Google Maps Bike There…for a safer, healthier, happier world. :-)


March 17, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

viamichelin.PNGTwo folks have recently let us know about - a mapping service by Michelin (wiki) that seems to provide bicycle routes.

John Symon, writing for Pedal Magazine, says:

Meanwhile,, a French based website, already seems to offer the services that Smith is requesting of Google.

The first page of the Michelin site offers the choice of large number of countries, including Canada. On the left side of the screen is a box to be checked for those people traveling by bike. A few test runs of the website by Pedal produced adequate bike riding directions between various Canadian locations, including this reporter’s apartment in Montreal and the Prime Minister’s residence in Ottawa. While Michelin missed a few bike paths and shortcuts along the way (the bike paths are not cleared of snow at present), it certainly avoided major highways and gave detailed information about the travel directions. The total 190km trip was estimated at 13 hours and 34 minutes. By comparison, the Trans Canada Trail bike path between Montreal and Ottawa takes the scenic route at about 400km.

These virtual directions by Michelin correctly suggested leaving Montreal Island to the north, following unofficial bike routes such as Ste Croix and O’Brien Streets before briefly following Quebec Highway 117. The suggested route then follows Highway 148 and many secondary roads around Mirabel Airport and crossing the Ottawa River at Hawkesbury and following Ontario Highway 17 to Ottawa. This reporter, who has produced a guidebook of bike routes around Montreal, was astonished at the precision and veracity of this suggested route.

That’s a pretty massive thumbs up if I’ve ever read one. :) I’d suggest reading the entire article.

For bicycle mapping services, I was thinking more along the lines of city commuting, where there may be explicitly-designated bicycle lanes, etc., but that doesn’t make the long haul route mapping any less valid. It just so happens that my particular world mostly involves city commuting, but I definitely think we need maps for everywhere - city and non-city. In fact, the bicycle route information only gets more interesting and fun when you start to consider what each of us might be able to achieve - some folks can/will/do commute 20 or 30 miles to work each way, every day. And the suburbs need our help as much as the cities.

In email, Craig writes:

I thought your efforts were commendable, but wanted to let you know that already has a feature that does this. I’ve used it in our area, and it’s pretty good, except of course it does not have bike paths or sidewalks in its database. But it definitely keeps you off of highways, high traffic areas, and other undesirable cycling situations. Pretty impressive for a worldwide map system.

I actually don’t know which city/town Craig was writing from, but that’s awesome that ViaMichelin seems to work for him.

So, I tried it out myself and was pretty skeptical at first, but after doing more testing, it seems like it might do a reasonable job of providing bike directions. I’ve only done testing for downtown, Austin, so far, so I’ll be very curious to know how well it works for everyone else in your respective towns. I tried about six routes - the first was not good, but neither was the Google Maps ‘Avoid Highways’ option - both were much less than optimal. But then I tried a succession of routes, each further from my apartment. The results were mixed, but there definitely did seem to be a ‘method to the madness’. I couldn’t really decipher the algorithm (the decision-making process) that ViaMichelin was using, but that doesn’t mean much. I would very much like to know how they’re doing it - but I suspect they want to keep that information private. In each case, the route seemed to be attempting to follow designated bicycle paths, but seemed also to give consideration to the quality of the particular bicycle path (here in Austin, green==good, red==bad).

Which brings me to a quick aside - red bike routes in Austin are designated as ‘low easy of use’. That means, “High traffic volumes, narrow lanes; or difficult connections, May function as a barrier to cyclists.” Personally, speaking from my limited experience riding red bike routes here in Austin, I don’t consider these safe - I’d rather travel on the roads that are not designated on a bicycle map as ‘bike routes’ at all. That’s a particular qualm I’ll take up with the local biking scene/city government, but it actually made me wonder if I was reading the map correctly. Am I? To me, these red bike routes are something less than ‘safe’ for bicyclists. Los Angeles using a ‘Class’ system, with ‘Class III’ being the ‘least best’ of the cycling options available - in other words, ‘Class III’ are the ‘red routes’ of LA. Or are they?

All that said, does Google or any other mapping company release information on how they calculate routes? Or is this just information that is well-known in the industry? Maybe there are some industry-standard formulas used by traffic engineers and other folks to calculate traffic flow, safety, etc.?

