I’ve been working on my route for the 2015 Transcontinental Race and this has reminded me of some of the problems I had in 2014. Thought it would be good to put some thoughts down as a heads up to others who have to plan their rides remotely using RideWithGPS.com or others. These planning systems use Google Maps or similar as their base mapping. These allow you to enter start and end points and then ‘drag’ your route so that you can customize it to avoid places such as heavy trafficked areas. When I was doing this around Turin I found a great route, but when I checked, it didn’t actually exist. Let me explain …
In 2014 one of the biggest navigation problems I had was that I would be following my route and suddenly find that it either ended – really – or turned into a gravel road or worse. Quite frustrating, especially when it happens at something like 5 a.m. outside Belfort when one’s mental faculties are not at their highest. At least one can ride a gravel road but when it doesn’t exist that makes things a bit more difficult.
This is because Google Maps includes what we call ‘paper roads’ in the system. These are roads that are planned, but not actually constructed. Here is an example from near Turin Italy that I found when trying to avoid cycling through a city.
Google Maps shows this route below with two roundabouts and a very sophisticated looping junction to take me north.
I learned that you always need to check your route through the satellite images and, at first glance, they look good as well.
But it’s a different story when you zoom in. The roundabout at km 52 is in the middle of a farmer’s field.
I found the same in many places—particularly in Eastern Europe where the planners seemed to have had a lot of fund drawing in paper roads as part of their long-term development program.
Now, they may well have built the paper road by the time I do the race, but I’m not planning on it.
So my advice is to always do a close check of your route with the satellite view in order to ensure that it is actually viable. It’s also good at the early stages to look at rides done by others in the area you are traversing. Places like RideWithGPS.com and Bikemap.net have rides done by others and these are a really good starting place which you can then refine. I do this by downloading the GPS file or, if already in RideWithGPS.com, importing it as a route to work on.