Author Topic: Best way to build a route from scratch?  (Read 2108 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline mjackson

Best way to build a route from scratch?
« on: October 25, 2013, 03:21:38 pm »
We are planning to bike cross country this coming spring, starting in Santa Barbara, CA and going the southern route to Atlanta, GA, then up the east coast to Ithaca, NY. Thus far I am using cities of interest to plan a route using Google bike maps. Is there a smarter way to plan my route and what are some of the pitfalls of relying on Google's bike maps?

Offline John Nelson

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2013, 03:43:52 pm »
The biggest pitfall of using Google bicycle directions for long-distance routes is that it will give you a route with many times as many turns, and many of these turns aren't even marked. You'll get directions such as "Turn left" with no clue as to where except based on a distance from the last turn. For example, if you ask for driving directions from Los Angeles to New York, you get a route with 29 segments. If you ask for a bicycle directions for the same endpoints, you get a route with 1,126 segments.

Another pitfall is that bicycle directions don't mind using dirt roads, rugged hiking trails and even private property. Sometimes, the directions will even use routes that don't even exist.

Google bicycle directions are good for getting to the grocery store. They are awful for getting across the country.

Instead, I recommend just asking Google for driving directions, but select the "Avoid highways" option. You can tweak the route after that if you want, but the initial route will be pretty good.

Offline Bclayden

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2013, 09:44:34 pm »
I've planned many long distance rides both in the US and in Europe using a combination of resources.  Google maps is a good start but the "Bicycle" feature isn't much help once you've left the city.  Most states' DOTs publish bicycle friendly and recommended routes, ACA routes of course are good when they align with your route, and even the AAA map can be very helpful.

What is invaluable for planning is Google street view.  Once you've established the route you can see what the shoulder situation is, familiarize yourself with navigation cues, and of course determine if your route is in fact a gravel one. 

This forum has helped me many times too.  Once I've established a route I throw it out there for advice and always get knowledgeable and helpful answers...even for Europe trip planning....struck out with Hawaii route advice though.   Most recently I put out the "Ride across Nebraska..." question on this forum a few days ago and already have some helpful replies.

Just remember, planning is important but you'll still end up with some surprises and these, in my experience, are the best memories.

Good luck.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2013, 09:48:14 pm by Bclayden »

Offline John Nettles

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2013, 10:34:32 pm »
I would probably work my way over to Asheville, NC then take the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Front Royal, VA the connect to the Atlantic Coast Route in Washington (via the great paved W&OD rail trail) then head north toward NY.  If you prefer the ACA routes, go from Atlanta to Charleston, SC and connect with the Atlantic Coast Route there.

From around the PA/NY border, break off and head north toward Ithaca.  When I rode the Northern Tier, it actually went through Ithaca I think but that was in the 80s and ACA keep altering the routes a little to keep them viable.  If you don't mind riding on crushed gravel/chat/stone dust, you could break off at Poughkeepsie and head toward Albany and connect with the Erie Canalway Trail (very rideable on touring tires) then break off that around Weedsport and head south to Ithaca.

For each state you are doing your own route, check the state's department of transportation for a state bicycle map, traffic count maps, and county maps.  You can use Google to see if any bike routes exist but take those with a heavy dose of salt.  Try to go to streetview and see what the road/trail is like.  I try to stay on roads with less than 2,000 vehicles per day (prefer 1,000) but that may a bit difficult in the east.  You typically give up flatter roads, possibly shoulders, and more services for much less traffic and more scenery and "character".  New York has a pretty good site.

Due to the heavy traffic in the east coast corridor and the amount of research required to create a safe route, I would strongly consider following the Atlantic Coast Route IF you want to visit the major cities.  Otherwise, swing west from Front Royal through western MD and central PA on your own route.

Whatever you choose, have a great ride!
Happy trails and may the wind be at your back!
John

Offline mjackson

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2013, 10:34:24 am »
Thank you all for the advice! Can anyone shed some light on the specific advantages of sticking to ACA network routes? I know the maps are one advantage, but should we be trying to tailor our route to include as many ACA network routes as possible?

Also, is there a good online resource for topographical maps? Is there a reliable way to do this in Google maps?

Thanks again!

