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I've frequently travelled to school by bike in the last few years. Now I would like to start riding my bike just for fun, i.e. not only to get somewhere.

The problem is that I don't know how I can find any routes. If I had a specific location to get to, I could use Google maps etc. to find a route, but I basically just want to drive around somewhere.

How should I go about finding a route? Are there perhaps apps or online tools where I could enter how much I would like to travel (roughly) and I would then get a route which would eventually return me home (for context, I am primarily interested in small routes that can be completed in one to a few hours – not several days, for example)?

If it is relevant, I live in Germany.

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    Related, probably not a dupe. bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/31483/…
    – mattnz
    Jul 11 at 1:25
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    when you explore unknown routes, even when only 5-10 km away from your regular route, do not forget to carry 1) water, 2) a spare tube and tools 3) pocket money to catch train/public transport to go back if something happens. You can travel 20 km by bicycle in 30-60 minutes, walking and pushing back a bicycle will take you at least 4 hours ...
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 12 at 9:25
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    @EarlGrey and a phone, if you have someone who would pick you up, or for real emergencies.
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 15:06
  • This question is asking for service recommendations. Service recommendations are off topic for this site. However, you are more than welcome to ask in our chat.
    – jimchristie
    Jul 13 at 19:26

12 Answers 12

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You could use Komoot, which is an app and a website which can give you recommended rides around your area and you can plan your own.

On the discover page of Komoot you can search routes in your area and/or filter by region and categories (seasons, type of biking, etc...)

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    Note that Komoot will let you browse the suggestions for free, and download local ones if you're clever, but downloading them for further from home means paying. Komoot's highlights on the map are also helpful if you need inspiration
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 8:53
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For Germany, the go-to answer is to buy the ADFC-Radtourenkarte for your region, and use that to get ideas where nice bike routes are located. The advantages of these cards are numerous:

  • They use a scale that's suitable to biking, 1:150'000. A bike is about 5 times as fast as a pedestrian, and a car is 3 to 4 times faster than a bike. As such, car maps are way too coarse, while pedestrian maps don't show a large enough region. The only pitfall is, that the ADFC-Radtourenkarten are too coarse for easy navigation through cities (too many small roads are omitted), but they shine on the open land where they tend to show every little useful detail.

  • Their color code is pretty much the inverse of car maps: They show the roads that are not strongly frequented by cars. They especially include all the designated cycle routes where you do not get any car traffic at all.

  • They include marking of the surface quality of the routes. This allows you to avoid plaster roads and the likes while planning your route.

  • They include height-level lines as well as markings for strong ascents/descents. This is very valuable information, be it to avoid strong slopes to get a joyful ride, to seek strong and long ascents to get a hard workout, or to seek strong and straight descents for setting speed records. It's up to you what you do with this information.

Please note that I am not affiliated with the ADFC: I am simply a cyclist who has used these maps in the past, and found them to be extremely useful for my purposes. You can buy these maps in any German book store.

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  • I don't know about Germany, but there are books of day-ride suggestions for many parts of the UK. Even out of date they can be combined with modern maps for inspiration.
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 15:09
  • @ChrisH That's true. However, such day-ride books are quite limited in the amount of information they can provide: They provide a selection of tours which are generally spatially separate from each other and cover a rather large region. As such, their coverage of the available bike routes is sparse. When I want to get to know the routes in my region, I want to have a comprehensive coverage to be able to select those routes which actually provide a benefit to me. For example, routes which are somewhat parallel to my commute, or which I can use to get to nice day-ride routes. Jul 12 at 15:45
  • @ChrisH That said, the combination of a cycle map like the ADFC ones with a day-ride book should prove very helpful, indeed. Jul 12 at 15:47
  • Maybe I'm lucky. I have 2 books on my shelf based around my (not large) city 1, 2 plus others for neighbouring areas. The maps are more useful when you have destinations in mind, but for exploring new areas the guides will often find you some highlights
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 15:49
  • @ChrisH Yeah, the city is an important part. When you live in a large city, you may need to ride 20 kilometers just to get out of the city, and in that case you are very interested in a dense net of cycle routes to get away from home. Routes that roughly form a star centered on your home, each one something like five to twenty kilometers long. Because those are the routes that you will be using over and over again to get to places, it really pays to have nice routes in this set. Jul 12 at 16:00
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An approach that works well if you have a good memory.

Just go out and ride. Memorize the route while riding. When you feel like you don't want to ride more than the same distance again, just turn back and ride the same route in reverse to your home.

Next time, you can start in the same route but turn differently in some turn.

Gradually you'll start to build a memory of the area. Eventually you'll reach the situation that you notice that hey, you've been here before but rode on a different road on a crossroads. Then you have plenty of options on how to continue the route -- at such a crossroads, you know how to reach home without turning back and riding the exact same route in reverse.

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I don't know about Germany specifically, but I used to use Strava for finding places to ride. If you have an account, you can go to Explore and select Segment Explore. You can move around the map and it will show you segments that people have uploaded. Its a good way of finding popular places for cycling, although they can often be places where people go to train, so they may not always be suitable for casual riding. There can also be popular commuter routes as well.

