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Mapping/Deciding Route - What "Type" of Roads?

Old 05-19-10, 12:35 AM
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do-well
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Mapping/Deciding Route - What "Type" of Roads?

This is my first post in Touring, after posting in Road Cycling some years ago.

I'm planning a trans-continent tour for the summer of '11 that will go from NC to a TBD West Coast city (SF? Seattle?). I'm trying to get my head around what types of roads most people ride on when touring (and no, "the one that gets me to where I want to go" is not an acceptable answer here!).

Having searched within the forum, I see that opinions regarding route decisions range from sticking to major routes (such as the TransAmerica) to making it up as one goes along, from taking mostly major US/State highways to getting off the beaten path (county roads) as much as possible, from mapping everything out in advance to having a general, good-enough idea of how to get from A to B...

So, I'm wondering how people decide what roads to travel on. While I know there are printed and web guides and maps, I wanted to get some words of wisdom from those of you tour regularly. Issues at hand include ease of access, distance and "directness" considerations, car volume, etc. When I do riding around my place, I try to stay off many of the major state highways, both as a matter of safety and to take the more "scenic" route. Not sure if the same approach would work with touring...

Thoughts?
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Old 05-19-10, 05:55 AM
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There is a wide variation in what folks prefer. Some dig out the traffic count maps and find roads with very light traffic. I am more inclined to a bit larger more traveled roads.

Improvising a route is fine, but you can't go too far wrong with the Adventure Cycling routes either.

Personally I like the type of roads AC selects, I like the fact that I will probably meet other touring cyclists once in a while, and I like the extra info on their maps. It is really handy to have contact info for services including free places to stay, campgrounds, bike shops, libraries, hospitals, post offices, etc. They pick small enough and relatively safe roads and they avoid most cities in favor of small towns. They tend to seek out good scenery as well.

If you like to plan in detail, planning your route might be something you like. I personally don't care for a lot of detailed route planning in advance.

Improvising as you go can be fun too.

My personal favorite way to tour is to use AC maps where they make sense and improvise where I want to detour off of the route for whatever reason. If an AC route doesn't go where I want to go, then I like a loose plan combined with improvising as I go.

Reading some journals on the crazyguyonabike site might give you a bit more feel for what the various approaches are like.
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Old 05-19-10, 06:25 AM
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Originally Posted by do-well View Post
(and no, "the one that gets me to where I want to go" is not an acceptable answer here!).

Having searched within the forum, I see that opinions regarding route decisions range from sticking to major routes (such as the TransAmerica) to making it up as one goes along, from taking mostly major US/State highways to getting off the beaten path (county roads) as much as possible, from mapping everything out in advance to having a general, good-enough idea of how to get from A to B...
That pretty much sums it up.


Of course I check to see if bicycles are allowed on the roads I want to ride. In Europe, bicycles are not allowed on the main freeways, so it's best to stay off of those and ride the minor roads. Paper maps show the minor roads quite clearly.

In Australia, bicycles are often allowed on main freeways, and the main freeways can be a good choice because of their shoulders. But they don't necessarily go to the out-of-the-way scenic places, so you might want to ride a main freeway for a while, then take a minor road. Again a paper map will show you what you want to know.

In Canada, it depends where you are ... you can't ride on the freeway close to Vancouver, and you wouldn't want to ride on the TransCanada through Manitoba, but it's not a bad choice in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

But for the most part road choice depends on where I want to go. If I want to go to a particular town, I'll see what roads are available, and pick one. If I want to go to the beach, I'll see what roads are available, and pick one. If I figure I've made a mistake once I'm on the road, I'll check the map and see where I might be able to get off that road and onto another one.

The beauty of paper maps is that you can carry them with you, and I've found them to be way more informative and accurate than online maps.
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Old 05-19-10, 09:39 AM
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I have biked to and from NC on four different cross-country trips including my very first one back in 1987.

I am one of those who plans and then expects to toss some of the plans aside. But it is easier to do it that way than to encounter a closed road over a mountain pass that requires a 100-mile detour and wish you had known it beforehand.

