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  1. #1
    sniffin' glue zoltani's Avatar
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    Forest Service Road Touring - Tips, Tricks, and Advice

    Since moving to Washington I have noticed that options for touring in the mountains is somewhat limited on state highways, there just doesn't seem to be that many that run through the Cascades. However, what I have noticed is that there is a maze of forest service roads that could keep one busy for a long long time.

    I like the idea of getting out in the forests away from cars, people, noise and having a bit more solitude. It's a little daunting trying to figure out where or how to get started planning a route and navigating these roads.

    We don't often have threads discussing this type of touring, so I thought I would start one.

    What tips, tricks, and advice do you have for forest service road touring?

    A couple of points that I am particularly interested in:

    - Route planning

    - Bike type, tire width and recommendations, other bike gear (I would like to still use my drop bar touring bike)

    - Navigation, paper maps and GPS, which GPS would you recommend for this type of riding? What paper maps to supplement with? Navigation tips?

    - Dealing with the unexpected (washouts, poor conditions, etc)

    - Anything different supply/gear wise? Obviously I will likely have to carry more food than usual, water filter, and such.

    - Any other points you feel like discussing or bringing up feel free!


    So let's have a discussion of forest service/off road touring!
    Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.

  2. #2
    40 yrs bike touring
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    I ran across this recently:

    There are 377,810 miles of roads in the National Forest System, in addition to 60,000 miles of recently discovered "ghost" roads (unmapped logging roads). That's enough to circle the globe 17 times. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Report of the Forest Service, Fiscal Year 1995. Washington, DC: June 1996. p. 129)

    I have enjoyed off road touring on my BG RNR on forestry roads and lower quality ones for the last two plus decades. The best routes have been in British Columbia and Albert in Canada. The dirt and gravel road maintenance was uniformly excellent. US maintenance is a low priority unless it entails opening a new area for logging. One feature in parts of Canadian forests was a coded number and/or color system for the roads. You could tell the difference between main thru routes and dead end logging spurs. I have not found anything similar in the US Forest Service areas. Does anyone else know of one?

    The most important thing for me is keeping total weight low due to steep grades and soft ground or if you must carry the bike across streams and rivers or over fallen trees every 25 feet. Low gearing is a must too. Tires 1.75 or wider allow float on softer sandy ground and with lower air pressure offer more ride comfort. Food security in bear country is very important or mandatory in some areas. A Bear Vault or Ursak or practice hanging food out of the critter's reach is needed.

    Forestry maps are frequently outdated. Try supplementing with BLM maps when available. They seem to have had more frequent updates. Adjust your mileage goals downward to include the unexpected. Bring the extra tools and first aid needed to get youself home. Cell phones may not work where you are riding.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Northwestrider's Avatar
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    No tips here, but I have spent several days ( none overnight ) riding the forest service tails in Washington. It's a great activity, almost no traffic depending on where you go. I've a MTB with a flat bar and fat tires with knobby type tires. I don't use GPS, but I imagine a GPS would work in the higher areas. Down in the valley areas, i doubt any would work reliably. I've never found water availability a problem, at what ever time of the year. Oh one tip, as arctos said, run your tires at a lower pressure to reduce the number of times you spin out when on steeper sections.

  4. #4
    sniffin' glue zoltani's Avatar
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    I ride a BG RNR also. Do you have a recommendation for tires (700c) to go with? Currently I have 35mm Vittoria Randos, but know that I might need to go with something more beefy. There is also the fatc that a lot of these tours would likely involve both pavement and dirt, so there is surely a compromise. I've got the 22t granny gear, so I think that should be low enough.

    As far as keeping weight down, I think I could do it, and if I skipped the stove that would really help, but I like a hot meal and tea sometimes. Do you have any suggestions in this department? Hopefully if I do this touring with my wife we can spread some of the weight of the tent and camp kitchen between us. If solo I might be tempted to go with my tarp/bivy setup, though I worry about critters and bugs. Bears are definitely a concern around here.

