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  1. #1
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    Charting a route

    Hi everyone. With the weather getting cooler and my preparations for next years cross-country tour switching from 100 mile rides to hour long map studies I was wondering what sort of recommendations people have for how to chart a course?

    I've been thinking of doing to ol' faithful adventure cycling transatlantic path...but after some consideration I think I want to take my own route to make it more personal. Does anybody have any recommendations to gauge road conditions, climbing, towns, etc. along a given route?

    Thanks for any help!

  2. #2
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    Things to consider when developing a route (in no particular order): Review each state's bike map (if one exists) for possible routes. Determine what, if anything, special you want to see, i.e. Yellowstone, biggest ball of string, etc. Review each state's Dept of Transportation site for traffic counts (if traffic counts are high, use Google maps' streetview to see if road has a shoulder). Review weather patterns (temps, winds, etc.) via historical data on a site such as WeatherUnderground. Review Google Maps for bike paths and routes (you will need to use streetview to verify if they are an actual route, a path, a trail, etc.). Do a search on on Google maps for appropriate services, i.e. "campgrounds near Tulsa, OK" (not super accurate but a start). Ride your bike between breaks researching. If really anal about it (like me), search state county maps for non-highway routes. Remember that most towns between 200 and 1500 people probably do not have a full-sized grocery store and other services are limited.

    Be forewarned, this can be an addictive hobby. I have literally hundreds of routes around the country.

    This should get you started. If you are totally open about which route, you might consider buying an atlas and marking routes in color (red = bad route, green = good route) so you can go back and piece together a route if you decide you really do want to see the biggest frying pan on your way to seeing the biggest ball of string. Most routes will be small, i.e. under 50 miles, so you can piece together your own route.

    Even though I highly recommend you seek your own path, there is nothing wrong about letting ACA (or others) do the work for you. A big benefit to NOT researchiin depthndepth is that you get surprises of what is ahead.
    Happy Trails and May the Wind Be At Your Back!
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  3. #3
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TulsaJohn View Post
    A big benefit to NOT researchiin depthndepth is that you get surprises of what is ahead.
    1+

    Photos(Google)and elevation data(www.rwgps.com)make route planning nearly anywhere easy. In as much depth as you like. A resource most overlook is Warmshowers hosts. If you're a member, you can call any near the route for advice about a specific area from someone with first hand experience. Link to state tourist bureaus for free state maps and literature.

    When using the above resources, I get just enough info to verify the reasonabliness of the route, but not so much that I've done a virtual tour before ever rolling out. I don't want to know in advance what's over the next hill or around the next curve. Once I'm satisfied with the route, I transfer it to my gps as a track file.

    You can, of course, just wing it with a paper map. The old fashion way. Plan as you go. You'll get there. I've done several of those.
    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

  4. #4
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CMoss View Post
    Hi everyone. With the weather getting cooler and my preparations for next years cross-country tour
    Which country are you planning to cross?

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    I would tend to just wing it much of the way if not following a standard route. Even when following an AC route I tend to wing it for some sections.

    In case you are not completely decided on doing your own route, I will say that a big part of what made our Trans America special was that we were on a route frequented by other like minded folks. I have done tours on AC routes and tours not mapped by AC and based on that experience I have to say that the Trans America route was something special. We did depart from it for a few hours or a few days here or there, so we got the feel of that too, but we met some good friends along the way and enjoyed comparing notes with other riders.

    On the Southern Tier I was off rote a lot more and I don't feel that route has the same special quality of camaraderie as the TA does. If doing the ST again I might wing all or nearly all of it, but for the middle latitudes of the country I highly recommend riding at least a significant portion of the TA.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    Which country are you planning to cross?
    I'm sorry, I keep forgetting that this is a great worldwide forum. I'm planning to cross the US.

