How to choose the best bike route for your commute
Considering riding to work for the first time? Here’s how to plan your journey.
This year is shaping up as a bumper one for bike commuters, as workers who turned to cycling during lockdowns consider riding as an alternative to public transport when returning to the workplace.
More than 100 kilometres of pop-up bike lanes are appearing across inner-Melbourne suburbs including Footscray, Northcote and St Kilda to make it easier and safer to get to and from the CBD.
And RACV is coming to the party too with two new tools to support novice bike commuters. Its arevo trip-planning app now has a dedicated bike tab so riders of any experience level can plan their trip using colour-coded routes to differentiate between off-road paths and different levels of on-road safety. At the same time, RACV’s Summer Bike Assist gives bike riders one free callout within metropolitan Melbourne between 8 January and 18 April. If a member has trouble with a puncture, RACV will send someone with a spare tube to fix it, or arrange a taxi to take them and their bike to their destination, whether for a mechanical problem, accident or even exhaustion.
Melbourne is blessed with off-road shared paths that make smooth sailing of your daily commute.
RACV senior manager transport, planning and infrastructure, Peter Kartsidimas, says many Victorians took up cycling during the pandemic, and a logical next step is to continue that in their journey to work.
“It’s a great opportunity to extend that fun they’ve been having on their bikes into their commute, which will save them money and build up their fitness.
“For office staff who are sitting all day it’s a great way to boost physical and mental health – what it does for you mentally is off the charts, it makes a great break between home and the workplace.”
But where does a would-be bike commuter start when planning how to get to work? We asked Peter for his tips to help choose a safe and enjoyable cycling route.
Get on your bike first
Peter says those contemplating a bike commute for the first time should get a little match fit first. “Go ride around on the weekends just in your area on paths and streets where you feel comfortable. Get some confidence and fitness up and think ‘is this for me?’ Most people will realise how much fun it is and see the benefits. And with a little fitness they can plan a longer and safer and possibly more scenic ride to work.”
Plot it out
Use an app like RACV’s arevo to plot your route from home to work. Its new dedicated bike map allows users to search for routes specifically for bike riders, and uses a colour coding system to indicate the type of path and safety features. Blue indicates an off-road shared path, green a protected lane on a road with physical barriers separating bikes from cars, gold an extra-wide buffered bike lane, and orange a painted green or white on-road lane about a metre wide. Once you’ve narrowed down potential routes, do some additional research.
Plenty of your fellow cyclists have been commuting for years, so take a shortcut and ask them where they prefer to ride and why. “Ask those you work with and those you live near,” says Peter. “They’ll have a lot of information you wouldn’t otherwise have known – where it’s safest to ride and where they feel most comfortable riding, as well as places to avoid – some routes are not as welcoming as others.”
Prioritise the safest route
The shortest route is not always the safest, and following the route you usually take in a car is unlikely to be ideal for bike riders. Peter says to look for as much separation as possible between cyclists and motorists – shared paths with no vehicles are the safest. On road, look for bike lanes separated from cars by concrete or plastic kerbs, or wider ‘buffered’ lanes.
“Also look for where there a lot of other cyclists,” advises Peter. “There’s strength in numbers so they will make you feel safer. There’s greater visibility for motorists and the other cyclists are there for a reason, they’ve already worked out it’s a good way to go.”
Try it out
Once you’ve narrowed down some potential routes, give them a try. “Finding the right path that you feel comfortable with is important so try a couple of routes out in your own time, and be prepared to get lost,” says Peter. Keep in mind that bike and car volumes will differ from weekends to weekdays. A shared path beside the river might be packed with pedestrians on a Sunday afternoon, but smooth sailing come Monday morning.
The route you choose will depend on your fitness, confidence and personal preferences. Choosing the safest possible route is a no-brainer, but beyond that the variables are endless. You might prefer short, sharp hills to get your heart rate up, or a road with long gradual slopes. You might like to take the scenic route on a creek-side path or ride via the shops on your way home. And it’s always good to mix up your ride to keep things interesting.
Things to avoid
One tricky intersection can ruin an otherwise perfect run, so try to find a workaround or factor in the time to hop off your bike and walk through it. Traffic signals with a very long cycle and stop signs at busy roads are annoying, as are potholed or rough surfaces. And be prepared to be flexible – road and building works can turn a smooth run into a dicey prospect for months on end. But remember that what spoils a route one way might not be a problem in the other direction.
Ease your way in to a full commute
You don’t have to ride every day or all the way to your destination. You could ride to a train station or tram stop to begin with then lock up your bike as securely as possible, says Peter. For longer commutes you could alternate between riding and public transport – ride to work in the morning and catch a train home, train in the next day then ride home in the evening. Peter recommends trying out your commute on a casual Friday when you don’t have to wear formal workwear. “You can just do it once a week to see how you like it.”
Consider an e-bike
If work is further than you’re able or prepared to ride, why not try an e-bike? “It might cost more than a pushbike but it will save you money in public transport fares and an enormous amount of time,” says Peter. “Not everyone wants to get a sweat up and if you’ve got a long commute you should consider it.”
At the other end
Think about what you’ll do at the work end of your commute. A dedicated mobility hub with showers, lockers and a safe place to leave your bike is the ideal. If your workplace doesn’t offer this, Peter suggests talking to your employer about it. “Even a temporary space for staff to leave their bikes securely is a start.”
Get three months’ free roadside assistance with RACV Summer Bike Assist.
Plan your route to work with arevo.