On Wednesday morning, Google added bike directions and trail information to Google Maps – a long-awaited functionality that product manager Shannon Guymon said would "encourage folks to hop on their bikes." By selecting the "Bicycling" layer on Google Maps, cyclists can now see the closest trails and bike lanes in area, or plan around particularly congested urban arteries and calf-busting hill climbs.
For this committed commuter, the best thing about the Google bike maps is the feedback option. Let's say the bike lane on main street is now obstructed by spill-over from a nearby construction site. When Google Map Maker eventually hits the US, you'll be able to pop onto Google Maps, and make other cyclists aware of the problem. For now, you can use the "Report a Problem" tool to let Google know what it got wrong.
Bike maps are currently available in 150 cities, including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Boston. As with the driving and publication transportation options on Google Maps, the bicycling layer is customizable – you can compare distances and estimated times, or use your mouse to drag and pull together your own custom route. IPhone and Android users should get the cycling map update soon, Google says.
We can think of only a couple drawbacks to the bike maps. For one, as any city-dweller can attest, people have a hard enough time walking and using Google Maps. (Let's not even talk about using a mobile phone while driving.) Now picture a couple thousand cyclists frantically looking back and forth between the passing asphalt and the shiny flat screen of their iPhone.
Moreover, although it's certainly nice to have trail information on your smart phone, there's something to be said for leaving all the electronics behind once and a while. Mountain biking, for instance, is a popular sport at least in part because it allows cyclists to careen, bunnyhop, and flick their 24-speed through the best nature has to offer. It's hard to commune with Mother Earth while you're dialed into your Droid.