Cyclists in the UK have been improvising with Google maps for a good few years now, planning routes using the directions tool designed for drivers and, more recently, pedestrians. The demand for a workable and efficient cycling route planner was clearly there, but developing the thing was not so easy – which is why it has taken until now for the cycling route-planner to reach UK maps users (US users for example have had it for a couple of years already). The question now is whether or not is was worth the wait?
In order to assess this simply, cyclists have a few criteria:
- Does the planner offer safe and feasible cycle routes?
- Are the routes reasonably efficient?
- Is the tool buggy or liable to crashing?
Like most cyclists excited by the new tool, I started off testing it with something familiar – a regular commute. Google offered three options for the short 6 km journey – a busy one, a suicidal one, and the one I have taken pretty much every day for the past three years. Not a bad start at all, especially considering the suicidal option involved cycling lanes the whole way – with the only problem being that these lanes are usually shared with herds of lumbering 10-ton double decker buses and thus not so enjoyable to use.
Others who’ve tested the tool have met with pretty much the same sort of results – a cautious optimism that, considering it’s still only early days, Google cycle directions will eventually become a wonderful tool for making route planning on two wheels as easy as it is with four. As the Guardian review points out, at this stage the planner’s strength is in tweaking or improving regular routes or planning journeys in areas you know reasonably well (so that if you do get the odd impractical or dangerous direction, you know in advance to re-configure that part).
However, once the user feedback builds up – thus improving Google’s sensitivity to awkward junctions, one way streets, roadworks and all the other variables that can currently throw a spanner in the cyclist’s works, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t end up being equally trustworthy for exploring the unknown with complete confidence.
Finally, as for the bugginess of the tool – I personally didn’t encounter any glitches – though I didn’t try to use it whilst mobile as some reviewers have done (I just memorised the route since it was in a relatively familiar area). Again, I’m sure these initial glitches will be ironed out within the near future, especially the more use the tool gets.
I did also start wondering though if we’d soon see a new range of products for cyclists which enable them to fix a smartphones to their bike handlebars so that navigating with Google’s digital maps doesn’t need to involve dismounting and pulling a phone out of one’s pocket. I’m aware that some products like this already exist but they are not available for very many phone models nor are they currently cheap enough for casual users.
All in all, a wonderful development for cyclists in the UK which promises to make cycling even more viable as a primary mode of transport for many as well as offering them a basic alternative to the more high end cycle GPS systems on offer. This is certainly my favourite new Google feature of the year (perhaps along with Google Drive).