When we're heading too and from work most of us go with the flow – the traffic flow. That's okay in a car, where the biggest roads into and through towns and cities are usually the best option. But on a bike, you generally want the opposite: the small roads, backstreets, and cycle tracks that motor vehicles can't or don't use. Such routes are quieter and less stressful. They have cleaner air. They can be just as quick, even when they're longer, as they avoid congestion and traffic lights.
The problem is that cycle-friendly routes aren't always signposted. And the exact route from your house to your work never is. So you'll need to research the best route yourself. It's worth doing even if you're an experienced cycle commuter; you might discover shortcuts or alternatives you never knew existed.
Digital research – given that you’re online now – costs nothing. Google Maps works for cyclists, so long as you click the bike icon when you type in your starting point and destination. Google’s recommended routes are getting better, but will still sometimes pitch you onto a busy road. A more reliable option – although it’s worth trying both – is CycleStreets. Since it’s created by and continually added to by cyclists, it reflects the journeys that cyclists actually make. The routes it generates thus tend to more cycle-friendly, especially if you select the ‘quietest’ or ‘balanced’ options rather than the ‘fastest’ one.
Websites are fine for research, but for on-the-bike navigation a smartphone app trumps a pocketed printout. For Google Maps, the relevant app is (you guessed it) Google Maps; it might be on your phone already. It provides sat-nav style, turn-by-turn navigation. For CycleStreets, the best option is not the CycleStreets app but the Bike Hub app, which uses CycleStreets data.
Like Google Maps, the Bike Hub app gives sat-nav instructions as you ride along. There are lots of ways to attach a phone to the handlebar of your bike – Quad Lock is good. With the phone visible and, with the volume turned to maximum, audible, you can set off for work on a Monday morning with no further ado. You’ll even get an estimated journey time.
Yet it makes sense to do a dry-run when you’re not against the clock – at the weekend, for example, or on the way home. This way you’ll find out exactly how long the journey takes. You’ll also discover whether it suits you and your bike. That towpath or bridleway might make a great route on a fat-tyred mountain bike, hybrid, or cyclocross bike but be difficult on a small-wheeled folder or a road bike.
Since both Google Maps and CycleStreets generate more than one route option, try them all to see which works best for you.
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