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ACA Route or Not?

Old 02-28-12, 09:42 AM
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ACA Route or Not?

I haven't done any long tours in 25 years and I'm planning a TransAm tour for the summer of 2014. I have spent many hours reading blogs of other rider's tours to get motivated and improve my understanding of what's in store. In many of the blogs it almost seems like riders on established ACA routes want for more.

I guess my question to you is this… If you were doing a TransAm type tour would you use ACA Maps or try and create your own route? And more importantly WHY?

Thanks for your input!

Ben
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Old 02-28-12, 09:54 AM
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I've done tours using ACA routes and making my own way.

What I like about the ACA maps is that they have list places to eat, stay, shop, etc. They identify grade and distance and alert me to any road hazards. They are generally easy to follow and sometimes marked as state bike routes. They save me making a lot of decisions about riding in places I've never been to. In addition, you are likely to meet other bike tourists on these routes.

What I don't like about the ACA maps is that they represent a very narrow slice of an area so it is hard to use them to explore the surrounding area or if I have to go off them, for some reason. I like to use hospitality sites and my hosts aren't always on the ACA routes and getting back and forth can be a bother, though with smartphones, it is less so. The routes aren't always up to date. They do have addenda, but it is more paper to fiddle with. I often find routes suggested by locals to be better than what the ACA suggests.

If I was riding between two places that the ACA had a route, I'd start with the assumption that I'd ride on it and add whatever research I could to decide if and where to deviate from it. I certainly would not simply pick a line on a map and assume that the biking will be good on it when I get there.
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Old 02-28-12, 09:59 AM
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I personally would stick with the ACA TransAm route because it is well traveled and documented. That is probably because, for me, it is about riding the bike and meeting people and not particularly about seeing different places and things.
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Old 02-28-12, 11:00 AM
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I think the ACA routes are a good starting point. You can always customize the route to fit your personal interests and ideas...
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Old 02-28-12, 11:19 AM
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I have taken (and hope to take more) ACA routes. The maps are well researched and useful for everything from finding a campsite, through deciding how much water you need to carry today, to giving you a zip code for someone to mail the package you can pick up four days down the road. All that in addition to routing you across the country!

That said, look for visitor information centers in each state, and get a state highway map. They're reassuring when you hear about severe weather alerts, or want to know where in the heck you are, and show alternate routes. When you've got a choice, you can make an informed decision on local routes.
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Old 02-28-12, 11:41 AM
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All depends on your proclivity for surprises. There are few when following the ACA maps. Really don't even have to do any preplanning. Buy, the maps and follow the line. A LOT of people like that. For me, the biggest plus would be the opportunities for meeting cycling peers and info about local attractions/history. The biggest negatives would be the 'fiddle' factor of following that line, too much detail, too many maps. But that's just me. If you aren't into wild camping, they will point you to free and fee campgrounds.

When planning a route, great fun, I check out questionable roads/bridges with Google street views. Plot the route on www.ridewithgps.com, move the Track file to my eTrex, and head out. State maps for backup. I don't want to know what's around the corner, over the hill, or even the grade, 'til I see it. I do like knowing how far to the next town or service point. GPS tells me that.

Apparently, you can download a Route or Track file from the ACA site for use in a gps. Have no knowledge of how that works or how detailed it is.

I did tour with a buddy who managed our routing using the ACA maps. He did all the 'fiddling.' I just followed. We used campgrounds all the way 'cause the maps told him where they were. After parting, I continued onward into the great unknown. Much more memorable, and in its own way, rewarding. Combination of no ACA maps and being solo.
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Old 02-28-12, 12:24 PM
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It appears that most of the responses have been very positive toward the ACA routes. I appreciate all the help. Any other thoughts?

Ben
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Old 02-28-12, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by benamen
I haven't done any long tours in 25 years and I'm planning a TransAm tour for the summer of 2014. I have spent many hours reading blogs of other rider's tours to get motivated and improve my understanding of what's in store. In many of the blogs it almost seems like riders on established ACA routes want for more.

I guess my question to you is this… If you were doing a TransAm type tour would you use ACA Maps or try and create your own route? And more importantly WHY?

Thanks for your input!

Ben
Wow, 2014? Not much for planning ahead are you?
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Old 02-28-12, 12:35 PM
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Other countries.. Ordinance Survey maps of Ireland, and Great Britain..

are excellent..

The DeLorme map Atlasses of each state are fine ,
but where bike shops and motels are is not on them,
so you have to learn that separately..

Paper Maps .. you can apply water resistant stuff onto them..
Im an old guy and have never owned the kind of electronics ,
people on touring web sites seem to feel are compulsory ,
so they can publish a blog and journal of their every moment.

Even though they are feature laiden,you don't put to Sea with just a hand held GPS,
you need to know how to navigate by chart and compass, too..