    Do you use front and rear panniers? Low rider racks should be OK for where I plan to go, I don't want to do anything too technical where clearance issues would be arise.

    Do you use a GPS or just paper maps? Paper maps would suffice, but maybe a GPS would help with on-the–fly navigation and route modifications for unexpected conditions. I would hate to have the maps that I think I would need for the route I plan only to be missing a panel needed for a quick route change.
    Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.

  5. #5
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    My quick 2 cents. I have been wandering the fire/utility/logging roads around Astoria and I have found google maps to be not completley accurate. I can follow a road on the map and then the last part might be through a steep, narrow foot trail, while on the map it shows a "road."

  6. #6
    40 yrs bike touring
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    Quote Originally Posted by zoltani View Post
    I ride a BG RNR also. Do you have a recommendation for tires (700c) to go with? Currently I have 35mm Vittoria Randos, but know that I might need to go with something more beefy. There is also the fatc that a lot of these tours would likely involve both pavement and dirt, so there is surely a compromise. I've got the 22t granny gear, so I think that should be low enough.

    As far as keeping weight down, I think I could do it, and if I skipped the stove that would really help, but I like a hot meal and tea sometimes. Do you have any suggestions in this department? Hopefully if I do this touring with my wife we can spread some of the weight of the tent and camp kitchen between us. If solo I might be tempted to go with my tarp/bivy setup, though I worry about critters and bugs. Bears are definitely a concern around here.

    Do you use front and rear panniers? Low rider racks should be OK for where I plan to go, I don't want to do anything too technical where clearance issues would be arise.

    Do you use a GPS or just paper maps? Paper maps would suffice, but maybe a GPS would help with on-the–fly navigation and route modifications for unexpected conditions. I would hate to have the maps that I think I would need for the route I plan only to be missing a panel needed for a quick route change.
    On my BG RNR I use Schwalbe Marathon XR 1.75. They are the largest I can fit with my fenders. If you do not use fenders then I thinkk that the Schwalbe 2.0 will fit the RNR. The 1.75 size works well for me under all conditions except the deepest sand and mud yet also rides well on the road. They are not light but very durable and handle well. I used them on the Divide Ride. You could also just move up from the 35mm to a 40 or 42mm for more cushion and float without the extra weight of the larger sizes.

    I use a Mini-Trangia stove and cook kit combination [12oz] or other alcohol stove and cook pot [8oz].And there are lighter ones as well. There is not much of a weight penalty or need to leave it at home. I like cooking real healthy food at home or on a trip. Eating well is one of my rewards while traveling by any means.

    I used a small floorless Tarptent with netting along the perimeter and door on the Divide Ride. This was a light [20oz] bug/critter free shelter. I recently ordered a Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid Pyramid shelter with perimeter netting and large screen doors [about 32oz]. Room for two as needed and a palace for one yet light, compact, strong and well ventilated when needed.

    I only use front panniers on the BG high mountain rack (not a low rider one for the reasons you mention- obstacles close to the ground) and a dry bag stuffer on top of the rear rack. Sometimes mere deep ruts in the dirt road are enough to catch the bottom of the panniers and damage them or cause a crash.
    [My previous posts about this setup explain why I find this very effective for off pavement touring and touring in general. A search should turn those up for you.]

    My old habits of using a map and compass just work for me. My travel plans are fluid enough to absorb getting "lost" regularly! No GPS experience planned.

  7. #7
    Banned. Bekologist's Avatar
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    definetly not google maps.

    best maps for washington wilderness roads are the detail on the USFS large scale maps available at the forest service offices. gazatteer is pretty good until you get into the thick of it.

    be prepared to ride dead ends and get lost.

    there's a few really good dirt tours into the mountains of Washington, but a bit difficult to explain in a forum. for example, i like the ride over between Sequim and Quilcene past dungeness forks, over 4,000 foot scar pass and decend the big quilcene river road.

