Selecting a route for cycle commuting

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The route that you take on your commute greatly affects how much you will enjoy your journey. Choosing the right route could save you time, make the journey easier (or harder, if you want to put in some exercise at the same time), and most importantly, help you stay safe on the roads.

This is how we usually go about choosing our commuting route.

Step 1: Work out where the destination is

We always start by checking out our destination on a map. While we may know the streets, seeing it on a map gives a different perspective. Work out where the destination is and how far away it is. Just launch your favourite map for this.

Step 2: Choose a suitable route

While most map sites/apps will provide a usable route, especially if where you live has bicycle route information, we prefer more dedicated sites that have information on route popularity so we can choose more popular routes (especially for rides we haven't done before).

These routes are usually popular for a reason, though it can be hard to tell why until you try them out. Having others cycling alongside you will also be good moral support, plus other vehicles will be more accustomed to seeing a cyclist on these stretches of roads. 

To find popular routes, we use Strava's Route Builder or Heat Map. Either use the popularity toggle or look at the most popular segments when you are choosing the route. At the end of the session, you should have a few possible route options with route information (distance, elevation) and estimated ride time.

Step 3: Time for a test run

No plan survives contact with reality, so it is time to try out the newly planned route! Leave extra time in case something unexpected comes up.

While testing out the route, watch out for possible alternatives, such as cycle paths, side roads and shortcuts not marked on maps.

More importantly, be aware of things that you would want to avoid. These may include potential dangers (e.g. narrow, fast roads with no shoulder, poor road surfaces, tricky junctions...) or simply things that you dislike (e.g. traffic lights, regular start-stop traffic, steep hills...)

Keep a mental list of all these so you can go back and optimise the route.

Don't take unnecessary risks!

If at any point you do not feel safe enough to continue, it may be time to bail out. Always know what alternative options you have to get home.

Step 4: Do it again

With the newly acquired knowledge, we are now better informed to make improvements to the route. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you end up with a route that you like. You may find that the best route is different in each direction.

Road conditions change over time, so the route planning exercise may need to be revisited every so often. Also, beware of temporary changes, such as road works and diversions, that may cause issues on the roads. You can plan ahead by tuning in to local news and traffic announcements, and also consider joining local transportation groups (if there are any) to get advice on alternative travel routes.


Don't forget to enjoy your ride!

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Bernard Wong