If you ride a bike, particularly with groups or on routes from books or bike clubs, you know about cue sheets — succinct lists of the turns you should make on a given ride. Better cue sheets also include information about convenience stores and other rest stop possibilities, as well as any road hazards or tricky sections.
Google isn’t perfect, but it is a great tool to get a perfectly serviceable cue sheet quickly. Even if you don’t print it straight off of Google, it is a great way to measure the distances between turns. Here’s how I do it.
1. Look at a Google map of the area around your route. If you are making an out-and-back or circular route, you’ll need to know either the exact address of the start/end point, or at least a nearby intersection. You will also need two additional points. It is best if your three points are as far apart as possible, but still on the route you are planning. If you are planning a one-way route, you simply need to know the start and end locations, as precisely as possible (street addresses are best).
For this example, I’ll start at the Laytons Village Shopping Center, a popular ride start location in Maryland.
We’ll ride north through Etchison and then northwest to Damascus. Then we’ll sweep east toward Woodbine before snaking our way back south to Laytonsville.
2. Go to the standard Google Maps page and click on “Get Directions.” Enter the ride start location. We’ll use “6848 Olney Laytonsville Rd, MD” for this example. The “MD” is just a hint to help Google find the place we want. It is probably unnecessary in this case, but if you start at 1st and Main, you might need to specify a town or a postal code so that Google zeroes in on the place you want.
If you end up with your start address in the “To” field, just click on the swap button (the one with two arrows) to move it to the “From” field, which is marked with an “A.”
3. Enter the first of your extra points in the form of intersections. In this case, we are going to type “MD-80 & Penn Shop Rd, MD” in the text field for “B.”
4. Now do the same for the second extra point. Click “Add Destination” and, for this example, type “Old Frederick Rd & Morgan Station Rd, MD” in the text field for “C.”
5. Next, click “Add Destination” again and enter your end point. In this case, it is the same as the start point, so we can copy “A” to “D.” Your screen should look like this:
6. Make sure “By car” is the type of directions and then click “Get Directions.” Google sometimes gets confused at this point if any of the information you provided is ambiguous (as far as Google is concerned, that is). For instance, two roads could cross each other more than once, and you would have to specify which intersection you meant. Also, sometimes Google is a stickler for a particular format. It seems to prefer “Maryland 80″ instead of “MD-80″ sometimes. Resolve all the ambiguities before moving on.
7. You’ll now get a rough approximation of your route, but cyclists rarely take the most direct route from one place to another. Fortunately, you can simply drag the line representing your route to the correct place. For instance, we don’t want to bicycle on Interstate 70, so I’ll drag the line from anywhere it is on I-70 to a convenient point on my route — say, Long Corner Road. Google will magically re-route you through the point where your mouse is as you drag. When you see the line following the route you want, let go of the mouse button.
Note: Try to stop dragging in the middle of a block, and especially try to avoid picking a point at place where you will have to turn (for example, an intersection or traffic circle). The directions Google eventually gives will be more straightforward if you follow this tip.
8. Repeat as necessary, going in the order you will ride the route. If you need to remove one of your points, right-click on it and select “Remove this destination.”
9. The route is looking pretty good.
But the directions are chopped up into segments based on our initial three points. When you are out on the road on your bike and comparing your odometer to the cue sheet, you want miles from the start point, not miles from some arbitrary point in the middle.
We can solve that problem and make the route one continuous list with a little editing. You might want to click on “View Larger Map” on the map above to follow along.
Click on the “Link” link and copy the entire first text field.
Paste it into any text editor. You will see a really long web address. Within the address, find the word “via” towards the end. You should see something like
. . . &sz=13&via=2,3,4,6,7,8,9,10,11,12&sll=39.269208, . . .
Notice that via is following by an equal sign, and then a list of numbers. The numbers refer to the points that you dragged to. Google lays out the route “via” those points, but without stopping at those points.
Notice also that the list is more or less sequential, but missing the numbers 1 and 5. Add each of those numbers to the sequence, followed by a comma. There is no comma before the first number or after the last number. Do not type any spaces. You should end up with this:
. . . &sz=13&via=1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12&sll=39.269208, . . .
Now copy the entire, gigantic edited link and go back to your web browser. Paste the link in the web address field and press return. You should get something like this:
10. On this particular route, Google got a little confused around MD-80 & Penn Shop Road and the new route backtracks where it shouldn’t. I fixed this by dragging one point from MD-80 to Penn Shop Road, and then deleting the original point at the intersection of MD-80 & Penn Shop Road. This also cleans up the list of directions.
11. Click on the Print link and you’ll get a nice list of turns.
- Every other turn is shaded to help guide your eye while riding.
- For smaller roads, you’ll get big symbols indicating which way to turn (and even how sharp the turn is). For roads with route numbers, you’ll get the route number in a big circle.
- The route list also shows the distance to the next turn and the cumulative distance traveled at the next turn. (If we had skipped step 9, we would have gotten cumulative distance since the beginning of the trip segment, which is a lot less useful.)
- You can add a small map or a Google Street View picture to any turn (or all turns, if you prefer). You can customize a map’s zoom level and drag the map if you need to make sure an important feature shows up. You can even rotate a Street View picture left and right by dragging. Don’t overdo it with the maps and Street Views — clutter can be a problem, too.
- You can add some notes in the box at the top.
- Finally, you can add an overall route map by clicking “Include large map.” You will probably have to adjust the zoom level and drag the map so it covers the whole route. If you prefer, you can use the large map to show only the trickiest segment of the route.
12. You can save the route by bookmarking it in your browser (you might want to change the name of the link — I find it useful to include the mileage in the name) or by saving it to Google’s My Maps feature (available if you are logged in to your Google account). You also could print the route to a PDF.
13. You can find places to buy snacks along the way by right-clicking on a point on the route and selecting “What’s here” and then clicking on “Search nearby.” A search for “convenience stores” or “food” can be really helpful.
Unfortunately, Google won’t let you add notes to individual turns or for hazards that are between turns. Also, Google’s print layout is not terribly compact. A true cue sheet artist might find those problems to be too much to bear, but I can live with them, given the time and effort Google saves.