    Also, behind Rock Ridge to Lake Wenatchee after a loop of Jack Pass and the old Cascade road over stevens, out to plain and east, or north to Trinity. EXCELLENT>

    woodinville-snoqualmie-centennial trail-granite falls/mountain loop highway/ darrington-arlington, and return on centennial to snoqualmie and return is a classic overnighter/3 day trip, if you include camping at Monte Cristo. the FS roads into those Cascades, athough mostly dead enders, are sublime.

    the iron horse trail is a classic.

    go bike camp at Coal Lake across from Big 4 mountain. you'll have to trust me on this one.

    if you haven't ridden dead horse curve and the highest road in the state to harts pass and slate peak, put the north cascades on the roster. but you usually can't ride that until august, september in a heavy snow year like this one. theres probably still 10 feet of snow on top of the highest road in the state!

    lots of good rides. down in the dark divide between rainier, saint helens and mount adams is also excellent.

    thezoltani, i sent you a PM.
    Last edited by Bekologist; 06-08-11 at 11:00 PM.

  8. #8
    Senior Member timmythology's Avatar
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    Just adding a tag to this so that I can monitor it.

    My goal is to start riding the FSR in Mt Hood NF.
    From what I know from the 4x4 days, is that you have to figure out the main road number, and correspond that to a name if it goes through a private area.

    I have been using Google, and local maps from the Forest Service. I have also thought of taking my bike there for some exploratory days ride while car camping.

    Hope you have fun.

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    I agree that getting lost is fun. Is it still fun on a loaded touring bike?

  10. #10
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    I've ridden lots of forest and mountain trails in Europe but not the USA. I used my std touring bike and panniers+low-riders, no special equipment required. I found that 32mm tyres were a little too narrow but i still rode. 37mm should be fine.

    When you come to a junction mark the road you came from and the road you left by. Use directional markers such as some stones or twigs left in an arrow. That way you can always backtrack.
    Carry a compass.
    For camping in forest areas, a hammock is better than a tent. I had trouble finding a flat, smooth surface free of roots and rocks.
    Take care with cooking and fire in the forest.

  11. #11
    djb
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    many good points, especially of taking care with fire.
    As with any other outdoor wilderness activity where one is more remote, one would want to be a bit more conservative with downhill speeds or whatever as an accident with injury could be more complicated/serious, especially if you are on your own.

  12. #12
    Banned. Bekologist's Avatar
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    ah, but when its good you can really open it up and let the bike fly!



    That is one of the premier backcountry descents in Washington state, Zoltani could easily ride this on a weekend from Seattle.

    this is video from a section of about an 8 mile or so paved descent in the middle of National Forest in the mountains of Washington.

    Its stuck in the middle of the wilderness, a screaming decent of thousands of feet, on nearly abandoned blacktop, and the only way to it is on miles of gravel wilderness riding.
    Last edited by Bekologist; 06-09-11 at 08:48 AM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Newspaperguy's Avatar
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    In British Columbia, if you're on the forestry roads, you're on your own. Most if not all these roads go into remote areas and there's a good chance you will encounter no other road users. Cellular service is nonexistent. If you have a breakdown or an accident, nobody else is going to show up.

    On forestry roads I've ridden, the surface is sandy which makes for slow going and hard cycling. Also, the grades in some areas are steeper than on the highways, so you may end up having to walk your bike down or up a hill.
    Life is good.

  14. #14
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zoltani View Post
    Since moving to Washington I have noticed that options for touring in the mountains is somewhat limited on state highways, there just doesn't seem to be that many that run through the Cascades. However, what I have noticed is that there is a maze of forest service roads that could keep one busy for a long long time.

    I like the idea of getting out in the forests away from cars, people, noise and having a bit more solitude. It's a little daunting trying to figure out where or how to get started planning a route and navigating these roads.

    We don't often have threads discussing this type of touring, so I thought I would start one.

    What tips, tricks, and advice do you have for forest service road touring?

