Google Maps gets voice-guided cycling directions

Bicyclists have a new, hands-free way to navigate their journeys, courtesy of Google.

The search giant this week added GPS-enabled mobile biking directions and navigation for headphones connected to smartphones, and brought turn-by-turn voice-guided navigation to Google Maps Navigation beta.

UK and US users, who already had access to biking directions in the Android Google Maps app, got an update that includes the new navigation function. The new service is being made available in 10 more countries as well.

While riding, a bicyclist can keep an eye on real-time map directions or turn on speaker mode to listen to directions, Google said.

Last month, Google launched its desktop biking directions in the UK, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, all of which will have access to the new mobile feature.

"We know how popular cycling is in many parts of the world, so we wanted to include as much bike trail data as possible to provide efficient routes, allow riders to customize their trips, make use of bike lanes, calculate rider-friendly routes that avoid big hills and busy roads, and to customize the look of the cycling map to encourage people to hop on their bikes," Google Maps product manager Kai Hansen said in a July blog post.

Biking directions launched on the US and Canadian Google Maps Android apps in 2010. Now, there are more than 530,000km of green biking lines in Google Maps.

The dark green lines signify dedicated bike trails and paths, like through parks or along waterways, where motor vehicles are restricted. Light green lines show streets where bike lanes are available on streets with vehicle traffic, and dashed green lines provide a visual of other streets recommended for cycling.

Google's tools also help bicyclists avoid steep hills.

Working with members of the cycling community, and with the support of nonprofits like the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Google has been able to add bike data for hundreds of cities and trails since it launched the bicycling option two years ago.