Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock to avoid Tour de France stage spoilers, you’re likely aware of the phenomenon of Pokémon Go. The “augmented reality” gaming app has kids (and sheepish adults alike) wandering the earth on a desperate hunt to capture magical creatures with our cellphone cameras.
The premise of the game is simple: You start the game as a “trainer” in search of a roster of Pokémon that you can use to battle other trainers' Pokémon—not at all unlike a virtual, PG-rated version of dogfighting. But to collect an assortment of Pikachus, Squirtles, and Bulbasaurs (these are Pokémon), you first have to capture them inside special Pokéballs, which you can stock up on at designated, real-world public spaces called Pokéstops throughout your town. These Pokéstops can be seen on a GPS map as you move through the world, as can Pokégyms where trainers fight each other for points. Pokémon themselves occasionally vibrate into view as you traipse through random locations on the real-world grid, giving you the opportunity to lob Pokéballs at them for capture. And let me tell you, there are few digital experiences more satisfying than capturing a Clefairy on your Monday morning walk or ride to work.
Sound ridiculous? Sure, but this app will probably get more kids riding bikes than all the articles we’ve written on the health benefits ofcommuting to school combined. Take it from me—I live between two adjacent Pokéstops and haven’t seen so much tween traffic move past my front door since Halloween.
Kids who wouldn’t normally go outside on a 95-degree day now have a reason to get together in groups and cruise the city for digital ground scores. And if you think I’m exaggerating, check out this little cluster of Pokémasters.
Now in my case, I’m typically a low-tech cyclist. I have zero cycling apps on my phone, and the only time I’ve ever used Strava was to stream my heart rate while watching a horror movie in the theater, in a competitive quest to prove my friend would get more scared. (He did. My heart rate is almost always dead-person low.)
But once I discovered how much better it is to play Pokémon Go by bike, I immediately mounted a phone case to my handlebars and hammered through the streets, laying waste to all the unwitting Pokémon in my path.
Not only has my bike allowed me to access Pokéstops more quickly—so it’s easy to stock up on Pokéballs and other items—but it’s also proved invaluable in hatching eggs. Eggs are items you can find at Pokéstops. To hatch them into Pokémon, you have to walk (or even better, ride) a certain distance—between two to 10 km, as measured by your phone’s accelerometer. Eggs won’t hatch if you’re traveling that distance in a car—so you essentially have to get outside and use your own body to get the job done. On foot, this can take a while because you have to leave the app open the entire time for your steps to count. But on a bike? I think you know where I’m going with this.
Although not really a cycling app, Pokémon Go is the first cycling-adjacent app I’ve ever given a damn about. When other cycling apps find a way to combine “augmented reality” gaming with ride tracking, that’s the day they’ll finally appeal to a non-competitive nerd cyclist like me. As it is now, I’m treating Pokémon Go as a scavenger hunt-style invitation to explore my city more than anything else.
Here are a few tips and safety precautions I've picked up in my cycling Poké-journeys, which I will admit are vicariously embarrassing to all who know me:
Learn how to play the game while walking. The interface can be confusing at first! It’s best if you master it on foot at 3mph instead of puzzling it out at 10- to 20mph in the street.
Take the side streets and stick to quiet roads. Most of the news about Pokémon Go causing traffic pileups has been fabricated, but there’s no reason to risk injury by riding distractedly or on high-speed, busy streets.
Get a handlebar phone mount so you don’t have to ride one-handed to peek at your phone. I recommend the Topeak RideCase, which slides in and out of an adjustable handlebar mount so you can easily grab it when a Pidgeotto comes at you out of nowhere. (Pretty sure Topeak's designers did not have that scenario in mind when they created this dependable case.)
Don’t stop your bike in the middle of the road when you encounter a Pokémon—pull to the side where you can capture it from the safety of the sidewalk. That Zubat ain’t goin’ anywhere—you’ve got plenty of time to add it to your squad. And as always, look behind you before pulling over and always be considerate of other bikes or road traffic.
On that note, consider only using your bike to access Pokéstops, which you can confirm the location of in advance, and to hatch eggs, which just requires riding a certain distance. There’s really no way to troll the streets for Pokémon and keep your eyes on the road at the same time.
Interact with other Pokémon trainers! One of the coolest aspects of the game is that it doesn’t provide you with much instruction on how to play. That means you get to puzzle it out on your own and beseech others for help. The only reason I roll with Clefairy in my crew is that a kindly stranger—a similarly awkward 30-something player—gave me a heads-up about where to encounter one. I’ve found the game to be surprisingly social for something based in a phone app.
Tell me where I can find a Squirtle. Last, a humble request: Please, if you live anywhere near Bicycling's Pennsylvania headquarters, tweet me your coordinates ASAP if you come across this beloved water-dwelling favorite. And good luck out there catching them all!Search for a cycling event.