Google Maps bicycle directions pro tips

Tips to make the Google Maps bicycle directions more helpful to you.

1. Maps can’t find a bicycle route! San Francisco area cyclists are familiar with 4th and King (the location of the San Francisco Caltrain station) and 1 Market Street (Justin Herman Plaza, the starting point for the monthly Critical Mass ride). Google Maps can’t find the bike route from Caltrain to the CM start!

Google Map bicycle directions fail

Solution: Click on the two headed curvy arrow to swap start and destination, and Google Maps is now a happy camper!

Justin Herman to 4th & King Google Maps bicycle directions

2. I cannot embed my bicycle directions into my web page or blog post! By default, Google Maps bicycle directions cannot be embedded into another web page. When you click the “Link” button in the map, you see the message “This map cannot be embedded“, along with a link to an irrelevant help page.
Google Map cannot be embedded

Solution: To enable embedding, turn off the “Bicycling” layer under the “More” button in the map.

Google Map bicycle layer on
Google Map bicycle layer disable

After that, you can embed the Google Map by copying the embed code to get something like this (go ahead, click inside the box and move the map around):

View Larger Map

3. Google Maps sends me on a wonky, round the world journey when I just want to get to my destination! The bicycle directions puts a strong preference on bicycle facilities over on street routes (where bike route information is available), and also will route cyclists around hills instead of over them. The directions from Cupertino, CA to the VA Health Center in Palo Alto, for example, sends you a mile out of the way through local streets and bike paths in Los Altos.

VA Health Center Palo Alto bike directions

You can modify your directions by grabbing a part of your bike route you don’t like and move it to the more direct route, such as to Foothill Expressway, which is a very popular road for cyclists. Conversely, you can also add bypasses or extra scenery by dragging your bike route around to other interesting roads and paths.

Google Map bicycle directions modify directions.

4. What are the green lines on the bicycle map?

Google Maps bicycle green line legend

The solid dark green line is an off street bike path or trail. The lighter solid green line shows an on street bike lane. Dashed green lines show preferred bike routes. In the image above from Santa Clara, CA, the San Tomas Aquino Bike Trail is a dark green line, Cabrillo Ave and Los Padres Blvd have bike lanes, and San Tomas Expressway is a preferred bike route.

The bike facility information is available in 150 US cities at the launch of this service.

What are your tips and tricks to make the bicycle directions more useful to you?


  1. I would just add a sort of default note that you should always have a backup using either the 'walking' directions or the 'driving — off major highways' directions. Some of their bicycling directions are just wrong (they have a path on the west side of of the Guadalupe River under 101, for example; already sent to Google) and others have exceptions (Guadalupe and San Tomas Aquino paths being closed after rainstorms, for example).

    Now if only they could do bike+transit directions…

  2. 4th & King seems to work fine, now. If you run into similar problems, usually you can just drag the marker a little bit and it’ll work. This happens sometimes when the marker snaps to a road that is somehow “cut off” from your destination because of one-ways, private roads, etc.

  3. Awesome, that was flummoxing me.

    “along with a link to an irrelevant help page”

    Man, this is par for the course with Google.

  4. I want to find a way to change the default directions from Driving to Bicycling. Google always assumes I’m driving, but I never am.

  5. I don’t know that there’s a way to set a default. My phone app for G Maps seems to remember what I pick most often and usually (but not always) picks bicycle directions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.