FWIW, ODOT publishes a Free map of the Oregon Coast bike route.

Other States Departments of Transportation May do similar..

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Old 02-28-12, 12:38 PM
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Never used one and have been curious. Do the ACA maps tell about nearby attractions/things to see that aren't on the direct route? I suppose you could take the direct route and talk to locals if not.
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Old 02-28-12, 12:39 PM
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I prefer to do my own routing. Starting and ending points can be anywhere. I use GoogleMaps and GPS to plan initially but modify as I go. I enjoy the outdoor/back-country experience and stealth camp a good bit. I usually carry at least full day of food so I can stop whenever/wherever. The ACA routes are not necessarily oriented to my style. I have followed portions of their routes but without their maps. You do tend to meet more fellow cycle tourists on ACA routes however, and that can be fun.
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Old 02-28-12, 12:59 PM
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Originally Posted by himespau
Never used one and have been curious. Do the ACA maps tell about nearby attractions/things to see that aren't on the direct route? I suppose you could take the direct route and talk to locals if not.
Too some extent.

They are panel maps. The marked route is oriented to be able to fit as much of the route as possible on each panel. (As a result, north isn't always up.) As a result, and as mentioned above, they often don't show much of the territory surrounding the route. I am looking at one now for the Northern Tier. The panel for the portion of the route between Napolean and Tintigany, OH is oridented like a normal map, with north being up. The marked route goes east/west Based on the scale, the panel shows the town and road for only about 5 miles north and south fo the route, and only the major, off route roads are marked with names/route numbers. The map section which this panel is a part of includes Cleveland. The only attractions listed on the map are those in the city itself and those in the Cleveland/Shaker Heights area, which is just outside of Cleveland (There is an alternative route that takes you through those areas.) However, I do recall seeing AC maps that mentioned attractions off route.)

Asking locals is a great way to get information about attractions that might not show up on any map. For example, we had a day off in Bowling Green, OH. Learned from the locals that the county fair was going on near by. Turned out to be a fun experience.
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Old 02-28-12, 01:50 PM
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I tend to stay off ACA routes, except in places like the Pacific Coast where there are really no other options. I like to cycle through places where a touring cyclist is still a novelty, and people are curious and want to talk. On our trip across the U.S. we saw only 6 other touring cyclists the entire time, except where we crossed ACA routes. In one small town where we stopped to pick up a package that we mailed ahead, the postal clerk called the local newspaper. They sent a reporter out to interview us. That type of reaction is not going to happen on an ACA route. I also think that our route, at least for us, was a better route. Planning the route is part of the fun and adventure. If we get into an tough situation, it was of our own making. I prefer not to know all the details of the route beforehand. In most cases I want to pick my own route for better or worse.
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Old 02-29-12, 04:30 AM
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Not trying to hijack the thread, but the OP may be interested as well. For those of you who prefer to plan your own routes, how do you deal with gravel roads? Do you just ride them, or do you know of a way to identify them in advance so you can avoid them?
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Old 02-29-12, 05:59 AM
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Originally Posted by scroca
Not trying to hijack the thread, but the OP may be interested as well. For those of you who prefer to plan your own routes, how do you deal with gravel roads? Do you just ride them, or do you know of a way to identify them in advance so you can avoid them?
I'd say it depends on the road. One gravel road might be perfectly ride-able while another might be soft or washboarded. I usually just ride them and grumble a lot if it sucks.
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Old 02-29-12, 06:47 AM
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Originally Posted by scroca
For those of you who prefer to plan your own routes, how do you deal with gravel roads? Do you just ride them, or do you know of a way to identify them in advance so you can avoid them?
Using GoogleMaps satellite-view can help see unpaved roads. However, I enjoy the back-country experience and don't always avoid unpaved roads. I find them a lot more interesting than your generic mall-sprawl-road.

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Old 02-29-12, 07:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Thulsadoom
I'd say it depends on the road. One gravel road might be perfectly ride-able while another might be soft or washboarded. I usually just ride them and grumble a lot if it sucks.
1+

Beware of the 'shortest distance' coughed up by your gps.
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Old 02-29-12, 07:11 AM
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Thulsadoom: Thanks for the response. I'm not really planning my tour, rather I'm gaining info to help me plan later.

Doug64: That was one of the comments I had read on some of the blogs. I suppose their is value to being a novelty? However, you probably won't see many other cyclists to ride with or ask questions about the road ahead.

Thanks all for the comments.