  7. #7
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CMoss View Post
    I'm sorry, I keep forgetting that this is a great worldwide forum. I'm planning to cross the US.
    When you mentioned the Atlantic and crossing a country, I thought perhaps you were thinking of France. We've discovered the Velodyssey Trail which runs from the UK to Spain along the Atlantic coast of France. The little bit we've done recently is beautiful ... you could cross a country and take in gorgeous Atlantic beaches.

    http://www.velodyssey.com/

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    Call me lazy, but I think a first long tour is worth taking on an Adventure Cycling route (like the TransAm). AFter that, you can enjoy the long nights of winter as you research on the web. Road surface? Traffic? Sight lines and shoulders, at least in the mountains? Services -- water, stores, restaurants, rest rooms, campsites, bike shops, post offices if you need to have something mailed or shipped, motels? "Attractions"? Local color or history?

    What AC gives you is a pretty good route (not perfect), all of the above for that route, and, at least in the east, a variety of choices. One of the problems is trying to figure out where you're going to end up the day after tomorrow. If you've mapped out a route and guestimated your stops, do you have backups? While you could try to map out all the available services, etc., along any given route, that's a lot more research and data than I'd want to collect, sort, and carry. Some days 30 miles is a hard slog, and some days 60 is a short day. Within the linear AC route, you'll have a good selection of where you can crash, and where you can push.

  9. #9
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclebum View Post
    1+

    Photos(Google)and elevation data(www.rwgps.com)make route planning nearly anywhere easy.
    Google has a bike routing feature which is great. It finds lots of bike paths. I wish they would add a feature that uses elevation changes in their routing, Sometimes it is better to go a few miles out of your way to avoid lots of climbing.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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    Quote Originally Posted by TulsaJohn View Post
    Things to consider when developing a route (in no particular order): Review each state's bike map (if one exists) for possible routes. Determine what, if anything, special you want to see, i.e. Yellowstone, biggest ball of string, etc. Review each state's Dept of Transportation site for traffic counts (if traffic counts are high, use Google maps' streetview to see if road has a shoulder). Review weather patterns (temps, winds, etc.) via historical data on a site such as WeatherUnderground. Review Google Maps for bike paths and routes (you will need to use streetview to verify if they are an actual route, a path, a trail, etc.). Do a search on on Google maps for appropriate services, i.e. "campgrounds near Tulsa, OK" (not super accurate but a start). Ride your bike between breaks researching. If really anal about it (like me), search state county maps for non-highway routes. Remember that most towns between 200 and 1500 people probably do not have a full-sized grocery store and other services are limited.

    Be forewarned, this can be an addictive hobby. I have literally hundreds of routes around the country.

    This should get you started. If you are totally open about which route, you might consider buying an atlas and marking routes in color (red = bad route, green = good route) so you can go back and piece together a route if you decide you really do want to see the biggest frying pan on your way to seeing the biggest ball of string. Most routes will be small, i.e. under 50 miles, so you can piece together your own route.

    Even though I highly recommend you seek your own path, there is nothing wrong about letting ACA (or others) do the work for you. A big benefit to NOT researchiin depthndepth is that you get surprises of what is ahead.
    Alot of good advice.

    If you're using the Garmin MapSource program, all roads that are yellow and orange are high speed and should be avoided, especially the orange. Having said that, it's fun planning a route around those roads and I too enjoy making them. It takes alot of time and trust me, not all people like doing this! I think on average, it takes about 2 hours to plan a 100 mile route. A good one at that.

  11. #11
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    Google has a bike routing feature which is great. It finds lots of bike paths. I wish they would add a feature that uses elevation changes in their routing, Sometimes it is better to go a few miles out of your way to avoid lots of climbing.
    Funny. I was just thinking how I wish the google maps bike directions gave you a check box to avoid going out of the way to use bike paths or maybe even one to avoid them. I do find them pleasant and useful in some places, but often prefer to ride regular roads. On the Trans America we tended to avoid them everywhere except in the Frisco-Breckenridge area in Colorado, where they had a wonderful trail system that happened to go exactly where we wanted to go. Again on a recent tour leaving Denver they happened to go where I wanted and were nice, but I think of those instances as exceptions.

