How to Find Safe Bike Routes while RVing
Since we're "The Fit RV," Stef and I are known for focusing on fitness on our RV trips. And of all the various fitness options out there, our favorite way to stay fit on the road is cycling. We're "all-in" on the biking - to the extent that our RV, Lance, has numerous customizations and additions to make cycling from the RV easier and safer. It's our thing.
We recommend that everyone bring their bikes along on RV trips. It's a great way to get low-impact exercise since you can make it as hard or as easy as you like, and it's a fantastic alternative to a tow vehicle for shorter trips. But all of these benefits won't mean anything to you if you can't find anywhere to ride!
So, that's what I want to focus on in this piece. I want to see you out there riding. I don't want to see your bike gathering dust on a rack at the camp site, and you fearing that you'll get flattened if you head out. (Believe me, we've had days like that, and they're no fun.) So I'm going to share our personal ride-finding strategies here. This is how we go about finding rides when we're out and about in the RV. Hopefully, these tips will get you out there on your bike -- safely.
Local Bike Shops
This is by far my preferred way to find an awesome ride. Nobody will know the bike routes in the area better than the people who ride them every day, and those people tend to congregate at bike shops. So, I always start my searches this way hoping for that "ride with a local" experience.
What you'll find depends on the particular bike shop and location. We've encountered variations on each of these in our travels:
- An awesome bike shop website complete with a section for rides and maps of each of them. A great example is this one for Red Rock Bicycle in St. George, Utah.
- A bike shop with little information on-line, but a phone number that gets you a helpful bike-store employee that rides themselves.
- A bike shop with a really impressive "wall of rides" with printed out maps and cue sheets, like this one we found at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop in Austin, TX.
So -- step 1 - when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, Google yourself up a local bike shop. Chances are you probably need something anyway, right?
Official City Cycling Information
This one might only work if you're cycling in or near an urban area that has the resources to devote to bicycle infrastructure, but when it does work, you can feel like you hit the jackpot.
Say, for example, we are going to be visiting Tucson, Arizona. A quick Google search for "Tucson Bicycle Paths" will get you almost immediately to "Bike Maps | Official website of the City of Tucson." This is exactly what Stef and I did last winter, and it netted us a bike ride of over 50 miles where we didn't encounter a single car. There was even an interactive map that we could use while we were out on the trail itself. Absolutely fantastic!
Tucson, of course, isn't the only city with an official bike path system. You can do the same thing for a lot of major cities. Salt Lake City has one, as do Minneapolis, Boulder, and Kansas City. And you don't have to be visiting a major city for this to work either, we once used a similar tactic to find bike rides in Sonoma County.
Ride with GPS
If you're looking for a serious road ride, the website Ride With GPS has become my new go-to resource for finding rides. (It's replaced Map My Ride, which I could never get to work properly). As a bonus, if you have a modern GPS head unit on your bike, you can use the maps on Ride With GPS to download turn-by-turn directions right onto your handlebars.
There are premium features to Ride With GPS, but you absolutely don't need a paid subscription for this site to be a great resource. I don't have a subscription myself, and I used Ride With GPS to plan all of the rides that we did on our recent trip to Buellton, California.
You can easily search this site by city, maximum and minimum lengths, and distance from a starting point. And the best thing about this site is that -- for the most part -- the rides you find are probably uploaded from someone's GPS unit directly. That means someone actually rode the route and lived to tell about it.
As a quick example, here's a list of rides that start within 10 miles of Forest City, Iowa. (Hint hint, rally goers ...)
Brought mountain bikes instead? Let's put aside for a minute that you can ride a mountain bike pretty much anywhere ... and say you're looking for an established and maintained trail to ride. I've found no better resource for this than the MTB Project Website.
This site has been taken over by REI in the last few years. Often times, a corporate takeover can be a bad thing, but that hasn't happened to this site. MTB Project is just as useful and awesome as ever. You can search trails by geography, distance, and (very importantly) skill level.
The absolute best part about this site, in my opinion, is the companion smartphone app they have. You get all of the features of the website right in the palm of your hand, and right on the trail. I've used this more than once when faced with a fork in the trail and wondering "which path is least likely to result in my getting seriously injured?"
Say you've found a ride that you'd like to try, using one of the resources above. The only problem is that it doesn't come anywhere near where your RV is camped. This is often one of the hardest final bits to figure out. There's always the option of taking your vehicle to the trailhead or start of the ride, but if you roll in a Class B like we do, that means breaking camp.
In cases like this, I turn to good old Google Maps. At this point, I'm typically only trying to navigate a couple miles, and by using Google Maps' cycling overlay, I can get a pretty good idea of what routes might be safe to get there. You simply put in the starting point (your RV campground), and the destination (the start of your chosen ride), and let Google figure it out for you by selecting the set of directions for cycling. (Or walking. That sometimes works too).
But here's the thing. DON'T TAKE THESE DIRECTIONS AT FACE VALUE! We found this out the hard way when we were in the Tampa, FL, area recently. We thought it would be fun to bike to the Truma Sales and Service Center, but the biking directions Google gave us almost got us flattened. Lesson learned. Even when you get "cycling" directions from Google, always use the "Street View" and virtually cycle the route ahead of time. This will let you verify things like shoulder widths, and even get a feel for the traffic in the area.
So, there you have it. This is honestly how we plan our own cycling routes when we're out on the road in our RV. Hopefully these resources will help get you on your bike and out on the road the next time you're out in your own rig. It's definitely how we'll plan the routes for the group rides we'll be leading at this year's Grand National Rally in Forest City. Speaking of ... we hope to see you there!