How To Use Google Maps Bike Lanes Like A Pro

Published Categorized as Cycling tips, Lifestyle & general cycling

Most of us can’t take good bike infrastructure and safe routes for granted.

Even for local trips, it often takes some planning to find a suitable route. And to that end, Google Maps is an indispensable tool.

It’s simple and intuitive, but I’ve also discovered some useful tips over the years. This article will share everything you need to know to plan a pleasant route and avoid tricky situations courtesy of these fantastic maps.

This article might contain affiliate links. As a member of programs including Amazon Associates, I earn from qualifying purchases.

How to show bike lanes in Google Maps

To see Google Maps bike lanes on desktop:

  1. Hover your mouse over the Layers icon in the bottom-left. This will reveal a few options.
  2. Click on “Biking,” which is usually toward the right.
  3. If bike lanes are available in your current location, they’ll appear as solid or dashed green lines.

To see bike lanes in the Maps mobile app:

  1. Tap on the layers icon toward the upper-right of your screen. This will open the layers menu.
  2. Tap on “Bicycling,” which is usually in the Map details section.
  3. Tap the X to close the layers menu and return to the normal map view.

How to hide bike lanes

To hide Google Maps bike lanes on desktop, simply click on the the toggle button near the bottom-center of your screen.

To hide them in the Maps mobile app, follow the same steps you took to show them:

  1. Tap on the layers icon toward the upper-right of your screen. This will open the layers menu.
  2. Tap on “Bicycling,” which is usually in the Map details section.
  3. Tap the X to close the layers menu and return to the normal map view.

Understanding the cycling lines in Google Maps

As of writing, Maps uses four green line styles for bike routes, plus one blue line style for streets that are closed to cars.

Solid dark-green line: protected bike route

A solid dark-green line represents a separated bike route. This usually means there’s a physical separation, like concrete blocks or an entirely separate path. It may also reflect extra-wide painted separation, reflective pylons, or other dividers that aren’t as permanent and protective…but still more comfortable than a conventional bike lane.

Note: these often appear near golf courses, in which case they’re not always open to cyclists (despite what the map says).

Solid medium-green line: painted bike lane

A solid medium-green line is a standard bike lane, meaning it’s designated with paint but not physically separated. These are the most common type in most of the world, and can range from actual lanes to merely a bicycle stencil on the shoulder of the road.

Dotted medium-green line: shared street

A dotted medium-green line is a smaller, lower-speed street that may be suitable for biking. These often have “sharrows” but may not be marked at all in real life. This is the most discretionary category, since what one city consider bike friendly might be totally unacceptable in another.

Note the combination of solid dark green (protected), solid medium green (non-protected), and dotted green (shared) bike routes.

Dashed dark-green line: unpaved but separated bike route

A dashed dark-green line is an unpaved but separated cycling route. These are especially common in parks, but surfaces can range from well-maintained gravel to essentially off-road singletrack.

Note: lighter dashed and solid green lines are visible even outside of the bike lane layer. These are often suitable for cycling, just not designated as such. It can be confusing, but street view or satellite images can help clear things up.

Note the dashed dark green line, where the paved route transitions into gravel.

Dashed blue line: pedestrian street

Finally, a dashed blue line represents a street that’s closed to motor vehicles (or at least to through-traffic). You might also see a small, blue icon of a walking person, but that’s not always present.

These are often referred to as “pedestrian streets,” but cycling is almost always permitted. They’re visible even before you show bike lanes in Maps, since they also affect drivers. Details vary between cities and even individual streets, but pedestrian streets are generally the largest and most comfortable places to cycle. Many popped up during the pandemic, and some have remained ever since. Unfortunately, they’re not very common outside a few major cities.

Compared to bike routes, pedestrian streets rare likelier to be out of date in Google Maps, since cities can declare or curtail them essentially overnight. In other cases, they only apply during specific times of day, e.g., Sunday afternoons or weekdays during morning rush hour.

Are Maps bike lanes accurate?

Yes, Google Maps bike lanes are very accurate, especially considering how many places they cover. After using them in several cities around the US and abroad, I’ve noticed very few issues.

When they’re wrong—which, again, is rare—it’s usually because lanes were recently added or heavily improved, and the map data hasn’t caught up. In other words, discrepancies tend to be pleasant surprises!

As mentioned above, there can be some ambiguity around golf courses. Most do have separated, paved paths that show up as such on Google Maps, but may actually be closed to non-golfers.

Where does Google Maps bike lane data come from?

In most cases, they’re based on data that local governments provide through Google’s Geo Data Upload tool. That’s how Maps is able to display such high-quality bike route data for so many places, let alone keep it all current.

However, many governments just don’t have readily-available bike lane data, or they don’t store it in the preferred file types for the Geo Data Upload tool. That’s one of the reasons the “Biking” layer is grayed out (desktop) or it tells you “Bicycling view isn’t available in this region or at this zoom” (mobile app).

