Have you heard about any good bike routes lately? Would you prefer to have things planned out in detail as you ride the City? Or do you prefer finding your bearings from a map and/or exploring your way around by the seat of your pants like you did as a Kid? Do you prefer navigating by street signs, by the Sun, or some instinctive combination of the two? Do you ever get abit ‘lost ‘ to discover something unexpected! If you’re looking for inspiring new reasons to ride your bike, then Network technology is already available to help re-create the kind of social intelligence that we just shared socially and incidentally as kids when it came to finding our way around!
Nowadays we almost take for granted the tools that would have seemed almost space-aged years ago, even compared to the occasional appearance of bulky walkie-talkies, or the first digital speedometers, otherwise there were always a few quarters for payphones and videogames to fill teh ‘technology gap’. What would we have thought then of the greatly extended reach that we know now with our mobile devices, the added and shared value of Social Network tools, and of course the superb mapping that’s now available online. In fact, here in the Future (arriving as recently as this past month) Toronto is now ‘on the map’ at Ride the City and we can now consider how to re-socialize bike riding in a significant way. What’s more, is that by using the Community feedback methods and social interactions that are available on this site to suggest ideal paths and warn against riskier routes, we might also be reminded all over again of how effectively we managed to get around as fun-loving and free-spirited kids, and regain abit of that joie de vie that came with our freedom to ride. Often armed with nothing more than some small change for snacks, and a general sense of direction passed on from someone who’d been there before!
As urban Cyclists nowadays, we still enjoy a level of flexibility and freedom to travel like no other mode of transport, and now thanks to social media tools like cellphones (‘smart’ or otherwise) and online maps we can also share our collective knowledge about routes, roadways, (and shortcuts!) like never before as well. So let’s consider where we came from, and learn about what we might have forgotten since we were kids, and perhaps even discover some exciting new possibilities along the way.
Since we’re already doing this unconsciously whenever we set on on a ride, let’s first consider how we derive a travel plan for ourselves. Even if the plan get’s thrown out, forgotten, or dynamically re-mapped en route, a good place to start is to at least consider a final destination, with a few fun stops along the way. Just as when we were kids, we often learn about new destinations or routes from others who’ve been there first. So when it comes to making up a riding plan, there’s alot of value in being able to compare ideas and suggestions with others, to determine their relative merits. This is especially true for a collective repository of information that can grow and adapt according to the shared experiences of like-minded individuals. At one time you had to depend on word of mouth to collectively share info, but with an increasingly well-socialised Internet, we’re starting to see some great new ways to share information on any subject, with larger groups than ever before. Take for example the growing network of info available at Ride the City, or in the newly released Google Bike Maps (if you live in the Bay Area).
One of the primary functions of Ride the City is to offer alternate routes according to your level of comfort and safety that’s required, so it’s a great tool for new cyclists who are still getting comfortable with urban riding, and would like to trade speed/time for security and comfort. This is done by punching in your starting and destination points, and then selecting one of three route-types for yourself (Direct, Safe and Safer) according to your preference for riding on quieter streets and designated bike paths. As co-founder Jordan Anderson explains, “the main difference between these three categories involves how far someone’s willing to go out of his way for safety.”
The system allows for “custom directions” pages that you can share, and is open to feedback by offering “ratings” on routes, and accepting suggested alternate routes if the rating is negative, thus allowing the routes to incrementally (and hopefully) improve themselves over time, This is where we hope to slowly see technology imitate real life, as we collectively share our real world experience with each other, and collectively optimize these routes for best results. Just as we did anecdotaly with each other as kids.
Although this looks like a pretty cool adaptation of the static Google Maps approach to planning a route (and it includes Bike Repair/Rental Shops along the way, for an added commercial value!), there are still lots of areas of improvement of course. For example, the ‘route rating’ mechanism isn’t terribly visible, and is nowhere near as socially interactive as (let’s say) a group of Riders standing around discussing their best options before setting out. Although Ride the City is certainly still much more graphically useful than finding/sharing a paper map, or just naming streets and turns. So far though it still looks rather difficult to suggest alternate routes or shortcuts that involve laneways, railway lines, field crossings, and other little semi-legal little ‘tricks’ from our childhood rides, but at least it’s a great start!
So whether you grew up in the alleyways of a big city, or the sleepy backroads of a small town, your bike can still be a passport to adventure and exploration that will always offer you chances to discover new places if you’re able to tap into a shared store of information, and take a few chances along the way. Why not try a new route today!