There are many different ways to go about this, one of which I talked about in a previous post. I do not think one is right but I do think that everyone will have their own preference of preparation. I am still trying to be open-minded as to my own preference and am constantly looking for different ways to go about doing it. Yes, this does present successes and failures however they may be winning techniques of planning for someone else. I have therefore included the ones I am familiar with in this post.
Internet Map Tools:
This is one of the easiest ways to form a route suitable for cycling. There are many different options on the internet, ranging from Google maps to Bike Route Toaster. The latter is definitely my favourite online routing tool. In general you are presented with a map of the world, you click where you want to start then subsequently click the destinations you want to cycle to. The internet will then work its’ magic and show you a route which you can cycle on. It really is that easy. On BRT you can choose which database the website uses for its mapping software, either OSM (Open Street Mapping) or Google. I have found that using Google gives the best routes; they are often flatter but slightly longer and can sometimes use busier roads. However you will never stray off the road. If you chose to use OSM I recommend looking in detail at where it is routing you, I have had occurrences where it has taken a shortcut straight across a field. These routes will be perfectly fine for anyone on a heavier touring bike/mountain bike but difficult for a road bike. On the other hand OSM routes are much more direct and use much quieter roads. So again choosing that is down to personal preference. A useful feature of BRT and online tools is that they show you your elevation. This means you will know about any big climbs on your route and can plan in days which may be shorter i.e. in mountainous regions.
You have a choice with what to do with the route; you can either print out the turn by turn directions or download the route and load it onto your GPS. I have done both. On my trip to Paris, I simply just printed out the directions and a couple of screenshots of the key junctions. We then set off and somehow managed to make it the whole way from Manchester to Paris with just a few pieces of A4, it is possible. When doing my tour of Europe I chose to load the route onto my GPS which was perfect. We followed the blue line all around Europe, navigation was bliss and we never got lost. However we did end up on some very busy roads.
All in all this is a very easy-to-use way of route preparation. Your routes will take you where you need to go and the directions will be easy to follow. You just have to be careful and check that you can cycle the whole of the route, I suggest Google street view for this, most of the time you can I have only had a couple of problems. Choose this method if you want a fixed route, easy directions, are under time pressures, or fancy just giving it a go!
This choice ties in with the previous option as they can be used together. However you can also on many GPS units use their own street navigation. This will involve loading your GPS with maps if it isn’t already, however you can download OSM maps for free! So there is nothing stopping you. I use a eTrex Vista HCx which is an older model Garmin. I do not think this is a set back though, I was able to pick it up very cheaply on eBay and it is definitely worth its weight in gold to me. It is useful as a training tool as well as a guide. On my Garmin you can choose turn by turn navigation ‘for bicycles’ on the whole this is very good. It does just take you the shortest distance though which may not be the shortest cycle, with hills and all. However it is great, just select a point on the map, press route, and off you go. On the Garmin Edge cycling specific GPS’s this may be a different case. I opted against these units because of their additional price and the extra hassle of having to charge it on tour. If you do chose the GPS option, unless like mine your GPS runs on AA batteries, you will need a power source to charge it up. This is just something to factor in; you don’t always need to be near civilisation as there are some great solar and dynamo chargers on the market now.
Many people nowadays have smart phones and will no doubt want to take theirs on cycle-tour. I did, although I only used it for updating my charity page. Many of them will have GPS so why not take advantage of it? There are countless navigation apps available and some which are bike specific. On iPhone you can get maps of cycle routes and paths across Europe and no doubt the world. There are many iPhone handlebar mounts available as well so it will become practically a GPS. This opens huge amounts of possibilities but beware of hidden data costs when touring over-seas!
Overall this option is probably the easiest to use, allow you to easily go off course. It does all the planning and routing for you. However I find it more useful to have an idea of the route before I cycle it.
The classic. They are the classic for a good reason, they work. You can pour over maps before you leave, carefully planning a bespoke route which you craft from nothing. It can be a very rewarding experience cycling along the highlighted line of the route which you penned out all those months ago in preparation. You have the option to take deviations, shortcuts or diversions. You can easily look at what lies ahead. They may be a heavier option at the start but once you’re finished with a map you can just throw it away, so you finish very lightweight. If you are looking for maps, general road maps are good. In the UK Sustrans have a great selection of maps or if you like to go off-road and on trails OS-Maps are the way to go!
This option would appeal to those ‘old school’ adventurers who like to do things the classic way. If you want more choice over your route and slightly more flexibility when on your route this is the option to take. However navigation may be slightly slower and you could get lost, if you can’t read maps.
This is the option I talked about in my recent post. I cannot wait to try this out. You get so much freedom, just follow road signs or pick up maps on the way. Just go where the wind takes you. This option is less about the destination and more about the journey. This will appeal to people who love to travel; meeting new people and those who want to strip cycle-touring back to basics. Why not just give it a go?
These are the types of planning which I am familiar with; of course there are many different variations. I think it all depends on what you want to try to achieve with your cycle-tour and finding what type of route planning best works for you.