Designing a Route for Your Ride

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Designing a Route for Your Ride (by Carol Waaser)

(Outline of a presentation given for the November 2015 Club Meeting Program)

  1. Purpose or type of ride.  First decide what type of route you want to design.

    1. Is it a specific destination?  You know a great food stop or brewery or historical site and want to take a ride there.

    2. Do you want a lovely, scenic route?  It’s summer and you want shady, tree-lined quiet roads, or it’s autumn and you want gorgeous foliage, or perhaps you’re ready for mountain-top views.

    3. Do you have a time limit or not?  You want to do a quick Saturday morning spin and be home by 1:00, or you want a long, challenging ride with good sections for pacelining as well as some roller coaster climbs & descents.

    4. Do you want to use the train to get beyond the suburbs?

  2. Ride classification & speed – There are things to consider within each classification. These are rough guidelines – certainly flexible, but good guidelines when you’re just starting to lead.

    1. Mileage and vertical gain

      1. C ride: can be up to 50 miles with up to 2,500 vertical.  Shouldn’t exceed 50 vertical feet per mile; mostly in the 35-45 vertical/mile range. (Total elevation gain for a route is indicated in Ride w/ GPS.  Divide total elevation gain by total mileage.)  A C-12 or 13 ride probably shouldn’t exceed 40 vertical/mile. Try to avoid grades that exceed 9-10%.  (Some C riders will be walking up parts of Churchill or Walnut, and that’s okay, but you shouldn’t have a whole route full of those grades.)

      2. B ride: Generally up to 75-80 miles with up to 4,000-5,000 vertical, so in the 45-60 vertical/mile range.  An occasional grade of 13-15% is okay, but limit the number of hills that exceed 9-10%.

      3. A ride: 100 miles or more, 6-8,000 vertical or more.  Knock yourself out!

    2. Consider where your pit stops will be.  (Distances below may need to be shortened in very hot or very cold weather.)

      1. C ride: You should plan a stop every 10-12 miles.  (Can be up to 15 miles for a C-14 ride.)

      2. B ride: There should be a stop about every 15-20 miles

      3. A ride: 35-40 miles between stops is fairly standard.

    3. What are the quality of roads & traffic conditions?  Note in your ride write-up if you plan to be on unpaved or very rough roads. Traffic on some roads requires deft leadership skills, such as where traffic is entering & exiting a highway from/to the road you’re on. example:,-74.0786697,16z . (If you are cycling west on E. Ridgewood Ave, there is no shoulder, traffic is moving rapidly and many cars in the right lane will be bearing right onto the ramp for Rte. 17.)  Try to avoid busy roads on C-12/13 rides.

    4. Are there dangerous intersections?  Make sure you know how to lead the group through the turn.  example: Blue Hill S.> right on Veterans Memorial> left on Blue Hill,-73.9917886,16z .  (Here you’ll have to be in the right turn lane on Blue Hill Rd. South, but shortly after you make the turn onto Veterans Mem. Hwy, you’ll have to move to the left in order to make the left turn onto Blue Hill Rd.  At the intersection, the right lane is for cars going straight, while the left lane is for cars either going straight or turning left.  There’s often a fair amount of traffic moving at a good clip.)  Try to avoid really dicey turns on a C ride.

    5. Are there convenient bailout options?  These are especially good to have on winter rides when days are short and weather can turn quickly.  Also good to have on longer C rides, where newer riders may have misjudged their stamina.  Know where the subway lines & railroad stations are near your route.  (These are easy to identify on Google Maps.)

    6. Proximity of bike shops.  Know where they are near your route & mark them on your GPS map.  Generally, A riders are the most self-sufficient and can solve their own minor mechanical issues.  C riders, on the other hand, often can’t even change a flat and know less about properly maintaining their bikes, so there’s more chance of something going wrong.  B riders are somewhere in the middle.

