Route planning - Bike Magic

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**How To

Route planning

If you are planning your own epic route this summer, consider a few of these top route planning tips.

What makes a good route?

When looking at a map you are sometimes spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a route, but the skill to map reading and route planning is choosing the Right route for your purpose. If you are looking for some good quality singletrack weaving in and out of the trees you don’t want to choose a track crossing a huge white expanse on the map, you want to choose a bridleway which is perhaps crosses several contours in an area which is wooded. If you were just looking for some flat wide open trail then perhaps the track would be a good option. Forests offer the widest range of trail types and often the biggest opportunity to get lost. Forests that are harvested for wood will have wide tracks for logging lorries, known as fire roads, these are fantastic for a quick descent and make for decent climbing. There are also winding sections of singletrack, which weave between the trees giving excellent riding. When riding singletrack in forests there is potential for getting very lost if you don’t know the forest and it’s big enough to get lost in, because singletrack in forests and wooded areas is rarely marked in standard Ordnance Survey maps.

Epic Route Planning

When planning an epic you must take into consideration the luggage you will be carrying in conjunction with the terrain that you will be crossing. If you are planning a ride of more that 3 days you will be unlikely to fit everything you need into a small rucksack. If you are riding with panniers you will need to consider the route you take very carefully as you don’t want to be struggling to ride across a marsh, through rivers or even along very rocky tracks because you will just be making life difficult for yourself when there are much better alternatives out there. Equally you may be carrying a small rucksack with just the essentials for a couple of days in which case the marsh, rivers and rocky terrain become much more achievable and enjoyable. All this said, you may also need to bear in mind the gradients that you are going to be traveling up (or down) in conjunction with the terrain, I remember trying to ride up a very steep track on the Sarn Helen trail in Wales which had become a rocky river and although I only had a rucksack it was still a struggle, needless to say, on the way back I chose a different route.

Ride with Care

Riding along “White Roads” is a bit of a gamble because OS maps don’t distinguish between those that are legal and those that are private, although the recent Explorer Series does show legality in some cases. Other potential routes that should be approached with care are those, which pass through Danger Areas as public access to these areas can be withdrawn at any time for military exercises.

On the ground

You plan what looks like an excellent route on the map and then you try and ride it and that’s where it all goes pear shaped. You find yourself riding along singletrack broken by numerous fallen trees, the route is a foot deep in thick mud and the gorgeous views are obscured by cloud. The “excellent” route that you had planned on the map is quite different on the ground. This example highlights the benefits of riding a route that has been ridden by someone else recently, perhaps a route guide from a magazine, here on Bikemagic or on, although they can’t control the weather they won’t purposely lead you down tracks deep in mud or across a forest of fallen trees.

It is particularly important to consider your route when planning to ride through areas marked as wetlands on the map because although the route you choose may pass along the edge of the wetlands that doesn’t mean that it is passable and after rain you may find yourself wading 3 feet deep for some distance. It is equally possible that in a dry period you could have no trouble with a particular route.

Navigational Aids

When you are out riding how do you find your way? Maps, Compasses, GPS, Signposts, Way-markings or do you just guess? There is no one foolproof method of navigating but with the aid of one or more of the items listed above and a bit of experience you can’t go too far wrong. When using any of these items you need to know what you are doing, GPS may be very advanced but you need to know how to use it before it is of any use, maps are the simplest navigational aid after signposts, which are fairly obvious.

I use Ordnance Survey 1:25 000 maps (Explorer Series) and 1:50 000 maps (Landranger Series) and I either buy them if I’m going to do a lot of riding in an area or loan them from my local library, most public libraries stock at least the Landranger Series. Landranger maps cost about £5.25 and Explorer about £5.50. Explorer maps are the most up to date at the moment covering everywhere south of Sheffield by July 2000, extending to the whole of the UK by 2003.
I tend to take a compass on only epic rides in unfamiliar areas, however it is worthwhile practicing using a compass while in familiar territory so that if you ever need to use it you are well practiced. GPS units cost upwards of £100 and although I have not got one I believe that they can be very useful and since the US government has lifted the accuracy restrictions they may soon become an alternative to a map and compass. Waymarking arrows are colour coded to avoid confusion, usually, Yellow is for Footpaths, Blue for Bridleways and Red for Roads used as a public path.

Now, get out there, ride and enjoy yourself! For more advice on planning an Offroad Adventure as well as epic rides, equipment reviews, latest news and more.


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