You offer few details about your plans - time of year, length of time allotted, type of bike, camping or motels, your touring style - all of which influence route choice. If you are credit card touring with motels each night, then you may not be able to opt for the more remote roads. If you are camping and you are touring early or late in the season, then you need to use care in route selection to avoid inclement weather as much as possible.

Although I have been on much of the TransAm over the years and many tours, I have never followed any designated route. I like to strike out on my own. The advantages of the Adventure Cycling routes are that you are more likely to meet up with other riders and that there are more bicycle-oriented services.

In general, northern states are more bicycle friendly - with hiker/biker campsites, rail trails, bike stores in small towns, etc. Southern culture still places a premium on the automobile - the adult rider is seen as some odd fellow, at best. I may take flak for this - but with 100,000 miles of touring - there is a difference. Not to mention - - - dogs.

One thing in planning your own route is to consider funnel points - crossings of major rivers and mountain passes are two important considerations. Also, in the West interstate highways were often built on top of the old highway - so there isn't a side road. Riding on the interstate shoulder is legal in most western states and you may have to for short stretches - but it kinda defeats the purpose in my book.

Rivers -
The day of the ferry crossing is now almost a memory - although there remain a few ferries. Older bridges over major rivers are death traps - narrow with heavy traffic. Newer bridges have shoulders or sidewalks, but traffic leading to and from the bridges is often extremely heavy. Ferries let you enjoy the river first-hand while keeping car traffic to a minimum.

Mountain Passes -
The combination of terrain and wilderness areas (where bikes are prohibited) means that road choices in the West can be limited. In Wyoming, you basically have 5 paved choices on a 200-miles north-south line - - Hwy 296 thru Dead Indian Pass, US 16 thru Sylvan Pass, US 26 thru Togwotee Pass, Hwy 28 thru South Pass, and I-80 thru the Great Divide. Since I-80 is insane and Hwy 28 generally doesn't head anywhere that most cyclists are going - that leaves only three.

There are two important factors in any route consideration - traffic count (usually known as AADT - average annual daily traffic) and shoulder width. Obviously, if there is almost no traffic you don't need shoulders. If there is lots of traffic, you have to have shoulders to ride safely. Most states provide AADT info on their DOT websites. Most states do not provide shoulder width data - but there is Google Streetview - albeit cumbersome. Many states have a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator - and there may be a bicycle map. These vary in usefulness from Oregon's which is superb (but not available online) to Arizona's which is just a few pretty colored lines on the page.

For me - I use a rough AADT measure -
500 or less - divine
500-1000 - excellent
1000-2000 - O.K.
2000-4000 - tricky without shoulder
4000-8000 - shoulder essential
Over 8000 - exhaust hell even with a shoulder

The difference between county roads and state/U.S. highways is the manner in which they interact with the landscape. County roads tend to have lower speed limits because they lay on the land - not cut through it. They curve around ponds, go over hills, wind along streams. Yes, it means more pedaling - but, for me, the quality is where it is at.

<<<>>>

I'll toss out an idea at you since I know NC well from my early cycling days in the 1980s.
What about riding from the Outer Banks to the San Juan Islands of Washington? You can start your trip with a ferry ride from the Outer Banks/Ocracoke and end it with a ferry ride out to the San Juans.
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...=2A&size=large
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...=AC&size=large

There is some really nice riding in southern Virginia that misses the built-up areas of the NC Piedmont, then you can basically follow the NC/VA and KY/TN borders to Mammoth Cave hooking up with the TransAm crossing of the Ohio River at Cave in Rock - - an excellent river crossing.
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...=4z&size=large

The TransAm route across southern Missouri is one goat hill after another - just ask anyone who has done it. I might suggest the Katy Trail along the Missouri River west of St. Louis - and a crossing of the Mississippi on the restored historic Eads Bridge with a full view of the city and the Gateway Arch. (The Eads Bridge is built on top of stone arches so you have a 360 panorama.)
https://files.myopera.com/musickna/al...s%20bridge.JPG

Personally - I prefer crossing Nebraska to Kansas. Nebraska's terrain outside of the very flat Platte is one of rolling sandhills. Kansas can be flatter than a pancake on a sizzling summer grill. So if you took something like the Lewis & Clark from St. Louis to Plattsmouth, you could light out across Nebraska for the Black Hills (a cool reprieve from the Great Plains) and then Wyoming.

