Planning your own Bicycle Tour – Part 3 – Route Information Sources
Before I dig into how to gather information for your trip, a few tips on evaluating information on bicycling that you will find and receive from people you talk with.
Let me give you a few examples of why you should be skeptical about any information you find:
1. While bicycling on the Gaspe Peninsula, while we were near the town of Perce and approaching Gaspe, we stopped at a rest area to admire the view and rest because the climbing had been pretty steep. A bus load of Japanese tourists stopped at the rest area while we were there. They were very friendly and wanted their pictures taken on our bikes. Their bus was traveling south and we were traveling north so we discussed what the road ahead was like and everyone said “Flat, flat, flat”. We also asked some other folks in cars and they agreed, “Flat, flat, flat”. During the next few miles, we encountered the steepest climbs of the ride. We had to walk our bikes twice, the road signs indicated 18% and 20% grades.
2. Riding in Maine on the back roads I was low on food and ready for lunch so I asked a farmer where I could find someplace to eat. He told me about a great dinner just down the road a few miles. The diner was actually 20 miles down the road.
3. In Quebec it was getting dark and I was looking for the campground I had planned to spend the night but couldn’t seem to find it. I talked to a passing driver, she didn’t know of the campground I was looking for but knew of a great one with camping on the lake shore just 2 miles down the road. She was pretty close the campground was just 3 miles down the road but she forgot to mention that there was a 7 miles long dirt road to the campground. My rear wheel kept sinking into the mud on the road and it took me over an hour to get through the mud.
4. While researching for my tour in Sardinia, I found a tour write up of a bicycle tour that followed the general route I was planning to ride. When I got to Sardinia, it became obvious that the writer had never ridden there or had it confused the other side of the island.
These kinds of experience are more common than not. Non-cyclist are notoriously bad sources of information, what for them is a minnor inconvience can be a lost day for a bicyclist.
Here are some rules of thumb to use while planning your trip based on information you find:
1. Your best information sources are maps and mapping programs. Garmin Mapsource, Google Maps, and Microsoft Streets and Trips are all good. Delorme State Atlas, Rubel Bike Maps, Adventure Cycling Maps, local and state bicycling maps are all good sources of route information. In Europe, Touring Club Italiano, Ravenstein, and Michelin are all good sources. Just make sure that the map scale is adaqute for cycling. Automotive maps are almost useless for cycling.
2. Local bicycling clubs are also great information sources, joust google the area you are thinking about for bicycling clubs and check their websites.
3. Some tourist areas provide bicycling information. This is usually loop rides in the area but some states like Maine and Massachussetts have excellent bicycling atlases. Many states like New Hampshire have bicycling maps. Tourist areas like the Lake Champain area have very nice maps. Again, a google search is your best place to start.
4. Bicycling books are not my favorite source of information with some notable exceptions, “Cycling in Quebec – Official Guide to Route verte” (this is very hard to get so order early) and Gary Conrod’s “Nova Scotia Bicycle book”. The books are fine if they are up to date and show rides where you want to ride but expensive for the little useful information they provide. In many cases the books got their information from the same places you will getting it for free.
5. Tour write ups on the Web. These provide the feel of area you will be bicycling in and tips on places to camp and eat and things to see and do. But don’t take directions and routes too literally, memories are notoriously bad on that kind of detail. However, you will often find route suggestion that are very useful.
6. Information from non-bicyclists should not be trusted unless you can verify it on a map.