When you first go to the ViaMichelin site, you’ll probably see the French version - but just click the flag of the language you’d like to see up at the top of the page - for English speakers, use the Britain/UK flag. An America flag pops up on the next page, but clicking that will take you to, where the route mapping product seems to go away. It almost seems like ViaMichelin is only kinda-sorta covering either the US, or North America, or maybe anyplace outside of Europe?? From their ‘Who are we?‘ page:

Unique content with a European dimension

ViaMichelin provides exclusive mapping coverage - over 42 European countries, from national road maps to detailed town plans.

The regularly updated European database contains some 7 million kilometres (4.4 million miles) of mapped roads and streets (including towns and cities down to street-level detail).
In addition, ViaMichelin highlights and describes some 18,000 tourist locations and 62,000 hotels and restaurants, as tested and recommended by The MICHELIN® Guide inspectors throughout Europe.

Finally, ViaMichelin also provides information on weather forecasts, traffic reports, service station locations…

So, there definitely seems to be a European bias. That is not a knock against the service - it’s just trying to figure out what it’s all about. For instance, does this mean that the bike routes provided for non-European cities can, in general, be relied upon? Are they as valid as European routes? If not, how so?

I’ve sent an email to ViaMichelin, using their contact form, to try to find out.

All in all, though, this is a very positive development. Some major corporation has gone to the trouble of providing at least some information to bicyclists about what options they have for getting around - the quality of that information for different locales might be up for debate, but at least they’re trying. And, as for my personal quick tests with ViaMichelin, it seemed to do about as good a job as I could expect. That is, downtown Austin, in my humble opinion, is a not great for bicycle commuting, so I couldn’t look at the PDF of the Austin Bicycle Map and pick out a route from Point A to Point B that would have been obviously better than what ViaMichelin was suggesting. Maybe it’s just luck on the part of ViaMichelin, or stupidity on my part, or bad/disconnected bike routes in downtown Austin, or maybe ViaMichelin is doing the best possible job we could ever expect any semi-automated bike route mapping technology/service to do?

In ViaMichelin, I now have a couple of locations and routes saved. The interface uses some of the good AJAX technology that we know and love in Google Maps. It even offers download of routes in GPS format, so you can import it into your GPS device if you have one (and if you don’t, I’m sure Michelin would be happy to sell you one). :)

So, I think this is definitely a positive development, in general, because individual cyclists might be able to get new/better route information than they have had to date - but I’m also a little ambivalent about it. As much as I appreciate the efforts of ViaMichelin, it’s still not Google Maps, and Google Maps is what I use almost every day, often multiple/dozens of times a day. After I’m more familiar with Austin, I’m sure that ‘multiple/dozens’ figure will go down significantly, but Google Maps is now an integral part of my online life, as I’m sure it is for millions of others.

[Sorry for the rambling post. And please forgive on any comment wackiness - the spammers found us pretty quickly, and we've been changing the spam settings around. A sure-fire way to get a comment on is to just register - that cuts down on spam massively, though we do know it's a pain.]


3 Comments to “”

  1. Giro Semancik says:

    I am surprised that no one mentions the limitation of ViaMichelin search - bike routes are limited to 200km. At least for Europe. I don’t know if there are some technical reasons or is it only a business decision…?

    Well, you normally don’t ride more than 200km, but I really miss that feature when planning longer holiday trips. I would appreciate the GoogleMaps search without such limit.


  2. luke bellington says:

    Viamichelin have a great route finder for my needs , Personally being of a older generation i do not travel 200km at a time , and i see no reason why you cannoot just start your journey again and plan trip 2 : E.g. 200 km to 400 km

    The accuracy of Viamichelin is why i like opposed to Google , who seem to offer a very basic and often unreliable service with poor detail

    I have searched and used other online mapping providers and Google although popular because people know the name are my least favourite and after reading reviews online for mapping , I will stick with a proven solution provider who have been going for more than 10 years and also do not sell the info i provide to other companies ( The amount of cookies on my computer after a google visit is ridicious ! )

    Enjoy your biking , I am just planning a journey from Belgium and intend to cycle for 40 days and 40 nights and promise to keep you all up-to- date with my mapping

  3. Nick Wood says:

    I would also back ViaMichelin to provide to best cycle routes / directions for UK, Europe and the US. Even if Google caught up they just cannot compete with the quality of the detail of a ViaMichelin service.

    Its now more like 22 million km of road opposed to 4.4 million miles of years back, they really have bumped up there coverage and I heard serve more maps than multimap now !!!!

    ViaMichelin are not the most popular mapping provider in the UK (5th place) but they do a bloody good job !!!


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