Bike Commuting (Part 2): Planning Your Route

You’re ready to pack your bag, hop on the bike, and go!  But a question still lingers: what’s the best way to get there?  Chances are you’ve already been driving to work for a while and are familiar with how to get there by car, but getting there by bike is often a bit different.

Bicycles are prohibited from interstates, and depending on your comfort level with traffic you may not wish to ride many other thoroughfares between your home and the office.  Thankfully in the wonderful age of the Internet, there are tools and resources you can depend on to help you on your way.

Besides simply asking other local cyclists the best ways to navigate through a certain area, one of the most important tools I’ve found that I initially used to plan routes to work – and still frequently use to find routes to stores all over town – is Google Maps.

Google Maps is a great way to find directions to almost anywhere, and actually has a number of neat features that are specifically for bicyclists.

To use my current hometown of Charlotte for an example, let’s say we will be going out to eat at Pinky’s with some friends and will want to grab a few comic books on our way home at Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find.  Type that into Google Maps and…


…it wants us to hop on the interstate?!  We can’t do that by bike!  Fortunately for us, Google Maps can adjust its directions for bicycles.

Simply click the bicycle icon at the top of the directions page where you type the address you’ll find that roads appropriate for bicycles are chosen instead.

And if you navigate to the menu at the top left of the webpage and select “Bicycling” it will also highlight bike lanes and marked bicycle routes, if available, which may prove helpful for finding the best way to the store or to get home.

Bike Route

Now while using Google Maps as a tool can be incredibly helpful, the distance between your home and your workplace may mean you have a multitude of ways you can get there and then get home.

What may feel easy or comfortable in a car may not be so fun on a bicycle, and likewise what may be a frustrating road to drive on may be a pleasant ride on a bike.  What options may you have and how should you choose?

Rural and Country Roads

Rural and Country RoadsQuiet country roads are the type of roads that weekend cyclist flock to.  On Saturday mornings they are often loaded with bicyclists getting in their weekly group ride, and during the week they can also prove to be quite relaxing and peaceful for the commuter.  Some of my favorite mornings are riding these quiet roads to work.

What to consider: While country roads often have a low amount of traffic, they also typically have narrow lanes and, depending on foliage, many blind corners, which means the little traffic you do encounter may have difficulty passing you.

Always exercise proper lane positioning on country roads and do not encourage motorists to pass you – such as by waving them on – when it is not safe or the oncoming lane ahead is not clear or visible.

Multi-Lane Roads and Thoroughfares

Multi-Lane Roads and ThoroughfaresDespite your desire to keep your route as low traffic as possible, there’s a good chance you will also need to use some larger roads to get to where you need to be.

The great thing about these roads is that they are often the shortest distance to get somewhere, and the multiple lanes mean that drivers have an easier time passing you since they can change lanes to pass without crossing over to the other side of the road like on a country road.

What to consider: The busy nature of these roads means that many drivers do not expect bicyclists to ride on them, in which case you may experience or witness some unusual behavior by confused drivers.

Always make sure to make yourself as visible as possible, and if your state allows you to take the full lane then I highly recommend doing so in the right-most lane.

Bike Lanes

Bike LanesBike lanes are one of the most sought-after features for bicyclists, especially to those newer to the sport.

There’s no question that bike lanes make people feel more comfortable on a bike, and it’s refreshing to not have to worry about traffic queuing behind you while a driver waits for an opportunity to safely pass.

And as a commuter who may be on the road at some of the busiest times of the day for traffic, you may experience the blissful feeling of casually cruising by an endless line of bumper-to-bumper traffic by using the empty bike lane next to it.

What to consider: When bike lanes are in a very busy commercial area, such as on a road with numerous shopping plazas, the epidemic that is distracted driving becomes ever apparent as drivers fail to check their mirrors before making right turns.

Always be on high alert and keep your fingers by your brake levers just in case whenever you are approaching an intersection while riding in a bike lane.

Greenways and Sidewalks

Greenways and SidewalksGreenways are an extremely popular feature in many large cities, and the trend is catching on fast as many smaller cities and towns are scrambling to build their own.

Typically presented as a place for recreation for most people, they can be an extremely enjoyable way to avoid busy roads and I include them in my rides whenever possible, as the beautiful greenery all around me is far better to enjoy than the endless shops and homes that otherwise surround my commute.

Likewise for sidewalks, being able to ride separately from cars and trucks can make your commute much more enjoyable.

What to consider: Typically on greenways and sidewalks, pedestrians will have the right of way, so you’ll need to ride at a reasonable speed and yield to others – even if they are themselves not being very courteous to those around them.

The amount of foot traffic may also be much greater when the weather is better, which means more foot traffic for you to navigate through.

Additionally, local laws may prohibit bicycles from sidewalks in some areas or completely altogether, so be sure to check local and state laws before doing so to avoid getting a ticket.

And Off We Go!

Now that you’ve found your route, take a relaxing spin on your day off and scope out your ideal route, making sure that it’s both safe and enjoyable to ride.  Don’t forget, even though cycling to work is a practical and healthy activity, you’ll still want to keep it fun!

Coming up next: Packing Your Bag: Narrowing down what you should bring and the best way to bring it with you.

If you missed part 1 of this series, then it can be found here

If you want to learn more about bike commuting, we’ve put together a comprehensive 71 page step-by-step PDF guide that goes into all of the things you’ll want to know –