How To Plan A Bicycle Touring Backup Route

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One of the most difficult things about planning a bicycle tour is that when you plan out a route, you are usually planning a ride along a stretch of road that you’ve never been to before. This makes any kind of planning difficult because you don’t know what it’s going to be like once you get out there on the road.

Will it be hot or cold? Will it be flat or hilly? Will the roads be smooth or bumpy? Will there be lots to see along the way or will there be nothing to do but ride, ride, ride?

There are ways to figure out most of this stuff in advance (I’m not going to talk about that now), but what would happen if you went through all the trouble of planning a bicycle tour only to find that each and every day you were getting further and further behind schedule?

This does happen by the way!

Sometimes you overestimate your own abilities and plan to ride too many miles each day. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you just don’t feel very well. Sometimes there is a massive mountain or a steady gust of wind that slows you down.

Whatever the situation, it is possible to get behind schedule when traveling by bike.

Some people, when they get behind schedule feel that they have failed. Others see being behind schedule as a reason to quit. And others (like me – and you too, I hope) are okay with being a bit behind schedule because we know we can either make up that time later in the tour or change our route a bit to adjust for the delays in our schedule.

Changing your route and/or scheduling in a backup route in advance is what I want to talk to you about today.

You see, I’m currently riding my bicycle from Varna, Bulgaria to Brasov, Romania. I’m somewhere out on the road at the moment, slowly making my way into the Romanian mountains… and I wrote this article before I left Bulgaria and scheduled it to go out automatically on this date.

Before I hit the road I did a little planning. I created my “ideal route” to Brasov… and I also created a “backup route,” which I’d like to share with you now.

If you look at the map below you will see the route I hope to take while cycling for nine days from Varna, Bulgaria to Brasov, Romania. This is a 589 kilometer route through both flat and mountainous regions. All of it is unknown to me. I’ve never seen this part of the world before and I’ve definitely never traveled on these roads. I have little idea what it is going to be like.

The reason the line between these two places isn’t perfectly straight is because:

1) I chose the route based on things I wanted to see along the way and not necessarily the shortest route between points A and B.

2) I wanted to avoid Bucharest (the capital city of Romania), so I’ve chosen to go around it instead of straight through it.

3) I’d like to ride the Transalpina, a steep and windy road that climbs to an altitude of 2,034 meters. You can read more about it here: What is the Transalpina?

Because this region of Romania is so mountainous, however, and because I have already rented an apartment in Brasov (and therefore need to be there at extra 6 PM on the evening of Septmeber 26th), I need to cover those 589 kilometers in exactly nine days. When you do the math, that breaks down to 65.4 kilometers each day. That should be totally possible.

But if, for whatever reason, I start to run behind schedule, the mountains slow me down, I get lost and go off course, or whatever, I’ve planned in a backup route, which avoids the Transalpina and eliminates more than 100 kilometers from my ride.

If I were to forget about the longer route and instead cycle straight into Brasov using this much shorter route, that would reduce my daily distance to just 53.9 kilometers per day.

The point here is that I have a backup plan. Because I am on a schedule for this leg of my bike tour, I know that I’ve got only nine days to make it from Varna, Bulgaria to Brasov, Romania.

I’m going to start the ride with every intention of cycling up and over the Transalpina and cycling the full 589 kilometers. But if I start to run behind schedule, I may decide once I get to the city of Petesti (that’s where the two routes divide – do you see that?) to take the much shorter route and head straight into the city of Brasov.

I share this information, not only to tell you were I am cycling at this particular moment, but also to help you plan your own bicycle touring routes.

It’s great to plan for the best case scenario on your bicycle tours. But you might want to spend some time thinking about a backup plan as well, just in case you overestimate your abilities, get sick, are trapped by poor weather, and/or generally start to run behind schedule.

About Darren Alff

Darren Alff is a world-renowned authority on bicycle touring and is the founder of BicycleTouringPro.com - the world's most popular bicycle touring website and how-to information source. He is the author of "The Bicycle Touring Blueprint" and three additional cycling books. Darren has dedicated his life to helping others conduct the bicycle tour of their dreams. His websites, books, email newsletter, products and public appearances now inspire and assist hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world.

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4 Comments

  1. Cinda

    September 21, 2012 at 9:27 am

    That’s exactly what I’m doing for my upcoming ride from Charlotte NC to Clearwater FL – actually three scenarios because if I can get someone to SAG me from Charlotte to the coast, I’ll ride the Outer Banks at the beginning of my ride. I too am on a deadline – I have just 14.5 days to cover that route. I wanted to have 4 more cycling days which would change things dramatically.
    For me it’s all about being as prepared as possible, then enjoying the journey.
    Thanks Darren

    Cinda

  2. Bob

    October 2, 2012 at 8:33 am

    Slightly widening the discussion, another key element in planning a bicycle tour is the question of how much and which luggage to take?

    Whilst this is a personal decision one of the best pieces of advice I’ve read goes
    along as follows; ” put everything you want to take on your bed – and take half”.

    Have used this “model” several times and works well for me.

    Bonne route!

    Bob.

  3. Kathy Hendrix

    April 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Very good advice. Thanks, Darren

  4. Marius

    September 30, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    The link in your article is about Transfagarasan road (DN7C- 2.034 meters altitude) – from Pitesti to Arpasu de Jos. It is a different road, not Transalpina (DN67C – 2.145 m altitude) – from Novaci to Alba Iulia. Sorry i had to correct you. Regards from Romania :-)

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