Bicycle Culture

9 Reasons Every Cyclist Needs the Metro Phoenix Bike Ways Trail Map

Every once in a while, local government spits out something amazing – like a map of all the bike routes in the Valley of the Sun.

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) has all kinds of resources for prospective riders, most of them detailed on their Facebook page. You can easily find a park to visit, a group to join, or news about new lanes. But MAG’s magnum opus is the Bike Ways bicycle map, an old-fashioned sheet of paper covered in colored ink.

The maps are randomly distributed throughout the city, but you can usually track one down at your local bike shop. Why would you need a glossy, antiquated document to chart your course, when you have the limitless power of the Internet? Here are some reasons:

It’s free
There’s even a little yellow triangle in the corner of the front page that shouts, “Free!”

You don’t have to use your phone
These days, the point of recreational cycling is to get away from your phone. The paper map requires no backlit screen, no wifi, no cell signal, and no recharge. You can bury your device in a pocket and not look at it for hours. Not only does the map trace bike routes, but it also pinpoints parks, libraries, universities, and light rail lines.

There is a tutorial on how to bike safely
Much of the Bike Ways map is devoted to bicycle safety. Handy diagrams illustrate hand signals, right-of-way, passing cars, and theft prevention. If you don’t know the difference between a “bike lane” and a “bike route,” the map concisely lays it out. In theory, rookies can learn everything about bicycling in the city in a couple of minutes. (Except how to balance on two wheels).

You can read up on bicycle law
Okay, it’s not riveting reading material, but it’s nice to know what a bicyclist’s rights are – and A.R.S. Section 28-812 is printed right there, for your civic enjoyment. (Spoiler alert: Cars can’t drives on multi-use trails, and bicyclists have pretty much the same rights and responsibilities as cars. Boom).

It has pictures
Yes, Google Maps can give you a nearly three-dimensional street view of any block in the U.S. No paper map is ever going to compare to that. But the Bike Ways map has 10 colorful photos of scenic routes (like the Green Belt in Paradise Valley and the Kyrene Canal through Tempe-Guadelupe). Pictures of tree-lined trails and concrete overpasses offer a glimpse of what these routes are like.

Mountain bike trails are included
The canal trails are pretty easy to map, but what about mountain biking? You’ll find breakneck paths through Estrella Mountain Park, Phoenix Mountain Preserve, and McDowell Mountain Park, among others. The maps give a rough idea of how long and complicated these trails are, although they don’t account for elevation or topography, so gear up.

You can see every HAWK beacon
But wait a minute – what the hell is a HAWK beacon? Basically, a “high-Intensity activated crosswalk beacon” is just a fancy name for a crosswalk. Flashing overhead lights (yellow and red) help usher cyclists across the street. On the map, these appear as little white diamonds. That may not seem very impressive, but they’re incredibly helpful on high-traffic days.

There is an online version
It exists, of course (, but it’s actually a little more cumbersome than the paper version, and if you’re going to use a digital map, you might as well download the Google Maps app, which has a knack for finding efficient bike routes.

It’s sprawling
In theory, you could start biking in Queen Creek, cross all of Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, downtown, Glendale, and then hit Route 60 – and eventually ride to Circle City on the highway shoulder. Every mile of bikeable path and roadway is mapped out. You could pedal for months and still find new itineraries and combinations.
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Robert Isenberg