How to choose your long distance Cycle Route?

If you are looking to choose your first cycle route, here is some help. There are a lot of aspects to consider when choosing the route to cycle, by and large these are some factors to keep in mind. Also, the idea here is not to make it sound difficult – it may seem that way initially. But everything gets managed on the road. You ask people for help or you just figure it out. And there are a LOT of reasons to be doing this….So read on! 🙂

Terrain

Depends on your preferences and capabilities. On a cycle remember – you go only as far as you peddle. So mountains, sandy stretches, off-roading takes effort. If you are looking at smooth, flat roads then you have to choose accordingly. One of the simple ways to get an idea about the terrain are topographic maps,

Terrain Map
Japan – a land of many folds

These terrain maps give you an idea of the land elevation. If you are really meticulous it would also be very helpful to figure out which exact cycle routes you would be taking and what is the elevation of those routes. There are a few sites which help with this you can search on them or you may need to buy a relevant atlas or map.

I did a very quick check about the elevation for my Berlin to Copenhagen route but I was still caught in a tizzy when the hilly bits came in Germany. Probably for seasoned cyclists it wouldn’t even seem as hilly, but I actually had never done hilly at all until now. In fact I had never even used a cycle with gears back in India. So all of a sudden I have this geared gizmo with me and I am supposed to go on hills with 25 kg luggage?! 🙂

But usually we can learn on the road as long as you aren’t pressed for time. If you have planned the trip on a very tight schedule then it would be very important to understand the terrain first. Also sometimes you may need equipment to deal with the terrain – like for off-roading better have a bike with suspension, for muddy patches at least have mud guards and maybe some other stuff.

Weather

Very important to understand the weather in the area you would be cycling. Storms, windy, Typhoons can really impact your speed of cycling and are also risky. Winter season would need some serious clothing & sleeping gear especially if you plan to wild camp. Dry, hot seasons needs copious amount of water sourcing.

Your gear, clothing, sustenance everything gets impacted by the weather.

Safety

I guess this is more relevant to women but I have seen stories on cycling groups of men being mugged too. So some check regards safety would be good. I actually don’t know where this can be done. I chose to cycle in Europe and considering it was Germany & Denmark I put the matter of safety out of my mind. Scandinavian countries are the safest countries afaik.

Once I was on the road I appreciated how remote some of the stretches were. If a particular town was racist or didn’t like outsiders or some such bizarre story… I wouldn’t really know. I am not even clear where I would need to ask to find these things out. Riding an international cycling route like I was riding the Berlin-Copenhagen route would be fine as the authorities & other cyclists would have checked it out… but to go free cycling, any direction you want to – which I would love to do, then I guess some kind of safety check would be needed.

However we also need to just take what comes on the road, because the whole idea of adventure is the Unknown!

Facilities

This includes places to eat (especially for vegetarians like me), ATM availability, supermarkets for simple odds and ends, night stay, water & toilets enroute. These needs are basic and in urban areas we take them for granted, but it all changes depending on the route and how interior you have gone.

European Pizza
My typical meal in Denmark & Germany. One big meal a day and rest of the day on small bites.

Very often in Denmark I would get a good place to have a full meal just once a day. In Germany I would come across a good cafe twice a day. Supermarkets are not so common outside urban areas. The lack of public toilets and water places were really hard for me, as I didn’t like buying bottled water due to environmental concerns. Toilets are found in cafes – and since there weren’t too many of these it was a concern. Though everything got managed, but it was hard & I was very often thirsty with my bottles empty.

Night Stay

This is another important aspect which lets you choose your route.

Wild camping is what a lot of cyclists do – this means you cycle however much you want and then scout a good place to camp. Typically you can ask permission from the relevant people – like asking if you can camp in someones backyard. This also includes finding an isolated spot and camping there, hopefully no one catches you.

Campgrounds – in European countries there are camping grounds every 30 km on average. So it is quite possible to find a campground to camp in every night. Most of these grounds are equipped with toilets, showers, even small kitchenettes. It is also a place to meet other people.

Denmark Camping
Camping in a camping ground. Denmark. Cost about 1000 INR a night for one person-one tent-cycle.

Indoors: If you want to be indoors at night, then things get tricky, because I don’t know how one can book accommodations in such remote places at a reasonable cost. Options like AirBnb do give some choice, but that location may 30-40 kms off your cycling route. So this won’t make much sense every night!

If you are ok to shell out loads of money then of course just go with some company who can arrange the entire cycling tour for you.

Personal Interest

Choose a route based on personal interest. Museums, natural parks, historic sites, lakes… take a pick as per your interests. One of the reasons I chose Berlin to Copenhagen was because I really wanted to spend some time in Scandinavian countries & because Berlin was the best base to start my trip. Copenhagen also really excited me.

Budget

Depending on the country, budgets will largely vary. Typically though if you plan to wild camp or use campsites the costs tend to be reasonable. If you want to stay indoors at nights then the costs change. You also want to keep in mind that you may need to repair your cycle so always factor in unexpected expenses.

There would also be other factors that get you excited and make you want to do mad adventures. So figure out what works for you. Choose your country, area, route accordingly. Especially if this is your first ride just plan as much as you feel the need to. Don’t over plan because you don’t know enough of your cycling style… it would take you some time to understand your preferences.

The best thing to carry with you on the road is an open mind, some faith in the world and a smile. 🙂