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  1. #1
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    Compare riding an ACA route to making your own?

    I've always wondered how the ACA routes differ from my own self-made routes. Are the people near the routes more used to touring cyclists? Friendlier/less friendly? Will you frequently meet other touring cyclists? Do they minimize hills, traffic, route distance, etc.? Do they intentionally pass through interesting places and sights?

  2. #2
    Hooked on Touring
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    When you say "my own self made routes" does that mean you have toured these?
    And have you not toured any ACA routes?

    I have 25 years' touring all over North America -
    From coast to coast and from the Gulf to the Arctic.

    The majority of my 60,000 miles in N.A. are my own routes -
    But I have ridden extensive sections of ACA routes.

    I feel that there are often better options than ACA -
    especially on the TransAm which they have an emotional attachment to.

    Still, you cannot beat the Cookie Lady in Virginia -
    Or the many lovely hostels, churches, and town parks
    which are open to cyclists at little or no cost.

    In some places it is hard NOT to do a route that is an ACA route
    because there is either no other paved option or the choice is so obvious -
    such as the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies.

    A strong plus on major ACA routes is running into other cyclists.
    A drawback of that is that one can live in a "cycling" world.
    I have seen groups of cyclists talk among themselves - ignoring the locals around them.

    In general, the Northern states are more cycle friendly then Southern states.
    (I know, that is going to get me slammed - but I have ridden all over.)
    Northern states tend to have more bike shops, more paved shoulders, and more courteous drivers.
    Also, there seems to be greater tolerance of people doing their own thing.
    (Not to mention mangy dogs - but there are hundreds of threads on dogs.)

    In places like Iowa or Nebraska, almost every little town has a park where they will let you camp for free.
    There's always a tiny store and, most likely, a bar/cafe.
    So you can pick almost any road.
    Still it doesn't hurt to consult state AADT (Average Annual Daily Traffic) data.
    Then pick a nice quiet road and go.

  3. #3
    Day trip lover mr geeker's Avatar
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    Not sure how they compare. I've read that they have all sorts of little details like elevation, food/drink, lodging, traffic, distances. All of which you can include on a map of your own making, albeit with a little bit of looking up and researching. I tend to make my own from a state byciling map, giving me route flexability.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    In my limited experience, I don't find the touring experience hugely different with the two choices. I like the added value of all the stuff on the AC maps. I like not needing to plan much.

    As far as the route choices, I generally like the AC route choices fairly well, but do second guess them in places. Still when I pick my own route it is likely to be pretty similar to routes that AC would pick.

    I also like that I am more likely to meet other cyclists on an AC route.

    Bottom line... If there is an AC route that goes where I am going I am inclined to use it, but I don't mind improvising a route when there isn't an AC route there.

  5. #5
    Bike touring webrarian
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    In July, 2009, I rode from just south of Portland, OR to Jackson, WY (most of the journal is here). I picked up the ACA route in Eugene and rode on it for 8 days before making a right turn and continuing on my own route (I should say it was Jamawani's route). The main difference I found was that the documentation on the ACA route was great. I always knew where the next place to eat or sleep was. On my own route, I had good information but it wasn't all in one place. On the whole, I like ACA routes as they give me a good idea of where to ride and on what roads.

    I also like finding my own way using maps. This is easy in Switzerland where there are well marked bike routes that crisscross the country.

    Ray
    Visit the on-line Bike Touring Archive at www.biketouringtips.com

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    Good replies.

    Jamawani, I meant routes that I have toured on, which have not included ACA routes.

    This spring I'm riding from New Orleans to California and then up the coast and then into the midwest. It would only be a bit out of my way to include sections of the ACA routes. (I probably won't spring for the maps) The ACA routes most entice me with the idea of meeting fellow touring cyclists. On my last tour down the East coast of the USA, I went 2000 miles between sightings.

  7. #7
    Hooked on Touring
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    Good replies.
    This spring I'm riding from New Orleans to California and then up the coast and then into the midwest. It would only be a bit out of my way to include sections of the ACA routes.
    You are riding "up the coast" ?!?!?

