Route planning 101 – The basics

I have covered touring in previous posts but with us all on lockdown I wanted to expand on what I have previously said. I’m sure that there are plenty of armchair adventurers out there dreaming, if not already planning, their next journey.

Introduction – Why tour?

Firstly, riding a motorcycle anywhere is good. Day trips can become repetitive with the same destinations in range of home. A tour can open new possibilities and extend the range of a trip. A tour can simply be classed as a ride where the destination on day one is not home. I find a tour gives me the freedom to not be looking at my watch wondering if it’s time to head back.

Why is my approach different? 

Maybe it’s not and others use the same methodology, but I have seen it done very differently, or not at all. I’ve seen others head out in a direction, carefree and think about finding accommodation when they feel they have ridden far enough. I find that in doing this you can potentially miss so many great routes and roads. I don’t plan rigidly, and I do still leave time to explore along the route.

With all the planning having been done up front you can enjoy the ride without being pre-occupied with booking accommodation. I make use of all the modern technology such as Google Maps, Street View, Online route planning and GPS devices.

So, where do we start?

What’s the budget? Otherwise known as “how many days do we have?”. How far can we get before the return journey? In the given time, where are the best roads?

You may have a preconceived idea of where you want to go. When you start the route planning you will find out if this is achievable.

Start with Google Maps. There is a correlation between green areas on a map and great roads (or grey lumpy looking areas in places such as Switzerland). If it’s not green, then the chances are it’s a built-up area. Not conclusive to great riding.

Aim for green (or lumpy looking areas)

Following these areas, you will start to get a feel for the route. It’s often not a straight A to B.

Planning the route

Once you have a general feel for the geography, I move onto my route planning application. You may have software that is provided with your satnav and in many cases that’s Garmin’s Base Camp. It’s a Marmite application that some like and some don’t. I don’t have a problem with it and do always use it for a final calculation before I put my routes on the satnav. Why? Because I know that the exact same map that Base Camp is using is the one installed on my BMW Navigator.

But there are better applications available and personally I use MyRoute-app which is an online application. Its free to use and for a small additional subscription you get a few additional benefits.

One of the benefits is being able to switch maps on the fly. While there is nothing wrong with the Here maps that the Garmin uses, I do prefer to use the Google maps for the initial planning as you can see more detail such as fuel stops and cafes.

Easy route planning in MyRoute-app

Drop in on Street view

One of the great benefits of online route planning is the addition of street view. I find this a great tool to allow me to find those great routes off the beaten track. Previously you could only try and spot a good road on the map by it’s A or B road designation. With the ability to drop down into street view you can now see if it’s a nice twisty road away from the main roads and dual carriageways, or have you gone too far and it’s a very narrow basic track. Of course, a gravel track may be what you are looking for.

Street view… although you really don’t need to check the Splügen. You should know its all good.

Street view takes the guess work out of the planning. The additional bonus is that you get to preview the views you will get on the actual ride. I have swapped routes many times purely based on this.

Break it down to daily segments

This is where a bit of experience helps, but this isn’t necessarily required if you use a bit of knowledge. On the first pass I will often have a complete route laid out in draft format for the complete tour. At this stage its largely aspirational since I need to slice up the route into daily segments. If I’ve got it right the segments will match the amount of days that I have available.

This is where the experience comes in. A day’s travel can be measured in hours or miles, but for any given days riding, say eight hours, the mileage can vary considerably depending on the road condition. You can expect a day to be anything from 120 to 320 miles. In any given hour you will cover a lot more miles on a motorway than you will on a mountain pass. Your mapping software or Google will give you an idea of the travelling time between any two given points. It’s not always accurate but it will get you in the ballpark.

Where to stay

Once you have worked out roughly where you will be when its time to kick off the riding boots its time to look for accommodation. I tend to zoom in on Google to see where the hotels and B&Bs are then use to see what’s available at the right price. At this stage be prepared to adjust the route. This may mean shortening on lengthening the days ride to find that accommodation that’s just right.One more thing… don’t forget about food. Depending on the area you may find that there is nowhere local to eat. Plan ahead and buy food that you can cook yourself if needs be. I have always been lucky but there have been a few close calls in the past. There is nothing worse that the wrath of your fellow travellers when hungry. You don’t want them to go all Jeremy Clarkson on you!

Fine tuning the route

This is where I talk to others who have ridden the area, are there must do roads that I have missed with my Googling. I focus on each day in turn and with more focus on a segment I drop down to street view again to see if I have absolutely the best roads.

Prepping the route for transfer to the Satnav

Now all that is required is to get these daily routes onto your device. Simple in practice but there are a few gotchas that can ruin your careful planning. 

Firstly, make sure that you have plenty of waypoints. Remember the mention of the MyRoute-app extra features for Gold subscribers? My favourite is being able to add a given number of equally spaced waypoints along the route. This gives your satnav a fighting chance on guiding you along the route you planned.

If you are happy with everything it’s time to export the route as a gpx file. There is a connector in MRA to send the route directly, but I prefer to do one last step courtesy of Garmin Basecamp.

Love it or hate it, it does a job

Waypoints vs Shaping points

To be successful with your route then it’s important to understand waypoints versus shaping points. A waypoint is a destination along the route. This might be a point along the road, or a POI like a fuel stop. A shaping point is there to, well, shape the route. It won’t show as a destination and it won’t be announced. It just pegs the calculated route to the road you want which might not be the most direct route between waypoints.

Turn off automatic recalculation!

Now that you understand waypoints and shaping points you can now understand the difference between automatic and manual recalculation on the satnav. We all make mistakes, either you misunderstood the instruction, didn’t relate to the road layout or you had some GPS lag. In this instance a satnav in auto mode will see you are off route and do a recalculation to get you back on route. In reality what it will do is recalculate to the next waypoint. Remember all those nice shaping points in between? Forget them, it will ignore them, and you will potentially lose a lot of planning. 

If you have selected manual recalculation you will be informed that you are off route and you will be given the option to recalculate. If you select no then you can zoom out on the map and pick up the route on the map. As soon as you are back on the route you can carry on as normal.

Now the last thing to do before you transfer the route to the device is do one last calculation. This will ensure that the route has been calculated against the map that you know is on the device (if unsure check the map versions in the planning software and the device).


You should now be ready to go. I would always suggest a backup. I have the routes uploaded to an accessible place on the internet, put a copy on a memory stick and carry a good old analogue map.

The files may not always be useful without a way to deliver them to the device should you have a problem but it could give you options.

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