Offline John Nettles

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2013, 12:17:41 pm »
That basically boils down to time and desire.  If you have the time and have the curiousity, sure do as many miles as possible.  The primary advantages of the ACA maps are that the cyclotourist info has already been researched (and done well typically) so there is little left to chance.  This is a huge advantage.  The campgrounds, grocery stores, cue sheet, etc. are already done and the route has been ridden by others so you know the roads do not dead-end.  You will know there is a campground 12 miles up the road which is really nice since a lot of campgrounds are closed or no longer accept tents.  Be sure to check out the addendums before starting a new map.  Also, check out the journals on CrazyGuyonaBike.com (website for cyclotourists) to get a feel for any of the routes. ACA maps are well worth the money.

The big drawback to pre-planned routes are just that, they are preplanned.  You lose a ton of "adventure of what's around the bend".  For me, that is big.  If you need to go off-route from a organized route, you may not have done the research to know to avoid Highway X in favor of Highway Y.  You may not realize the largest ball of twine is only 10 miles off-route and, assuming you are a twine ball enthusiast, that could be the miss of a lifetime.  I am sick in that I actually enjoy creating routes and riding them some day.  I have routed over 500 individual routes (though have only ridden about 40%) around the country so obviously I do not fear going off route  ;).  Heck, pay me 2 cents a mile & I'll do a route for you  ;D.  Most of the routes are short, i.e. 50 miles or less, and connect to other routes, either mine or some organized route or road.  Think of a spider web, not massive trails though some do connect lots of short routes into 1,000+ mile routes, i.e. Alexander, KS (TransAm) to De Funiak Springs, FL (Southern Tier) or Brownsville, TX to Winnipeg.

A major drawback to creating routes is that I tend to remove a lot of the surprises during the research.  I already know what is ahead and like I indicated above, I enjoy wondering what's ahead.

Personally, if a map exists I will use it but will just as easily create my own segments if a map doesn't exist where I want to go.  For instance, I  have a created a few routes to supplement organized routes/roads for a "fall colors" ride I hope to do in a couple of years going from Montreal, QB to Burlington (mine) to Albany, NY (ACA/mine) to Erie, PA (Erie Canal, mine, & ACA) to Pittsburg (ACA) to Sheperdstown, WY (GAP) to Front Royal, VA (mine) to past Asheville (BRP) to Statesboro (mine) to Jacksonville (ACA).  Even though the above routes lean more toward organized routes, I typically do about 75% custom.  I have been touring for over 35 years so I have done most of the organized routes so either have to repeat or do my own now.

I rarely use a topo map as you can learn to "read" the topography of a map if you have some basic knowledge of the area.  For instance, a squiggly road that follows a river is typically a gentle climb (or as gentle as the river falls).  However, a squiggly line not following a river has a good chance that it is going up and over a ridge or pass.  Occasionally, areas like the Ozarks throw you off as they just pave a straight road up and down cliffs it seems.  You can also use Google satellite and streetview to get an idea if you really need to.  However, coming from the west coast, anything thrown at you by GA will be doable.  Also, do not be afraid to ride some gravel if needed.  It isn't bad at all.

Again, have a great ride!
Happy trails and may the wind be at your back!
John

Offline jamawani

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2013, 12:55:48 pm »
Nearly all state transportation departments have AADT maps.
AADT - Average annual daily traffic
These indicate which roads are busy and which have little traffic.
(Sometimes it is in spreadsheet form which means using another map and going back and forth)

Here is one of the better maps - Kansas
http://www.ksdot.org/burtransplan/maps/CountMaps/Districts/count12.PDF

It's color coded with actual AADT numbers so you can see at a glance the low-traffic highways.
Low-traffic roads rarely have shoulders, shoulders imply higher traffic.
But many roads with high traffic have little to no shoulder - which really sucks on a bicycle.
Some folks want to maximize low traffic, others want shoulders.

There are very few low-traffic roads in Arizona - not to mention the heat in summer.
You may want to consider a more northerly tack in mid-summer.
And why do you have to bike into Atlanta??  Urban riding can be the pits.
It's possible to have friends meet you - in north Georgia or southern Tenn.

I have found that appointments here and there can really put a bind on a bike tour.
Either crunching to get somewhere by a certain date or riding roads that are nasty.
Your choice.

Offline yumadons

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #7 on: October 26, 2013, 06:08:17 pm »
<<  And why do you have to bike into Atlanta??  Urban riding can be the pits. >>

Actually, there is an outstanding PAVED bicycle path ~ 150 miles long from Anniston, Alabama into the Atlanta 'burb of Smyrna. Google Chief Ladiga Trail (Alabama) & Silver Comet Trail (Georgia).

