How to Plan a Bicycle Road Trip

By Darren Alff

This is going to be an amazing year! I’ve already cycled across Poland, Ukraine and half of Romania. Now I’m taking a short rest break in the beautiful city of Brasov, Romania… and in about two weeks time I’ll begin a 3-month-long bicycle tour across Romania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

This is my 15th year in a row of my bicycle touring all around the world… and I absolutely love my life/job as the Bicycle Touring Pro – traveling the world and helping people like you plan, prepare for, and execute their own guided, self-guided and self-supported bicycle touring adventures.

In this article I’m going to use my upcoming bike tour across Europe as a planning example… and I’ll share with you how I pick my travel destinations, how I plan out safe and enjoyable cycle touring routes, how I’ve broken my 3-month-long bike tour down into smaller (more manageable) segments, how I program my entire bike tour onto my smartphone so I can easily navigate once I hit the road, plus… a whole lot more.

STEP 1: Decide Where You Want To Go

This is the most important part of planning a bike tour. You’ve got to pick a destination for your travels based on the places that interest YOU most. Don’t just pick a place for a bike tour because you heard it was a good place to ride… or because you know someone else who has been there. Pick a part of the world you are interested in… and that’s where you should go!

Lakes, saleboats and bicycles in Finland

The reason I’ve decided to cycle across Serbia, Bosnia, Demark, Norway and Sweden this summer is because these are five European countries that I’ve never been to before. As someone with more than 15+ years of bicycle touring experience, I’ve cycled in a number of amazing places all around the world, so going somewhere new is what appeals to me now.

I want to cycle across Serbia, Bosnia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden because these are five new countries for me to explore, but also because it means knocking off five more countries on my list of 34 countries I have already cycled across in Europe. Can you believe that? I’ve already cycled across 34 European countries… and by the end of this summer I will have cycled across 39 European countries. That’s pretty wild!

STEP 2: Break Your Bike Tour Down Into Smaller Segments

Please note: This portion of the article was updated after the video at the top of the page was created.

After deciding that I was going to cycle across Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, I then began planning a route. But 3-months is a long time to plan… and the distances are quite vast. So, instead of treating my bike tour this summer as one, big, long adventure, I’ve broken my bike tour down into seven, smaller, more manageable segments:

  1. Brasov, Romania to Tuzla, Bosnia (906+ km)
  2. Tuzla, Bosnia to Copenhagen, Denmark (BUS TRIP)
  3. Copenhagen, Denmark to Oslo, Norway (863+ km)
  4. Self-Guided Bike Tour in Bergen, Norway with Active-Norway.com (325+ km)
  5. Oslo, Norway to Bergen, Norway (462+ km)
  6. Self-Guided Bike Tour in Matre, Norway with BergFritid (203+ km)
  7. Bergen, Norway to Umea, Sweden (1,288+ km)

how to plan a bicycle road trip in romania serbia and bosnia

Brasov, Romania to Tuzla, Bosnia

Watch the video at the top of this page and you’ll see that the first thing I do when planning a bicycle tour through a new country or area is that I begin by searching the Internet for fun, interesting, or unique things to do in the countries/areas I plan to cycle through. I then plot the location of these fun, interesting or unique things onto a map inside the free software, Google Earth.

After I’ve plotted out all the points of interest, a natural line tends to form – stretching from my starting location to the place where I hope to end my bike tour. I then connect the dots and plan out this new route using the website at maps.google.com (pictured above).

bus from bosnia to denmark

Tuzla, Bosnia to Copenhagen, Denmark

The second major segment of my bike tour this summer involves getting myself from Tuzla, Bosnia to Copenhagen, Denmark. Instead of cycling this long segment, I’m going to take a bus. I used the website at www.rome2rio.com to find the cheapest and easiest way to get from Tuzla to Copenhagen and discovered a company that operates super cheap bus rides from Tuzla to Copenhagen every single Sunday. I marked down the date of the Snuday that works best for me in my calendar, contacted the bus company to make sure they’d be able to transport my bicycle (they can!), and wrote to the bus company asking for a reservation.

how to plan a bicycle road trip

Copenhagen, Denmark to Oslo, Norway

The third leg of my trip involves cycling from Copenhagen, Denmark to Oslo, Norway… in time to reach my friend Eric who is going to be flying into Oslo, Norway on July 20th. This means that I will have a little less than two weeks to cycle from Copenhagen to Oslo. I could go the faster and cheaper way… by taking the bridge over to Sweden and then cycling north from there to Oslo. But that wouldn’t give me a much time in Denmark. And because I’ve never been to Denmark before, and I’d like to see at least a little bit of the country while I’m there, I’ve decided to take the longer, more expensive route – traveling west from Copenhagen, then north to the top of the country, where I will have to take a ferry to the bottom tip of Norway, and then cycle from there to Oslo.

