How I Plan A Bicycle Tour.
There is something about cycling out of your front garden with only a direction and little planning. After all, as long as you have some free time, the world is waiting for you to discover. This year however I want to discover what Britain has to offer for the cycle tourist. Europe has some amazing cycling infrastructure but the UK doesn’t take cycling seriously enough. I want to discover what is available for cyclists to enjoy. I will be mainly using Sustrans cycling network routes but will be plotting some of my own based around my love of narrowboats and the canal network.
Types of cycle tours.
- Circular from home. This tour can be long or short but starts and ends from your home.
- Circular. You can take a plane, train or automobile to the start then cycle a circular route back to the beginning.
- End to End. Starting at point A and then cycle to point B get on a train, bus or get a lift back home.
- Continuous. Set off and just keep pedalling until you’ve had enough and then jump on a train home.
So how do I plan a cycle tour?
The first thing I do is determine how long I have to go on a cycle tour. Currently, I’m working part-time and looking after a relative. So my calendar is pretty full and I have to take into consideration that I may have to cancel my plans at short notice. I’ve cycled from Blackpool to Amsterdam in a week and from London to Venice in six weeks, so the mileage varies as does the terrain.
I currently can only get a maximum of three days and two nights free for a tour. I, therefore, need to take into consideration what topography or terrain I’m going to encounter. I can manage 50 miles on a good day when all the elements come together. If there’s hills or a headwind then if I manage a quarter of that I’m doing well. I haven’t done a long tour in a while, my last was Blackpool to Amsterdam in 2016, so I have to consider my fitness and time in the saddle. Do I want to spend 8 to 10 hours cycling or do I want to cycle for 3 hours in the morning rest for 3 hours then maybe finish the day with 2 hours. Obviously, if I’m close to a point of interest or near a town I may want to cycle for longer or shorter to be in the correct place. Also, am I prepared to cycle at night? In winter the days are a lot shorter and colder and more stops may be required, a visit to a tea room can boost morale and help the overall tour.
So I haven’t even decided where I’m heading and have an awful lot to think about.
I have looked on the Sustrans website and I can see a circular route close to home but still challenging. That is the Northern Loop of the National Cycling Network Route 90 which visits Lancaster, South Lake District and the Forest of Bowland. This tour will be approximately 130 miles over hilly terrain and I’m hoping to complete it in 3 days. If there’s an issue or I need to cut the tour short I pass close to several railway stations. I can, therefore, include in my plan a strategy to return home quickly if required.
Fire up the Quattro! Okay, Google My Maps.
I started planning this tour at the Sustrans website, unfortunately, there are no downloadable files from Sustrans. However, once I decided on the NCN 90 I searched for gpx and kml files. These files can be loaded into my smartphone app so I can follow the route easily. To search for KML files which work without conversion just type “NCN 90 filetype:kml” This search filters out everything except kml file types which is exactly what I want.
I will then open Google My Maps, this is a different app than Google Maps although they do work together. The main purpose of Google My Maps is to develop the route and export it as a KML file which imports into my smartphone app.
Opening Google My Maps I start by creating a new map. This gives me many options, I suggest that you have a play with Google My Maps to see what it can do as this article is not about My Maps. I then import my NCN 90 KML file this gives me a base map to work with.
Google My Maps allows me to now add layers to my base map. The first layer I add is “Towns” this is because Towns and villages are where I’ll find food and water, as well as a nice cafe. You can add layers for various places when you plan your tour but for this one, I added a “Points of Interest” layer and a “Wild Camping” layer as well as a “railway station” layer. The wild camping layer is a rough suggestion of places I could bed down without paying for camping, in reality, this rarely works out. Once you start wild camping you soon discover lots of places you can get sleep.
Depending on what type and length of the tour I’m making would determine what layers I need and how many. This 3-day tour doesn’t really need any layers as I can carry 3 days of food and water on my bicycle. However, I want to experiment on travelling lighter and picking up provisions on the route.
I’ll then export the map and upload the KML file to Google Drive this is so I can download it to my smartphone, I can also share the file easily.
The app I use on my phone is Maps.me this is a great offline map app which uses open street maps as the basic maps. I can now import my KML file and it appears as an option to display on maps.me. One of the major advantages of using maps.me is I can turn my routes on and off which is handy. I will then open the imported map and change the pin colours, this is because all the layers show as the same colour pins. After changing the pin colours I find it easier to determine food and water stops to point of interest and railway stations.
Once all this is done I then plan what equipment I’m going to take, for a 3 day, 2-night tour I’ll need a sleeping system. I decided to take my new Naturehike 1 person ultralight tent, Adtrek 75mm mat, Jura 2 sleeping back and Hunka Bivi. I’m going to take my Jetboil Brew system and some fresh ground coffee, powdered milk and sugar sachets. I’m not going to cook food as this would mean taking pots and pans. I will eat cold supermarket food and snacks for the 3 days, okay! I might stop at the odd pub and cafe on the route.
A couple of days before I’m due to set off I’ll check the weather. This ensures I take the correct clothing which is usually a layered system. On the day of departure I’ll switch on location sharing and a Tasker task which allows someone to text a code to my smartphone and it’ll report it’s location back. This is a safety measure which works well, both friends and family can track my whereabouts. I always have an emergency plan in place whether it’s an issue with the bike or I need emergency assistance. I have a plan in place for others to action.
Having this plan is essential for any cycle tourist it’s best to keep it simple as there will be fewer things to go wrong. A friend with a car is notified to come and collect me if required on a longer tour I may carry a Garmin or Spot device to alert local search and rescue. I will also add medical centres and hospitals on a map layer if I’m in an unknown area or country. This way I can get medical assistance if required. Also, medical centres in the UK are great places to use the loo and freshen up during the day. I’ll post an article soon on places you can use when on a tour and some of them will surprise you.
Check out my Travel Diaries website over at www.mrjolt.co.uk which includes insider secrets on the travel industry.