Route planning tips


The ordnance survey maps are your guide. Landranger series are a good compromise.

Motoring maps are useless because they don't show the contours, don't show the minor roads very well and don't show bridleways at all.

I have a variety of maps going back to the 60's and even 20's. Sometimes I use the on-line maps eg which are excellent for trying to find your way about a town, but not very good for showing cycle cut-throughs.


A headwind is a terribly dispiriting thing and shouldn't be allowed in a civilised society. It is difficult to avoid a headwind (10 mph on the weather forecast is quite noticable) on a round trip but who says trips have to be round? See the example of Earl Soham on the map below.

Take the train

Have a look at the map below. You can get a one day pass for all the red lines in one go. This means that you don't have to get back to where you started. The one day pass is often the cheapest ticket anyway so it can be very handy.


I hate hills as much as the wind. A little study of the map may pay dividends. Some hills are worse than others, often it depends on your preference, but unless you're mad you don't want to be going up and down like a yo-yo. In the diagram below I have sketched two maps. All the rivers are flowing left to right. The green hatches are the height profiles so route A is constant while route C is crossing a very shallow valley indicated by the dip in the middle. During the last ice age much of Eeast Anglia was smoothed-off to a billiard table flatness. Then rivers started cutting valleys into this plateau. You can go for miles on the level before having to descend into a valley just to have to climb back up the other side. - What a waste of effort! A mile or two upstream however and the valley may be petering out - If you took that route (Route A) it might be longer but more suited to the person who doesn't have hill-climbing muscles made of iron. It is a matter of personal preference - Mine is to dodge unnecessary hills. A good wheeze is to cycle along river valleys (route E) but watch out for side-valley bumps.

Quiet roads

Traffic is a smelly nuisance for me rather than a fear, but especially with inexperienced cyclists it is well worth keeping to the lanes if possible. The frequency of worrying encounters is thus reduced.

Quiet roads have their own hazards:

  • Potholes and generally poor surface
  • Farm muck and thorns from hashed hedges
  • Sand and gravel washed into the road, especially tricky at corners
  • Brambles and branches overhanging the road
  • No white lines to follow at night
  • Drivers in a hurry on single track roads.
  • Lack of good Samaritans
Personally I thoroughly enjoy leaving a pub at ahem on a summer's night/morning and taking the most devious and leisurely route home, but (even with a decent moon) unknown small lanes are not worth the risk as they may contain hidden hazards.

It is worth emphasizing that you often come across sharp bends where anything from fine sand to large gravel gets washed into the road. The same can happen when an along-valey route meets a side road. These bends and junctions are treacherous. Anticipate and slow down.

Off road routes

Look out for the opportunity to take routes that are not suitable for othe traffic. It is legal to cycle on a bridalway but a landowner can prevent you cycling on a footpath. Note the terminology. (A footpath adjacent to a road is a different matter - that could be a criminal offence.) Basically, any other sort of right of way will be bike-legal. However even if the route is legal it may not be practical.

A road bike is built for speed at the expense of ruggedness. Many useful shortcuts such as solid concrete farm tracks or disused railways are likely to damage them. But the majority of bikes sold to the majority of people are general purpose, if not 'mountain' (ha!) bikes. A bit of rough stuff is likely to hammer the rider as much as the bike. Half a mile of field track can be worth a great deal by road, but often you can't tell until you get there and then it depends on the weather. Green lanes are being targeted by four-wheel-drive-yobs who make them virtually impassible - they like nothing better than deeper ruts.

So the moral of the off-road shortcut is to have an alternative and don't get commited. This is all very well but disused railways are frequently flooded in an impassible quag a mile from the nearest access point - And I'm talking about national cycle routes!

One of the great things about off-road routes is seeing the expression on people's faces when you emerge from a hedge as if from nowhere.

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