Cycle route planners

A section of the Norwich Pedalways map.
A section of the Norwich Pedalways map.

If you are cycling somewhere you’ve not been before, how do you find a route? Traditionally we have used maps of one sort or another: Ordnance Survey maps show the terrain well and classify roads but lack street names and baffle some people. Street maps show names but don’t tell you where the hills are. We are lucky enough in Norwich to have a Pedalways map that shows suggested routes between parts of the city. These days we can also turn to route planning on the web and on our phones.

Google Maps is available on the web and on smartphones as is Apple Maps on iOS devices. Google Maps can now give directions if you are walking or cycling yet for me the CycleStreets route planner is the best (though I have no experience of Apple Maps). It wins out because is uses OpenStreetMap, where the maps have been made by local people (in the main) who have knowledge of local shortcuts and paths that Google Maps doesn’t know about. This often means you get better routes.

It’s fair to say that OpenStreetMap data is better in urban areas although most of the UK is well mapped. In some areas new roads and paths are mapped within hours of them opening!

A journey planned from Gresham Road to The Forum, Norwich.
A journey planned from Gresham Road to The Forum, Norwich.

Here’s an example journey in Norwich, number 44,980,430 (yes there have been some 44 million journeys planned by CycleStreets). The planner shows you a choice of routes, distance, time, elevation, a map and turn by turn instructions. The route planner knows about hills and chooses a route accordingly. (More about the features.)

If you use the app for your smartphone (free from Google Play or Apple AppStore) you can also have the instructions read to you as you travel along! And you can download maps so you don’t need a internet connection when you are cycling.

Apart from being useful in urban areas route planners can suggest great routes further out. I once followed a route suggested by CycleStreets from Woodbridge to the Suffolk coast that took me on a delightful traffic-free path across a common – a route I would have missed if I’d relied on a map.

How do you do your route planning? Which electronic route planner do you use? Tell us in the comments.

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