The TransAm has a big zig in the West from Pueblo to Yellowstone. If you are going to do a zig, I would suggest from Yellowstone to Glacier so your can take in some of the finest scenery to be found and ride Going to the Sun Road. Then you can continue on the Northern Tier out to the San Juans.

<<<>>>

If you are riding east to west, I would suggest a start date no later than early June. (Unless, of course, you are going to do century days every day.) That way you beat the worst of the heat in the East and may get through the Plains without too many scorching days. Also, by late summer the high country in the West is snow free - although you will miss most of the wildflowers and may have forest fire season to consider. (I had to detour around the Yellowstone fires in 1988.)

Anyhoo - feel free to e-mail me directly if you have any questions - - J


PS - Do you know how many Chapel Hillians it takes to change a light bulb?
Thirty-one. One to change the bulb - -
And the other thirty to talk about how nice the old one used to be.

Last edited by jamawani; 05-19-10 at 09:47 AM.
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Old 05-19-10, 10:20 AM
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Thanks for the info, jamawani.

The tour will include three cross-country riders and additional, visiting riders along the way. Two of us are experienced riders - one of the experienced riders (not me) has done a supported cross-country ride. The other rider is not that experienced (yet!), but has two things going for her - athletic endurance training and extensive travel experience in remote parts all over the world.

So it will be me, my sister, and my college buddy. Your proposed route makes alot of sense, as she's in Durham and both her and my buddy have "family" in Seattle. The choice between Seattle and SF will come down to time - that is, do we have enough time to add the extra distance to Seattle as compared to going "straight across." Scheduling will be decided over the next year.

As I'm designing the ride celebrate the completion of my doctorate, I see us leaving NC in late May. Probably need to be finished in early August at the very latest (as I'll be moving to a new city that month, most likely). We will mostly be doing camping, with hotels/B&Bs as a change-of-pace as needed. We will be lightweight touring, hoping to do rear panniers only on road/cross bikes. I've read way too many stories of people overpacking on this forum already. Going to go as light as possible w/o taking any unreasonable risks with leaving important stuff behind. Hope to average about 70 or so miles a day, with the thinking being 50 in the mountains and 90 or so on the plains. I'm the travel amateur in this group, so camping as we go across the country will be no problem for my sister and buddy.

I'm glad you touched on St. Louis, the Kansas/Nebraska decision, and options on getting to the Northwest. As I'm in Louisville and our family is here as well, I'm pretty sure our route will be something like:

NC --> Eastern KY to Louisville --> Louisville to St. Louis --> across Southern Nebraska --> and then who knows. Have alot of friends in the Denver area, so not sure if we want to hang "low" across the near West before heading Northwest or taking a more Northern Route from the start. While I am interested in the TransAmerica the route seems to be positioned a little South for my tastes (assumptive, obviously). One question: Is the Katy Trail passable, say, with 700x25c road tires?

The traffic count data was just what I was looking for. As I'm really familiar with the roads around here both as a cyclist and a motor-vehicle driver, I can use this data to relate roads "out there" to the ones I know around here. I'm really a sucker for maps, so I'm sure I am going to over-plan this trip. Luckily, I'm okay with spontaneous change, so I'll just treat the plans like they are keys in a lava flow. Gonna let 'em go man, because, you know, their gone.


Thanks again. Cheers!

Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
I have biked to and from NC on four different cross-country trips including my very first one back in 1987.

I am one of those who plans and then expects to toss some of the plans aside. But it is easier to do it that way than to encounter a closed road over a mountain pass that requires a 100-mile detour and wish you had known it beforehand.

You offer few details about your plans - time of year, length of time allotted, type of bike, camping or motels, your touring style - all of which influence route choice. If you are credit card touring with motels each night, then you may not be able to opt for the more remote roads. If you are camping and you are touring early or late in the season, then you need to use care in route selection to avoid inclement weather as much as possible.

