Apple Maps' Improved Cycling Directions Are a Big Deal

And now covers all 50 US states

  • Apple Maps cycling directions now cover the entire US. 
  • Turn-by-turn directions let cyclists focus on the road. 
  • Traffic laws need to change to fit modern traffic.
person in black jacket riding bike on road during the day

Nhi Dam / Unsplash

Riding a bike in traffic just got a whole lot less distracting, thanks to an Apple Maps update. 

A bike is a great way to get around and is enjoyable. Pulling over to the side of the road to check the map on your phone every few miles is most definitely not enjoyable, which is why turn-by-turn directions made specifically for cyclists are just as big of a deal as satellite navigation was for drivers when it first became good. It's easier and safer, but we need bigger changes. 

"Being able to use audio directions while you're on a bike is much safer than trying to follow a map…," Kyle MacDonald, director of operations at vehicle fleet GPS provider Force by Mojio, told Lifewire via email. "While riding a bike can be [great], it's also a calculated risk considering how poorly most [drivers] pay attention. Having the option to get audio directions delivered straight to your ears, so you don't have to look down or stop on the side of the road, to find where you need to go makes taking your bike a [slightly] safer option."


Apple is pretty late to the game here. Turn-by-turn directions for cyclists have existed in Google Maps for a long time now and are—unlike Apple’s version—available in way more places around the world. On the other hand, Apple Maps is the default maps app on the iPhone, so this brings proper bike directions to millions of people in all 50 US states, in addition to some cities around the world.

Until now, many cyclists have made do with car directions, but these are a bad fit, in the same way that walking directions are bad for cars. For example, say you’re approaching a crossroads with traffic lights and want to turn left. Car directions may instruct you to take the left-hand turning lane. But if there’s a bike lane, you should stay on the right, and navigate whatever bike lanes exist. 

This is especially true in cities with great bike infrastructure, where bikes might be routed quite differently than cars. And around the world, bikes are subject to different traffic rules and laws. In Germany, for example, one-way streets are often only one-way for motor vehicles. Bikes can go both ways. 

And bike-specific directions can take different requirements into account. If routing through San Francisco, a good bike-mapping app might do its best to avoid the steepest hills. It might ignore the shortest route in favor of one which avoids busy roads. And the excellent German-made Komoot app, built for cyclists and hikers, will even avoid cobbled streets whenever possible, to help cyclists keep their teeth in their heads. 

"It's important to remember that cycling is very different from driving," cyclist and Apple Maps user Zorinlynx said on the MacRumors forums. "Unless you're a spandex-clad extreme enthusiast, cyclists generally want to avoid busy multi-lane roads and prefer quiet side streets. It's good to see apps providing routing for them."

Apple Maps itself does much of this. It favors bike lanes, warns you if there are stairs along the chosen route, and includes a handy graphic that shows elevation details, so you know what you're getting yourself into, hill-wise.

The Future

Cycling in cities is only getting more popular. Where I live, in Germany, there has been an explosion in the popularity of electric bikes, in addition to the massive number of cyclists in many cities. During the pandemic lockdowns, bike shops remained open here because bikes are considered essential transport. People commute by bike the same way they would by car in the US—not because they’re super into bikes, but because it’s the best way to get there. 

Being able to use audio directions while you're on a bike is much safer than trying to follow a map...

To reach the next stage, laws have to change. This is partially about the existing traffic system and its laws being completely built around cars. In 2015, Paris changed its Code de la Route to allow cyclists to ignore some red lights. This gives them a head-start on cars, avoiding snarl-ups and inattentive drivers when the lights turn green. 

For turn-by-turn routing to work, cyclists need to be able to hear the direction, which means that wearing headphones must be legal. In some cities or states, it is not, even though drivers can crank up the radio and drown out everything, which is a far greater menace than somebody on a bike. 

Traffic laws must reflect modern traffic, including bikes, scooters, and pedestrians. Currently, priority is given to the most dangerous vehicles on the road. Instead, it should be given to the most vulnerable.

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