active norway HARDANGERFJORD

A Self-Guided Bike Tour in Bergen, Norway with Active-Norway.com

Once in Oslo, I’ll meet my friend Eric at the airport… and we will travel together (via the train) from Oslo to the nearby city of Bergen, Norway. Once in Bergen, we’re going to be participating in not ONE, but TWO, back-to-back, self-guided bicycle tours with Active-Norway.com.

The two bike tours that we’ll be participating in are the Sunnhordland by Bike and Boat tour… and the Biking Hardangerfjord self-guided bike tour.

During these two self-guided bicycle tours, Eric and I will be bicycling on our own, without a guide, through some of Norway’s most scenic mountains, coastlines, hills and fjords. Throughout the bike tour we’ll be staying and dining in hotels, guesthouses and cabins that Active-Norway has arranged for us in advance. It should be amazing… and we are both really looking forward to the experience!

This will be Eric’s first time in Europe and his first bicycle tour ever, so this is going to be an incredible experience for my old high-school/college friend… and I look forward to sharing the joys of bicycle travel with him.

Plus, the great thing about doing this bike tour with Active-Norway is that we simply show up for the start of the tour, there will be bikes waiting for us, all the details of the tour are taken care for us in advance, and our only job is to follow the tour itinerary provided for us, arrive at our hotels/guesthouses each night, and generally enjoy the overall experience. It’s going to be a blast… and I’m really looking forward to it!

norway bicycle maps

Oslo, Norway to Bergen, Norway

After the bike tour with Eric and Active-Norway is over, Eric and I will take the train back to Oslo, where we will meet my friend Rob, who will be flying in that day from Canada. The three of us will stay in Oslo for the night and participate in a 3-hour-long bike guided bicycle tour the following afternoon with www.vikingbiking.com.

During this 3-hour bike tour with Viking Biking, we will be escorted around Oslo on car-free bike paths, through parks, hidden back streets, and along the nearby fjord. We’ll discover all of the major city sites in a fun and relaxed manner: the old castle Akershus Festning; the City Hall (home of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony); the main street of Karl Johans Gate and the Royal Palace; Vigeland Sculpture Park; and finally along the modern harbor of Tjuvholmen/Aker Brygge. What better way explore a new Scandinavian country… than by bicycle!

As soon as the Oslo bike tour is over, Eric will run off to the airport in preparation for his flight back to the United States, and Rob and I will continue on our own, out of the city, and back to Bergen on our bicycles.

This will be my 4th bike tour with Rob. We met a few years ago during a guided bicycle tour in Switzerland with Bike Switzerland. And since then we have gone on two additional bicycle tours together: a week-long self-guided bicycle tour in the Loire Valley (France)… and a self-supported bicycle camping tour in Finland last summer. This year we plan to spend another week cycling together, traveling from Oslo, to Bergen. It’s nice to have friends who also like to ride bikes!

Fjord Norway by bike

The Fjord Cycling Route Bike Tour

Then, on the 10th of August, my friend Katelyn will fly into Bergen and we’ll begin a five-day bicycle tour through the Sogne fjord region north of Bergen, Norway. But we won’t be doing this tour on our own. Instead, we’ll be participating in the self-guided Fjord Cycling Route bike tour with BergFitid.

During this unique bicycle touring experience we’ll get to experience all of what Fjord Norway has to offer in the way of narrow valleys, fjords and majestic mountains. The tour includes bike rental (incl. bike bag, helmet, lights and tool kit), info pack (overview map, info and hiking maps for Masfjorden), 5 nights accomodation with breakfast, packed lunch and dinner, as well as entrance to the Bjorn West Museum. Plus, the entire route is on paved roads, so it’s a great tour for bicycle touring beginners.

This will be Katelyn’s first bike tour ever, so it will be fun to have her join the adventure and see what she thinks about self-guided bicycle touring. I have a feeling she is going to love it!

norway and sweden bicycle map

Bergen, Norway to Umea, Sweden

During the last leg of my bike tour this year I’ll be traveling by myself, carrying all my own clothing, food, camping equipment, etc… and camping in the forests each night. I’ll bathe in the local lakes, use the Internet at local libraries, and generally be living off the land. Starting in Bergen, Norway, I’ll cycle north… on my own… until I get to Umea, Sweden, which is where my Scandinavian adventure will come to an end.

