Planning your route / where to cycle
Most journeys can be made much more pleasurable with a little route planning. There are a number of tools that you can use to find new routes or places to ride.
First stop is the Birmingham City Council’s Cycling & Walking Map. These are, in theory, to be fund in libraries, Leisure/Wellbeing Centres, and bike shops. You cn also get them direct from BCC or use an online version: http://localview.birmingham.gov.uk/cycling/bham_cycling.html
Information on it falls into two categories: cycling infrastructure (such as cycle paths, canal tow paths, etc) and recommended quieter roads (shown in yellow). The cycling infrastructure is mostly accurate although at the tie of writing there are a number of cycle paths shown that do not actually exist yet – they should be built in the near future according to BCC. The quieter roads (shown in yellow) are very hit and miss: they were put on the map from recommendations from a number of cyclists who use them. The problem is that what might be a reasonable and safe road to use for one cyclist may be terrifying for another, all depending upon their abilities and experience. Thus we get some roads marked in yellow that many would not like to ride on, but others that aren’t shown in yellow that are very pleasant to use. None-the-less, the BCC Cycling & Walking Map is still an excellent resource for anyone trying to find their way around by bike.
There are several online facilities that can actually create a route for you if you give them the start and finish points. CycleStreets http://birmingham.cyclestreets.net/ will calculate three different options for you, one of which is fast and tends to use busier roads, one which is often longer and slower but sticks to quieter roads and paths and a third which is a compromise of the others. The quieter routes can sometimes be annoying as they often involve a fair bit of walking past busier sections, but the balanced routes tend to be OK.
Google Maps also offer a cycle facility. If you click on the menu and select the cyclist icon it will display cycle paths and routes. Alas these often bear very little resemblance to reality, many real cycle paths been left out and a number of non-existent ones being included. The real bonus of using Google Maps is the Street-View facility. If you generate a route either by plotting it out on the BCC Cycleing and Walking Map or on CycleStreets , you can then use Google Maps Street View to look at the roads themselves to decide if they look like what you are after. Of course you can’t always gauge how much traffic there will be but the images of the roads give a hint as to whether they are big, wide, fast roads, or quieter residential ones.
If you want advice from cyclists who ride in Birmingham all of the time then it’s worth joining the Birmingham Cyclist web forum: http://www.birminghamcyclist.com/forum .
Another facility that is well worth using while it’s still available is BikeRight!’s Journey Accomplishment. An instructor will work with you to construct a route between two destinations (for instance your home and work) that suits your requirements and then ride it with you to show you how to best negotiate any issues that you might meet along the way. The service is free: http://www.bikeright.co.uk/westmidlands/otheractivities/