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Route Planning

Old 03-10-08, 12:04 PM
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Route Planning

Hello all,
I just ran across this site a few weeks ago after reading Ken Kifers site. I really love hiking long distances and I think touring is for me. I am considering the Novara Randonee, as the price is amazing with the 20% off and the REI credit card purchase.

One thing I have not nailed down is how to select the route. Does everyone pick a major highway or do you pick smaller connecting roads. It would seem that the connecting roads would have less traffic but they might be in a bad condition.

Because of my interest, everywhere I drive I have been looking to see if I could ride there. I was driving from Cookeville to Tullahoma TN the other day and i noticed that it is a posted bike route. I was pretty excited to see that, but the only thing is that the speed limit is 60 and 70 in some places. Although there is a generous shoulder, would you ride on this road or try to find smaller roads to take.

Thanks for the help. I am looking forward to what I can learn from this forum.

Edited to Add:
I was also curious about this. I have read about people staying at churches and was wondering how hard it would be just to call churches and stay in on their property. I am sure there is a ton on the way, but would they like that or consider me a liability.

Last edited by xCarsonx; 03-10-08 at 12:12 PM.
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Old 03-10-08, 12:31 PM
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Yes, there can be a trade-off between traffic volume, shoulder size, road condition, and (for me anyway) dogs. There's no magic formula or online route generator. Sometimes the small roads are safer than the big roads, sometimes not. Local knowledge can really help - stop and ask people who live in the area.

For higher-level planning, visit AdventureCycling.org for cross country and other long distance pre-planned bike routes, as well as guided tours and learn-to-tour classes. You can buy route maps from them, and I think this is a great thing to do for your first tour, they have lots of info on where to stay, services, elevation profiles, distances, so you can focus on the enjoying your ride without being too stressed out about routing. They do a pretty good job picking safer/nicer roads - but sometimes make mistakes too.

visit crazyguyonabike.com for on line bike touring journals, you can look at where other folks have ridden.

many state departments of transportation have information about roads that may include traffic volume and shoulder information.

talk to local bike shops and bike clubs about the riding around your home town, they might have some routes posted. Also good to do on tour, if you are trying to route through a city, you can ask the locals (phone, email, stop in).

there are a bunch of online mapping sites that people upload their rides to, i find them not very useful, but you can google around - mapmyride, routeslip for example.

RE: churches - I haven't done that, but I have stayed at city/county parks and fairgrounds. You just have to figure out who to ask - try police, library, fire dept, chamber of commerce. And watch out for the sprinklers. look at the "stealth camping" threads here and on crazyguy for info about different ways people camp. Personally I like to camp on BLM/forest service land (always allowed) or established, legal campgrounds. Not "steal"th. But that's just me.

Welcome to touring!
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Old 03-10-08, 01:07 PM
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Roads can be very personal also. Some people like to be off the beaten path as much as possible , others want to get to their destination quickly. High speed roads with broad shoulders can be either good or bad. In general, I find high speed roads with should "bike paths" to have a lot of debris on the path. That is usually something I try to avoid. I generally like the more country roads at a slower speed. I like to ride through the small towns, look at the scenery.
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Old 03-10-08, 01:39 PM
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Route selection can be personal choice.

On some occasions, I've followed a set of maps from adventure cycling or a book such as bicycling the Pacific Coast. I've also followed some established known routes such as the Natchez Trace.

However, most of the time, I let a software mapping program pick an candidate route and then go over the state highway maps to pick more detailed and final routes. I tend to end up on some of the larger state highways. In some states such as Wisconsin, I've found nice back roads and avoid the largest roads. In other states such as Michigan, I've ended up on larger roads. Sometimes when I'm touring, I'll realize the routes I picked weren't the best and/or talking with locals. In those cases, I'll adjust my route along the way to pick some somewhat different roads.

For some specific situations such as crossing the Mississippi, I'll look in more detail at my route candidates and ask in advance (e.g. finding out whether one can cross the Mississippi at Memphis or whether one needs to go further north or south). In other specific situations such as some tours I've done overseas, I'll also read other trip journals to calibrate things.
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Old 03-10-08, 02:11 PM
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The smaller the road, the better. Cars make a ride much less enjoyable, and much more dangerous.
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Old 03-10-08, 03:51 PM
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My route planning technique:

A map and a compass .... and my best guess.

