Sep 112011

Things I do in picking a bike route: Explore. Climb (as little as possible). Avoid. Evaluate. Today I’m covering exploration and (not) climbing. Tomorrow we’ll avoid and evaluate.

The route you take as a driver may be just right for you on your bike, or it could really, really suck.

If you’re getting on the freeway and getting off two exits later you know you’ll have to find a different route.

It may not seem quite as obvious if you’re using all city streets but you may want to use another way if those streets feel too fast or hostile. On streets with lower speeds the differential between your pedaling and someone else’s foot on the accelerator won’t be as great.

In There and Back Again I suggested some tools for taking a first cut at route selection.

But don’t let Google Maps (or that voice on your phone’s navigation system) override two key assets you bring to the hunt: common sense and a willingness to experiment a bit.


One of the magical things that won’t be as apparent until you actually ride your bike: You’ll have more flexibility in route selection than drivers. This stems from the same skills that make humans smarter than Google Maps for at least a little while longer.

You can always switch to pedestrian and walk your bike on a sidewalk, for example, which in Spokane can cut off anywhere from three to six or eight blocks that you might have to drive because of one-way streets.

You may be able to cut (carefully!) through a parking lot or alley, ride through a park, or use a trail.

Spokane has a few pedestrian overpasses that can let you get up and over I-90 at points between off-ramps—something not available to drivers.

I found that I’m also more willing to experiment on my bike. OK, raise your hand: How many of you engage autopilot when you get behind the wheel and drive to work the exact same way every single day? Yep, that’s what I thought.

On my bike not only do I see more of the city because I’m closer to it, which leads to serendipitous discoveries–I’m much quicker to turn onto a side street a block sooner or later than my usual route just to check it out.

Climbing (as little as possible)

One of the other things that will become more apparent on your bike: where the slight inclines are that you don’t notice in your car because it’s doing all the work. If you’re trying not to sweat, you’re trying not to climb any harder than you have to.

Your most direct route may also be the steepest route, so look for ways that you can knock off a bit of the climb by tacking back and forth, or perhaps by riding a few blocks out of your way to get to a street that isn’t as steep.

For example, on the west end of the South Hill, Adams offers the shallowest vertical climb—wish I’d known that when I started my bike commuting years ago during a July with temperatures over 100 degrees and a route that included climbing Maple.

If you use as I suggested in my post on route selection, remember to take a look at the topographic profile. Downtown Spokane sits in a bowl so you can’t completely avoid climbs if you need to go north or south, but you can trick yourself into not noticing the climb quite as much if you don’t stare it straight in the vertical. And you can genuinely skip some climbs by going around certain spots.

Breathe. Have fun.


Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Is this what you need to know to help with route selection? What am I missing? (If it’s “dealing with those scary cars” that’s coming. Remember, it’s not the cars–it’s the drivers. And they’re human beings. Just like you.)
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Reader Comments

  1. tip: Find someone to ride with the first time you take a route to your work or home. The route home is not the same as the route there for me. Little bits of advice from someone who’s done the route before are wonderful – that’s how I found the route I take.

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