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How do you pick a long distance route?

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How do you pick a long distance route?

Old 06-25-13, 09:46 PM
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Nick The Beard
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How do you pick a long distance route?

Sorry if this is a stupid question, but how exactly does one plan a long distance bike tour?

My dog and I hiked about half the Appalachian Trail last summer and I want to get out there and finish it. Instead of starting at the beginning or getting a ride to where we left off I decided it might be more fun to ride my bike from my front door in Tampa, FL to Waynesboro, VA at which point I'll be joining the rest of the AT hikers on my trip north to Katahdin, ME.

So, I have my origin, my destination, and a bunch of points of interest(mostly along the AT) I'd like to hit up figured out. I don't mind help but I don't want someone else to plan it for me; I want to know how you would normally figure out a route for something like this. How do you avoid bad roads and busy highways? What about steep inclines, unfriendly towns, etc?

Thanks,
Nick
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Old 06-25-13, 10:34 PM
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You already have the first step: a starting point, ending point, and a set of destinations along the way. Given those desired destinations, I first try to piece together existing routes. For example, peruse ACA routes or crazyguy trip reports, and see if you can connect your destinations using those existing routes.

When that fails (or, if you just want to go off the beaten path), my #1 resource is Google Maps. My approach is to plan 3 or 4 different routes on Google Maps. These were "high-level" routes -- I didn't account for elevation changes, traffic, wind, camping spots, and so on. I just picked routes that hit my destinations and seemed reasonable. Then, for each route, I did some research to determine how feasible the route was. My research included these steps:
  • I translated each route into Google Earth to get an elevation profile. You can also use ridewithgps, gmap-pedometer, and a few other sites for this purpose. My current favorite site is ridewithgps. On each elevation profile, I paid close attention to the %grade of each road -- anything above 10% is too steep for me on a loaded touring bike (unless I'm really looking for a workout, or willing to walk).
  • I marked all the towns along each route. These are potential resupply points.
  • I marked all feasible camping spots along each route. My order of preference is usually USFS campgrounds, State Park campgrounds, BLM campgrounds, and lastly RV parks. You can find USFS campground sites on https://www.recreation.gov and https://www.fs.fed.us/, you can find State Parks via the state's website, and you can find RV parks via Google. For some areas of the US, there are a few mashup websites that combine all of these campgrounds into a single map -- you can find these mashups via Google searches.
  • I researched traffic and weather conditions for each route. Most (all?) states publish traffic data for their major highways, however I found that trip reports are actually the best resource for traffic conditions, since they describe traffic from the rider's perspective. Note that you should read trip reports written by local riders, not just tourers -- these reports will often suggest alternate routes that are well travelled by locals. If for some reason you cannot find any trip report for a route you want to take, you can use Google Street View to get a glimpse of the road conditions, or just post a question here.
After the above steps, I had 3 or 4 routes each annotated with elevations, resupply points, campgrounds, and traffic info, and given all this data I picked the route that seemed the most interesting, but within my abilities.

The above approach worked for me, for a grand total of one bike tour I'm sure more experienced riders will have more thoughts.

Hope this helps.
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Old 06-26-13, 02:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Nick The Beard View Post
So, I have my origin, my destination, and a bunch of points of interest(mostly along the AT) I'd like to hit up figured out. I don't mind help but I don't want someone else to plan it for me; I want to know how you would normally figure out a route for something like this. How do you avoid bad roads and busy highways? What about steep inclines, unfriendly towns, etc?
You're set.

Now just hop on the bicycle, with a map you picked up from your local tourist information centre in your handlebar bag, and start riding.


Not kidding ... that's about the level of effort I put into planning a route.



Bad roads and busy highways -- If I end up on a road I don't like, I check my tourist information map for an alternate route.

Steep inclines -- Almost invariably there will be at least one on a tour. If I can't cycle up it, I walk. But if you look closely at your tourist information map, you should be able to spot the rivers. If a road follows a river, there's a chance it might be flatter. If a road is really squiggly, there's a chance it is going up and over a mountain. And when you're out there, you might be able to see if you're heading for some climbs.

Unfriendly towns -- I haven't cycled much in the area where you're going so I don't know what the towns are like, but I have cycled in many towns in various parts of the world, and I've never come across an entirely unfriendly town. Some might have some bad sections or the occasional unfriendly person ... and if I encounter that, I just keep moving. And I tend to avoid most big cities, unless they've got a particular attraction.
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Old 06-26-13, 03:20 AM
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I do a minimum of planning. I'll check some maps before I set out to make sure I can avoid the freeways/motorways/autobahns etc., and I'll identify a few places I definitely want to visit. If those are big cities or tourist destinations I might book accommodation and organise my route so I get there on the appointed days. Otherwise I camp or hostel or motel it on a day-to-day improvised basis. I make no attempt to avoid big climbs, they're part of the tour for me, though I have navigated my way round them in bad weather. Wasn't aware there was such a thing as an "unfriendly town".

