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  1. #1
    flaneur boots's Avatar
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    Looking at road maps from a cycling perspective

    I'm completely new to touring, but I'm looking to do some long-distance transportation this summer on my bike.

    My question is, how do I plan my route using a normal road map, as many of you seem to do?

    Of course I know to stay away from interstates, but are divided highways sometimes okay or always a no-no?

    Are federal highways bad and state highways good? Or is it less simple than that?

    On the AAA maps I have, red lines are "primary" roads while black lines are "secondary" roads. Some of the reds are state, some of the blacks are federal. Do I choose black over red, or state over federal? Is there a different, better way to figure this all out?

    Any advice on different brand maps I should be using?

    Thanks all
    give me war redder than blood and fiercer than fire!

  2. #2
    Roam Hawkgrove's Avatar
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    I don’t know if it is true for all states but I have requested from the DOT or downloaded bicycle roadmaps that show your best routes, bike trails, or traffic volume. Make sure they are current because traffic patterns can change quickly, especially in suburban/urban areas. So far, when requesting the hard copies they have been free.

  3. #3
    Insomniac djbrod's Avatar
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    I don't have any first hand experience. Here's Ken Kifer's take on map usage:

    http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/touring/maps.htm
    Be Honest and Fear Not.

  4. #4
    I ride my bike Revtor's Avatar
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    The best maps Ive found which are actually at alot of libraries are the big red "Gazeteer" map books. Theyre RED. and Big size. And Topographic!. And show all roads, even the smally ones. The topo thing is great because you can plan routes around ridges and things.

    I had to hit a highway for a few miles on my tour.. it wasnt too big of a deal. It probably could have been avoided by better planning, but I tend to favor the plan as you go style of riding. Id say that yes you want to avoid highways, but most ather roads are fine.. Maps dont tell you about the shoulder width so youre really on your own. If you can get official bike route maps then I guess that would be nice too, but sometimes they skirt you around interesting towns cities etc... Dont be afraid to leave the planned route and turn your week long ride into an adventure!

    ~Steve

    IMHO
    ~Steve

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by boots
    I'm completely new to touring, but I'm looking to do some long-distance transportation this summer on my bike.

    My question is, how do I plan my route using a normal road map, as many of you seem to do?

    advice on different brand maps I should be using?

    Thanks all
    I would get a used or new copy of Microsoft Streets and trips and set the sofware for maximum speed of 10 mph or less. This will help in finding roads that are slower than 65 mph which is what you really need to avoid.

  6. #6
    Senior Member meanderthal's Avatar
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    I’m in upstate NY. I recommend the DeLorme map series. They’re as big as a Rand McNally and each covers one state. The NY map is great, as are the ones for those that border us. They include all the back roads, elevation lines to show you where the hills are, and also lists of campgrounds and other points of interest without the usual commercial stuff.

    Read “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon, if you haven’t already. It’ll turn you on to those secondary roads (drawn in blue when the book was published) where “America as it was” still exists. There, the in-town cafes are still to be found, alongside the mom-and-pop groceries, neon motels, and a citizenry not yet blasé about the curious spectacles of lycra and luggage that break the horizon.

    One shouldn’t generalize about roads, though. Sometimes it’s wiser to slip onto a “red road” when the only alternative has too many drawbacks, but when I plan a tour and have no info other than the maps themselves, I do tend to summarily choose the lesser roads, just because they evoke more dreams of adventure.

    DeLormes are about $20 a pop; you probably don’t want all 48. For states like Montana that have fewer backroads, where there is often only one way to get from A to B, I like the Rand McNally road atlas. It’s easy on the eyes and includes mileages between towns, which some maps omit or report too sparsely.

    My advice: pore at length over whatever maps you have, and just dream your way across the geography you want to cover. Likely as not you’ll end up choosing a path that will be memorable, and that will, importantly, be yours alone.

    Lew

    p.s. Bikes are allowed on interstates in some states, especially in sections where there’s no alternative path. When traffic is sparse, they can make for a pleasant, scenic ride. Imagine the NY State Thruway without cars, for example.
    An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. - G. K. Chesterton

  7. #7
    flaneur boots's Avatar
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    Let me get this completely clear (as I said, I'm a complete noob):

    If I wanted to bike cross-country on a red, federal highway (not an interstate) I could do it with few problems?
    give me war redder than blood and fiercer than fire!

  8. #8
    flaneur boots's Avatar
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    Anybody have any experience with this map?

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...books&n=507846
    give me war redder than blood and fiercer than fire!