However, a tip: go to tourist information places along the way. They are a wealth of information! You can usually pick up quite detailed free maps which focus on scenic routes or tourist routes or generally less-travelled routes. Just be aware the scenic and tourist routes will tend to be busier on weekends, and will tend to be hillier than main highways.
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Old 03-10-08, 11:28 PM
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Routes -

Many states have traffic volume information online. This lets you see which routes have the least traffic. Of course, these are usually only the main roads, not the back roads. The usual term is AADT - Average Annual Daily Traffic - the total number of cars in both directions for that measuring point on the highway. In the Rocky Mountain West, summer numbers are much higher than annual averages. Also, most highways have higher volumes in the morning and evening commutes.
Here's the Kansas state AADT map: https://www.ksdot.org/burTransPlan/ma...rafficdist.asp
(Kansas also has county road traffic data)

My rule of thumb -
Under 500 - Super sweet
500 to 1000 - Sweet
1000 to 2000 - O.K.
2000 to 4000 - Iffy
4000 to 8000 - Risky
Over 8000 - Insane

Shoulders change everything in terms of safety - still it's not terribly pleasant cycling on an Interstate with 10,000 vehicles even if there is a wide shoulder. (Most Western states permit Interstate riding.) Back roads tend to be more roundabout than state or US highways, so you end up doing more miles, but I think every touring cyclist loves the absolutely empty road ride that can only be found on back roads. Back roads with no shoulders that are used as shortcuts to the mill by 2000 vehicles are no fun at all - far more dangerous than riding on a highway with a shoulder. Very few states have good shoulder information. Shoulders have this nasty tendency of disappearing 10 miles out from town with cars zooming by at 70 mph. Given the unreliability of shoulders, I almost always choose low traffic volume.

Churches - 20 years ago churches were much more open - even unlocked - but in an age of liability and vandalism, they are much less willing to take risks. Also, in little towns, the minister may live 20 or 30 miles away. Just like factories and stores, many churches in small towns are barely hanging on. Catholic churches usually have the priest living next door in the rectory. Other churches vary. Often there is a sign out front giving the minister's name. Ask if so-and-so lives in town, then call him or her. Years ago the minister would often say, "Sure" and come by to open up the kitchen and bathrooms. Today, unfortunately, it is often more complicated - requiring the approval of various committee members etc. So do not take offense if the minister says, "No." or even "I don't know."
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Old 03-11-08, 01:10 AM
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In Australia, some States have a road classification system that designates high-class highways/freeways as A, major arterials between regional centres as B and interconnecting roads as C. There is another class of road under that represented on maps often as a light colour such as grey, but usually they are sealed, too.

I've used these large-scale maps a lot in recent years to plan my routes. The signposting usually is related to the classification on the map, so a signpost may point to a town and have C111 as the road number (in this case, a connecting road that is lightly travelled but without a shoulder). If you're lucky, as in Tasmania, you'll also get a kilometre distance to that town. B-road usually have shoulders, but that is not guaranteed; A-class roads always will have a shoulder, but the traffic will move at high speed and have a lot of heavy transport.

Ive done a lot of riding in Victoria and Tasmania with the system, and it really hasn't let me down. I can avoid the A-class roads unless I have to ride them (for example, from Oatlands to Campbell Town on the Midland Highway in Tasmania). In Victoria, the options are usually a bit broader, except for the highway that takes me from home into Melbourne -- that is a nightmare and there aren't other options of the same distance.
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Old 03-11-08, 02:33 AM
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Generally I pick the smaller, lesser-known roads because they're often more scenic. As to whether they're any safer, much depends on local conditions. Most major highways have nice wide shoulders which provide more than ample space for cycling. Some don't of course, but you really need local information to be 100% sure. Conversely, while the back roads are usually less travelled, this is not certain. I remember when I was riding into Glasgow in July, and experimenting with some of the unclassified farm roads before giving up and getting on the A-road (same road classifications as Rowan mentioned above) and riding that all the way into the city simply because it allowed more space to cope with the traffic. This is more likely to be an issue as you get closer to the cities. You should also be aware of potential traffic fluctiations on "remote" roads that lead to tourist attractions.

However, as I related in another thread on this topic, I'm confident in my ability to deal with virtually any traffic situation that comes my way. I recommend doing some reasearch on the topic of riding in traffic regardless, just in case you end up in a situation that requires you to take a busier road than you'd ideally want to -- even if only for a few miles.
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Old 03-11-08, 06:41 AM
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My take on route planning, when you have never seen the roads in question and have no idea about their traffic density, surface condition, and shoulder is this. I choose U.S. highways that are not going through the larger cities in the area. They usually have some traffic but almost always have a shoulder which gets you out of the traffic pattern. My reasoning goes like this. When I choose small state and county roads, I usually end up with lighter traffic but they usually do not have a shoulder to ride on. When you have committed to a small road with no shoulder and then the traffic turns out to be heavy with, logging trucks for example, you are the target and there is no place to go to get out of their way.

I much prefer to ride on the lonely country road with no traffic but the consequences of ending up on a heavily traveled road with no shoulder is not a choice I like to make.

Just my thoughts.
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Old 03-11-08, 10:21 AM
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I appreciate the input. Everyone is saying kind of what I was thinking.

Lighthorse - What part of Melbourne Fl are you from. My wife used to go to a church summer camp down there. Faith Fellowship maybe. My brother-in-law lives there now.

