HUB New Westminster NWSS Bike Routes
So you’ve decided to ride your bike to school! Here are some strategies for planning a route and getting started bike commuting.
How to Get to NWSS:
The easiest way to plan a route is to get yourself to one of the many bike lanes and then follow those to NWSS.
In broad strokes, this means:
- From the East, take the Central Valley Greenway (Hume Park) / CrossTown Greenway (7th Ave). The official CTG route follows Sherbrooke from E Columbia to Richmond. Most people on bikes take Keary instead because it’s less steep.
- From the West, take the CrossTown Greenway (7th Ave) or London Dublin Greenway (London St)
- From Downtown, go up through Tipperary Park to 4th St then 5th St, or Queen’s Park to 3rd St.
You’ll want to use bike-specific routing software like Komoot for more complicated routing. The bike directions from Google Maps are poor and should be taken with a grain of salt.
If you want to optimize your route and take a more active approach to route planning, read on.
You probably already know where your school is, but you’ll need to plan the best way to get there. Busy roads and steep hills can make the obvious route with a car unattractive on a bike. There are also shortcuts for pedestrians and cyclists that are not available for cars.
Komoot is usable without creating an account. Choosing Open Cycle Map as the map in the route planner will highlight bike infrastructure. This overview is more up-to-date than the official New West bike map PDF. The best PDF bike map for New West is currently Burnaby’s 2023 bike map. The website Cyclosm is an online map highlighting bike infrastructure.
Route planners are good but they’re not perfect. Ride With GPS has a heatmap so you can see popular biking routes around New West. (Strava’s heatmap requires an account to see it in detail.) Heatmaps are useful for seeing common detours from the official bike routes, like the Sherbrooke/Keary one mentioned above.
Ride around and explore different paths. Do some test rides on a weekend to get comfortable with the route. Getting lost when you’re in a hurry to get to class is no fun. Remember that traffic patterns on the weekends will be different from traffic patterns during school commute hours. Don’t rule out having one route for biking *to* school, and another one for biking home.
Riding on the sidewalk is permitted in New West except in a few places. This can make navigating short sections of busy streets a little nicer. Be courteous and slow to walking speed around pedestrians. (For the official list of places where sidewalk biking is now allowed, see the Consolidated Traffic Bylaws Schedule “B”) Bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks in Burnaby or Coquitlam.
If your route has hills, you’ll want to try them with a loaded backpack – the extra weight will make the hills harder. (Some Tour de France racers will even empty out their water bottles at the start of a climb to reduce the weight on their bikes.)
Ask friends and other people who enjoy riding bikes which routes they take. Tweak your route to meet up with friends along the way. Start a Bike Bus.
Expect your commuting speed to be between 12-18 km/h depending on your level of fitness and the route you take.
You can’t talk about biking in New West without talking about hills. Going uphill can slow you down and tire you out more than you think. An incline of just 4% can reduce your average bike speed by 75%. This is why longer, flatter routes can still be as fast as a more direct route with hills. Your higher average speed more than makes up for the extra distance.
Here’s a chart on what different hill grades “feel” like:
- 0%: A flat road
- 1-3%: Slightly uphill but not particularly challenging. A bit like riding into the wind.
- 4-6%: A manageable gradient that can cause fatigue over long periods.
- 7-9%: Starting to become uncomfortable for seasoned riders, and very challenging for new climbers.
- 10%-15%: A painful gradient, especially if maintained for any length of time
- 16%+: Very challenging for riders of all abilities. Maintaining this sort of incline for any length of time is very painful.
New West has some streets that fall into the 10%-15% category, and a number of “useful” routes that are 7-9%. Some areas that fall into this category: London between BC Parkway and 22nd; Albert Cr and 1st up to Agnes; Sherbrooke between Sapperton Park and Richmond.
Practice using your gears to make the climbs easier. When switching gears on a hill, you’ll want to “soft pedal” so you’re not trying to shift under load. Your gears will “crunch” – that’s your drive train complaining. Ideally switch gears before you *need* to. You’ll also want to practise starting on a hill. It’s sometimes easier to start biking *across* the hill to get a bit of speed and then turn to start biking *up* it again. If you stop on a hill to shift into an easier gear, be careful not to pedal backwards – your chain is likely to fall off. A short hill you might be able to power through it with torque and not downshifting gears too much. For longer climbs you’ll want to gear down to avoid injury and overworking your muscles. You can also snake back and forth to reduce the grade slightly. Just watch out for other traffic when doing this.
Getting off and walking your bike up a section of hill is perfectly OK.
The bike maps don’t always have accurate information about street grades. For the definitive guide you can see the city’s topographic map. Enable the “Elevation -> Interim Contour” layers.
There is lots of math and physics to explain why hills are so hard, but most explainers are aimed at competitive road cyclists. The analysis and strategies won’t always apply to transportation / urban commute cycling. If you’re interested, you can read this list of 10 reasons riding climbs feels different to riding on flat.
There are lots of webpages and videos out there with advice for commuting by bike, but they are mostly for adults with a long commute to an office and Not always applicable to teens heading off to school. Here are some tips to make your school by bike easier.
Pack the night before so you’re not rushed in the morning.
Eat Breakfast! Biking uses more calories than walking, and you need to fuel your body to avoid the dreaded Bonk. Consider having an afternoon snack ready before heading home too.
Before leaving, perform an ABC Quick Check (Air, Brakes, Chain, Quick releases) on your bike.
Pack a water bottle. Even better, get a bottle cage so you can have a sip of water waiting for the light to change without rummaging around in your backpack.
Make sure you have a strong U-lock for securing your bike. Learn how to safely lock up your bike.
Have a spare t-shirt and deodorant (and maybe underwear!) in your locker if you need to freshen up because of rain or sweat.
Take a plastic bag to use as a seat cover if it rains. You can keep it in your backpack or stuffed under your bike seat. Biking in the rain has its own issues aside from getting wet. Braking is harder: it will take longer to stop and it’s easy for your wheels to lose traction. Be especially careful on wet roads.
Always have a backup plan (like a transit card!) in case of weather or a bike mechanical issue. Learn how to use TransLinks’s bus bike racks.
You’ll need bike lights (front and rear) if you’re planning on being out after dark. Try not to wear only black. You might look cool during the day but you’re invisible once it gets dark. If you’re going to frequently be out at night, invest in some reflective bike wear.
Another “nice to have” is a bike-specific multitool for quick mechanical fixes on your ride. In case of a flat tire, a replacement inner tube, patch kit, and bike pump are are also useful. Plan to take a bus home and fix your flat there rather than carrying your entire repair kit with you “just in case”.