By Andy Chivers

A FRIEND has just arrived in Oxford and, knowing you are a regular cyclist, and seeing so many people cycle in the city, she asks you about starting cycling. What are you going to suggest?

If she has a bike, checking it is roadworthy is the first step, but if not, the many hire bikes available may be a good way to start. As for the journeys to take, many people at this stage want to use quiet, or off road, routes as much as possible. This is understandable when for many people the main experience of cycling is from a bus window watching unnervingly close passes on a main road.

So the next challenge is finding a quiet route to get your friend from home to her destination.

Most of us have a few routes we know well, and we have learnt how to deal with unpleasant junctions (two-thirds of collisions occur at junctions). For the newcomer though, this may be a big turn off. This is where online cycle specific mapping comes into its own. When your friend asks about routes, rather than offering yours, have a look at or Cycling UK’s online journey planner. Both of these classify roads by how busy and how fast the traffic moves so they can give you the choice of quiet routes and by entering post codes will show the route on a map, and even give you the height profile so you can anticipate or avoid the hills.

These online journey planners offer routes across the whole country so you might think they would be ignorant of local subtleties. Testing them for Oxford shows they have impressive information on good safe quiet routes, using the canal and river as well as the off road routes such as Barrack’s Lane and Willow Walk. Revealingly, the maps suggest you avoid Magdalen Bridge and the Plain as much as possible when quiet routes are specified. Frideswide Square is more difficult to avoid, and we all long for the time when there is an alternative to the current route under the railway bridge.

The quality of the information is doubly impressive since it has all been collated by amateur enthusiasts who have created open source maps which are free for anyone to use. This group of unsung community heroes continue to update the maps with new information and even tiny details like bike parking facilities are shown. Some routes have photos of key locations so that you can see what it will look like before you set off

As well as checking in advance on a PC, they also offer apps on your phone so you can use them like a satnav though this is probably more for the experienced cyclist visiting somewhere new rather than our friend and her first venture into the unknown. The best thing at this stage, having got the bike ready and found the route, is to accompany your friend on her first ride. Buddying someone in this way gives people much more confidence and makes it more likely they will continue to ride.