Bike trip planning

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Introduction

Success of any bike trip is mostly determined by how well it is planned. This article presents a detailed guide teaching how to plan a perfect trip and how not to miss any minor detail your trip planning. The main idea of trip planning is to put all key points on the map, join them by interesting roads and divide the route into riding days.

Tool Kit

Both tools are used almost simultaneously since yet there is no single application that would combine all the features from all resources bellow.

  • "Ride with GPS": One of the best websites that has almost all tools (complete toolkit in paid versions) and almost all resources that you will need for effective trip planning. You will be able to complete almost all the tasks described in this article using only Ride with GPS.
  • Google Earth: You will still have to use Google Earth to dig out photos from Panorimo since it is the largest resource of geo-tagged photos existing at this point. Also it allows you to see the 3D model of terrain which sometimes helps in choosing the right path while planning.

Time, budget and physical abilities

Before even starting thinking of where you want to go, one should count time and budget available for a trip. If you have never tried going to bike trips before, you should try yourself in a beginner friendly trip or go for a one day cycling workout with a GPS to estimate how far you can go in one day, what is your average speed or whether you like cycling at all. Budget, time and physical abilities are the main constraining frames that one should keep in mind when planning a new trip.

Gather information

A interesting trip depends on 4 factors: cultural attractions, landscape attractions and athletic attractions. The forth one is roads which is a combination of second and third.

The best place to start planning your trip is to check out the trip reports and tracks made by other tourists. Reading trip reports and looking tracks of previous trips is a very efficient way of learning about what places to visit, which roads to ride, where to stay overnight. You may use the entire rout that you found or just a part of it as a starting billet for your trip. Also good resources that can help you understanding the region might be region's Wiki page, National Geographic magazine, local tourist website. After you have familiarized yourself with the region it will be much easier to look for places that you may want to visit.

Resources

Here are some resources that may help you plan your trip.

Track databases

Cycling tourism blogs

Attraction resources

You can find some information about attractions on official tourist website of almost any county by googling "visit %country_name%

Panorimo geo-tagged pictures in Google Earth. (You won’t miss main attractions if you look for agglomerations of pictures)


Cultural attractions

Going to a bike trip is the best way to learn about culture of a country. Even if you are not going abroad, you will be surprised how much you didn’t know about your own country. Architecture and man made attractions: Usually most of interesting architecture is located in towns and cities but sometimes can be abandoned and leftover somewhere in the wild which makes the architecture look even more spectacular. Other than architecture in the cities an example of a good choice might be a part of infrastructure like a dam, tower, military defense structures (only if abandoned!), mines, etc. Use trip planning resources provided above to find interesting architecture and infrastructure attractions. Also a good way to get closer to the culture of the region is to visit museums, theatres (if you understand the local language), music concerts, etc. Mark all interesting places that you can visit in you region on the map with a name and a brief description.

Locals

No matter whether you’re visiting another country or exploring your own, there is always something to find out about culture of people you meet on your way. Locals are the best representation of local culture. Being a cycling tourist makes you dependent of people you meet since you will sometimes need their help in navigation and other troubles. Don’t miss the opportunity to get to know locals and their culture while you are looking for help. A meal and a night in a locals’ house are usually the most exciting memory of any journey. Even a brief chat with a local can be very interesting. So leave a room in your plan for a possible interaction with locals. Locals are usually very friendly, helpful and hospitable to cycling tourists, but be cautious! Being a tourist puts you in a weak position when others can take advantage of you! If you are going to a different country be sure to check out the experience that other tourists had in communication with locals. Especially be cautious in big cities or particularly popular tourist attractions. These are the places where criminal groups specialized on tourists are particularly active. Usually people are friendly to tourists, they are very approachable and are ready to help you most of the time.

Roads

Roads are usually one of the most important aspect of your trip because you spend most of the time on it, so choose wisely. A good road for cycling is one with low or no traffic and with good views. Most of the tourists will have their own preferences on hilliness of the road and road surface (But Remember! The flat and paved roads are usually not the most exciting ones!). The most efficient way to find interesting roads is to see where other people ride. It is always a good idea to look what other people did and use their knowledge in your trip planning. You can also look up roads on satellite images and images from Google Earth. It takes practice to differentiating between “good” and “bad” roads based only on satellite image, so be patient. For a better result add all interesting routs that you found to rout editor all at once. It might look messy to you at first time but the resulting “net” of routs will give you a good array of directions to choose of. Later you will hide routs that you didn’t like.