Although I have been on much of the TransAm over the years and many tours, I have never followed any designated route. I like to strike out on my own. The advantages of the Adventure Cycling routes are that you are more likely to meet up with other riders and that there are more bicycle-oriented services.

In general, northern states are more bicycle friendly - with hiker/biker campsites, rail trails, bike stores in small towns, etc. Southern culture still places a premium on the automobile - the adult rider is seen as some odd fellow, at best. I may take flak for this - but with 100,000 miles of touring - there is a difference. Not to mention - - - dogs.

One thing in planning your own route is to consider funnel points - crossings of major rivers and mountain passes are two important considerations. Also, in the West interstate highways were often built on top of the old highway - so there isn't a side road. Riding on the interstate shoulder is legal in most western states and you may have to for short stretches - but it kinda defeats the purpose in my book.

Rivers -
The day of the ferry crossing is now almost a memory - although there remain a few ferries. Older bridges over major rivers are death traps - narrow with heavy traffic. Newer bridges have shoulders or sidewalks, but traffic leading to and from the bridges is often extremely heavy. Ferries let you enjoy the river first-hand while keeping car traffic to a minimum.

Mountain Passes -
The combination of terrain and wilderness areas (where bikes are prohibited) means that road choices in the West can be limited. In Wyoming, you basically have 5 paved choices on a 200-miles north-south line - - Hwy 296 thru Dead Indian Pass, US 16 thru Sylvan Pass, US 26 thru Togwotee Pass, Hwy 28 thru South Pass, and I-80 thru the Great Divide. Since I-80 is insane and Hwy 28 generally doesn't head anywhere that most cyclists are going - that leaves only three.

There are two important factors in any route consideration - traffic count (usually known as AADT - average annual daily traffic) and shoulder width. Obviously, if there is almost no traffic you don't need shoulders. If there is lots of traffic, you have to have shoulders to ride safely. Most states provide AADT info on their DOT websites. Most states do not provide shoulder width data - but there is Google Streetview - albeit cumbersome. Many states have a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator - and there may be a bicycle map. These vary in usefulness from Oregon's which is superb (but not available online) to Arizona's which is just a few pretty colored lines on the page.

For me - I use a rough AADT measure -
500 or less - divine
500-1000 - excellent
1000-2000 - O.K.
2000-4000 - tricky without shoulder
4000-8000 - shoulder essential
Over 8000 - exhaust hell even with a shoulder

The difference between county roads and state/U.S. highways is the manner in which they interact with the landscape. County roads tend to have lower speed limits because they lay on the land - not cut through it. They curve around ponds, go over hills, wind along streams. Yes, it means more pedaling - but, for me, the quality is where it is at.

<<<>>>

I'll toss out an idea at you since I know NC well from my early cycling days in the 1980s.
What about riding from the Outer Banks to the San Juan Islands of Washington? You can start your trip with a ferry ride from the Outer Banks/Ocracoke and end it with a ferry ride out to the San Juans.
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...=2A&size=large
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...=AC&size=large

There is some really nice riding in southern Virginia that misses the built-up areas of the NC Piedmont, then you can basically follow the NC/VA and KY/TN borders to Mammoth Cave hooking up with the TransAm crossing of the Ohio River at Cave in Rock - - an excellent river crossing.
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...=4z&size=large

The TransAm route across southern Missouri is one goat hill after another - just ask anyone who has done it. I might suggest the Katy Trail along the Missouri River west of St. Louis - and a crossing of the Mississippi on the restored historic Eads Bridge with a full view of the city and the Gateway Arch. (The Eads Bridge is built on top of stone arches so you have a 360 panorama.)
https://files.myopera.com/musickna/al...s%20bridge.JPG

Personally - I prefer crossing Nebraska to Kansas. Nebraska's terrain outside of the very flat Platte is one of rolling sandhills. Kansas can be flatter than a pancake on a sizzling summer grill. So if you took something like the Lewis & Clark from St. Louis to Plattsmouth, you could light out across Nebraska for the Black Hills (a cool reprieve from the Great Plains) and then Wyoming.

