Google to Add ‘Bike There’


Cyclists in the United States do not have a reputation for successful activism. Causes to which their efforts would be well applied rarely get the effort they deserve. Group rides are facing increasing pressure from police and cities to clean up their acts, races are losing permits and mountain bike trails have been closed.

Strangely, though, this unusually Internet-savvy bunch made its presence known to Google, arguably one of the most powerful companies in the on-line world. Its application Google Maps provides a service with greater flexibility and more substantive information than anything you could get from the auto club. And while it offered more variations on mode of travel than the auto club did, those options were limited to driving, public transit and walking.

However, in the near future another option will be added: bicycling. Cyclists have been lobbying Google for more than a year to include cycling in its mapping routes and can now celebrate because the Palo Alto data aggregator listened.

The announcement was all but buried in a post on Google’s Lat Long blog, which is maintained by the folks at Google Earth. Four paragraphs down, software engineer Andrew Lookinbill mentions new datasets (now there’s an arcane noun) that include bike trails and paths. Lookinbill writes, “Soon we even plan on providing you with biking directions to take advantage of this new data.”

One wonders how far behind Map My Ride can be. That site is so forward thinking (and fun) it’s a wonder they don’t already offer proactive suggestions on routes.

Many riders in bigger cities complain that bike commuting is difficult and dangerous for the simple fact that finding a route composed of bike-friendly roads can be difficult. If Google gives weight to bike paths, bike lanes and bike routes, the feature could help usher in a new wave of bike commuters. And for map fiends (like yours truly), the ability to map a route that includes bike paths in advance and get accurate route notes and mileage is a dream come true. Imagine planning a European tour down to the last kilometer before ever leaving home. Where’s my passport?

There’s no word on how long until Google implements the new feature, but RKP will bring you an update once it is out and we’ve had a chance to test drive the mapping and compare it to existing software. Stay tuned.

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  2. rickvosper

    Cool! Before you bitch-slap advocacy groups too much though, I’d be interested in learning more about what they did (or didn’t do) in this case that made this initiative successful where others have failed or dragged on without result.

    Is the advent of Google “Bike There” the result of spot-on tactics and coordinated persuasion from advocates, or just a farsighted gesture from a reasonable smart company? I didn’t notice the shoe leather companies banding together to get Google to offer the “Walk There” option and I certainly haven’t heard any crowing from bike advocacy groups this time around, either. You’d think if they even had this initiative on their radar screens, they’d be shouting the result from the housetops.

  3. Brent

    I use multiple sites to get suggestions for driving routes, wouldn’t it be great to have the same option for cycling. And what interesting possibilities for planning your own vacation.

  4. KS Bicyclist

    I have been asking AAA Club many years to provide similar capabilities. This will be a bicyclists dream come true. Thanks to all who have been involved in this effort!

  5. MattS

    This is really good news. It occurred to me a couple years ago that this option in Google Maps could, as you suggest, open up commuting for many who are apprehensive about taking it up. I can’t cant the number of times I’ve conversed with new commuters and had them tell me about the heinous routes they were taking. In my experience, new commuters tend to ride the same way they’d drive. Sadly, the most direct routes, those they are accustomed to, are generally awful for riding. People get terrified when busses pass them within 6 inches and they put the bike back in the garage…and leave it there. Commuting is all about minimizing risk and keeping the whole thing pleasant, or as pleasant as you can. If the Google Map interface allows users to rate routes, one could plan their route according to rankings of sections, beyond a standard rating for lanes and paths. There is a lot of potential. I hope it takes off.

  6. Darren

    I’d really like them to figure out a way to classify roads by how cycling friendly, then you could say plug in 30 mile loop and get a selection of routes, including varying the degree of hilliness, # turns, etc, then output a cue sheet + map.

    MapMyRide is OK but when folks use gps to make a route you can’t get a cue sheet out of it. Why not have a ‘try to map this route to roads’ option, for instance? Also they have an iphone app but unfortunately it’s unusable.

    I bought both a Garmin device and have an iphone, but have gone back to paper cue sheets due to reliability issues including battery life and functionality on the Garmin.

    It’s tough being a roadie when you have no sense of direction :-)= (though luckily my club mates often do).

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