Landscape sightseeing

A good way to look for interesting natural places is to read blogs, official tourist website, and looking photos in Google Earth. Also you can look up images in Google Images. Mark all interesting places that you can visit in region of interest on the map with a name and a brief description. Athletic points of interest. Usually these are high ascending roads with passes. Sometimes it can be radial hiking parts where a tourist leaves the bike on the road and hikes to a summit. Mark all interesting places that you can visit in region of interest on the map with a name and a brief description.

Look on things more practically

In addition to your time, budget and physical abilities you should also account on how will you get to the start of the route and where is the better start point, where to stay overnight, water and food sources.

Transportation

Here are some resources: If you don’t know where to start, you can consult with Rome2Rio to learn about what operators exist in the region of interest.

Mark all possible starting points where you can start on your map. Usually there are a few.

Staying overnight

All depends on your finances and preferences. If you decide staying in hotels and you don’t take a tent with you, you might want to at least estimate the presence of hotels in the region where you are going. Otherwise you risk to spend a lot of time on sketching the route and won’t find hotels on your way. In this case you will have to redo all your work. You will plan where you stay overnight a bit later.

Sketch the route

Now, when you have collected enough information you can start sketching your tour! You can use fragments of other tourists’ routs, edit them and add your segments to form a single route for all days that joins the points of interest that you choose. After you finish, divide total distance on your number of days to see the average distance that you will have to cover per day. After you make sure that the length of the route is ok, you can start assigning the plan for each day.

Calculate time

While making a plan for a day you don’t have to have an hourly schedule but you should to take into consideration a few factors: Distance, road surface quality, elevation gain and daylight time. Also don’t forget that you are going to move slower with a heavy load, so plan accordingly. Firstly count how many hours of daylight are available. Start subtracting the time needed for the morning routine (takes about 1.5-2 hours from rise to start riding if you are camping), time for sightseeing, time for lunch (30-45 min) and rest (totally about an hour) and don’t forget that it is better to find a place for tent at least an hour before it gets dark. After all that, the time that you have left with can go towards covering the distance. Highlight that distance on the elevation profile of the route planner, put a waypoint on the route where you hit calculated distance and try finding a place for overnight. Repeat for the next days from your last overnight place.

Find a place for overnight

Hotels

If you are staying in the hotels, you have better chances to find them in towns and cities. You can check the availability of hotels online using services like Booking.com, hostels.com or any other service. You don’t necessarily need to book hotels online, especially if you are travelling in certain countries like all Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries (including Spain), Balkan countries, south of Italy, all CIS countries. In these countries you will are more likely to find a much cheaper and better option when you arrive on place. If you are travelling in central and northern Europe, Northern America, or if you are passing through major cities in any country it is wise to book a hotel ahead of time because they are likely to be all sold out.

Bivouacking

If you are travelling with a tent it is good to know some features of different countries. Make sure you know the law! You can inform yourself on official tourist website of the region you are going to. If the region doesn’t have such website or it has nothing mentioning camping rules, don’t worry too much – it is likely that no one cares about it. If you are touring in more developed countries you are likely to find these general rules:

  • No camping closer than 100 m closer to any private property
  • No camping where it is indicated explicitly
  • No camping in city parks

It may take some time to find an appropriate spot for a tent so it is wise to do some research in Google Earth and save a few possible waypoint on spots that look habitable. The main criteria for this are proximity to fresh water source, a flat spot. Also don’t forget about the rules that are region-specific. Usually you will find a spot that meets all criteria outside the cities borders.

What if something goes wrong?

And it will! No matter how good you plan your trip, something will go wrong. In order to manage unpredictable situations effectively on place you should have some necessary information that you have to prepare before you go on your trip. Things to know to effectively manage unexpected situations:

  • Emergency phone number (North America – 911, European Union – 112)
  • Schematic map of transit services (bus lines, railway lines, airports)
  • Paper map that includes all your trip
  • Point of no return on your route