How to plan the perfect route.
The two most common questions I get asked when I am doing one of our cycle trips is firstly how do to navigate when on the bike, and secondly how did you plan where to go.
I have answered the first one thanks to the product and video review I did of the Wahoo ELEMNT Roam that we have used over the past few years. I'm now going to answer the second question of how to plan a route in this blog post.
This post will be specifically directed at cycling routes, but I will give examples for walking or hiking as well because there is a fair bit of carry over between them.
I'll split this topic into three sections; where to go, how to get from A-to-B, and then some broad points to consider.
Me trying to figure out where we got lost in Morocco
Where to go
This may already be decided for you, if say for example it's a predetermined route like the King Alfred Way, or perhaps the start and end point may be set but the bit in-between is open to explore.
When I am deciding where to go I have to consider a few things.
1/ Will I get enough solitude to do the thing I want to do?
No point planning to ride your bike but the area you are planning to do this in goes from city to town and constantly somewhere busy. You'll spend more time stuck behind cars, cars stuck behind you, or waiting at traffic lights to enjoy any of it.
2/ Can I do my activity here?
Likewise if I am wanting to do a gravel ride, I won't go anywhere that has minimal trail options. This may sound obvious but deciding you want to do a specific means of transport and then picking a place not suited for it is a dumb start. I believe this happened in a recent gravel bike race I did - full report here.
3/ Is it pretty or new?
Riding somewhere with no change in scenery, or perhaps somewhere which is not what you find interesting for me is a recipe for disaster. Equally, planning a route that doesn't bring in something new can be a little dull. Even if it's a change of direction to your normal route, that in itself can be enough to keep it interesting.
4/ Can I circumnavigate or cross a body of land or significant 'thing'?
This doesn't happen often, but when there is an arbitrary landmark or feature to go across or around it makes the whole thing a little cooler. A simple example is circumnavigating the Isle of Wight. There are loads of options on the IOW but seeing your completed route hugging the coastline is pretty cool - having done both the circumnavigation and random route I can tell you the big circle is a little cooler.
5/ Can I reach a cool significant landmark or feature?
Now this option can work on a 2 day trip, or even a 1 day trip depending on how far it is. Have a look at a map, see what features you can see within a rideable distance that you perhaps haven't been to before, and then use that a point to work towards. I've done this when cycling to the Canvey Island. I looked at options of seaside towns that was roughly the distance I could travel to, and decided on that. Never heard of it before but it made for a great 2 day overnight adventure. For this using a physical OS map, or something like Google or Komoot where you can get a broad idea of what is within touching distance is really helpful.
If you get a really good WHY you are doing something it makes for a much more enjoyable trip. You are more likely to get it done if it excites you and has a greater purpose than just to 'go for a cycle'. Plus if things get tough on a ride, it's hard work, few mechanicals or bad weather, if the WHY is strong enough you will keep going. This WHY thinking also has a snowball effect and you become more and more imaginative as to what you can do and where you can go. It then forces you to think a little outside the box.
How to get from A-to-B
Once you have nailed down your WHY the next thing to figure out is HOW you are going to get from A-to-B. To really make sure you don't miss out any cool points along the way again using Komoot and even Strava here can help. Both of them have features which highlight points of interest, and even routes that are popular with it's users - especially useful if you are in an unknown area and don't want to find yourself on an unpopular busy road.
For my planning I use specifically Komoot. I use it for my cycling, walks and runs. I like Komoot because it quickly tells me the surface type and track type when I plan and change the routes. Especially important if I am on by gravel bike. Another nice feature is the elevation profile which you can follow along the route. This is helpful if your ride is unnecessarily hilly and you are trying to work out if there are alternative options available without adding too much distance.
Another cool feature is I can click on the little red icons and it suggests routes and paths which are significant in the area.
I can save and easily edit the routes I have made and completed should I decide to revisit but decide on a slight tweak. There is also an option to save for offline use and allow you to navigate without the use of mobile data.
I have never really used the navigation option similar to Google Maps you can use in your cars, but it is there should you use it.
Red icons showing route features
There is however one massive bug with it, one feature I have yet to figure out how to improve. This has happened mostly when walking/running/hiking, but can at times happen on the bike off-road. Komoot will generally not let you plan a route through private ground. If you try a simple A-to-B and the obvious path isn't to be used, no matter how hard you try and plan onto this private path or road, it will not let you. Perfect.
However every now and again it fails, and then on your route you either have to completely backtrack, or hope you have signal to re-plan and another option of path to go down. This is annoying but understandable as the Earth is bloody massive and to know every single private path would be insane. But when this does happen there doesn't seem to be a feature to tell Komoot, and it's other uses; "hey, this path is closed, don't plan to go down it".
A shared community where you can stop others making the same mistake. If I am wrong on this and there is a function for this please correct me.
Komoot - do you have this function?
You do pay for Komoot as a one-off fee but I do think it's worth it, even with the hiccup of the rare closed path. I certainly wouldn't have seen as many cool places if it wasn't for Komoot and I certainly recommend it to others.
Broad points to consider
In no particular order of relevance this is just some things I have learnt over the years and normally from mistaking a mistake or two.
1/ If it's a loop try where possible to go in the direction of the side of the road you travel on. So in UK we drive on the left so making the loop moving left (or anticlockwise) means you'll be crossing less busy roads or roundabouts. You will generally be just taking the road off left when you need to turn. In the USA it would be a clockwise direction, in AUS and NZ same as UK an anticlockwise direction.
Imaging doing this route below the other way and having to deal with all the extra crossing points?
2/ When starting out plan to do less than you think you can do. The best case scenario is you finish earlier than expected, with energy still to burn and plenty of time to enjoy a pint at the end of the ride having had an awesome day. Worst case is you are knackered, it's dark, you're hangry and swear to never do this bloody sport ever again.
After a few rides or walks you can then start to increase the distance of these trips as you get a little more confident. You don't want to end up hating the experience.
3/ Have a think of food stops. It may be a case this isn't relevant. But using a town or village as a lunch spot is a cool way to see somewhere local and get some great food. But if your route doesn't go anywhere near civilisation you will need to take the entire days rations, which is fine and not an issue, but bear this in mind. With emergencies being relatively close to a main road or shops can be helpful should anything crop up.
4/ In the past before Komoot I used a map and locals to help me along the way. Me and a friend cycled across China with just a paper map and some helpful local people directing the way - sometimes over planning and thinking too much can stop you actually doing it.
So there you have it, my simple thoughts on how to plan a route.
Figure out the where, the why and then some simple suggestions. Did all that make sense?
What have a left out or what questions are still unanswered?
Let me know what else you would like details on and I can add to this. We'll think of this as an ongoing project to add to.
Thanks again everyone and happy riding,