Are you planning a self-supported bicycle tour? Then finding the best bicycle maps and/or guides is a major priority. You are in luck with the vastness of the online sources and the availability of materials in your local bookstore.
Not just any road map or travel guide will suffice though. You want maps that show the best roads for light traffic, the best scenery, the right terrain, and where you can find food, lodging, and assistance if needed. Fortunately, these bike maps are available for some great touring locations if you know what to look for and where to look.
Bicycle Maps and Guides
List of Available Maps
Be sure to check out the lists of free available maps and guides in the left column. There are 1000s of free brochures and information of bicycle routes and tours from all over the world. You can choose your interest by activity and country. This information is invaluable in your search for good resources for any bicycle adventure.
Also check out the information in the left column about bicycling in specific countries. Information includes getting there, lodging, bike rentals, and general information about bicycling in different regions of each country.
State or Regional Maps
One of the main problems with state or regional maps is the level of detail and the lack of secondary roads. But don’t be discouraged. In the United States, most states have developed road maps with approved bicycling routes and bike trails. These special maps can be ordered directly from the state tourism or recreation departments. Even in many European countries and England, regional or country maps have approved bicycling routes marked. Almost any major bookstore in Europe carries these maps.
City maps can be great for showing every road in a small or mid-sized city. Larger city maps normally eliminate secondary roads or you may have to get sectional maps. If you call or email the Chamber of Commerce or tourism boards in most cities, they may be able to supply these maps with enough detailed for bicycling. Like many state and country governments, many city tourism boards have revised their maps to include recommended bike trails, routes, and on some occasions alternate transportation services like trains and ferries available to bicyclists.
Online map programs offer an excellent source for city maps, no matter how large the city. In addition to the streets and even mapping out your route through a city, you can mark hotels, stores, and restaurants. They are invaluable for a visiting bicyclist. Outside the city, the usefulness may be limited since you can’t tell what type of road you may be traveling. The two main map programs I use are: Map Quest and Google Maps.
Long-distance bicycle trails have become favorite touring routes throughout North America, Europe and the British Isles. The trails could be old railroad right-of-ways, unused or abandon roads, single track roads, bicycle only lanes, or newly constructed bike paths. They could range from a few miles to hundred of miles, and further if they have been incorporated into the local road systems.
Bicycle maps designated to these trails and the connecting network can be loaded with valuable information for the bicyclist. Information may include:
- Facts – length, surface, recommended bike type
- Setting – open, wooded, bridges, elevation changes, and wetlands
- Facilities – water, food, lodging, camping, toilets, bike shops, and stores
- Connections – how and where to get on the trail; how to connect with linking trails.
People who hike or backpack in wilderness areas, parks, and undeveloped regions are familiar with topographic maps. As such, mountain bikers will find these maps invaluable. Cyclist who tour on road bicycles may find them useful for areas with limited road maps and guides.
Topographic maps display the image of the earth’s surface: elevations, roads, trails, bodies of water, rivers, and natural and man-made features. The scale factors most useful for bicycle touring are 1:200,000 and 1:100,000. The 1:200,000 maps will cover multiple day touring and are compact. The 1:100,000 maps show more terrain and landmark features, but you will need more maps to covering multiple days of touring. If you need more detail, say for mountain biking or difficult areas, 1:50,000 topographic maps may be available.
Tour and Route Maps
Some of the best bicycle maps available come from touring associations, tour companies, and individuals. Usually these maps were written and test ridden by other cyclists and are kept up-to-date each year. So you will have a less chance of running into problems.
A well-designed tour or route map may include valuable information:
- Well shown bike route with turn-by-turn instructions
- Road conditions and traffic summaries
- Distances between way points
- Elevation gains and losses
- Elevation profiles in mountain regions
- Details of problem and/or congested areas
- Symbols to show campgrounds, motels, stores, restaurants, post offices, bike shops, and other important points
- Background information of the region
Touring guides are similar to prepared tour or route bicycle maps. They are fairly inexpensive and usually contain numerous maps showing routes. Like a road tour guide, they will contain a lot of general regional information. For most cases, an individual or touring association wrote the guide.
The text and maps in a good touring guide will designate campgrounds, motels, stores, restaurants, post offices, and other needed information. Also, bicycle routes and alternate side trips should be detailed. Unfortunately, the information in the touring guide may not be current. So you should check the published date. Any touring guide over 5 years old may be useless for road conditions and information. However, the general regional information may still be useful.