A few days ago Cyclelicious drew my attention to that fact that his bike route-finding app is now enabled for Australia, among a healthy fistful of other locations around the world. So, time to put it to the test!
My route finding techniques (and needs) are fairly rudimentary: I look for already described routes on bikely.com and do "From/To" automatic route generation both on bikely.com and Google Maps (using the "Walking" option). Very occasionally, I will also use the aerial shots from NearMap. No doubt true bike-riding map nerds (yes, I am looking at you woowoowoo) use much more sophisticated approaches.
The sort of features that I find helpful are (in no particular order):
|Feature||Google Maps||bikely.com||cyclelicious maps|
|automatic route detection between two given points||Yes (motor vehicle and on-road pedestrian routes only in AU)||Yes ("Auto-follow the road" option)||Yes, including off-road bike paths|
|generate route directions/cue sheet||Yes||No||Yes|
|ability to tweak the auto-selected route and/or include specific way points||Yes||Yes||No|
|ability to finely adjust the start and end points||Yes||Yes||No|
|Google Streetview integration||Yes||No||Yes|
|jump to specific points from the cue sheet||Yes||No||Yes|
Test 1: Jells Park to Flinders Street Station
If the cyclelicious app can find trails, this one should be a breeze: it should find a route following Scotchmans Creek Trail, to Gardiners Creek Trail to Yarra Trail. And it does it pretty much as expected, taking the 'back way' out of Jells Park, rather than charging straight over Wheelers Hill (probably a good choice, that), the route duly turns off Waverley Road just near the Holmesglen TAFE (see "Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto Scotchmans Creek Trail. 0.69km"), and from here it's all trails as expected.
The MapQuest directions are generally excellent, although some of the directions seem superfluous to me, and some are a little misleading (e.g. From Brixton Rise, "Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto Gardiners Creek Trail. 0.01km"—technically correct but in practice that's a hard right) and some important ones are missing (e.g. before "Turn SLIGHT RIGHT. 0.01km" at Glenferrie Road, a "turn left" direction would be very helpful).
Compare auto-generated routes:
Test 2: Craigieburn Station to Burnley Station
This isn't a route that I would expect too many people to ride, it's more of a test to see if the system would detect and plot a route along the Craigieburn Bypass Trail (aka the Galada Tamboore Pathway) and the Merri Creek Trail. I started out making Southern Cross Station the destination and for this one and the route followed the Broadmeadows Valley Trail and the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail.
All pretty reasonable but not the trails I wanted to check, so I altered the destination: Craigieburn Station to Burnley Station follows the Galada Tamboore Pathway no problem ("Turn RIGHT onto Galada Tamboore Pathway. 5.91km") but takes a circuitous route to get there—do we really have to do that loop on the Hume Highway? Can't we just go across the level crossing at the train station into Potter Street and then onto Craigieburn Road?
But at "Galada Tamboore Pathway becomes Western Ring Road Trail. 3.12km", it just gets odd. There's a pedestrian overpass right here (flip over to satellite view) that surely must be negotiable by bike, which leads onto a trail that passes under Mahoneys Road and onto the Merri Creek Trail. So why the big detour via Dalton Road and Cheddar Road? It just doesn't make sense.
Both of these detours are no doubt due to the nature of the underlying OpenStreetMaps data, but it would be good if users of cyclelicious maps could easily update OSM data and adjust the auto-generated route—both features are on the to-do list for the app.
Compare auto-generated routes:
Test 3: Around the Bay
Because cyclelicious maps doesn't do way points, I had to do this is two stages: Docklands to Sorrento and Queenscliff to Docklands. (I tried getting it to do Queenscliff to Sorrento and, quite sensibly, it told me to take the ferry.)
I expected this approach to find the Bay Trail, the Bellarine Rail Trail and the Federation Trail, all of which it does, plus the Sandridge Rail Trail down to Port Melbourne. But then, some of the route choices are a little odd, although not dangerous or 'wrong'. For example:
- by-passing Beaumaris (where cyclists usually stick to Beach Road) adds considerable navigational complexity
- a large detour behind Devilbend Reservoir adds distance and puts the rider onto Hodgins Road and Derril Road which are both unsealed and pretty corrugated
- in Geelong, most riders would probably choose to ride along the foreshore rather than cutting through the back streets
As mentioned above, it would be good to be able to tweak the route after it has been generated. That said, I'm pleased to find that the app showed me a new route option that I wasn't aware of: from Corio Bay through to Lara I would continue along Shell Parade then via Rennie Street to Lara. However the proposed route here goes via Limeburners Lagoon and Hovells Creek—I'll have to try that variation next time I'm down that way, it looks much more scenic.
Compare auto-generated routes:
- Google Maps—from point 38 to point 40, this route is not negotiable by bike.
- bikely.com: Docklands to Sorrento and Queenscliff to Docklands—auto-route follows freeways and City Link/Eastlink tollways=fail!
- cyclelicious maps: Docklands to Sorrento and Queenscliff to Docklands
Although I'm no expert in this area, I can see that I'll be adding cyclelicious maps to my modest collection of route planning tools. It certainly provides different (and arguably, better) automatically generated routes that the other tools that I use, and that's a great head start when plotting a new route in unfamiliar territory.
- The OpenStreetMap data—helps tap into "local knowledge", leading to arguably the best automatic route finding (bikely.com is the worst, with all of the sampled routes above using motorways that are not open to pedal cycles!)
- Streetview integration—I can't overstate how handy this is for examining routes in unfamiliar territory
- MapQuest directions
- No waypoints
- Not able to drag-and-drop any part of the route—can't tweak the start and finish points or move part of the route around to force it through certain way points
- "Google directions" and "Google bike layer" options don't appear to work for Australian locations (not a huge loss, as far as I can tell)
- Everything on the to-do list!
- Cumulative rather than interval distances between directions (or possibly both)
- Sequential numbering of the directions
- The ability to view and select variations to the route (as per Google Maps)
- Option to choose whether the route should use or exclude off-road bike routes (I don't know about elsewhere, but in Australia bike paths/shared paths are almost always longer, meandering and slower, sometimes I want that and sometimes I don't)
Overall, it's a tool that is highly useful as-is, and shows plenty of promise if the to-do list items (and my wishlist!) get implemented. Let Richard know what you think, and let me know if you have any suggestions for other similar toys that I can play with!
Excellent post, thanks!
I really appreciate this detailed feedback; thank you very much.
The "Google Directions" button pulls up Google's bicycle directions, which are available only in Canada and the United States. I modified this today so that it pulls up walking directions for locations outside of the USA & Canada. This makes route comparison much easier.
I also changed the "bike paths & lanes" button to "Bike Layer" to more accurately reflect its function.
I'm trying to figure out how to implement dragable waypoints. With Google directions this is automatic -- it's just a on/off flag in a function call. For MapQuest, I have to program this myself.
Once again, thank you!
Have you been made aware of http://bikeroutetoaster.com/ which does similar? It then allows one to upload the route to a GPS! Probably will have the same routing issues if using OSM data.