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Route planning for long distance touring

Old 02-25-15, 04:25 PM
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Route planning for long distance touring

Is Google maps bicycle option a good use for touring planning as far as the route it gives? Or are there better options that will show routes or proven routes?
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Old 02-25-15, 05:09 PM
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Personally ... I like paper maps better.

I don't plan my routes well in advance of a tour ... I plan as I go, and in order to do so, I pick up paper maps along the way as I go as well. I get them from Tourist/Visitor Information Centres mainly, but also bookshops, service stations, newsagencies, and sporting goods stores.

I find that the paper maps give you a whole lot more information than Google does. For one thing, they tend to be more up to date and accurate. Google maps in the US might be different, but in Canada and Australia they tend to show info from a decade or two ago, while a basic service station road map will provide you with information that is current within the last 5 years or so. Paper maps will also show you information about the roads ... they will tell you if a road is gravel, a secondary road, a main road, etc. ... not just a bunch of white or yellow lines that could mean anything. And paper maps will often provide symbols to let you know where parks, rest stops and camping might be located.

That said, I do use Google maps ... they've got a new feature now where they'll show you the elevation profile if you select the cycling option. So I'll map out a possible route with Google ... I'll check the elevation profile ... I might try a few other options and check their elevation profiles. I'll check distances. And I'll use Street View to get an idea of what the road might be like in various places.

And then I'll compare the possible route(s) for the next day with a paper map ... and it will be the paper map I have available in my map case as I'm going.


I may also use Google maps to check out accommodation options. My paper map will give me little tent symbols to show where camping is, but if I want to stay in a hostel, B&B or hotel ... Google maps will show me what's available in that regard.
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Old 02-25-15, 05:19 PM
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I'm like Her , Flew to an airport, Europe/ Ireland & UK, , 1st town I buy a Map in a Book Shop . I did several pre Electronics tours ..

I Got a Map Of Poland on the Ferry to There From CPH from a Fellow Passenger , 3 years after 'the Wall came down".


Oregon has a few maps Printed for the Bike Travelers, 1 specific to the Coast. State Departments of Transportation do That.
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Old 02-25-15, 05:20 PM
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i use MapMyRide.com, almost exclusively.
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Old 02-25-15, 05:43 PM
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I use Google in the early stages since paper maps won't show the bike paths or flag any alternate routes. That being said I don't travel with a smart phone so Google is not an option on the road. I do print out the directions as a cue sheet but once you depart from them they are impossible to use until you get back on route and that is easier said than done without a paper map so I always travel with one of those as well.

The scale of the map is important though. The map of Ontario that I used this summer showed the entire province and, even using both sides of the map to do so, the scale still remained pretty small.

So really it's a combination of three things for me: Google map cue sheet, local paper map at the largest practical scale and finally asking the locals for directions once I depart from (or can't interpret) the Google directions. The last option actually is the nicest. I like an excuse to talk to people and that is always an acceptable reason I've found.
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Old 02-25-15, 06:30 PM
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Here is what I do:

1. I prefer using "Google Maps + Auto + Avoid Highways" rather than the bicycle instructions, particularly for longer routes. I find that this gives me better results than picking the bicycle instructions which often seem to have a lot more turns (tougher to remember) or little things I wouldn't normally take.

2. Once I have a rough approximation of the major control points and approximate routes - then I will fine tune with state highway maps as I get closer. I will also ask people along the way - though try to phrase my questions more in terms of comparisons, e.g. "is this route hillier than that route" or "is this route busier than that one" - rather than absolutes since I don't necessarily trust when people (particularly non-cyclists) tell me things about routes.

3. If I need additional fine tuning in leaving a larger metro area, I've found the strava heat map: https://labs.strava.com/heatmap to be a nice way to find routes taken by local (racing) cyclists and hence slightly better ways of entering/leaving big cities.
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Old 02-25-15, 08:05 PM
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Ridewithgps. Pt by pt routing, very nice elevation profile/grade.
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Old 02-25-15, 11:16 PM
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Adventure Cycling maps are good.
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Old 02-25-15, 11:25 PM
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In the US the areas I've toured and driven through using Google Maps tends to be up to date by 1-3 years. Certain areas I'm intimately familiar with I've checked out on Google Earth and seen they update the images every year or so.

