Beginning your cycling adventure with a top-down perspective

You’re excited to head out. You’ve finally got that day free to go cycling. You decide that you want to make a day of it. There’s only one problem. Where should you go? Maybe you just want to get a bit of exercise and cycle around your neighborhood. Maybe you want to be a bit more adventurous and go down some of those roads you’ve never travelled before. Either way, you can start that journey right by mapping out where you want to go first. Whether you’re using a traditional paper map or saving a route on your favourite mapping app, you’ll have a greater understanding of your community and its surroundings once you know the ins and outs. Before long, you’ll be mapping those routes out in your head!

I’ll start by saying this is going to be a very basic way of navigating so anyone can understand and use this as a means to get around or learn some of the safer ways of travelling around their city. When I started cycling, I would navigate by going down back roads or trails and turning around if I hit a dead end. This is all well and good, but there are easier ways to do this. You’ll enjoy it just as much finding out if you can get around that busy intersection without going through traffic or finding a quicker way to work/school/trails. That being said, never hesitate to travel somewhere new. By the end of this, I hope you will realize that you’re never lost, you’re only on a journey to your destination.

Step One: Visualizing

One of the easiest ways to remember where you’re going is to visualize it first. Take a very basic map on Google Maps and look around your city in satellite view. You’ll start to see familiar landscapes and buildings. Keep those in mind when travelling around from day to day. As you get more familiar with the area around where you live, zoom out of the map and begin exploring farther out from where you live. Soon you’ll begin to see those maps very easily in your head. This is especially effective if you have trouble navigating or reading maps. Being lost and knowing that you aren’t lost are two very strong mentalities to have. Going from one to the other will take time and effort.

Step Two: Planning

So you’ve taken the step to visualize your surroundings. You have a rough layout of where everything is. You’ve gone down a few of those back roads and trails you’re not too familiar with. It’s time to plan out your adventure. First we’re going to decide on a method of making your route. A quick go-to is to head to Google Maps as it’s used on many different platforms and easy to use. You can also save your routes and use them in them offline maps for those times when you don’t have any reception.

Before Adjustment

1. Type in your starting location or right click on the map and select ‘Directions from here’.

2. Hit space after your start location and type ‘to “your end location”‘, left click on the end location, or right click and select ‘Directions to here‘. Right above that you will see icons signifying the mode of travel you are using. Click the bicycle icon.

Very simple. Google will usually give you the quickest possible path to your destination with a few alternate routes that may be a bit safer. This might be good enough for vehicles or pedestrians, but sometimes cyclists can’t use those roads safely or they may want a more scenic route. Let’s enhance the map a little bit.

After Adjustment

3. Click on the menu left of the search bar. This will open up a side bar where you can select the ‘Cycling‘ option. Doing so shows a list of possible cycling lanes and trails in your vicinity.

With this in mind we can now move that path around and adjust our routes a bit more accordingly. If you look at the legend you can see that the solid green lines are trails and dedicated lanes. The brown lines and dotted green lines are dirt/gravel paths or “bike safe” roads. What this means is that these roads will have semi-dedicated lanes or safer side trails to ride on.

One thing I will emphasize is that it doesn’t accurately tell you what the traffic on those roads might be like. If you click the image to the right you will see that Google Maps shows the Trans Canada Hwy as a bicycle friendly road. While this may be, it’s also a road in which cars travel 110km/h on! You might not be comfortable with riding this right away. Let’s take another approach at finding a path.

4. Click the Satellite map square in the lower left hand corner. From here you can search around your area to find more approachable paths or dirt paths that might not be posted/updated on Google Maps.

Not all paths are on public property. Be careful when choosing your trail. Use the street view to get a better look if you can. Consult local trail guides to see if they allow bicycles on them. Most of them do, but some require you to be off your bicycle when travelling on them.

As you can see from the final adjustment, you can find paths that map routing might not allow you to travel on.

Once you get comfortable with finding all the different paths on Google Maps using satellite view or travelling around, you can head on over to Open Street Maps or Openrouteservice and try your hand at mapping there. It’s usually a far better way of making paths since they have more information on trails/cycling lanes, but it’s a bit more complicated to set up.

Step Three: The Ride

You’ve found the path you want to take, it’s time to gear up and head out. You can bring your phone, a map, your memory, or a combination of them all to cycle down your chosen path. One thing you definitely don’t want to forget is your sense of adventure (and helmet).

Remember that the greatest adventure is the unknown. No matter your destination, always be safe, healthy, and enjoy the ride!

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