Route Planning: How to Choose a Route That’s Best for You

Hand holding a compass in the woodsSo you’re going on a bike tour! Whether you’re setting out on a 1-2 night bike overnight or planning a months-long epic tour, the first step is to figure out your route. Here are a few considerations to help you out. 


Budget/Time constraints 

Depending on where you are starting your ride and how much money or time you have to ride, you can narrow down routes that fit your budget and timeline. Don’t forget to factor in how you’re getting to the start of your tour and how you’ll get back home — and don’t forget your bike! 

An easy way to budget for your trip — if we’re talking a self-supported cycling tour on a traditional touring bike — is to use the 50/50 rule. Plan to ride 50 miles/80km a day and spend at least $50 a day. Even if you plan on riding way more than 50 miles and spending way less than $50 each day, it never hurts to bank in some extra time and money, so if you end up somewhere amazing or get caught in a storm, you can hang out for a day or two. 

If you’re thinking of touring mostly on gravel or dirt, plan for closer to 30 miles/50km. Again, not words to live by, but just an easy way to figure out roughly how many days you’ll be on tour. 

Urban street scene with train and bicyclesWhat do you want to learn on your trip? 

Whether you are motivated by the landscape, culture, or cuisine of the area where you’ll be biking, honing in on what you’re excited about is a great way to focus your route. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to bike down a whole coastline or traverse a mountain range, would like to eat as much pizza as you can in Italy, or have an aunt in Arizona you’ve been meaning to visit — now you’ve got a variable or two you can use to narrow down your route options. 

Follow in other’s … pedal strokes 

2 Bicycle riders on a bike trailLike any new thing, the world of touring cycling and bikepacking can seem big or intimidating at first. So many options and opinions! Once you dive in, you’ll find the cycling community, and especially the the touring community, is extremely helpful and welcoming and quite active anywhere online where you can talk about bikes. 

If you’re not sure where to start, Warmshowers, Adventure Cycling’s blog, and the routes and journal are all great places to find traveling cyclist stories. 

If you’re looking for existing routes with maps and info, Adventure Cycling Association provides maps and GPS waypoints that span routes across the entire United States. offers routes for gravel riding and bikepacking (mountain biking with bags) around the world, as does 

Feel like finding your own way? 

Solo bicycle rider on a mountain bike pathStart by identifying a few places you know you want to visit: your aunt’s house, a national park, a city you want to take a rest day in, the cool campground someone told you about. Pinpoint those locations, then connect the dots using Google Maps in bicycle mode to see the basic options. Pay attention to the elevation. Google Maps might direct you towards some pretty steep climbs just to give you the shortest route avoiding major roads while discounting a more appropriate route because it’s a few miles longer. Cross-reference both Ride with GPS and Strava heat maps to refine your route. Ride with GPS is best for planning and navigating routes as you can download your waypoints, navigate while offline, and see more accurate elevation profiles. Strava is a good tool for sharing your ride (and for seeing what and where other people are riding as indicators of good biking conditions). Finally, save your route and share it with your friends! 

Wherever your route may take you, be kind and accept the kindness of strangers. You’re in for the ride of a lifetime!

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