  3. Roughing out the route – Technology makes it easy!

    1. Use a program like Ride w/ GPS to map the route.  (See Mike Kocurek’s slides on this topic: .)

    2. As you create the route, look at Google Maps Street View to check the roads you want to take.  (Drag the little “man” icon from the lower right corner up to the road you want to look at and drop it on a blue line there. Use the rotation arrows on the right to look around.  Click on a different spot on a blue line in the small map in the lower left corner to move up the road or to a different road.  If the road you want to look at doesn’t have a blue line, it means Google hasn’t videoed it yet.)  These are some of the things you can assess by looking at Street View.

      1. How much traffic?  Example: Central Ave. Spring Valley:,-74.0423525,16z  Drop the icon on Central Ave. at the Walgreen’s.  You can see there’s a fair amount of traffic, including large trucks, and there are shopping centers where cars will be going in an out.

      2. Is there a shoulder?  This is especially important on yellow roads, unless there are 2 lanes each direction – 9W vs 9/Broadway:,-73.8946978,14z   Drop the icon on 9W next to Lamont Observatory.  You can see that 9W has a shoulder.  Now drop the icon across the river just above the 9 symbol, near Southlawn Ave.  You can see there’s no marked shoulder and there are parked cars on both sides.  If you go farther east to Rte. 22,-73.7560722,14z  and drop the icon on 22 anywhere along the reservoir, you can see there are two lanes and even a narrow shoulder.

      3. Is it a narrow road, but very low traffic?  (Lots of back roads in Westchester.,-73.7304883,15z  Drop the icon on Whippoorwill Rd.)

      4. Is it scenic?  (ditto)

      5. Look for potential danger zones, such as left turns on busy roads. Is there a left turn lane or left turn light?  9W southbound turning onto E. Palisade Ave.:,-73.9491292,16z  Drop the icon on 9W just north of E. Palisade Ave.  You can see the left turn lane.  If you click close enough to the intersection, you’ll see that the traffic light has a fourth light below the standard red/yellow/green.  That generally indicates a left turn signal.  Sometimes the extra signal is to the left of the standard green.

    3. There’s a great deal you can assess from Street View, but if you’re looking at the condition of the road surface, you should look at the date the road was videoed.  (It’s at the top left of the screen in Street View.)  If it’s several years old, don’t count on the condition being the same.  (In some cases, particularly on main roads, if you hover the cursor over the date, a little clock symbol will appear.  Click on the clock and you’ll get a timeline allowing you to slide to different dates – there may be a newer date to give you an updated view.)

  1. Scouting the route.  As wonderful as Street View is, it can only give you limited information.  You still need to scout your new route.

    1. If possible, scout the route on the same day of the week and roughly the same time as you plan to do the real ride.  This will give you a good sense of traffic patterns.

    2. Try to scout within a couple of weeks of the actual ride so you’ll know current road conditions.

    3. Look for:

      1. Traffic volume

      2. Shoulder or wide lanes on busier roads, or little traffic on narrower back roads

      3. Road surface – Is there significant rough or milled road that you might want to avoid?

      4. One way streets the wrong way – it happens!  A locality will change the traffic patterns and Google Maps hasn’t caught up yet.

      5. Detours or road construction.  Sometimes bikes can get through despite a detour, but sometimes you can’t.

      6. Difficult or dangerous intersections

      7. Do the pit stops work?  How many riders can they comfortably accommodate?

      8. Does the route “flow”?  Is the number of turns meaningful because the roads are so pretty, or do the turns just disrupt the flow of the ride?

      9. Is there enough shade (particularly on climbs) for a summer ride?

      10. Is your initial cue sheet correct?

    4. Take notes as you scout, then tweak the route to correct for problems.  If you’ve had to make a lot of changes, you should probably do a second scouting ride, if there’s time.

    5. If you want to make an adventure out of it, invite a few friends to help you scout, or even post it as a scouting ride.  Just make sure everyone understands there may be some surprises on a scouting ride.  You’ll need to have a map source with you on the ride – whether that’s an old fashioned paper map or a cell phone or a GPS unit – just in case you come across a bridge out or a road under construction.  (Sometimes those signs saying “local traffic only” really mean what they say!)
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