How to: plan your route

UK bikepacking:

So you’ve decided how much time you have, how far from home you can stray, how far you think you can ride in a day (start with 100-200% of your usual ‘Sunday morning’ ride distance assuming your adventure will be in similar terrain) and started looking into suitable areas for your bikepacking adventure.

In the ‘good old days’ the only way to route plan was with an O/S map, but now there are so many sources of information at our disposal, so take a look around and as your route planning experience builds you’ll find which sources of information suit your style of bikepacking best.  Some of the resources I use the most are:

  1. Google maps
  2. O/S and Harvey maps
  3. MTB guidebooks
  4. Blogs
  5. National cycle network maps
  6. Mapping apps / software like Memory-Map
  7. Walking magazines / guidebooks

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With all the information you’ve pooled, you’ll want a map of some variety to piece your route together.  My favourite for planning a bikepacking trip is a basic paper 1:50k O/S map, preferably bought from a local book or outdoor shop.  I like paper because it allows me to write notes, highlight points of interest and rub out routes drawn in pencil until I’ve come up with the perfect route.  Once the route detail is sorted I’ll print just the sections of map I need off Memory-Map and then laminate them for robust waterproof use on the trail, and I’ll pack a laminated O/S map of the same area for emergencies so I can unfold it and see any possible escape routes.

Working out the detail can be one of the most rewarding elements of a bikepacking trip, hours spent at home scouring maps and notes, but where can we, and where should we, ride?

In England and Wales*, cyclists are (legally**) limited to roads, byways, bridleways, cycle routes and areas with local access agreements.  To identify the trails you can ride on, on a map, take a look at the key and identify the symbols for the trails listed above.  Each scale of map, or manufacturer, may use slightly different symbols so it’s always worth getting familiar with the key.

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Next up is gradient – how much climbing and descending are you after? See how your map is covered in thin (usually) orange wiggly lines?  (unless you’re in Norfolk, ignore this if you are)  Those are contour lines and they show the altitude above sea level of an area of land.  The closer they are together, the steeper the climb or descent, and when they get really close together you’ll either find yourself pushing, or climbing!  If you’re unfamiliar with contour lines, look up your local ride on one of the online mapping providers and take a look at how close together the contour lines are on your favourite climb / descent – now imagine crawling up there fully laden at the end of a big day in the saddle.

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There’s a huge amount more information on the map you’ve now covered in notes, scribbles and doodles, but what you’ve learned so far will allow you to get a route put together, and get out exploring.  If you’re not yet sure your navigation skills are up to scratch a day spent with a professional, preferably a qualified and insured one, on a bike, should have you flying along.

*if you are lucky enough to be planning and adventure in Scotland, check out their access code here and enjoy the freedom!

**the debate about legality of trails, riding ‘off piste’ and the impact this has rages on, many riders enjoy trails that are not strictly ‘legal’ but most do so knowingly and make an informed decision, read up, know your rights and make an educated decision yourself

To book any of our UK bikepacking courses, or our MTB skills courses at Cannock Chase please go to our bookings page here

Carbon-Monkey are a specialist MTB skills course provider who run mountainbike courses in North Wales, the Lake District, Peak District, Scotland and on Cannock Chase. We grew up riding the trails of Snowdonia and MTB all over North Wales. From Jumps and Drops courses to multi day MTB expeditions, at Carbon-Monkey we are ready to welcome you on a MTB skills course that will provide real improvement to your riding. MTB skills are our passion and Bikepacking adventure expeditions our escapism, when will you join us?

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