Offline Patco

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2013, 12:17:43 am »
Not sure if this is a "smarter" way to plan a trip, but, in general,  I determine my starting point and end point. I then draw a line between the two and begin collecting state bicycle and/or road maps. Some states have good to very good bicycle maps (some not so much), and I also obtain the related state road map from their department of transportation. With this info I determine a preliminary route taking into account expected miles; services; what I want to see; etc. Then I check out the preliminary route using Google maps street view. Changes are made and a somewhat final route is obtained. Once on the ride, each day I determine whether there are any changes I wish to make to the next days route. Regardless of how much research and planning I have put into my routes, there are always surprises. And there is always construction. Stay flexible.

I have used ACA routes and other planned routes. They have their advantages but for a variety of reasons I like the challenge afforded in planning my routes.

Offline jamawani

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2013, 01:03:39 am »
Actually, there is an outstanding PAVED bicycle path ~ 150 miles long from Anniston, Alabama into the Atlanta 'burb of Smyrna. Google Chief Ladiga Trail (Alabama) & Silver Comet Trail (Georgia).

True, but it only gets you to Smyrna.
If one is going elsewhere in Atlanta there will be a lot of urban riding.
And then there's the minor issue of getting out.
(I've gotten into many situations where getting out was harder.)

Offline mjackson

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2013, 11:26:09 am »
The reason we have to ride to Atlanta is because we have to attend a wedding there. Though we realize it's not ideal that we have a deadline on that end, the alternative was having to fly to the wedding from somewhere random in the middle of the trip. The wedding is actually in Peachtree City, GA so not in Atlanta proper.

The tentative route we have planned (and thanks to all of you again for all your help) takes us through hundreds of miles of west Texas. Has anyone had any experience with this? We are a bit concerned that it will be desolate at parts. We will be going through that stretch in late March/early April so we're not too concerned about weather. Would we be better off going the southern tier?

Offline canalligators

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2013, 01:14:32 pm »
I'll also recommend starting with Google Maps/cyclist, even in the rural areas.  But you have to check the route for the things already mentioned: dirt roads, poor/no shoulders (and rumble strips), non-roads, unpaved "trails".  Take the problem areas and drag the route to an alternate.

Also with Google Maps, you can have it spot services.  Type in Motel, Hotel, Inn, B&B, Grocery, Restaurant, ...

For a final route, I usually move the preliminary route to RideWithGPS or the like.  That also shows you grade profile.  I then use the grade profile, state traffic volume maps, state bike route maps, etc. to tweak it again as required.

Offline JMilyko

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2013, 08:30:08 am »
The tentative route we have planned (and thanks to all of you again for all your help) takes us through hundreds of miles of west Texas. Has anyone had any experience with this? We are a bit concerned that it will be desolate at parts. We will be going through that stretch in late March/early April so we're not too concerned about weather. Would we be better off going the southern tier?

There will definitely be more desolate stretches in western Texas whether you create your own route or use the Southern Tier. I've read accounts where people ride the Interstate highway for the entire stretch and that works for them. You might also check into the resources from the state of Texas. The following site is a good start even though it's not cycling specific:

http://texasmountaintrail.com/

The cycling specific info is here:

http://texasmountaintrail.com/bike

.Jennifer.

*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*

Jennifer H. Milyko
Adventure Cycling Association
Inspiring and empowering people to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x205
www.adventurecycling.org

Follow Routes & Mapping on Twitter: @acaroutes

Offline dkoloko

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #13 on: December 05, 2013, 12:32:57 pm »

Another pitfall is that (Google) bicycle directions don't mind using dirt roads, rugged hiking trails and even private property. Sometimes, the directions will even use routes that don't even exist.

Google bicycle directions are good for getting to the grocery store. They are awful for getting across the country.


Pitfall, in some part, is true, but Google is working to improve its bicycle routes. Every route suggestion I have sent has been considered and most often adopted.

"Awful" for getting cross country is strong. Google bicycle maps are in Beta, meaning use them if wish, but we are still working on them, and you can help (see above).

Offline dkoloko

Re: Best way to build a route from scratch?
« Reply #14 on: December 05, 2013, 12:39:06 pm »

The big drawback to pre-planned routes are just that, they are preplanned.  You lose a ton of "adventure of what's around the bend".


True, in part (there's always some adventure, even repeating a known route several times), but an advantage of riding a known route is meeting other touring bicyclists, going your way or in the opposite direction  (some of my most memorable experiences).