  9. #9
    Senior Member meanderthal's Avatar
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    Yes, you could cross using only red roads with few "problems", depending on what you consider a problem. I exaggerate, but I would think that the redder the road, the more developed, commercially, the route would be. To some, that's a boon; to others, a bane. I like going days without seeing a fast-food restaurant or chain motel, but many are of the opposite mind and that's ok too.

    re problems, I don't consider not finding a motel or an organized campground much of a problem, because I tour prepared to stealth-camp (legally). Somehow things always seem to work out.
    An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. - G. K. Chesterton

  10. #10
    You need a new bike supcom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by boots
    Let me get this completely clear (as I said, I'm a complete noob):

    If I wanted to bike cross-country on a red, federal highway (not an interstate) I could do it with few problems?
    There's really no way to give a yes or no answer to that. Highway conditions vary considerably. Some highways may have considerable traffic. I know that some federal highways have wide shoulders, but some may not. I suggest getting a map of your state and go check some out to get an idea if you would like to ride on them.

    In Texas, there are several classes of highways. There are federal highways, state highways, and farm to Market (or Ranch to Market) roads. Of these, Farm to Market roads are often the nicest roads to ride because they are usually well maintained and have lower traffic densities (not always). But they usually do not have shoulders. State and federal highways more often have shoulders, but also have higher traffic densities.

    If you are planning a cross country trip, consider using one of the Adventure Cycling cross country routes. Check www.adventurecycling.org. They research and publish excellent maps and have been doing so since 1976.

    You can also check various state transportation websites for state cycling maps and routes. The availability varies greatly from state to state, but is worth a look.

  11. #11
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    Roads that a person enjoys on tour are as personal as anything else. It really is up to you. I learned very early on in my touring not to bother asking about road conditions (this was in outback Australia) because one person's heaven is another's hades. Now we just go wherever a road, any road, is indicated. But we choose to avoid anything much above a county road.

    The only thing I ever ask about, and only if the road is unsealed, is: Are there any sandy bits? After once pushing our bikes for 2 hours to gain 1 kilometre, I like to avoid sand. Otherwise, if there's a road marked, go for it, if it's in your direction and it suits.

    Highways with a wide verge are the safest roads for cyclists, but I wouldn't choose to travel on one for very long. Still, that may be your thing.

    The quality and width of the road are generally in direct proportion to the amount of traffic. This means that at each end of the road-quality scale (wide/narrow) roads are safe for cycling: a wide road has a verge, and a narrow road has little traffic (the vehicles can easily pass). I've found that the middle-quality roads can be a problem when they have no verge and more traffic than a cyclist is comfortable with.

    We used Rand McNally for our two years of touring throughout the US and Canada. And if we ever return it will be coming with us.

  12. #12
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    One of the most important things Ken Kifer pointed out was to be able to read contour lines. The closer they are together, the steeper the incline.

    Related to this, he encouraged riders to look at how many bends a road might have in it. Older roads usually wound up and down hills at a reasonably benign slope; newer roads tend to go straight up and over them, resulting in sharper climbs. There are quite a few roads where I live that demonstrate this well -- the newer road goes straight up; the old road, originally formed by horse and cart, is longer but the incline is easier (because it *was* used by horse and cart)... and because it is a less-direct route, the traffic density is much less.

    But certainly, contour lines are a real clue as to what lies ahead, and are very useful for long-distant transportation.

    The colour of roads on a map can determine the traffic densities and to a degree cycling amenity. Of course, this can go out the window in urban or fringe areas. Australian maps also usually indicate if a road is sealed or unsealed or just a vehicular track.

  13. #13
    Year-round cyclist
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    Ken Kifer's primer on reading maps is a great one and fairly much parallels my experience.
    I generally look for roads that are fairly close to a limited-access motorway, because it means I will only have local traffic on the 2-lane highway. Likewise, between the higher-grade 2-lane highway (red or numbered) and the lower-grade 2-lane highway (often unnumbered), the higher-grade tends to have easier grades and is therefore a bit faster, but the lower-grade highway is more local, goes closer to cows, farms, houses, rivers, etc. But if I am in a hurry, it's raining hard, the scenery isn't too interesting, etc., I may prefer a red road.
    As for traffic, it doesn't bother me at all. But I do appreciate riding a quiet road where the only noise I hear comes from the birds.

    You may indeed cross the country on a red road. And it may be a good way to race through it. But you will miss so much of the scenery that you might as well do it in a car.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

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