Training for your First 100: Route Planning for Cycling
As we are moving into Week 3 of the 100 Mile Sportive Programme, the rides are starting to become quite lengthy, and the long ride is over 25 miles. You may ride the same general routes because you know where to go and what to expect. But while familiar roads and trails are nice, the training plan will require you to switch it up so that you can hit the target distance or elevation. Other times you may not have a choice – you may be travelling with work and need to find out where to go cycling.
When you are ready to step out of your comfort zone and venture onto new roads, planning a cycle route will be very important. Firstly, ask other cyclists about their favourite routes and use local knowledge about which roads are quietest, and which of the busier ones have cycle lanes; secondly, take a look at the website of a local cycling club who will often publish routes.
Hopefully, you will be looking for an adventure, wanting to ride in unfamiliar places and that’s where maps and mapping software comes in. Kerry Bircher, head coach at Revolution Cycling rounds up the best online mapping tools, which allow you to easily map your cycling routes and view routes saved by others.
Garmin is one of the biggest names when it comes to bike-mounted GPS devices and has become synonymous with route planning and navigation via Garmin Connect, or specifically Course Creator. To begin using Course Creator, start a free account at Garmin Connect, if you don't already have one. Menus let you specify whether you want to stay on roads or use cycle paths (or off-road trails for mountain biking), it can display cycling points of interest, and there are the usual navigate to a point and return home options.
The Course Creator tool does a good job of tracking roads when you have the "stay on roads" box checked in the menu. If you wish to plan an out-and-back course, simply create your point A to point B route, and then select the "out-and-back" option to automatically back-track your route from your mid point back to the start, including calculating total mileage. You may also select a "loop to start" option, which will automatically create a loop route back to the starting point. You may modify a route at any time by clicking and dragging intermediate points. Below the map is an elevation graph so you can see how hilly the route will be, and it’s easy to share the route with friends or download it to a bike satnav.
You will make the best use of Garmin Connect and Course Creator if you also own a Garmin sports GPS device, but you don't need one to create and share courses online.
Strava Route Planner
Strava Routes, is a tool to help you map out a cycling route. Like Garmin, you can pick a start and end point as well as many key points along the way to plot your trip and make sure that you are covering your required distance. If you download the app onto your Smart phone, routes that you create on Strava.com will automatically show up in your Routes list on your mobile device and you can then use your phone as a Sat Nav and the Strava mobile app will keep you on course.
The Strava app provides a really nice feature where should you need to head back early, a “Route Back to Start" feature will plot the most efficient path back to the start of your activity – very handy when you get the dreaded phone call from school to inform you that your child is sick! On your return, you are still able to analyse your ride data, check your success on the various segments, and share your speedy return with your friends.
Map My Ride
A popular website is Map My Ride (and its counterparts, Map My Run and no joke, Map My Dogwalk, which all use the same basic software). MapMyRide has every feature you could really need when mapping out your bike route.
As with other route planning websites, you are able to create a route of your own. However MapmyRide stands out as the social feature has the ability to look for routes that other users in your geographic area have ridden, apparently there are more than 120 million bike routes all over the globe. This feature has a lot of potential value, but it largely depends on your area and how many other users are in it.
In addition to mapping tools, the site also provides online training tools for competitive bikers, nutrition tracking calculators and the ability to share your routes with friends. Also, after you finish a ride, a summary shows duration, calories burned (if you have entered your height, weight, age, and sex), average speed and pace, and maximum speed and pace which can help you keep track of your progress easily. Mapmyride has had difficulties in the past but I believe that a lot of these issues have now been resolved.
Ride with GPS.com
RidewithGPS.com is a basic navigation tool which offers the usual route mapping tools, including the elevation charts, the ability to auto-follow roads or to turn it off and go direct point-to-point. Other options allow users to create and define landmarks, including title, URL and descriptions. There is the option of membership for approx. £5.00 pcm, but personally I would purely use this tool for mapping rides, printing off and storing in my back pocket.
The websites mentioned above are a review of dedicated device websites such as Garmin Connect and additional smartphone apps. There are so many smartphone apps to mention, most of which are free, other notable apps include Bike Hub (which also offers good route planning on its website), Cyclemetre, CycleStreets, and others, but I wouldn’t recommend any of these over a dedicated device.
No system is perfect, and you’ll occasionally be directed the wrong way down a one-way street, or find yourself on roads busier than you’d ideally like. But the only solution is to plan ahead and try to choose the route yourself.
The author of this article, Kerry, is the head coach at Revolution Cycling, a uniquely conceived coaching company focused on female cyclists. “Stirred by our own enthusiasm for cycling, motivated by increasing numbers of women cyclists and the boom in women’s sportives and road racing, we decided to design a bespoke coaching service dedicated to female cyclists."