    Since you are not exactly riding the mist direct route from New Orleans to the Midwest, might I suggest something like a "Figure 8" so that you could ride "down the coast"? You are aware that prevailing winds are from the northwest on the California coast from late spring thru the fall. You can do it, but day after day of headwinds gets old. Also, it depends just how far "up" you intend to go.

    A "Figure 8" could put take you via Alturas - way up in northeast Calif - out to the coast - then riding Hwy 1 all the way to Venture or so and looping via the Route 66 and the Grand Canyon thru Colorado to - where in the Midwest? Sheboygan?

    Check out the Crazyguy journals - I know of one guy - last name of Fisher who went northbound.

  8. #8
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    The Pacific Coast south to north is doable, but there are really two reasons for doing it the other way. First, as mentioned, south to north you will be in the wind, and serious wind at that. Second, you'll be constantly turning left into speeding southbound traffic to see the ocean and then turning left again across southbound traffic to continue north. If you're heavily ladden and tired it's an accident waiting to happen.

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    I'm heading to New Orleans in 3 weeks. I figured that the only comfortable route to California at this time of year would be through the Southwest. (I don't want to haul tons of cold weather gear so I figured a route through the mountains would be out)

    I've heard of prevailing winds along the coast in the summer, but wasn't sure if they'd be as strong Aprilish. I've also considered heading north along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevadas or through Nevada and not hitting the coast until San Francisco. Really, I'm not set on doing the coast, I just want to explore a bunch of the West and have until late July when I need to ride back to Milwaukee for a wedding.

    I posed my original questions because I'm considering working the ACA routes out there into my route.

  10. #10
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Most of our touring has been on non-ACA routes, but we've either stumbled onto or intentionally picked up the ACA routes every once in a while. We've found HUGE differences in the two areas. In the ACA routes, things are more set up for touring cyclists. Hotels might even have shuttle service with bike racks! That being said, on the non-ACA routes, we find people reach out to us much more readily - they aren't jaded by seeing tons of cyclists pass through.

    Overall, I would say we prefer to be off the main touring route, although there are advantages to both. For us, since we are out for so long, we can pick up an ACA route for 2 or 3 weeks and it is just a small part of our tour. If I only had 2 or 3 weeks, I wouldn't want to spend the whole time on the main drag.
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  11. #11
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    My only experience with ACA maps was the Northern Tier, from Anacortes to Glacier N. P. I like having all the data laid out for me. I only found one mistake (the directions to a KOA north of Sedro-Woolley, WA.) I went off their route a few times - mostly purposely, but once because I missed a turn.

    I ran into a few other bike tourers. A couple times we shared a campsite (though I was the one who got there first, so I really wasn't "saved" by having another tourer share their spot.) I always like meeting other tourers, though I'm selective about deciding to ride with them.

    The thing I think I liked best about the ACA maps was the roads they chose. Often they take you off the main road to a secondary road that parallels the main one. They're usually quieter and more bucolic. I would never know which roads to choose if I made my own route - I'd tend to stay on the main drag.

  12. #12
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    The only ACA route I have ridden is the Pacific Coast. Lots and lots of other cyclists. Fun! I liked seeing all the different ways people tour.

    Otherwise I study my atlases and peruse Google Maps obsessively, since most of my tours are shorter, regional trips. No touring maps exists for these sorts of trips to my knowledge.

    I guess the deciding factor would be a money vs. time issue. If you have more money than time, get the pre-made maps. If you want to save the $100 for more beer on your trip or something, make your own maps. With the internet, you can obtain all the information you'll need for your trip. Although -- for a trip across the country, getting maps for all the states would start to add up. May as well buy the ACA map? Printing out Google's maps might work, though. They aren't very hi-res though -- you would need a lot of supplemental information.

    Personally, I photocopy my Washington State atlas and highlight my route. Another sheet of paper lists all points of interest. I also write out a cue sheet.

  13. #13
    Punk Rock Lives Roughstuff's Avatar
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    A BAD day touring beats a GOOD day working. I liked alot of the ACA routes, especially in the west, they did a good job with scenery and road selection. My own route selection varies widely in quality, because I tend to follow local advice, including local cyclists and other roadies. All else equal, I just head for the hills and farming regions and let the chips fall where they may. I try not to let google earth and other elaborate mapping and visual aids ruin the seredipity of touring.


