How to Use Google Maps Cycling Directions

Use the Google bike route planner to find the best bicycling routes

Male cycle messenger checking directions on smartphone
Matt Dutile/Getty Images

You're probably familiar with Google Maps for finding driving directions to locations, but it also accommodates bicyclists with special directions and customizable routes. Google spent years compiling information about bike lanes and paths to determine bike-friendly street routes for its cycling directions service.

You can access turn-by-turn directions for cyclists by visiting Google Maps on your computer, phone, or tablet. There are two primary ways to view bicycle routes, the first of which is probably easier for most people.

How to Select a Bicycle-Friendly Route in Google Maps

Choosing a route for cycling is as easy as picking the Cycling option as the map mode instead of another option you might be more aware of, like the one for driving or walking.

  1. Pick a starting location. You can do this by entering a location into the search box or right-clicking somewhere on the map and choosing the Directions from here option.

    Starting location for Google Maps, search term Anchorage Museum
  2. Do the same for the destination, picking Directions to here through the right-click menu or typing an address into the destination box.

    Destination for Google Maps, search term The Writer's Block Bookstore & Cafe
  3. Select Cycling as your mode of transportation from the icons at the top of the screen, and if you have the option to do so, click Directions to start finding a suitable path.

    The bicycling directions button in Google Maps
  4. Take note on what the map presents to you. The Google bike route map, and any suggested alternative routes, give a set of directions that avoids divided highways and roads that do not permit bicyclists.

  5. To select an alternate route, just tap on it. The route(s) include the distance and estimated cycling time, and in the destination panel is a comment on whether or not the route is flat.

    Alternate route in Google Maps for bicycling directions
  6. After you choose the bike route, use the Send directions to your phone link in the destination panel to send the directions to your phone for turn-by-turn directions as you travel. Or, use the DETAILS button in the left pane to find the print option if you want to print out the directions.

This approach gives you a bicycle-friendly route, but for more detailed information on routes that are available for cyclists, Google Maps provides a specialized map.

How to View Bicycle-Friendly Roads and Paths in Google Maps

Google Maps offers specialized maps just for cyclists. When you use this kind of map, you'll see several features not available in the regular Google Maps view. It's especially handy for locating bike lanes and trails you weren't aware of in your neighborhood.

  1. Begin with Google Maps open and with nothing entered into the search field. 

  2. Open the menu button at the top left corner of Google Maps, just to the left of the empty search box.

    Menu button in upper left corner of Google Maps
  3. Choose Bicycling from that menu to bring up a map marked up specifically for cyclists.

    Bicycling menu item in Google Maps
  4. If you want to see bicycling directions using this map view, return to the steps listed above.

You may be offered several suggested bike routes. You can drag-and-drop the route line to avoid an area or to include a more scenic or pleasant option based on your experience. From there, choose the route as usual, confident that you have a bike-friendly path identified. 

Here's how to read this bicycle map:

  • Bike trails are indicated by dark green lines and do not permit motor vehicles.
  • Streets with dedicated cycling lanes are indicated by light green lines.
  • Bicycle-friendly roads without dedicated lanes are indicated by dashed light green lines.
  • Dirt or unpaved trails are indicated by brown lines.
Bicycling key in Google Maps

You may need to enlarge the map (zoom back/out) to see the bike path indicators after the route is marked with the thick blue line.

Bike Route Planner in the Google Maps App

Routes customized for cyclists are also available on the Google Maps mobile app on Android and iOS.

To get there, enter a destination, tap the Directions option, and then choose the the bicycle icon at the top to switch away from the other travel modes.

Three iOS screens showing Directions, Bicycle, and Start buttons in Google Maps

Problems With Google Maps' Bike Routes

It might seem great at first to prepare your bike route with Google Maps, but remember that it works much like it does when setting up driving routes. In other words, Google Maps might give you the quickest route but not necessarily the best one for you.

Maybe you want a quiet route to ride your bike on or one that's a bit more scenic, but not necessarily the fastest. You should keep this in mind when preparing a bicycle route with Google Maps because you might end up needing to do some digging yourself to really customize the route.

Something else to remember is that Google Maps might even do the opposite and put you on a safe route away from traffic, but that could mean that's is a lot slower than other routes that might be deemed a little less safe.

The idea here is to really look at what Google Maps is suggesting for your cycling route. Do what you have to to make it personalized for you and how you want to reach your destination. You should also think about where you should park your bike since Google Maps doesn't include information for that, either.