Choosing a route for a bike tour

How do I choose a route for my upcoming bike tour?
What are the best maps for bike touring?
How do I know where to go?

Cyclists new to bike touring often wonder about how they’ll find their way around, and especially how to figure out where to go in the first place. Really, it’s very easy.

  1. Decide in general where you want to go. The Pacific coast? The canyonlands area of southern Utah/northern Arizon? Civil War battlefields of Virginia?
  2. Get a map – any map. We prefer the AAA maps for the USA and Mexico, but any map of the area will do. Mark the places you would like to visit with a big red circle.
  3. Study the roads between them. For the most part, you’ll want to stay off interstates and other major highways, but there may be times you’ll have no choice but to take them (see below). Look for back roads leading to where you want to go.

For the most part, that’s all the work you’ll have to do – now just get on your bike and ride.

If you really want to be careful in choosing your route, ask local people. They tend to know the roads better and can give you specific advice – but be careful to take their advice with a grain of salt. Many times they can’t even imagine being on a bike and will tell you there is no way you could possibly ride that road when, in fact, it is perfectly rideable. If you ask locals, it helps to ask local cyclists.

Another resource that has recently cropped up is the bicycle function on Google Maps. I’ve never tried it, but some cyclists are reporting it’s fairly good. All cyclists I know that have used it seem to be saying you still have to check the route with other sources as Google sometimes takes you down paths that are not bike-friendly.

In the eastern USA, cyclists are not allowed on interstates at all. In the western states, things get fuzzy. In certain states (like Oregon) bicycles are considered a vehicle and are expected to adhere to all the rules and regulations cars are, but they also have all the privileges of cars – including being in the interstate.

In other states (mostly in the west) bicycles are allowed on the interstate if (and only if) there is no alternative route. In many rural parts of the USA, the main highway became the interstate, thereby eliminating any alternative route. Through those areas, you can ride a bike on the interstate.

Too often people stress over choosing a route for a bike tour, but really – just get on a bike and go. When you get to a corner pull out the map and figure out where you want to go from there. It’s not all that difficult.

map Boise area

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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