bike to Work Week. Finding a route I’m comfortable riding has been the most important aspect of making my bike commute enjoyable. It’s also something that I am continually tweaking. Often a busy street will have a calmer, parallel street just a few blocks away. Some streets that are great on weekends fill with angry drivers going 40 mph during rush hour. Not every good riding street has been officially designated a Bike Boulevard. How does one find this information, besides systematically riding the whole neighborhood at different times of the day?
Experienced cyclists are the best resource for route finding, and the ideal is to ask one to ride with you and show the way. When that isn’t an option, I’ve relied on Cyclopath to get around the Twin Cities Metro Area.
Cyclopath.org is a “geowiki,” or a map that anyone can edit. Lots of different area cyclists contribute, creating a resource that encompasses the seven-county metro area. Routes are rated based on bikeability and once you’ve created a free account, you can save your preferred settings and routes. How do you feel about hills, traffic, or distance? Plug it in and Cyclopath will take this into account and provide turn-by-turn directions. Click on a section of road to read other riders comments, which often highlight potholes and road condition, path closures, or preferred roads. Because the wiki gets updated regularly, changes like the closure of the Sabo bridge are added quickly. Points of interest such as cultural institutions, restaurants, and bike shops are also noted.
Cyclopath is significantly slower and less intuitive than Google Maps, but the quality of the information outweighs any minor drawbacks. After a few attempts at Google Maps Biking Routes, I noticed that Google regularly recommended intersections and turns I would avoid even with a car. It also didn’t offer alternatives. Imagine the paths your adrenaline junkie friend who’s always running late and your sister-in-law who rides with a toddler in tow might take to get to the same destination. Being at the more cautious end of the risk-taking spectrum, I appreciate everyone’s right to ride somewhere they feel comfortable.
Bike maps are awesome (especially if you get lost) but they can get outdated quickly and don’t provide the same level of information about road construction or the nearest ice cream shop.
Cyclopath is only available in the Twin Cities Metro Area and it does take some getting used to the interface. However, my experience has been that the effort put in up front to figure out the website pays off in great information and increased confidence riding to new places. I have a much better mental bike map than when I started riding, but I still appreciate Cyclopath’s input whenever I’m going somewhere new or stringing errands together.
Check it out and find a new route or add some of your own cycling knowledge. It’s Bike to Work Week all week, and Friday is officially Bike to Work Day!