    A couple of points that I am particularly interested in:

    - Route planning

    - Bike type, tire width and recommendations, other bike gear (I would like to still use my drop bar touring bike)

    - Navigation, paper maps and GPS, which GPS would you recommend for this type of riding? What paper maps to supplement with? Navigation tips?

    - Dealing with the unexpected (washouts, poor conditions, etc)

    - Anything different supply/gear wise? Obviously I will likely have to carry more food than usual, water filter, and such.

    - Any other points you feel like discussing or bringing up feel free!


    So let's have a discussion of forest service/off road touring!
    I've done many of these lasting from overnight to multiday. I've carried bags (DO NOT use lowriders) and used trailers. I just got - but haven't tried - my Revelate Design bike packing bags. If it ever stops snowing in this damned state...and then flooding afterwards...I'll give them a try.

    If the roads are well maintained or are railtrails, a road touring bike can do the job. But if things turn nasty (nasty on a loaded bike is a line that is very easy to cross), I prefer a mountain bike with at least a front suspension. A suspended mountain bike also opens up new territory. My preferred off-road touring bike is this one, a Moots YBB



    It takes the edge off the rear wheel hits without a complicated rear shock mechanism.

    Bags work okay but they make the bike more difficult to handle on rough terrain. The bike takes a real beating because the wheels are slamming into stuff with a pretty heavy load. Handling is more difficult and you have to be careful about picking lines both up and downhill.

    Putting bags on a shock is not all that easy and it makes the shock very sluggish. It will probably still do it job but with the extra load, it won't do it as well. That's why I went with a trailer early on. Especially before super light equipment. The trailer is easier to pull over obstacles both when riding and walking and the bike handles a little better. Trailers do tend to lift the rear of the bike so steep downhills are more challenging.

    Personally, I'd stick with paper maps. Electronic devices need electricity and that can be in short supply out in the bush. They may be more accurate than paper but if they don't work, they aren't accurate at all
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  15. #15
    sniffin' glue zoltani's Avatar
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    I was just up on mountain loop highway this past weekend. It was a wonderful ride, and the 42 miles of busy highway from Stanwood to get to the loop was worth it in the end.

    A great mapping tool that I use is http://mapper.acme.com/
    It's got USGS topo, which is great for finding campgrounds and forest service roads, though I don't know how up-to-date it is.
    Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.

  16. #16
    sniffin' glue zoltani's Avatar
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    ^ for example i put markers at Sequim, Quilcene and dungeness forks in acmemapper and I can pretty much see the route Bekologist is talking about.
    Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.

  17. #17
    Fraser Valley Dave
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    Some good advice so far. I have ridden many forestry roads in British Columbia. Yes, you are your own, so must carry enough to see you through+, including good 1st aid and tools etc. Bears are everywhere, so I always string my edibles up high. Cougars are another concern on the roads and trails that don't have wide, cleared road allowance.(several bike riders have been jumped, as they represent a fleeing quarry) As for the bike, any well-built mountain bike will do. It should have tough off-road tires, 40-42 mm. I use a light 2-man cycling tent with floor (to keep out the ants and earwigs etc.) and full fly. I also carry a small primos stove so that I don't miss out on a hot drink or meal while in dry forest conditions. Never, never, cook, or keep food, including candy bars etc. in your tent. I have used a well-built trailer with good results, and have used panniers. It's a must to have very strong, well-built racks and panniers with heavy duty hanging systems. It's a personal choice, but I would stay away from full clip-on cycling shoes. I use heavy duty walking runner type shoes as you might be walking a lot on steep, loose, uneven grades, as well as in mud. In B.C. most water coming from immediate snow melt is safe to drink. If it has a chance to run through swamp or muskeg, I will boil it first to avoid "beaver fever". If you find your total weight is low enough, carry a good digital camera and pocket books so you can identify the birds, flora, bugs, and animals you will see along the way.