I'm along the lines of Mev's post though. I like to use Google Maps to get a general feel for how I should get from A to B, and that's that. I just wing it from there. Making sure I pay attention to major N/S and E/W roads while I check out the maps. When I stop for food or drink I like to take another look just to update my mental image of where I'm going.

In the U.S. we have a lot of good signage that makes it so you really don't need to keep your nose in a map to know where you're going.
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Old 02-26-15, 04:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Machka
Personally ... I like paper maps better...
For our cross country tour in in 1977 we used a paper map of the USA to set the general directions, and state highway maps to plot day-to-day routes. It was a standing joke that we would bring the map at every stop to figure out the next segment of even a few miles.

Here in the crazy road pattterns of Metro Boston, I advise the AAA Metropolitan map because the scale is detailed enough to find good cycling roads, and the map covers enough area to even plot a century. I like a paper map because at a glance it's easy to find your position in relation to the trip.
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Old 02-26-15, 10:20 AM
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In the US, Adventure Cycling maps are excellent. You can also contact the State Tourism Board in each state you plan to travel through, and many of them will respond with bike maps/routes and/or recommendations.
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Old 02-26-15, 12:34 PM
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I Found [for example] British Isles Ordinance Survey maps are much better than the US auto centric maps You pick up at a gas station.

ACA maps are good for the strip they are trying to describe , just dont have a wider View.
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Old 02-28-15, 08:08 AM
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I use various online map services to search logistics, as they're advertiser driven content, but I'm scaling that back due to encounters with inaccuracies, unlisted info, & data leakage. Mostly I wing it while carrying enough food & repair gear to survive.
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Old 02-28-15, 10:13 AM
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Originally Posted by mev
Here is what I do:

1. I prefer using "Google Maps + Auto + Avoid Highways" rather than the bicycle instructions, particularly for longer routes. I find that this gives me better results than picking the bicycle instructions which often seem to have a lot more turns (tougher to remember) or little things I wouldn't normally take.
+1. Another thing it can do is route you out of your way to put you on bike trails, even if they are relatively short trails. And out west I have seen a few instances where the bike directions has selected roads that are not really suitable for the average motor vehicle, much less the average bike.
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Old 02-28-15, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz
+1. Another thing it can do is route you out of your way to put you on bike trails
Yeah, that is my biggest complaint with Google maps bike directions. There are exceptions where there are really nice bike trails that I am happy to use, but even then I don't want to go way out of my way for them. Also there are lots of bike trails that I'd just as soon avoid even if they aren't out of the way and these seem to outnumber the good ones in much of the country.
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Old 02-28-15, 10:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Flyboy718
Is Google maps bicycle option a good use for touring planning as far as the route it gives? Or are there better options that will show routes or proven routes?
Google maps can be a great tool but it is not always intuitive. There is a learning curve. An example is using the "street view" to check out shoulders and traffic. If a road is not highlighted for street view it probably is not paved. Also you can change between the map and satellite views and pick up other details like bike lanes over bridges.

Also try typing the resource you want to find in the search box. For examples, motels, hotels, camping, post office etc will yield some interesting results. But verify they still exist.

Bicycle travel mode has to be monitored and verified, especially that it is not a single track route.

You can take the Google Maps generated route and drag it to customize it to your research. This can yield a decent cue sheet for you.

ACA maps are good and being improved but are narrow in scope. Best used with other map sources.
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Old 02-28-15, 12:47 PM
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De Lorme Map atlases for each state are Nice & topographic so the steepness is indicated, of the hills ..

no doubt they have a digital version to Buy.
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Old 02-28-15, 03:15 PM
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I also use Google Maps in the "Avoid Highways" mode. As others mentioned, the bike option tends to go too far out of the way to find bike paths when sometimes there is a straight line from A to B that is actually bike friendly. (I hate MUPs. YMMV.) It also has a tendency to put you on dirt roads when there are paved options.

