Tips on Finding Bike Routes
By Bill Romania
My second favorite thing to do when I’m at the SWC house, after alpine skiing, is road cycling. In the springtime afternoons when the snow can get almost too dense to ski and the sky stays light until late, I like to head out on my road bike for a short ride. There are so many choices around the house, it really boils down to what route is best for the time available, my fitness level and how hard I’m willing to go. So selecting a route is the first thing. I learned the hard way that just heading up Route 100 is not especially enjoyable: Too much traffic moving too fast and the views leave a lot to be desired. I thought I had escaped those unpleasantries by taking a random turn to the south but managed to get myself and my skinny tires into a dirt road in the middle of mud season. It was not pretty.
Since I don’t know the Stowe-Waterbury area as well as my home riding turf, I’ve had to seek out other means of identifying routes. Thankfully there are a few tools that help in this process. Google Maps makes finding suitable roads, and making sure they don’t dead end, easy but it isn’t always clear if the road is paved or not. There also is no way to specify and download a route to my phone other than the point-point shortest route. Map My Ride and Ride with GPS both allow you to create routes and download them to your phone and to a GPS-enabled bike computer. I can’t speak to the intricacies of Map My Ride as I use Ride With GPS almost exclusively. What I find even more valuable than creating a route is the ability to search for routes that start near the SWC house. I can then filter those to avoid dirt roads, rides too short or long for my needs and even climbing elevation. Thus I get the benefit of someone else’s experience and knowledge.
There is another way to find routes via Strava. For those unfamiliar, Strava is a cloud-based social media platform for athletes of all stripes. You can find pros and your friends alike on Strava and see their latest athletic exploits. Strava has a feature that has garnered some infamy in that it tracks fastest time on segments of road. This has led to some pretty intense (some would say insane) competition to be King of The Road with the fastest time, especially on the downhills. But Strava has a feature that anyone can use to find routes. When you follow someone on Strava, you can see the routes they ride. You can copy the route to your account and download it to your phone. I’ve not done this yet but everyone tells me it is easy.
If you don’t want to deal with technology and just want to go out and ride, I’ve accumulated a few basic tricks of the trade to avoid unpleasant surprises.
-If the road has hill in the name, believe them. It will be hilly.
-Rivers carve out valleys which if not flat tend to be less hilly than the valley walls. Roads that follow the valley almost always are flat or near-flat with the additional pleasure of seeing and hearing i t running water.
-Railroad tracks also tend to be flat or on gentle inclines because the trains simply can’t climb well with a string of heavy cars attached. Thus roads that follow the tracks tend to be flat.
-Bike paths are a mixed bag. When they are sparsely populated, they can be a delight. When crowded with pedestrians, dogs and children, they can be downright dangerous. I’ve been taken out by a rollerblader, a kid with training wheels and my own wife (ok, that one was really my fault) on bike paths so I avoid them.
-If you end up on a very steep climb, intentionally or not, there is no embarrassment in turning around or getting off and walking up. Just be sure to make that decision before you are going so slow that you fall over. That is embarrassing.