The thing is, if you find yourself somewhere you don't especially like, then just keep riding. You can cover a lot of ground in a day's touring, moving 20 miles up the road isn't a problem
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Old 06-26-13, 05:54 AM
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Select Google's bicycle option. Take a close look, especially the street views. Modify as desired. Avoid any city over 20,000. Camp whereever.

Once I've decided on the route, I move it to my gps as a track. Another option is to copy to state maps, then cut and tape them into a convenient booklet.

Or, as Machka said, get the state map and go. US highways usually have shoulders, are the most direct, and the least steep.

Last edited by Cyclebum; 06-26-13 at 02:33 PM.
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Old 06-26-13, 08:24 AM
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You have the perfect destination in mind(Waynesboro). Your start point is Amicalola Falls State Park. Follow the AT north until you hit Wayneboro. Campout at the trailheads. What more could you ask for??? Use ridewithgps and map out the route from Tampa to Amicalola and then follow the highway north to Waynesboro. I have a feeling that as long as you make sure and hit Avoid Highways any route you try to plan between Amicalola and Waynesboro will flat out parallel the AT. For my trip last year...initially...I was going to camp out night one at the Bennington, VT trailhead and then follow the AT south clear down Duncannon, PA. Wasn't what I did, after night one since I had completely changed the route but I did use Bennington for night one and I have bike camped at Clarendon Gorge trailhead up around Rutland as well. If you are going to be going to the trail you might as well use it. Do the initial click and point on Amicalola and Waynesboro and then set a few other point and move the route around to see what it shows that might be flatter. Remember one key thing about the Appalachians, if you stay to the east you stay flat...flatter...if you go to the west watch out be prepared for big time climbing. Get your route over toward Charlottsville not over toward TN.
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Old 06-26-13, 12:56 PM
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If I had a dog,I would ask them...

I don't do much planning.....A start and stop point.....As long as I make it farther than where I started,I'm touring......
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Old 06-26-13, 01:18 PM
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As you've heard, google maps is a good way to plan bicycle routes. But when it comes to following a route, I like to use the TomTom app on my iPhone. You can tell it to find a good bicycle route. It then puts you on bicycle friendly roads. If you choose to it will put you on gravel roads in some cases, or you can tell it not to do that.
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Old 06-27-13, 07:04 PM
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The Strava Global Heat Map is quite helpful for all route finding and planning in unfamiliar areas.

A route that is popular overall is probably a good route.



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Old 06-27-13, 09:26 PM
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Day by day.
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Old 06-27-13, 11:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
You're set.

Now just hop on the bicycle, with a map you picked up from your local tourist information centre in your handlebar bag, and start riding.


Not kidding ... that's about the level of effort I put into planning a route.


I've done scores of tours where I just picked up AAA maps of the region and headed for the finest lines on the maps. Fortunately, I've never met a hill too high or steep to give me pleasure and I'm always prepared for unpaved roads. I like hills but hate traffic. Lucky me, road planners design the high-capacity roads to take the flattest routes.

I did have one map fiasco thirty years ago. I picked up a bike map in Baltimore. We were only planning on moseying down to DC the next day before heading off to Atlanta, and it was a good thing. That map had roads listed that didn't exist, showed roads as nonexistent that were there and was generally some sort of cruel joke. Add in the eight or so flats that one companion had that day and we could have walked the distance faster, but we did get some good laughs.
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Old 06-28-13, 09:45 AM
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1st I chose the Country & Airport, to fly into.. then [pre www] I got a paper Map.

AMS/Shiphol my favorite, because Its easy to follow signs to the Coast, a short Ride,
to camp for the De Jet-lagging sleep.
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Old 06-28-13, 04:43 PM
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Thanks for all the great advice!

I guess it's not that complicated and I was on the right track. I guess I'm mostly worried about climbing since I've never done it. This is a pretty typical ride for me in regards to elevation change. https://www.endomondo.com/workouts/208774962/4134685

I'm think I have a pretty good idea of the route I want to take. I'm aiming for bike trails where possible with country roads in between for most of the way between my front door and Amicalola Falls State Park, then the route gets fuzzy but I know I'd like to hit up a few places along the AT eventually joining the Blue Ridge Parkway by Roanoke and taking that to Waynseboro, VA. I'm going to make a list of all the stops I want to make tonight and fill in the gaps.
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Old 06-28-13, 06:20 PM
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That's pretty cool. In no small part because I live on that map, and I can "see" the rides: MTB'ers to Walnut Creek and Mission Home. I'm pretty sure I can identify roads that are on there because of my bike club.

Curious how little there is in the valley.

Originally Posted by Ritterview View Post
The Strava Global Heat Map is quite helpful for all route finding and planning in unfamiliar areas.

A route that is popular overall is probably a good route.



Western Virginia
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Old 06-30-13, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by mdilthey View Post
Day by day.
Heavy planner

I pick a direct and start riding. I end when I end. Last tour I landed in a country and didn't even bother to research where i was headed....
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