  18. #18
    Banned. Bekologist's Avatar
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    actually, acme mapper didn't show the scar pass route over the NE corner of the Olympics.

    I would avoid computer maps at all costs except at home. you're going to need some paper maps.

    USFS best, USGS topo great, green trails and the olympic specific ones are very, very good for road access, if not completely up to date, very good with almost all rideable routes across the terrain of Washington state.

    to plan rides in Washington, get a Delorme gazateer.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Newspaperguy's Avatar
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    If you're using the paper maps, check the publication date. Some of these maps have not been updated in many years and as a result, the roads are not always in the condition as shown on the maps.
    Life is good.

  20. #20
    Banned. Bekologist's Avatar
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    ...that's part of the fun! nothing like abandoned logging roads with blowdowns to grind the big chainring over!

    as long as there's no bridges washed out, overgrown roads - so long as not 30 years last driven - make for pretty sweet paths IMO.

    Here's some video of a washout on the Mountain Loop from a few years ago.....


  21. #21
    djb
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    re: safety after seeing your vid Mr Bek, a number of years ago, one of my wife's cousin's son died in a fall off a trail in Scotland. Just a slip in a dangerous spot and he had spent his life (he was about 30) doing outdoor things. Im not trying to be dramatic, but just that one should be more careful especially in areas where aid will be long coming, or not at all if you are alone.

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    Member spons23's Avatar
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    In 2008 I did the first 900 miles of the Great Divide Trail. It is largely on fire roads, at least in Montana. The roads were were great. It was the only time in my life that I enjoyed seeing a car only to let me know I wasn't hopefully lost. I rode on a fully rigid Long Haul Trucker with 2.1 26 in tires. Looking back a hard tail 29er would be much better on the body for that type of terrain.

  23. #23
    Banned. Bekologist's Avatar
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    thanks, djb. i've been a solo wilderness traveller for decades. and quite conservative in how far i push the envelope when i am far from aid.

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    Senior Member KD5NRH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zoltani View Post
    What tips, tricks, and advice do you have for forest service road touring?
    Carry an extra GPS, sealed up with at least two sets of batteries. That only gets opened if your primary goes out and you're in the process of getting your butt back to civilization. Since the roads are probably not in the maps of most "driving" GPSs, a hiking type unit will be just as good at keeping you headed in roughly the right direction.

    Also, road flares produce an insane amount of smoke, which tends to draw attention in forests if anyone happens to be looking at the moment, so it's a good way to catch the eye of a passing plane in an emergency. Dropping one in the bottom of each pannier wouldn't be a bad idea.
    Last edited by KD5NRH; 06-10-11 at 01:03 AM.

  25. #25
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KD5NRH View Post
    Carry an extra GPS, sealed up with at least two sets of batteries. That only gets opened if your primary goes out and you're in the process of getting your butt back to civilization. Since the roads are probably not in the maps of most "driving" GPSs, a hiking type unit will be just as good at keeping you headed in roughly the right direction.
    Or you could carry a marvelous invention called 'a map'. Works without batteries, is thin and compact, can be dropped and kicked around or abused and it still keeps working If you need amusement, you can fold it into a hat or a boat. You can use it for toilet paper if you need to - try that with a GPS

    Quote Originally Posted by KD5NRH View Post
    Also, road flares produce an insane amount of smoke, which tends to draw attention in forests if anyone happens to be looking at the moment, so it's a good way to catch the eye of a passing plane in an emergency. Dropping one in the bottom of each pannier wouldn't be a bad idea.
    Seriously? Road flares burn for hours! They are difficult to put out and are even used in forest fire fighting for setting back fires. They have no place in your panniers nor in the hands of the common person in the forest. Not unless you want to compound your 'lostness' with having to deal with a forest fire too.

    If you really need a fire - with smoke - you can do a very good job with that paper map (another reason to carry one) and green branches. Just keep the fire away from the rest of the forest.
    Last edited by cyccommute; 06-10-11 at 07:03 AM.
    Stuart Black
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