Route Planning

Route Planning largely depends on your personality.  It is possible to plan your entire route day by day and book any accommodation or other support that you need before leaving home.

If you feel uncomfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing where you will be then perhaps this is the way for you.

Of course, there are problems with this approach.  If you are feeling off colour, or the weather is dreadful, or your bike breaks, or you get lost or you are simply distracted by something magnificent, then you have an issue.

Our approach is something of a compromise.  We generally ride through country where we can be pretty assured that the support we need is available, that is, there are enough towns to provide accommodation and other services.

We book nothing, and in around 150 days of cycle touring in Europe have never been without a perfectly adequate bed.  We arrive in a town, check out the tourist information centre if there is one as they will usually book accommodation for you and that is that.  If there is no tourist accommodation centre, or it is closed, then we just ride around until we find a hotel or B&B. If you are nto familiar with touring in Europe you may not be ware of just how good the B&B system is.

So, our form of route planning is very loose.  We decide on the area we wish to ride through, have a look at a map, check the terrain and choose a road.

For example, we decided to ride from London to Barcelona.  We planned on how to get out of Heathrow airport.  We checked to see where the ferry crossings were to France.  We decided we would ride through the Basque country on the northern coast of the Iberian peninsular and that was that.

In England, we had Sustrans bicycle route maps and canal maps, and used a bit of these, but used secondary roads a lot more.  In France we just used road maps.

We then changed a lot of our plan when we got more local information, including deciding not to go through the Basque country.

Our more detailed planning we do more or less from hour to hour.  We arrive at a town, and then look at our map and work out where we go from there.  We visit tourist information centres and factor in their advice.

In any travel, if you don’t see some particular feature, you will see something else instead.  We rarely make a point of visiting the particular places suggested in tourist guides, and we never thoroughly “do” a city.  There are so many things we have not seen in the areas we have travelled through, and frankly, I don’t care.

However, Roz is a fan of the Lonely Planet guides and we usually carry these.

On this site there is a section on getting started where we suggest a great route for those who have not done any such touring and are looking at a way to get started.

Maps and guides are an issue for any tourist, and because of weight restrictions while bicycle touring, it is even more of an issue for us.

Ideally, we want to ride on sealed minor roads, the sort that are often not shown in any map other than a detailed local one.  However, this is difficult.  To carry detailed local maps with you is simply too much.

Cycle route guides are a good compromise and contain useful additional information.  It is best if you can source these before you leave home, particularly if you want English language versions.  It is of course quite possible to operate with guides in a language you do not know, but you will always wonder what all that text meant.

Cycle guides are generally available for central Europe, Germany, Austria, Holland and Belgium, and there is some help in Scandinavia and England.  If you are travelling elsewhere, France, Italy and Spain for example, then you will be relying largely on road maps.

We carry a single sheet map of western Europe to provide some overall perspective, a map of the particular country we are travelling through and use regional maps for more detailed planning.  In France we bought a Michelin road atlas.

We have often posted maps and other bits and pieces home when we have finished with them as the weight builds up.

GPS devices are probably the way of the future.  To save weight, you could use a device like an Iphone with a GPS program such as TomTom that will give very detailed information as you travel.  Check our page on this.

If you wish to tour through the Loire Valley in France, which is probably a very good idea, you can hire a programmed GPS from some tourist offices in the region. However, this is patchy.

It is typical of the French that they would have superb cycle touring country, and very little supporting infrastructure, at least in the west where we have toured.  I suspect that they will leapfrog the traditional signed route system and move directly to GPS guided routes.  This is much cheaper and more flexible for them.  I can imagine in the near future seeing GPS cycle routes appearing as Iphone and Android applications, but it is not here yet.