Internet technology has come a long way in the last five years. One area in particular that I use a lot is online mapping. Specifically Google Maps. I use it to look up directions, find restaurants/stores close to my home, and to look at potential bike routes. When combining some of the tools available within Google Maps it can also be used to recon a potential bike ride you may be planning to do. This is especially helpful if you’ve never ridden the route before.

This SundaySaturday is an organized bicycle ride in Lancaster, Tx called the Lancaster Country Ride Presented by the Greater Dallas Bicyclists. Since I had never done an organized ride before, I was available this weekend, and Lancaster wasn’t that far away, I thought I might try it. I didn’t know anything about the route so I took a look at the 23-mile route on the website and then headed to Google Maps. (Click any pic below to enlarge)

Plot The Route

Google Maps doesn’t have a route planning function like Map My Ride but you can still achieve a similar result by using directions. Since the route started in downtown Lancaster I found two businesses near the start/finish and told Google to give me some directions. The route it gave me was only 362 feet, by bicycle, which was to be expected. If you move your mouse over the route you can drag the route Google gave you to follow a route you want. I did this and stretched the route from 362 feet to 23 miles by following the 23-mile cue sheet found on the rides website. 23 miles=23 miles which is good.

23 Mile Route Lancaster Country Ride

23 Mile Route Lancaster Country Ride

With our route plotted as directions, we can now do some recon on the route by using the tools in Google Maps.

Begin Reconnaissance

The first thing I like to do is click on ‘Satellite’ in the upper right corner. This converts the view from a street map view to a satellite view with real pictures taken from outer space. How cool is that? This view will give you a good idea of the area you’ll be riding in – city, rural, boondocks, 40th and Plum, etc.

23 Mile Lancaster Country Ride Satellite View

23 Mile Lancaster Country Ride Satellite View

After that I switch over to ‘Terrain’ view because I want to know what the ups and downs (hills) are going to be like. This view isn’t super powerful but it will show you elevation contour lines and changes in elevation are shaded on the map. Where the route crosses those shaded areas is where I like to concentrate my recon because I stink at hills. At some point I’ll no longer stink at hills but in the present I do.

23 Mile Lancaster Country Ride Terrain View

23 Mile Lancaster Country Ride Terrain View

Once you find those shaded areas it gets fun. In the upper left hand corner of the map, at the top of the zoom bar, you’ll see a little orange man (the orange man on the bottom lets you change the view to 3D). Dragging this orange man over to the map lets you access street view. Google will only allow you to place the man where they’ve mapped. If they’ve mapped an area the streets will become outlined in a bluish color. Dropping the man onto the street changes the view to Street View. Within street view you can rotate your view by simply clicking and dragging with your mouse. The streets are labeled with a line running down them and you can simply click on the arrows to move down the street. If you move your mouse over the route line further up the road a white oval will appear with the words “Double-Click To Go”. When you double-click you’ll warp to that location along the street. Pretty cool uh? I bet most of you have used street view like this before so that’s probably nothing new.

Google Maps Initial Street View

Google Maps Initial Street View

To make Street View and Terrain work in tandem you have to adjust the window you’re looking at. When you initially changed to Street View, the Terrain map was minimized to a small square in the lower right corner (see pic above). If you click on the upper left hand corner of the terrain map (just look for the double arrows <<) this will place the terrain map on the bottom half of the screen with the street view on the top half (see pic below). Now you can compare your route, terrain, and street view all at the same time. [caption id="attachment_2077" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Street and Terrain Split View"]Street and Terrain Split View[/caption]

With this split view there is now a zoom option for each view. This is handy because you can now zoom out on the terrain map to reposition your little orange man to another area of the map to look at the street view in that area.

What Does Street View Do For You?

I’ve already hinted at Street View helping you see what the hills are like. You can get a feel for how long, steep, or murderous they are. You can also use the street view things like:

  • Locating potential hazards.
  • Seeing what the road conditions are like. Does it look rough or smooth? Is there a shoulder? How many lanes are there?
  • Traffic congestion.

What Does This All Do For You?

Potential Loose Dog on Route

Potential Loose Dog on Route

Well, it may seem like a lot of work but it’s actually pretty easy to do everything above. Using Google Maps to recon a potential ride or route can let you plan out your route better by knowing where to conserve energy for hills later, you can use the info you gather to add your own notes to a ride cue sheet, or identify some pesky dogs you may encounter (see pic above). The pesky dog is a stretch because it was just pure luck the Google van caught it while mapping the streets. I will add though that you’re virtually guaranteed to encounter some dogs on a rural route like this.

Previous Route Markers Painted On Pavement

Previous Route Markers Painted On Pavement

Anybody out there besides me use Google Maps to look at potential routes?