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  14. #14
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by emor View Post
    If you want to save the $100 for more beer on your trip or something, make your own maps.
    I'm gonna use the ACA maps for a NT crossing this summer, figuring they'd probably save me as much as they cost in camping fees??? I'm not a fan of wild camping, but certainly will if nothing else free is conveniently available. Counting on the ACA maps to lead me to the free sanctioned sites. Plus all their other features ought to make the trip more interesting. Hopefully.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

  15. #15
    Question Authority JoeMan's Avatar
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    You may consider ordering bike maps from state transportation departments. ODOT here in Oregon. I have used their free map of the coastal bike route many times and also their inland routes that depict traffic concentrations and elevations. Many states in the west have free bike maps for the asking. I believe ACA maps to be excellent and have used sections of their Northern Tier route maps. However, free route planning maps are always attractive.

  16. #16
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    "Counting on the ACA maps to lead me to the free sanctioned sites. Plus all their other features ought to make the trip more interesting."

    Unless they have updated them since I did the NT in '99, they won't tell you what's free and what's not. Campground are listed as private, forest service, park service, city park/fairgrounds, BLM, etc. Most of these places will charge you something. However, city parks are often free so stay in places with city parks/fairgrounds if you want to save $. Note that as you get farther east, camping can become a lot more expensive. You may find youself paying $40 for a site.

    Some specifics for the Northern Tier:

    We started in Seattle and spent the first three nights at Kitsap, Pt. Townsend and Bayview--all state facilities. They had special hiker/biker rates of $5. Probably more now.

    The county park in Rockport, WA is quite nice and has Adirondak shelters, but they cost extra.

    Colonial Creek (N.P.S.) a little ways past Newhalem, WA is nice and makes a good place to start the 30 mile assault of the Cascades. KOA in Winthrop, WA had special cyclist rates and is a great place for a day off.

    Shanon's Ice Cream Parlor and "campground" in Tonasket, WA was interesting and cheap. Fairgrounds in Republic, WA was decent and cheap.

    When you get to Glacier National Park, stay at Sprague Creek Campground. Was just there this summer. Still only $5 for cyclists.

    Let me know if you would like any additional info. It's been more than 10 years, but I still remember a good deal of stuff about the route.

  17. #17
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
    "Counting on the ACA maps to lead me to the free sanctioned sites. Plus all their other features ought to make the trip more interesting."

    Unless they have updated them since I did the NT in '99, they won't tell you what's free and what's not.
    It should be noted that they do at least have phone numbers so you can call ahead. Also if the NT is like the TA they do list lots of free sites like city parks, churches, schools, etc. Oh and phone numbers provided for other local resources (police, fire, etc.) will often provide leads.

  18. #18
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeMan View Post
    You may consider ordering bike maps from state transportation departments. ODOT here in Oregon. I have used their free map of the coastal bike route many times and also their inland routes that depict traffic concentrations and elevations. Many states in the west have free bike maps for the asking. I believe ACA maps to be excellent and have used sections of their Northern Tier route maps. However, free route planning maps are always attractive.
    Having state maps is always nice even if using AC maps. The thing is that it is a good bit of extra weight to carry 12 or so state maps. We just picked up a highway map when we got to each state and gave them away or otherwise disposed of them when we left the state.

    Bike maps might be a bit tougher to have handy unless you want to carry them all, but I guess you you could get them all ahead of the trip and have someone at home mail then to you via general delivery. We just didn't bother with them on the TA. Personally I was always satisfied with the AC maps and whatever regular road maps we could pick up (usually for free).

    BTW the TA maps are a bit of weight as well, but we found it worth having the the ones for the upcoming states with us. It is handy to be able to mark stuff on them if you get tips from tourists going the other way. It was also nice to look ahead to see what was in the next couple states. So we started with the whole batch and whenever we mailed something home we put the maps we were done with in the package.
    Last edited by staehpj1; 01-28-10 at 12:15 PM.

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