Are you like me and look at a map and see all the wonderful, romantic adventures that it contains? Unfortunately though, it will never be possible to fulfil all these dreams and so begins the process of picking a destination and then a route.
What I do, and it works well for me, is first decide the rough geographical area to be cycled and then I study Google Maps intently. I need to decide, influenced by the various options, if I am going to construct a linear ride with a differing start and end points or will it be a loop of sorts, where the start and end points are the same.
Having made this decision, I can start to plan how to get to the start point, what route to take and how to get home again.
As with almost everything bike touring related, there are no hard and fast rules, but these are some suggestions based on my own experience:
How far and for how long? These two factors have an immediate impact on the other and should be considered early in the process. If you estimate your ride to be about 200 kilometres and only want to ride fifty kilometres every day, then allowing at least one rest day, you will need five days to complete the tour. Conversely, if you have two weeks and ride 50 kilometres a day, removing one for a rest day, then you know that you can ride about 650 kilometres.
Get good quality maps. I may start with online options, but eventually I always have a hard copy so that it is at hand when my bike computer gets confused and I don’t have mobile phone coverage. Visit the local map shop and get maps at a scale of 1:200,000-1:400,000 with lots of elevation detail. Armed with your map, pen, highlighter and referring to the internet, outline your proposed route and any points of interest along the way. Your local automobile association may also be able to provide maps either free or at a reasonable price. In the past I have avoided the big touring atlases which are great, but boy are they hard to fold and fit into the bicycle handlebar bag.
Learn to read the map. Don’t just look at the road options, take note of the topography lines and land use. Travelling through a large town might be more direct, but will it offer bush camping options and that road that has all those interesting switch-backs probably indicates a really steep ride uphill. If alternates exist, you may need to adjust the route to take advantage of gentler terrain or perceived support needs. Once you are an “expert” map reader, you will also start to identity, bridges, streams and places of interest that will influence the distance and direction you ride each day.
Road size is important. Generally I choose the smaller back roads where possible. They will have less traffic and will be far more enjoyable that larger national highways. The downside is that they may not be as direct or as well maintained but this is a small price to pay for an improved experience. These country routes are also more likely to offer secluded camping spots, background sounds of local birds, wildlife encounters or numerous opportunities to meet the locals.
Perhaps you want to avoid civilization totally. Are you looking for a total “get away from it all” adventure where you are completely responsible for all eventualities or are you going to need some support if something changes or the bike breaks a chain? Having access to support services should be a major consideration during the planning phase. You won’t be able to predict all outcomes, but at least you will have an understanding of the available options should the unavoidable happen.
Consider your cycling buddies. If you are cycling alone then skip this point, otherwise, don’t forget to take into account the abilities or preferences of your companions when considering the route and options along the way. Personally I don’t like committees, but unless you have been given sole responsibility for the adventure, you should keep them involved in the decision making process.
Time of year. Climatic conditions can be overlooked in the rush to get going. Take into account that mountains roads may be under a metre of snow in Winter, or that an Australian Summer can be hot enough to fry a cyclist. Adjust your timing so that both the day time and night time conditions are most conducive to your trip and travelling companions.
You will need to sleep. More than likely you will be out for a few nights at least and you should plan a route that provides accommodation options. This may be bush camping, caravan park, cabin or motel, but one way or the other, at some point you are going to have to stop and sleep. Identifying possible daily camp sites in the early stages will make the route and daily distance planning a lot easier.
Use the experience of others. It is almost impossible now to find a route that someone else has not cycled before you (however, I have not found any accounts by folk who have cycled the Old Eyre Highway since the mid-1970s) and use their recount to support your choices. You may even be able to email / Facebook them to ask questions.
Add the route to your bike computer. Possibly my favourite part of the preplanning is loading the route to the bike computer. At this stage it really feels as though the ride is imminent. Once my route has been completed and there are no (expected) changes, I log on to justgoride.co.uk, create the route and then download it to my Garmin Edge 1000. If it is a long trip I will create a number of shorter routes to improve tracking performance but so far, this method has not let me down. If I vary the route at all along the way to take in a newly discovered highlight, the system will recalculate and get me back on track when the diversion is over. Using GPS, it is almost impossible to get lost.
With your route now all planned, don’t forget to put a copy of your map with the final route marked, into the pile of gear you are taking with you. After all this effort, it would be really disappointing to leave it at home.