A cycle trip can be a joy or misery depending on the route that you take. That doesn’t mean you need to spend long hours trawling blogs, or reading books to find a great ride. For those of us yet to convert to GPS, finding a good map can make all the difference.
The UK has a great network of cycle friendly roads and dedicated bike routes – it’s just a matter of finding them. SusTrans, the charity behind the National Cycle Network, has many detailed maps of bike routes, but if you are planning a cross country ride, that would soon become expensive.
A great alternative that we have come across for planning a long distance ride is the AA Close Up Britain Road Atlas. It boasts an ultra large scale of 1.5 miles to 1 inch, making it Britain’s largest scale road atlas. Most importantly for the cyclist though, it shows all the SusTrans National Cycle Network by a series of green dots. This has allowed us to link up bike routes and quiet back roads to navigate peacefully through what might seem like a congested country. Other handy features are icons for campsites and pubs, and detailed town plans for the major cities.
The one drawback for the cyclist is that it can be difficult to decipher just how steep the roads are – and the UK has some of the steepest we have cycled anywhere in the world. A handy addition would be to have road gradients marked by their steepness – three arrows for the steepest, down to one arrow for the milder climbs. Instead they have only one marker for all gradients and then use it inconsistently.
As a general rule, expect ‘white roads’ to be largely free of traffic but very narrow (often just wide enough for one car). This is fantastic for photography. The narrow roads really frame a bicycle well and make you feel more a part of the landscape. An abundance of hedgerows also provide some welcome relief from wind. They also tend to link up some charming ‘middle of nowhere towns’ with cozy old pubs. The drawback is the white roads are almost always the steepest way of getting from A to B.
‘Yellow B roads’ are often a gentler but slightly busier alternative to ‘white roads’. We often choose these roads if we want to get somewhere a bit faster.
‘Red A roads’ usually have a steady flow of traffic and can be a little precarious. We generally avoid them, but if you are in a bind you can always ask for local advice on whether they are safe for cycling or not.
‘Green A roads’ should be avoided altogether unless you have inside information of a footpath or wide shoulder.
Being so detailed, the road atlas is quite heavy – the A4 edition clocks in at 752 pages. To cut down on weight I would recommend using a knife to cut out the unnecessary pages (ripping creates a big mess), but leave enough pages to give you flexibility in case you change routes along the way.