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Finding a Route

The characteristics of a good cycling route depend on the situation. A confident, experienced cyclist training for a “century ride” has different needs than a family riding to the local movie theater.  Sometimes route choices are limited by barriers, such as when a trip is on residential roads, but includes a stretch on a multi-lane arterial to cross the river. The following tips and tools are geared towards adults who have at least a moderate level of traffic tolerance.

Variables to consider:

  • low traffic and speeds and/or separation from traffic
  • directness and convenience
  • stoplights at busy intersections
  • enough room to share the road (or trail!)
  • access across barriers

When a sidewalk is the only viable option, reduce speed and yield to pedestrians. Pay extra attention at intersections, alleys, driveways, and other locations where a driver might not see you.

Where to look:

Other cyclists are often the best source for route ideas. The Strava Heat map, which collects GPS bike trip data from volunteers, provides hints about roads that are preferred either because they are pleasant  or the least worst in the area. Traditional bike maps highlight a network of roads and trails that are relatively comfortable and convenient for traffic-tolerant adults. Our Bike to Metra Guides include local routes that are not always direct but are friendly to less confident cyclists and children, as well as those who prefer scenery to speed. More state, regional, forest preserve, and local maps can be found in our Maps section. Apps can be another resource, but might not include comfort level.