However, when you use the biking directions and click on "Show bike paths," it does give you a lot of useful information that is pretty accurate here in Reno, at least. It's nice to know which roads have bike lanes, for example. Sometimes a short stretch on a dreaded MUP can actually save you some mileage. Do some exploring with it, but when you're plotting out your route I would use the regular map and avoid highways.

Don't forget to check the state's DOT page for a bicycle section. Those are kind of hit and miss. Some states have great information and others have nothing. Same goes for local cycling clubs.
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Old 02-28-15, 03:18 PM
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Originally Posted by fietsbob
De Lorme Map atlases for each state are Nice & topographic so the steepness is indicated, of the hills ..
i was thinking of buying these Gazetteer maps for a 5 day trip this summer, as they are supposed to indicate dirt roads, which is what i want to stick to, mostly: Atlas & Gazetteers, by State - DeLorme
any experience with these specific ones?
i've not gone a personal smart phone (one for work) and i'd rather not depend upon electronics, cell signals, and satellites.

to the OP: my first trip i used an index card, and a google printed map. but it was a pretty short trip in an area i was somewhat familiar with.
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Old 02-28-15, 03:23 PM
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Just have the ones for my state & the other one across the river from Me.

Its more a case of where do you Plan to go?

when I lived in a College town I Used the Uni's Map library. its part of a Geography department's resources .
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Old 02-28-15, 06:01 PM
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If you are going to use Google maps, practice with it in your own area. See what kind of route choices it gives you, and go ride those routes. That way, you'll get an idea of what Google thinks is a good route.

Also, turn on the bicycle feature to see what Google thinks are bicycle friendly roads ... and whether or not there are trails around. But be aware ... Google lumps all trails together. A wide paved trail is the same as singletrack.
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Old 02-28-15, 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by mrv
i was thinking of buying these Gazetteer maps for a 5 day trip this summer, as they are supposed to indicate dirt roads, which is what i want to stick to, mostly: Atlas & Gazetteers, by State - DeLorme
any experience with these specific ones?
If you are after every little cow path of a road, these are your ticket. I found them great for finding backpacking trail heads, for finding whitewater kayaking put ins and take outs on seldom run whitewater creeks, and things like that. They don't particularly suit my style of touring, but they may suit yours.

They show a level of detail way beyond what I want or need on tour, also they are quite big and cumbersome.
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Old 02-28-15, 10:25 PM
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Originally Posted by SlowAndSlower
If a road is not highlighted for street view it probably is not paved.
I've found that when Google sends you on a "bike path" it's very often possible to get a street view of said path where it crosses a road that has that imagery. Find the crossing point and put yourself in the center of the crossing and rotate the view. You'll be able to tell the quality of the bike path. More often than not, on my most recent tours, they've been ATV/snowmobile paths following abandoned rail lines. It's worth having some idea of their level of maintenance before committing oneself to following them for long stretches.
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Old 02-28-15, 11:29 PM
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I get right down in the weeds and route using RWGPS and Google Earth to check details. I never use any automated route planner. I enjoy the planning process, though. Paper maps are a PITA, IMO. Really fun in the rain, bulky, heavy. They don't show you terrain, which is important to us and most state maps don't show the interesting roads. I see many tourers using ipads or similar, using RWGPS to plan each next day's ride. That's a very good option if you don't mind carrying and taking care of the thing. RWGPS immediately shows your planned elevation gain, so no surprises.
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Old 03-01-15, 12:53 AM
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Google Maps for cycling can be very good, especially the one's highlighted in green. It has a whole lot of input from bicyclist including myself who have marked good cycling routes. But it's not perfect and only a tool. Draw a route, then tweak it the way you like.

Another good tool is to look at the AADT (Average Annual Daily traffic) stats for the roads you want to ride in, most states publish this. The lower the better.
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