Ben
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Old 02-29-12, 10:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Cyclebum
Apparently, you can download a Route or Track file from the ACA site for use in a gps. Have no knowledge of how that works or how detailed it is.
I looked at using the ACA GPS files for the Pacific Coast route on my Garmin Edge 705 and remember them being completely inappropriate. Don't remember why, exactly. I think perhaps they had too many intermediate waypoints? In any event, I ended up creating my own GPS files (based on the ACA Map and Bicycling the Pacific Coast) using BikeRouteToaster or RideWithGPS or something similar...
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Old 02-29-12, 01:41 PM
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Doug64: That was one of the comments I had read on some of the blogs. I suppose their is value to being a novelty? However, you probably won't see many other cyclists to ride with or ask questions about the road ahead.
My wife and I tour together, so having someone to ride with is not an issue. However, I have also toured solo, and riding alone has never bothered me. I like to interact with the locals, and have even got good information from UPS and truck drivers. We were stopped outside a restaurant on a Sunday morning when a group of after church breakfast eaters were leaving the place. They came up to us and asked the usual questions. However, as they were leaving they asked us if we minded if they said a prayer for our safety. I think those are the kinds of things that happen when people are not jaded one way or another by the touring cyclists that they have encountered in the past , or by seeing dozens of cyclists going through their town's in a summer. We have been offered places to stay, escorted home for lunch with a family, given a free meal in a restaurant in Iowa, given a good luck symbol made by a woman's deceased father, joined by a locals for lunch, being wished "good luck and safe journey" by a family of Native Americans who pulled over to talk to us while riding through their reservation, parents leaving their 11 year girls in a small town city park with us to talk about bike riding and the list goes on and on. Heck, we wouldn't have seen the world's largest popcorn ball if we it was not for kibitzing with a group of old timers having their morning coffee For me this is the essence of bike touring. I just think the dynamics are different when people don't have preconceived perceptions of touring cyclists.

Our new found friends quizzed us for a couple of hours.



Posted by scroca
Not trying to hijack the thread, but the OP may be interested as well. For those of you who prefer to plan your own routes, how do you deal with gravel roads? Do you just ride them, or do you know of a way to identify them in advance so you can avoid them?
Most state road maps do a pretty good job of identifying the type of road surface. We have ridden some pretty good section of gravel, fully loaded and on 28mm tires. It was usually due to road construction. This last summer part of our route included over 400 miles of unpaved roads and trails, and 500 miles of cobblestones. We anticipated this and ran larger tires (for us), 32mm. Every once in a while you can get a surprise, and you just deal with them. Often states and local areas have good cycle route maps that help in route planning. These can be found at the local Chamber of Commerce and bike shops.

"Will you quit your whining and just deal with it." I did.

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Old 02-29-12, 02:17 PM
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Benamin, Well maintained gravel roads are fine, I just ride them as needed .

Rode one along the top of the east bank levee on the Rhine in SW Germany [88]
from Basel CH to almost Freiberg, until the M1 Abrams Tank blocked the roadway.
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Old 02-29-12, 09:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Doug64
I tend to stay off ACA routes, except in places like the Pacific Coast where there are really no other options.
Unless you insist on being right next to the ocean all the time, there are lots of nicer ways to ride down the coast than using the ACA routes. Granted, doing these other routes will involve more hills and less traffic, but that's the kind of riding I prefer.

Originally Posted by scroca
Not trying to hijack the thread, but the OP may be interested as well. For those of you who prefer to plan your own routes, how do you deal with gravel roads? Do you just ride them, or do you know of a way to identify them in advance so you can avoid them?
When the road in question involves public land, the National Forest Service has some nice maps that list the surface. Sometimes an older map will list a paved road as gravel, but I've never encountered the reverse.
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Old 02-29-12, 09:22 PM
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While I will sometimes take the ACA routes into consideration, I rarely use their routes. I prefer hills to traffic and the ACA seems to prioritize minimizing elevation changes at the expense of a quiet ride. With all the information available today, even on the road, it is incredibly easy to find stores, campsites and whatnot without using a pre-planned route.

Another disadvantage of being on an ACA route is that the locals are generally fed up with cyclists, so the hospitality isn't quite as welcoming as it is when you are the only cyclist people have seen in years. Most of my favorite memories occurred many miles from any ACA route.
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Old 03-01-12, 07:17 AM
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Originally Posted by himespau
I suppose you could take the direct route and talk to locals if not.
I've found that 'talking with locals" about possibilities of bike travel is about the worst way of getting a good route (unless you strike gold and the locals happen to be experienced bike tourists themselves). The locals mean well, they're enthusiastic...they just have no clue, and on rare occasion get a little snippy if you don't take their bad suggestions! YMMV

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Old 03-01-12, 07:23 AM
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If interesting, polite and well behaved people are bringing some revenue stream (however small) into a community, I can't imagine that the welcome map wouldn't remain out. Of course if the visitors are by-and-large rude or condescending freeloaders that always seem to need help, I can see how that would get tedious.

Originally Posted by B. Carfree
Another disadvantage of being on an ACA route is that the locals are generally fed up with cyclists, so the hospitality isn't quite as welcoming as it is when you are the only cyclist people have seen in years.
Oh my.
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