Google Maps has recently added a number of cycling features as more people have started riding bikes, e-bikes and electric scooters during the coronavirus pandemic. And as much as I appreciate some of these updates as I start exploring other cycling-oriented applications, Google Maps’ limitations have become more and more obvious.
Here are just a few changes that I think can make Google Maps far more attractive to cyclists.
Let me plan and save routes in advance
I understand that Google Maps is mostly aimed at commuters and people who occasionally go on an impromptu trip. It is intended to get you from point A to B as efficiently as possible, to the best of the app’s knowledge.
But sometimes I don’t just want to get somewhere as fast as possible. Sometimes I will take the scenic route. Sometimes I like to go up unnecessary hills to train. Other times, I want the opposite – to minimize sweating as much as possible.
Yes, there are other apps designed to do this – my favorite app is Komoot – and you can plan routes in Google Maps using roundabouts. But Google Maps is often the most convenient, and unfortunately the best thing you can really do with the mobile version of the Google Maps app is to add more stops and see your previous routes.
Allowing users to plan their route in advance would not only provide more flexibility but also help users feel more secure by being more confident in their route decisions. It also means you can easily save your favorite workout routes – and it’s not hard to see how Google could integrate such functionality with Google Fit.
Even though I’m just trying to get from point A to point B, the best bike routes do not always follow car traffic patterns or use bike paths. In my own neighborhood, I know to avoid certain streets with sloppy bike paths. Sometimes I would much rather walk down a quiet, wide residential road without a bike lane than a busy road with an unprotected bike path that leaves me only a foot or two from angry motorists.
While I’m sure Google takes regular use of regular user routes, I would love some sort of heat map feature that allowed me to see which trails cyclists usually take – and where they deviate from Maps’ suggestions. This is especially useful when I visit a new bike spot where I am not familiar with the best roads to take.
This is one of the best features of Strava, and Google undoubtedly has the data needed to offer similar functionality.
Terrain and trail information
There’s a common theme here, and that is that Google gives riders very little information or choices in how their rides actually take place. Aside from just choosing where I want with my bike, I do not know what type of road I take on the whole route. Should I be on a fully protected bike path, or do I want to be on a narrow painted track and bump my elbows with drivers? Should I drive on a dirt road, or should I be on paved roads?
This is information that Google probably already has and that can make a huge difference for cyclists. Different riders – and even different bikes – are better suited to different terrains, and being able to plan my route with a better understanding of the upcoming roads can be a literal savior.
Smarter multimodal pendulums
Back in 2019, Google announced support for mixed-mode commuters, allowing you to combine cycling with other modes of transportation. But since then, I’m not sure I’ve seen any suggestions of that kind, despite living in NYC. You know, one of the biggest cities in the world.
It’s a shame. Sometimes it is fastest to combine a train ride with a short bike or scooter ride, so you avoid long and tedious transfers. It is also not just for regular bikes. Folding bikes and e-scooters are easy to take on the train or cab or in your own car, and they can greatly benefit from multimodal options during longer trips.
And these are just a few improvements that the company could probably implement without making Maps too inflated. Heck, I would even pay for a separate app using Google Maps data and Assistant integration just to get some proper bike-centered navigation. If Google always has to collect data about us, they might as well use it.