The TransAm has a big zig in the West from Pueblo to Yellowstone. If you are going to do a zig, I would suggest from Yellowstone to Glacier so your can take in some of the finest scenery to be found and ride Going to the Sun Road. Then you can continue on the Northern Tier out to the San Juans.

<<<>>>

If you are riding east to west, I would suggest a start date no later than early June. (Unless, of course, you are going to do century days every day.) That way you beat the worst of the heat in the East and may get through the Plains without too many scorching days. Also, by late summer the high country in the West is snow free - although you will miss most of the wildflowers and may have forest fire season to consider. (I had to detour around the Yellowstone fires in 1988.)

Anyhoo - feel free to e-mail me directly if you have any questions - - J


PS - Do you know how many Chapel Hillians it takes to change a light bulb?
Thirty-one. One to change the bulb - -
And the other thirty to talk about how nice the old one used to be.
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Old 05-19-10, 11:52 AM
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The best road is downhill with the wind :-) !!

Your preference is what should guide you. There are pros and cons of each.

Pete made some good points, especially using an ACA route as the "primary" route but breaking off as needed and reading CGOAB journals.

Larger/Major roads tend to be more direct, may offer a shoulder, definitely more services (important if you are credit card touring), less hilly (graded better), less dogs, etc. Downside is it is typically much busier (and more semis) and more "sterile" or lack of character, sort of like driving down the interstate versus a state highway.

Smaller/Minor roads tend to have less traffic, much more character, you "meet the people" much easier, etc. but probably doesn't have a shoulder, has more dogs, less services, hillier, and can take longer due to less direct routes.

If this is your first major tour and based on your stated preference for the more scenic route, I would encourage you to use an ACA route as it is definitely nice to know there is a campground/grocery/CS in the next town versus hoping or being told "we don't allow camping here".

I have toured for over 30 years, have done multiple long-distance tours, etc. While I am now more directed toward "design my own routes"/off road touring, I still think the original ACA TransAm is one of the best experiences/tours I have done.

Hope you have a great ride!!

Last edited by John N; 05-19-10 at 11:59 AM.
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Old 05-19-10, 01:15 PM
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jamawani 
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A couple of general ideas -

Distance and time -

Since you mentioned late May to early August - it seems like you will have about 10 weeks of riding and a few days for travel on either end. 10 weeks is seventy days - if you allocate 6 riding days of 66 miles each per week - that's 400 miles per week. I like building in a day off for unexpected things - weather, repairs, visiting with folks I meet, hiking. Some people like to ride nearly every day. YMMV. But You can easily do a 4000 mile trip in the time frame you suggest.

I have found that giving myself an extra day at the beginning and end of a major tour makes for a much happier start and finish. Glitches do happen - and if your PhD involves some stats - you must realize that the probability increases with more people. If you give yourself a day at the beginning - then delayed flights, delayed luggage, upset stomachs, etc. are far easier to deal with. And if everything is hunky dory - you can just relax and chill before the start. Same goes for the end of the trip. Nothing spoils the last few days of a cross-country tour more than trying to play catch-up or hurry-up. An extra day or two really allows for a leisurely and fun ending.

Meet ups -

Meeting people along the way has a component similar to the paragraph above. If you have to get to Peoria by June 15th, it can really spoil June 10th thru 14th. Also, most folks tend to live in urban or suburban areas which are tougher to bike through. Except for Louisville (which is a tough enough nut for cyclists) I'd ask people to meet y'all at a nearby park - and I wouldn't let folks pin me down to a specific date, either. One time I was doing a tour for the ARC and a woman in Spokane complained that I was two days behind schedule - not considering that I had started on the Outer Banks. I was a touch sarcastic in my response to her.

For example - with your friends in Colorado you could suggest that they meet you in western Nebraska, Fort Robinson State Park is really nice - or maybe the Black Hills. It would only be a three or four hour drive for them, but a 200-mile detour for you.

PS - If you are considering biking to San Fran, remember that by late July the Western Express route across Utah and Nevada is really hot, remote, and with very few services. I love Nevada - I biked nearly every mile of pavement and a lot of dirt - but I would pick Glacier National Park over Nevada in late July every time.
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