  12. #12
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    Funny. I was just thinking how I wish the google maps bike directions gave you a check box to avoid going out of the way to use bike paths or maybe even one to avoid them. I do find them pleasant and useful in some places, but often prefer to ride regular roads. On the Trans America we tended to avoid them everywhere except in the Frisco-Breckenridge area in Colorado, where they had a wonderful trail system that happened to go exactly where we wanted to go. Again on a recent tour leaving Denver they happened to go where I wanted and were nice, but I think of those instances as exceptions.
    Another good suggestion.

    Garmin has an "avoid" feature. One useful option is avoid unpaved roads. If you don't have it turned in, it will take you down every goat path in the region.

    But an "avoid bike paths" would be a nice feature on Google.

    A "risk level" would be nice too. Garmin will try and be a bit of a nanny and have you avoid roads that it thinks are busy. I imagine Google bicycle feature works in such a fashion. I was on a ride. I knew I was only about 10 miles away but it was brutal hot and just wanted to know exactly how far. I called up the route on the GPS and it told me 35 miles! It was trying to route me around a mile of road that I Knew had very little traffic.

    Google does have sort of an avoid feature. If it routes you down a bike path and you see a shorter distance, you can drag part of the route to something you like better. It works pretty well. I just use it picking a route for a friend to a nearby town and I knocked 10 miles off the suggested route.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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  13. #13
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    If it routes you down a bike path and you see a shorter distance, you can drag part of the route to something you like better. It works pretty well.
    Another thing that works well is to let google pick the route with regular driving directions maybe using "avoid highways" and again using the bicycle directions and compare.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
    Call me lazy, but I think a first long tour is worth taking on an Adventure Cycling route (like the TransAm). AFter that, you can enjoy the long nights of winter as you research on the web. Road surface? Traffic? Sight lines and shoulders, at least in the mountains? Services -- water, stores, restaurants, rest rooms, campsites, bike shops, post offices if you need to have something mailed or shipped, motels? "Attractions"? Local color or history?

    What AC gives you is a pretty good route (not perfect), all of the above for that route, and, at least in the east, a variety of choices. One of the problems is trying to figure out where you're going to end up the day after tomorrow. If you've mapped out a route and guestimated your stops, do you have backups? While you could try to map out all the available services, etc., along any given route, that's a lot more research and data than I'd want to collect, sort, and carry. Some days 30 miles is a hard slog, and some days 60 is a short day. Within the linear AC route, you'll have a good selection of where you can crash, and where you can push.
    Well, you probably don't need to do an Adventure Cycling route, but certainly getting out there and comparing what you actually experience with what you see on the map (real or virtual) is mighty handy later on when planning more tours.

    The advice published on his website by the late Ken Keifer is still regarded as extremely useful, particularly in identifying by how a road is shaped on a map whether it has lots of climbing, or has really steep up-and-over roads, or is flat, and whether it is a significant highway, or a backroad with sealed or gravel surfaces.

    It's certainly worth reading or refreshing the information on his site, and I know that after reading it many years ago, and putting together my growing experience, I can interpret quite a few features that assist me with planning a route through just about any region.

    FWIW, we've found some weaknesses with googlemaps outside North America. We prefer paper maps that can be picked up at information centres in various towns along the way.
    Dream. Dare. Do.

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    The method I've started really taking a look at is to use www.rwgps.com. What I have found to be rather interesting way of finding easy routing is to pick your start point and finish point. Let rwgps.com do the routing. Naturally be on cycling versus driving. It will find the bike paths. Then you go out and look at the map and reroute your oourse as close to the bike path as possible without using the bike path. The route I used, prior to knowing this concept, for getting from NH to OH last month was around 820 miles with 30+K of climbing. Using rwgps increased the mileage slightly, something like 830 miles but dropped the climbing down to 23K feet. In most cases I could have easily avoid the bike paths and kept myself on regular roads/highways the entire route. I haven't checked to see what the mileage/climbing would have been yet while using the general route chosen by rwgps with the rerouting to stick to the roads. I'll do some more playing with that this winter when I get more of a chance.

    I also like to use Google Earth to get an idea of where I might be able to stealth camp and like others have said to see how the shoulders are and possibly, if the image is new enough, what the pavement conditions are like.

    rwgps.com does a real nice job of showing you what to expect climbing wise and the nice thing is you can use it for free. I do.

