Planning a bicycle touring route

montanatack

Since I had not ridden any long bicycle tours before (meaning more than a few nights), I pretty much started from scratch when it came to cross country touring basics and selecting my cross country route. After talking with my cycling friends and basically asking them what they knew about bicycle touring, quite often they would give me some direction and then point me to their cycling friends. Seems like everybody also pointed me to the Adventure Cycling Association website at www.adventurecycling.org. I would have to say that this is the bicycle touring Mecca. There is lots of great information with really good maps and routes, even a bulletin board for finding riding partners. So, I essentially started here! Of course, searching the internet also has a ton of touring esoterica. I really enjoyed Crazyguyonabike.com which keeps thousand’s of entertaining bicycle travel logs. Reading the blogs were very motivating and I learned a lot of tricks from what not to take, to routes and places to visit. There was even a gentleman in New Jersey that emailed me maps for a nice route across the State from Washington Crossing to Asbury Park. (Does Bruce Springsteen still live there?) Two other helpful resources to consider are Google Maps that chooses a "bicycle friendly" route when you hit the little bicycle icon and the www.MapMyRide.com website.

Safe to say, route planning is a dynamic process. Initially, I planned on using Adventure Cycling Association maps from sea to shining sea. Then, I started to look at the USA map and started placing push pins where I’d like to go, then figured out how. Some of my push pins were Yellowstone National Park, Devil’s Tower, Mt Rushmore, the Badlands, Gettysburg and Tyrone, PA. That brings up another huge resource, the State Bicycle Coordinators. By my experience, all states have them and they are available by internet. I even hit a point where I called the Wyoming Dept of Transportation and talked to the bicycle coordinator where he detoured me around a very large highway construction project. I never would have ridden on Chief Joseph Highway (a favorite) without his input. You’ll find that some state coordinators are better than others. Wyoming and South Dakota coordinators were topnotch! Clearly, they were real bike riders not some pinky office donut eaters. Most states provide maps showing preferred routes, traffic volumes, highway geometrics (shoulder widths) or just a scenic route. In the western states, I found that low volume roads don’t always have the basic services that you might want, so plan accordingly. Maybe, there isn’t a 7-11 every 5 miles, but that is part of the adventure.

Another huge resource was the AAA highway maps and guides (you or a friend need to be a member for free maps). These are not nearly as helpful as the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) maps but when you are “off route” (that would be off the ACA route), they offer campgrounds, motels, places of interest, etc. When I was off route, I relied on the AAA maps and guidebooks, a lot. I would confirm my route with the locals. Seems like everybody feels good about answering questions from Xcountry bike riders. Locals can tell you everything from where to stay, eat, local history, good travel routes (and which routes to stay away from), etc. Be prepared for the inevitable, “You’re crazy!” when you say where you’re coming from and where you are going.

When planning your route, also consider unanticipated highway construction. Check out the Bicycling Safely Through a Highway Construction Zone page.

In summary, consider:

- Friends and acquantances. Believe me, they like to talk about their trip...
- Adventure Cycling Association
- State Bicycle Coordinators
- Google Maps & Map My Ride - AAA maps and guides
- Internet search, journals, links, forums - almost too much good stuff
- Bicycle tour groups

Other sites to check out before you leave on your trip:

  • www.ridetheroad.com - Peter and Sally Blommer are the king and queen of bicycle touring!
  • www.biketouringtips.com - On-line archive of bicycle touring information. Tips, links, journals and more.
  • www.warmshowers.com - Hmmm. How do I describe this? Basically, if you need a place to shower or to pitch your tent on your trip, you can check out this website and it can locate the closest place. Not sure if I gave this website justice…  Close to 5000 sites and growing. What a cool idea!  It’s like Monroeville, Indiana but all over the country (Monroeville takes care of Xcountry cyclists!).
  • Also, check out this new iBook - The Practical Guide to Bicycle Touring



Also, I recommend that you review my Xcountry Bicycling Basics page and Xcountry Bicycling Gear page to assist in planning your Cross Country Bicycle trip.