Jamawani - I hope that churches aren't as bad as you mentioned, but I kind of assumed they would be. I think thats one reason why people are kind of frustrated with churches now.
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Old 03-11-08, 11:33 AM
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Carson, your post is one of the most inteesting ones for some time. After riding a few miles this morning I decided it deserves more attention. I live here on the east coast near the space center.
I am sure that my comments about the U.S. road system will not apply to other countries.

Route planning was one of the big obstacles that I had to overcome on my first cross country tour. I had no touring experience and no real understanding of how it would be riding a bicycle on our highway system. I read Kenís site and his words about route planning. I ended up buying the first two Adventure Cycle maps for the Southern Tier west out of San Diego. After studying those maps, I then planned the rest of the route with AAA maps. Some of my choices turned out great, some did not. Last year my cross country began with all AAA maps and a made up routing from here in Florida to Kansas where I picked up the ACA TransAm routing which I followed mostly for the rest of the trip. I have decided that when the road I chose sight unseen turns out to be one I don't like, well, that is just part of the experience. Then I figure out another route that works.

Some of my thoughts for route planning when I know nothing about the roads involved are:
1. Do not get on a County or State road that has no shoulders unless the traffic is very light and visibility for me and the cars is good. Small narrow roads that have a lot of blind curves are not good because the cars canít see you and you canít see them. After a day or two of diving into steep ditches avoiding logging trucks, this has become my most important rule.
2. Plan to follow a U.S. highway when possible. They always have either paved shoulders or unpaved shoulders if need be. They will probably have more traffic than some roads but you can get out of the traffic pattern. Only a couple of times have I been on a U.S. highway and the paved shoulder quit. That can be a problem because of the heavier traffic. Both times I was able to ride on the unpaved, grass shoulder until I could find a secondary road that worked for me.
3. Use the Interstate highway system if it is available, suits your purpose, and it will connect you with a U.S. highway that is headed your way. But check the local State laws. Some states it is legal (Claifornia, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon for example), some places it is not legal (Florida, and Kansas for instance). The shoulders on an interstate highway are very wide and I feel safe as long as I am not in city traffic where it is almost always illegal in any event. You will find that the ACA routes use the Interstate system in several instances.
4. I usually approach cities with some trepidation since you never know what the road you are on is going to be like. I never hesitate to bail out and get on the sidewalk. I spend miles riding on sidewalks just to stay out of the traffic. I know that people here say sidewalks are dangerous, well so are busy city streets when there is no shoulder or bike lane. Just take your time in the city, watch for cars coming out of parking lots, etc. and the sidewalks will provide you a real escape and keep you moving through the city.
5. Trust me, when you get out west where the population density is low and the traffic is also low, you will find the quiet roads that go for miles without seeing cars for 1/2 day or more.
Good luck and have a good ride.
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Old 03-11-08, 05:14 PM
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i just planned a 5 day trip from DC to Western Maryland via VA, WVA, and PA. I used google maps, and the "avoid highways" feature. From there, you can drag and drop onto smaller more rural sounding roads. I'll post back to let you know if I get run down by rush hour traffic on "Old Furnace Road" or "Ferry Landing Drive."

edited: there is also a seemingly sizable movement afoot to get google to add a 'bike there' feature. The petition got a 150 signatures that I know of at the U of Maryland. I think the idea is that google maps will recognize bike lanes, paths, and unpaved routes. (think C&O canal or your local rail --> trail)
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Old 03-11-08, 09:02 PM
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There are some pretty diverse ideas on this forum. Here's my opinion.

If you're going to ride country roads, you'll find yourself getting lost easily. This is why I spend alot of money on my GPS because my routes can now be customized to ride through subdivisons and country roads involving lots of turns. I can have upto 65 turns when traveling over 70 miles but it's worth it. It takes time creating a complex route avoiding major interstates but isn't that what Adventure in Cycling does?

Someone mentioned blind turns going uphill being a problem. I agree. If this happens, I'll get off the bike and walk the sidwalk uphill until I'm past the hill. I think it's so important to get a rear view mirror like the Take A Look because it take alot of the fear of traffic coming from behind.

Someone also mentioned riding on sidewalk and yeah, I do it too. However, the Take A Look mirror really helps when riding in a major city.
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Old 03-11-08, 10:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Fueled by Boh
i just planned a 5 day trip from DC to Western Maryland via VA, WVA, and PA. I used google maps, and the "avoid highways" feature. From there, you can drag and drop onto smaller more rural sounding roads. I'll post back to let you know if I get run down by rush hour traffic on "Old Furnace Road" or "Ferry Landing Drive."
Thats the reason I asked my question. I did the avoid highways option. it just takes you off the interstates and put you on major highways. I think this is what I am going to do too. i would love to hear how it works out for you. I'll put my experience on here too.
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