Everything You Ever Needed to Know About: Choosing a Route

A huge part of bicycle safety is choosing a safe route that matches your cycling ability. It is important to consider route length, traffic, geography, and road condition when you plan your trip.

Cycling isn’t as Fast as Driving—So I should Look for the Shortest Distance, Right?

Because cycling takes physical effort and can be tiring, and is often slower than driving, many cyclists make the mistake of looking for the shortest mileage when planning their trips. Though mileage is one indicator how long a trip might take you, it is not the only one. A two mile route over a large hill might take considerably longer (and involve more effort) than a three mile route that bypasses the hill. A shorter distance may also involve more stop signs or pedestrian traffic (depending on the route), which could also slow you down if you’re looking to get somewhere fast.

I’ll Skip the Hill, but I’m Taking Major Roads So I can Also Skip the Stop Signs!

You might be able to avoid stopping at a stop sign every block by taking major roads, but if you have to turn left from a major road, you might be waiting a long time to cross traffic! You also don’t want to run the risk of an accident if you’re not familiar with riding on busy streets. See our information sheet on Rules of the Road (link to other sheet) for tips on riding in traffic.

There are other advantages to taking side roads. Some places have roads that are designated bike routes. For example, in the East Bay Area of California, there is a system of Bicycle Boulevards, which are roads that are designated bicycle routes. Because of this, cars are aware that there will often be cyclists, and are more careful. These are great routes to take if you’re new to an area and are worried about getting lost or riding in traffic in an unfamiliar area, or if you have kids with you on your ride.

Just be careful when you choose your side roads because these roads are often more neglected than major roads, and might have several cracks or potholes to avoid. In general, if a side road is really rough and you find yourself constantly swerving or bumping along, avoid it. A really rough road makes for an unsafe ride, as you could more easily lose control of your bike by swerving and bumping than if you were just riding in a straight, predictable line on smooth pavement.

Ultimately the decision of whether to take a major road or a side road is yours, both have advantages and disadvantages. Whichever you choose, make sure it is appropriate to your skill level, and always be aware of what’s going on around you.

Knowing What I Want in a Route is Great, But if I’ve Never Ridden it, How Will I Know What a Route is Like?

There are lots of great ways to find routes! There are great websites like Map My Ride and Bikely where you can search your city for routes or create your own. Many cities also put out a map with bicycle friendly routes and bicycle paths already marked on it. If there aren’t routes in your city on the internet and your city doesn’t offer a bike map, try asking an employee at a local bike shop, or a friend who rides. Cycling clubs in your area are also great resources, especially if you’re looking for a training ride.