Once I get to Umea, Sweden, I’ll pack up my bicycle and prepare for the long flight back to Los Angeles, California – where I plan to visit with my parents for about a month or so before I continue on to Central America for even more bicycle touring adventures later this year.

STEP 3: Transfer Your Route Details Into Your Smartphone

So, once I had all that planned out on Google Maps, I simply saved the routes I wished to take on my bicycle as 4 separate files (1. Brasov, Romania to Tuzla, Norway 2. Copenhagen, Denmark to Oslo, Norway 3. Oslo, Norway to Bergen, Norway 4. Bergen, Norway to Umea, Sweden) and I email those files to myself. Then, on my smartphone, I open those Google Map files and they are instantly transferred into the offline mapping application I use on my phone to navigate while I’m cycling – MAPS.ME

maps4me offline gps application

This is a really simply offline mapping applications that allows you to see where you are anywhere in the world and figure out where you need to go… without having a need to access the Internet (like you would need to do with the Google Maps app or a similar online mapping application). The app allows you to download the data for any country in the world… in advance. Once you have that data downloaded (and the route you wish to take saved to your phone), you don’t need access to the Internet any longer. Simply use your phone or tablet’s free GPS tracking feature and you’ll be able to quickly and easily navigate from where you are to where you need to be. It’s that simple!

How to Plan a Bicycle Road Trip – Conclusion

So, that’s how I’ve planned my 3-month-long bicycle tour across Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden this summer. I started by researching the areas I was most interested in visiting and I plotted out those points of interest on the map of the world using Google Earth. Then I broke my bicycle tour down into smaller, more manageable segments. I then used Google Maps to create a route plan for each of those small segments of my trip. I emailed those map files to my smartphone… and using the MAPS.ME application, I was able to save the route plan for my entire bike tour to my smartphone! Now everything I need to know about my bike tour this summer is saved in my phone… and I’m ready to hit the road.

To learn more about how to plan a bicycle road trip, be sure to read this article about route planning… and then grab a copy of The Bicycle Touring Blueprint – the world’s best book about planning, preparing for, and executing a self-supported bicycle tour.

how to plan a bicycle road trip with the bicycle touring blueprint

Norway photo by: Victor Velez

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5 Comments

  1. Bill Bruno

    June 2, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Darren,

    I’ve purchased your Blueprint book, online. In creating ‘google maps’, I’d go to ‘google.com’ and key in ‘from: Las Vegas to: … to: … to: …’ , click on ‘Maps’ and get a map like you have in section 2. I’d get all the key points and cue sheets of how to get there. There must have been some change. Now, all the web addresses I saved changed. Now, one must go to ‘https://maps.google.com/maps?output=classi’ link, where I’d enter ‘from: Las Vegas to: … to: … to: …’. Is there a different way to get to the older map? The new way goes to ‘enter starting pt.’ then to ‘end pt’. I want the old.

    Bill

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      June 4, 2015 at 12:28 am

      Yeah, Google Maps is constantly changing their design/functionality. I liked the old Google Maps better and I’m not sure why they changed it so that multiple points along a route are so difficult to enter. Sorry about that. Ugh.

  2. Leonardo

    June 2, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Hi Darren,

    I recommend, better that Google Maps is to use Open Street Map (OSM):
    https://www.openstreetmap.org

    First, you can download all the maps (ps, all Europe or choose per country) and use it in your phone:

    – For free, the maps information is free to use
    – You dont need mobile data service, you can query the maps in offline.
    Ps, Where is the next restaurant near to your GPS coordinates.
    – You can also upload new information collected in your trip.
    – Track your trip progress.
    – It works in Android and Iphone.

    Before to give cero cost publicity to google maps, is good to get more information about Open Street Maps (OSM).

    Also, is important to know the free sense of the maps service of the OSM project. For instance you can upload information to Google maps loosing your rights, but you can not download the sources of the data.

    So please take a look to :
    — OsmAnd Maps & Navigation
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.osmand&hl=en

    There are more services beyond google maps.

    Thanks for your attention,

  3. Don A. Holshuh

    June 6, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Very informative. I would be quite interested in how you use AirBnB for short and long term accommodations; your experiences would be very helpful for anyone planning a longer trip such as you are doing and have done.
    Thanks for all you do.
    Don

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