Using elevation data for better bike route

Google Maps usually presents the fastest cycling route first, which isn’t necessarily the flattest. But hills can be a bigger problem than distance, so it’s important to pay attention to terrain. Fortunately, this info is already figured out for you, and available at a glance.

Cycling directions in Google Maps usually show elevation info and a very brief description. You can supplement this by enabling the “Terrain” layer, which adds topographic contours to the map. Remember, if multiple routes are available, then selecting a different route will also update the elevation data.

Cycling route elevation on desktop

On desktop, this will be at the bottom-left of your screen. It usually shows two numbers: one with an upward arrow (for total feet/meters of climbing) and one with a down arrow (for total feet/meters of descending). Below those numbers is an elevation profile chart, which shows your elevation at every point along the way.

Sometimes, in place of elevation data, it will say “This route is mostly flat” or “All routes are mostly flat.” In that case, you can still click on the text to make the elevation summary and profile drop down. It’s seldom truly flat; just flat enough to escape most cyclists’ notice.

Cycling route elevation in the mobile app

In the Maps mobile app, elevation is at the bottom-center of your screen. It usually shows a brief description (like “Mostly flat” or “Very steep hills”) along with two numbers: one with an upward arrow (for total feet/meters of climbing) and one with a down arrow (for total feet/meters of descending).

You can tap on the elevation summary or swipe up to reveal an elevation profile chart. In keeping with its name, it shows your elevation at every point along the way. However, this is not available if your route is “mostly flat.”

An important warning about bike lane maps!

Intersections are the biggest threat to urban cyclists. That’s where most collisions and deaths happens. Unfortunately, Google Maps bike lane data doesn’t tell you much about intersections. For example, it’s not uncommon to see a comfortable, protected bike lane that abruptly ends at a large, dangerous intersection.

That’s why street view and satellite images are a cyclist’s best friend.

Granted, they’re still not perfectly reliable. Outdated images are common, especially in places with relatively new bike infrastructure. But if you’re one of the countless cyclists who feels uneasy navigating typical, car-centric intersections, then satellite and street images can provide important context beyond the green lines.

Why can’t I see bike lanes in Google Maps?

Google Maps bike lane data is amazingly comprehensive, but it’s not up to the minute, and it’s not global. Below are three common reasons that you’re not seeing bike lanes on the map.

First, you might have simply zoomed too far out! On desktop, bike lanes only become visible at a zoom level of about 9, represented by a number followed by “z” in the URL. (There’s no easy way to see the zoom level in the mobile app, as far as I know.) But if zooming in still doesn’t reveal any bike routes, then read on.

Second, sometimes bike lanes just don’t exist. This is almost certainly the issue if the bicycling layer is available, but nothing appears when you click it. Most larger cities do have at least some designated bike lanes/routes, but many still do not.

Third, perhaps cycling data is not available for place you’re looking at. You’ll see a small pop-up notification on mobile, or the cycling layer will be grayed out on desktop. This might be because of your zoom level (see above) but it’s often because Google simply doesn’t have the geographic data to show bike lanes that city/country/region. In other words, bike routes may physically exist, but aren’t currently visible through Maps.

How to fix “cycling view isn’t available” in Google Maps

If you’ve gotten the frustrating warning that “Bicycling view isn’t available at this zoom or in this region,” you might still be able to fix it. There are only two possible reasons, to my knowledge, so it’s quick to find out.

The first thing to test is zooming in. Try zooming until a single city or metro area fills the screen. If bike lanes appear, then you’re set!

But if they still don’t appear, then there’s a deeper issue: Google doesn’t (yet) have the geographic data to display bike lanes in that location. Of course, there may still be bike routes in reality; they just won’t appear on the map.

Other ways to finding bike lanes outside Google Maps

There are a few other ways to find bike routes when those good old green lines aren’t visible.

  • If you think bikes lanes do exist but just aren’t on the map, then check street view and satellite images. As mentioned earlier, they’re often terribly out of date, but at least it’s quick to take a look.
  • Next, check with local governments and local cycling advocacy groups for a cycling map. Many cities include this as part of a bigger “Transportation Plan” or “Mobility Vision” document, or something along those lines. Likewise, cycling organizations will typically have a resources section on their website.
  • If you’re still out of luck, then try asking on a cycling forum or subreddit. If you can find a page/section specific to that city, then all the better!
  • Along those lines, contact a local bike shop. Language barriers can make this tricky for foreign travel, but it’s still worth a shot.
  • Finally, download riding apps like Strava (mostly for road cycling) or Trailforks (mostly for MTB). These don’t always show legal and official bike routes, but they make it easy to tell where people actually ride.

By Erik Bassett

Erik Bassett is the founder and editor of Two Wheels Better. He draws on three decades of cycling and scooter experience to help you find the right ride, incorporate it into daily life, and safely enjoy the journey.