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    This all sounds great. One of my big plans for this ride is to try and avoid as much higher technology (GPS, smartphones, etc.) as possible -- partially to get away from it and partially just because it'll be difficult to keep things charged -- so on the road I would really like to rely primarily on paper maps.

    In preparation though I have no problem using google maps and such, however one question I have reading the majority of the recommendations is how to deal with the grand plan once on the road? This will be my first long tour and as such I don't know how things usually work, however I have to imagine that once on the road things are going to happen to force me off my intended path (flats, needing food, needing to camp early/later) so does anyone have recommendations on how to plan routes without relying on "google maps" or GPS routes? (ROWAN, I am looking up that information you suggested as it sounds like that could be exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for).

    Thanks for the help everyone, I plan on using all of your recommendations since I'm trying to start my planning early. I can't wait to really dig in and start looking at maps and figuring out some places to go!

  17. #17
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    Just a correction -- it's Ken Kifer, and the website is www.kenkifer.com and this is his map page:

    http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/touring/maps.htm
    Dream. Dare. Do.

  18. #18
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CMoss View Post
    This all sounds great. One of my big plans for this ride is to try and avoid as much higher technology (GPS, smartphones, etc.) as possible -- partially to get away from it and partially just because it'll be difficult to keep things charged -- so on the road I would really like to rely primarily on paper maps.

    In preparation though I have no problem using google maps and such, however one question I have reading the majority of the recommendations is how to deal with the grand plan once on the road? This will be my first long tour and as such I don't know how things usually work, however I have to imagine that once on the road things are going to happen to force me off my intended path (flats, needing food, needing to camp early/later) so does anyone have recommendations on how to plan routes without relying on "google maps" or GPS routes? (ROWAN, I am looking up that information you suggested as it sounds like that could be exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for).
    For the most part Rowan and I use paper maps. We've collected a lot of them on this trip (probably time to send a package of them home!!). When we arrive in a town near the edge of the current map, we stop in at the Tourism Office and get a new map for the next section ... just did that today, in fact. We crossed to a new area of France on a ferry, and went straight to the Office du Tourisme to get a new map. The map has a detailed map of the town we're in on one side, so we could find things like shops, cafes, campgrounds/hotels, etc. within the town area, and it has a more general map of the area we're in on the other side. I chatted to the person working in the Tourism Office and she pointed out the cycling route and helped me with some accommodation information.

    When we cycle off this map, we'll stop in the next Office du Tourisme up the road, and get the next map.

    Now in Australia and Europe, just about every town has a Tourism Office. I'm not sure if that's the case in the US. It seems to me you find these places on the main highways, so you may have to go a bit out of your way to find a Tourism Office. Because of that possibility, I would suggest also picking up state maps like what you'd find at your local AAA (or also at Tourism Offices). At least with a state map you'll have a general idea of where you're going and where you might find stuff. Some have campgrounds etc. indicated. We did this for Scotland ... bought a Scotland road map so we could get a bigger picture view of the country and where we wanted to go.

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    The only suggestion I can think of for what you are trying to accomplish would be to do your full research online before you leave and get ahold of the state maps for the states you will going through, Rand McNally atlas. Mark on the map the ideal route in one color and areas to avoid(very steep climbs, limited supply, etc) in another color. Take the maps with you, or if someone is going to be back home while you are travelling have them send the maps to you while you are on the trip. Most of time you can send anything to a post office "c/o General Delivery" here in the United States. Make sure to indicate in the lower left hand corner what your expected arrival date would be. Normally the post office will hold for at least a week and in some spots up to 30 days. The person at home could then send them out at your request. Otherwise you would have to take the maps with you for the full trip.

    I would say the biggest thing would be to do your research ahead of time. You got the whole winter to use to your benefit.

    Like someone else mentioned earlier, one way you could use Rand McNally to your benefit is to find out the size of the towns you will be going through, normally listed in the back, and that should help give you a decent idea of what to expect, serviceswise, when you get into town.

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