Google Maps: Bike Directions and Singletrack?


Several people emailed this story to me on Wednesday and to be honest I was fairly ho-hum about it initially. I mean, Google Maps have included public transit and even walking directions for a while now so the bike stuff isn’t all that surprising. Commuting maps that take into account traffic flow, shoulder width, hills, etc. already exist in printed form so it’s about time they’re available in a digital, route-able format.

But this blog isn’t about commuting or road riding – it’s about mountain biking. After digging into the Google Biking Map of San Francisco I noticed something surprising: mountain bike trails. For example, this map (shown above) shows what appears to be singletrack in and around Glen Canyon Park.

I read a little more about the map data and found out that Google has also coded 12,000 miles of “bike trails” from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Of course many rail trails are either paved or are, at the very least, wide, flat paths but still, this is better than riding the road.

But don’t get too excited about off-street bike routes. Here’s what a Google spokesperson said after a New York reporter found himself routed onto Central Park paths where bikes are off limits:

The parks are one of the things we need to work on. We don’t have great data for them.

Map coverage is certainly limited at the moment and a quick check of my area shows some pretty questionable road choices – and no trails. Google Bike Maps may also be of limited to use to mountain bikers for another reason:

Many cyclists will tell you that going downhill is annoying for a different reason: you may have to ride your brakes all the way down. All else equal, we try to avoid routes that require a lot of braking.

Ahem, downhill is annoying? Clearly we disagree and our bike trail maps (covering almost 10,000 miles of trails) will continue to include the good stuff 🙂 . Watch the video with more info about Google’s bike mapping project.

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