Bike Route Planning

When I moved to Toronto, I found that it’s a great place to explore by bike, although it took me a little while to figure out the best ways to plan my trips.

This is an ongoing list with resources I use to plan day trips, overnighters, and bike tours.

Google Maps

Probably a no-brainer for everyone, it took me a long time to realize how good Google Maps can be for bike routing. The secret is in turning on the Bicycling data layer. To do that on your desktop, click the “more” menu icon in the search field on Google Maps, and you’ll see a “Bicycling” option. On the Google Maps mobile app, it’s under a button that looks like two stacked sheets of paper. Once you turn that on, you get two really useful views.

Bike-friendly streets in Toronto
Bike-friendly streets in Toronto

The first one is what you’d expect from Google Maps – a view of which streets are good for biking in a city. This is certainly useful, but the real magic for planning is when you start zooming out.

Zooming out to show southern Ontario
Zooming out to show southern Ontario

In this view, you can see promising routes to cover some long distances. This is how I discovered the Chippewa Trail which I used on an overnight camping ride to the north shore of Lake Erie. If I hadn’t found this rail trail on Google Maps I probably would have scouted for some decently quiet county roads using Google Street View.

Google Street View
Google Street View of a trail crossing

Speaking of Google Street View, it’s also useful for inspecting trail conditions that don’t have street view details. For example, when I found the Chippewa Trail I wasn’t sure what kind of condition the trail was in. It could have been a jeep doubletrack, rough railroad gravel, fine gravel, fully paved, or some mix of the above. There was also some confusion online about how far south the trail actually extended. What I like to do is find areas where trails cross the road and check out the conditions at the crossing. Although it isn’t always perfect, this at least gives you a pretty good idea of what that the section will look like.

Adventure Cycling Association Route Network

Adventure Cycling network
Adventure Cycling route map

This network of routes is perfect for planning anything from a weekend trip to an epic cross-country journey. The Adventure Cycling Association began in 1976 when they mapped the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail to celebrate America’s bicentennial. Since then they’ve routed over 48,629 miles of routes in North America. The routes are mostly on low-traffic roads, and they’ll sell you printed or digital maps with all the information you’d ever need to have a great tour. Routes Routes Map
230+ routes around the world

If you want to do more gravel riding or get off-road completely, has you covered. They’ve got over 230 user-submitted bike packing routes from all over the world, varying in length from overnighters to over a month. You can also filter routes by bike type, so it’s easy to find the perfect trail for your skills and ambitions.

I really recommend checking out some of their routes; they are incredibly well reported and photographed. It makes for great reading even if you never plan on riding those trails. Next summer I want to do the COLT in central Ontario.

Randonneuring Clubs

A recent discovery for me. Randonneuring events cover 200-600km, so your local club’s website is probably a great resource for good routes. Here’s the route archive for Toronto chapter of Randonneurs Ontario, for example. Many clubs post their routes to a site like RideWithGPS, so it’s easy to copy a route and download it to your Garmin.

It’s also worth mentioning that the folks at your local bike shop are probably full of good routes, but I’m sure you’ve already figured that one out.

If you’ve got a great way to find good bike trip routes, let me know!

Written by Mark Allen, who lives in Toronto and is currently open to a new product management role in Toronto or with a distributed team. Say hello on Twitter.

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