Bike Trip Planning
Bicycle Tour Planning, Maps, Routes, Ride Reports
How do you plan a bike trip? Better, why do we plan a bike trip?
While Serendipity is a gift from above, the fact is that opportunities to take a bicycle trip are precious, consuming time away from family, work, and committments, involving coordination with anybody else that's involved, involving time, distance, equipment, and money. It just seems like planning is prudent to increase the likelihood of all that treasure and time being well spent.
I do believe that adventure can be spontaneous, I understand the joy of an unexpected discovery, but I also know that doing a little research and preparing for a bike trip will increase the success of the ride.
With that said, I think the primary issues for planning a bike trip are the definition of the trip, the schedule, the choice of direction, the logistics of there and back, choice of bike, camping or hotel, support level, and carry vs. credit card.
Definition of the trip is crucial to accomplishing the right task. The same trip could be defined as (1) taking a riding vacation, (2) riding 750 miles, (3) riding for ten days, (4) riding around Lake Erie -- the key is knowing what trip you're planning.
The schedule is defining what time of year, how many days, etc. Pittsburgh to DC is three days of hard riding, or six days of moderate riding. April is great but there's winter damage on the trail, July has the longest daylight, August is too hot, and September is the hurricane season.
The direction is deciding which way to pedal - Pittsburgh to DC is easier than DC to Pittsburgh because of the slope on either side of the continental divide; riding around the Chesapeake counter-clockwise seems to make the prevailing winds a tailwind; riding around Lake Erie clockwise makes the one-way border crossings more efficient.
The logistics of there and back involves deciding, for an out-and-back ride, whether to start at home and ride away, or to start at the far point and ride back home. Can you confidently reserve a return rent-a-car on a specific day/time?
Choice of bike (and equipment) is a moot point for folks with one bicycle, but for those with options: road bike, touring bike, trail/hybrid, mountain, recumbent? Front and rear panniers, fenders, lights?
Camping or hotel Where will you sleep? Hotels, camp grounds, hostels, friends, stealth camping?
Support level Are you riding alone, or is there a vehicle and driver tagging along? Meeting you mid-day with lunch, greeting you each evening with a room you're checked into, with clean clothes for dinner and the next day's ride?
Carry vs. credit card Will you carry sufficient supplies with you, or will you purchase them enroute? Will you carry food for 3 days on the bike, or will you just pack a 500 calories and buy it as you pass stores? Will you be a water tanker or is there an abundance of safe water along the route? Will you carry a chain whip and extra spokes, or trust to find a bike shop that takes American Express?
Time vs. Money While the joy of the trip is riding, how will you manage the time demands of the day? Time for meals, breaks, sightseeing, laundry, checking the weather, etc?
Local Info There's somebody in the area that knows answers to the questions you're pondering, the trick is to find the local information. Once you've taken the trip, you'll know what the trip was, but until you've set foot on the ground you're relying on others. There's no substitute for local information.
Maps are a key resource. AAA will have paper maps of most areas. States may offer bicycle maps identifying frequent routes, or bike-friendly roads; Maryland has a bike-friendly map that barely shows highways but color-codes the secondary roads by shoulder size and traffic volume.
No plan survives contact with the enemy Bob told me this and he's right- so the bike trip plan has to be robust and flexible enough to tolerate change. If there's a bad storm, if your chain explodes, if your wheel goes bad, if you decide today is a 50-mile day instead of a 75-mile day, the plan needs to help you do that.
In large cities, the yellow pages and a pay phone may be all you need, but in less populated areas you may need to know the distance to the nearest bike shop, the nearest hospital, the nearest hotel.
One issue is keeping enough info with you to be flexible. Do you keep printouts of the hotels in each town, and shed the pages as you progress? Do you carry guide books in the support van? Can you copy the information into your Palm Pilot?