If you are planning to ride your bike from Point A to Point B, you’ll need to know how to get there. If you’re riding to Grandma’s house, you probably already know the way but otherwise – you’ll need some kind of map to help you out.
Many people new to bicycle touring get caught up on this aspect of touring – they think they need some kind of special map and that planning their route needs to be based on some kind of special cycling routes. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All you really need is a regular, plain ol’ state map.
I’ve toured in something like 25 countries in the past 30 years have never used anything more complicated than a standard road map. We look for back roads whenever possible and talk to local people to get their opinion. This method is perfectly adequate and many times provides far superior paths as local people tend to know what is around their area.
Another option that many cyclists enjoy is using special bike touring maps created by Adventure Cycling. These maps are very detailed and include all the information a bike tourist might need – including where you’ll find grocery stores and bike shops. Adventure Cycling has designed routes through many parts of the USA – if you plan to go where they have a route, you may decide to take advantage of their knowledge.
Google Maps has a feature to identify bike routes. You can plug in where you want to start and where you hope to end up, and they will come up with a route for you. The route is based on little-used roads and is a promising resource. There will still be problems with the route, but it’s a good starting place.
The high-tech way of finding your way around is to use a GPS. Many cyclists are finding they enjoy having the GPS for ease of navigation and also to have a record of their day afterward – including an elevation profile. Bicycle tourists have been finding their way around the world for many decades without this technology, so don’t think it is critical – if you have one anyway, use it. Otherwise, your paper maps will be just fine. In fact, you will want paper maps with you even if you have a GPS so that you can get the big picture.