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Huge jump in cycling searches prompts Google Maps overhaul

New feature will help Santander Cycles users in London identify docking stations with bikes free and where to leave them at journey's end...

A huge jump in searches relating to cycling routes during the coronavirus pandemic has prompted changes to Google Maps – including showing docked hire bike locations in cities such as New York and London.

Besides providing directions on foot to the nearest Santander Cycles docking station with a bike free, for example, the feature will then give the cycle route to the one nearest the ultimate destination as well reaching there by walking once leaving the bike.

In a blog post, Google Maps product manager Vishal Dutta said: “To give you the most up-to-date bike route, we use a combination of machine learning, complex algorithms, and our understanding of real-world conditions based on imagery and data from government authorities and community contributions.

“We also consider various forms of bike lanes and nearby streets that might be less friendly for your two wheels (like tunnels, stairs and poor surface conditions) so you can have the best and smoothest biking route.

“You can also see how flat or steep your route will be, so you’ll know if you’re in for an easy breezy ride or one that will really get the heart pumping.”

According to Google, it has seen a 69 per cent rise in searches for cycling directions via Google Maps since February down to people getting on bikes both for exercise and to get to and from work.

“As biking habits change, especially as things evolve with COVID-19, we’re constantly updating this information to help you uncover the most reliable bike route,” said Google.

The feature is due to be rolled out initially to 10 cities, with London being the only one in Europe, the other locations being Chicago, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington DC, London, Mexico City, Montreal, Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Taipei and New Taipei City.

Other cities will be added later on, Google added.

The company first introduced cycling directions a decade ago and information is now available in 30 countries worldwide with millions of people using the feature each day.

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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