When planning a bikepacking or bike touring adventure, the questions that need answering first are usually: Where should I go? Should I plan my own bikepacking route or pick someone else’s to follow?
One option would be to pick a route someone else has already planned, ridden, and documented. The alternative, for the more adventurous kind, is to create your own route. The websites and apps below help with both approaches.
Established Routes and Route Inspiration
For bikepacking-specific (think “adventurous” & “gravel”) trips, the routes contributed to Bikepacking.com’s Route Collection are the go-to resources. For every route, an accompanying article details the author’s experience. It includes photography to provide a feel for the area and landscape. Furthermore, it provides information and tips on logistical matters. The route’s GPS data can be obtained for free, usually via a link to Ride With GPS.
For bike touring, the Adventure Cycling Route Network is a great resource for finding tours on bike-friendly, low-traffic streets. The ACA goes to great lengths when planning a route, making sure a list of criteria is met. For example, avoiding high-traffic roads and big cities in favor of rural two-lane highways and small towns. Routes have been designed to allow for daily stops for food, supplies, and lodging.
Bike Tour Travel Providers
Travel providers catering to cyclists can serve as a source of inspiration to find great cycling-specific travel destinations. They usually include more or less specific details about their itineraries on their trip details pages. Those descriptions can be used to narrow down which area in a country to go to that is suited for bike travel. Examples include DuVine, Trek Travel, and REI Adventures.
DIY Route Planning
Started in Germany in 2010, Komoot has quickly become an adventure cyclist’s favorite tool to plan out bikepacking routes and explore unchartered territory. The most exciting feature at the time it was launched was automatic “best route” mapping between two points tailored to the type of activity and fitness level. It has been featured and mentioned countless times on GCN for mostly bikepacking-specific features.
I used it to map out a handful of recent tours, including Austria, Norway, and Vietnam.
As great of a tool it is, Komoot is not without its flaws. The following examples illustrate some issues I ran into when planning some of the routes linked above:
- For my tour in Norway, I had selected Oslo as the start and Stavanger as the endpoint for the first segment and let Komoot do the routing. Upon closer examination of the route, I found that the app had put me on what looked like a hiking trail somewhere halfway between those two points. I tried finding some information about that area online and closely examined the section using Google Earth. I concluded that this segment, as Komoot mapped it out, would most likely be impassable on a gravel bike.
- Along the Tuscan Coast in Italy, I let Komoot do the mapping between Grossetto and San Vincenzo. After Castiglione della Pescaia, the route took me into steep hills on rough forest roads and trails, completely unsuited for gravel riding. I had to push my bike up the hills a handful of times.
- In Austria, when heading east from Hallstatt, Komoot would have wanted me to head up a very steep trail, likely requiring pushing the bike uphill the entire way. Only a few hundred meters further, a much better-suited gravel road ascended the hillside.
Using satellite imagery, e.g., with tools like Google Earth, to verify the terrain and environment as much as possible can help mitigate the risk of running into such issues on the road.
If you want to put your own route together, it helps to know whether a given section of a trail or road might already be part of an established bike route, which would indicate bike-friendliness (e.g., low car traffic, legal to share the path with others).
This is where OpenCycleMap can help. An extension to OpenStreetMap, it displays established cycling routes worldwide. While it might initially be challenging to discern the different types of paths, it can be quite a handy tool when establishing how suitable a route is for cycling. OpenCycleMap map tiles are also available as part of Komoot’s planning tool.
Strava Global Heatmap
Strava aggregates the rides and runs taken by their millions of users in the form of a global heatmap. I personally found this tool useful to figure out if someone had already ridden a given section of a route on a bike before. This especially applies to areas where I couldn’t find specific information about existing local routes, for example, in Japan.
Ride With GPS
Initially founded in 2007 as a hobby by Zack Ham and Cullen King, RWGPS is, like Komoot, one of the prime applications for people to plan out their own rides and find routes created by other users. It offers a Starter, Basic, and Premium subscription plan, with varying feature sets. The Basic plan, which I had opted for, includes having your routes available offline on the mobile app on your phone. This is particularly handy when traveling in a foreign country and/or areas with spotty mobile network coverage.
Lastly, once you have put together your route with one of the tools above, some additional verification is advised. With Google Earth’s detailed satellite imagery you can examine your chosen route more closely. This can help spot problems with a route ahead of time, for example, too steep or rough terrain.
- Adventure Cycling: How to Create Your Own Touring Route
- Bikepacking.com: The Complete Route Planning Guide
- GCN’s Bikepacking Tips: How To Plan Your Next Cycling Adventure
- GCN: How To Plan A Bikepacking Route
- Apidura: How to Plan a Bikepacking Trip
- Apidura: Route Planning for Ultra-Distance Events
- TrailLink. Trail finder tool by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.