At one point they made a heat map of cycling route people regularly uploaded, but I can't find it any more; perhaps its a paid feature now.

Another option is RideWithGPS which shows similar things, again on a map.

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    At the time of writing this, googling for "strava heatmap" found it
    – ojs
    Jul 12 at 6:29
  • @ojs (and Phill) the heatmap isn't always the best guide in urban areas. I've found a lot of people log their commutes on Strava, which means a lot of journeys on routes that may be selected for efficiency and not pleasure or even safety
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 15:07
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I would like to add CyclOSM to the recommendations: https://www.cyclosm.org/ This layer for Open Street Maps will show you a lot of useful information for planning your own bike tours.

If you also want this layer paired with a router you can use: https://bikerouter.de/

A router is a program that finds a route according to your preferences. Here you can read more about how to use it: https://www.marcusjaschen.de/blog/2020/tips-for-using-brouter-web/

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  • What’s the difference between bikerouter and brouter? Is it the same software, just hosted on a different server/URL? I love brouter!
    – Michael
    Jul 12 at 8:16
  • It seems to be the same. Under the hood Bikerouter uses Brouter. I just think Bikerouter's interface is a bit more convenient, since CyclOSM is selected by default. Here you can read more about it brouter.de and: marcusjaschen.de/blog/2021/bikerouter.de-brouter In this blog post Marcus mentioned that he now uses bikerouter.de and that it is based on Brouter.
    – Hendrik
    Jul 12 at 9:30
  • Five times +1 to bikerouter.de: That page has become my one-stop solution for planning everything from small local routes to long multi-day tours.
    – ojdo
    Jul 13 at 14:59
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When I got back into cycling, I would find a destination with some reason for going there, and as long as I wasn't moving something large/heavy/fragile, then the bike was a valid solution.

With a start/end and a single waypoint I could then look at the roads joining the two points, and pick out features to avoid (motorways/highways, certain intersections, large hills, gravel roads) and features that could be enjoyable to ride.

If there were multiple links, I'd look to either ride two different sets of roads each way, OR if it was a particularly long trip I might choose to ride the same route back on the basis that the return trip always feels shorter if you've ridden it before.

Weather and prevailing winds may play a role in deciding one's route - going out with a tailwind, stop for lunch, having the wind turn around and getting a tailwind back home is awesome. The opposite is unpleasant - riding into a headwind to get a headwind home is less-fun.

Reasons I've picked a destination

  • Go visit my grandmother (a constrained route with only one bridge to get across a large river)
  • Won an online auction for a bike trailer and rode to go and fetch it.
  • Visit a well-reputed pie shop as a mid-point turnaround (note - avoid carbonated beverages on a ride, the first 10km of the return was burpy and sub-optimal)
  • Rode to the top of the highest hill nearby, on my 40th birthday (901 metres ASL) took 13 hours to do 95 km with a lot of walking.

As a tie breaker, I will sometimes pick roads I haven't ridden before. If you log with Strava, there's an external web site at http://www.jonathanokeeffe.com/strava/map.php which takes your activities and overlays them on a map.

So I look for roads I've never ridden before, and incorporate them into a route.

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    Veloviewer Explorer and Wandrer.earth (both paid, but not huge amounts and you can try for free; both require you to upload to Strava) are good if want to get into completing areas you haven't ridden before.
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 15:16
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    ... and if you've got GPXs (past or planned rides) that you want to plot together but don't want to upload, my rather crude multi-ride plotting tool runs a lot quicker than the one linked in the answer (but doesn't do a heat map, because it was designed for something different - it does distinguish between rides more clearly)
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 15:22
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    As for tailwinds, the description in the answer is spot on, though thankfully rare. Heading out into the wind so you have it behind you coming home is a good strategy, as is building up a list of a few places you'd like to visit, so you can pick depending on time/weather forecast etc.
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 15:41
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Two websites I use to find routes are RideWithGPS (for road and off-road rides) and TrailForks (for mountain biking). I've also used RideWithGPS to plan my own routes; I'm not sure if TrailForks can do something similar, I just use it to find trails.

I just checked, they both have rides available in Germany. Both websites are also available as mobile apps.

If neither of these are a good fit for you, there are others like MapMyRide and Strava, both of which also have mobile apps. I have friends who love them, but I don't know enough about either one to have an opinion.

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I suggest you to have a look at brouter.de . Not immediate, but extremely useful and based on OpenStreetMap data, it allows you to correctly consider (possible) heavy traffic and ground quality (tarmac, gravel, bare earth and roots? all these infos can be made available).

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    Brouter is “just” a good routing software. It’s great if you already have a destination in mind and getting there is your main priority. I think what OP needs (at least in addition) is an overview of possible routes or destinations. For bigger trips in Europa the EuroVelo routes are a good way to start.
    – Michael
    Jul 12 at 10:29
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Openrouteservice has a function for "Round trip routing". This service will suggest a randomly generated (roughly) circular route. The user states where they want to start, how for they want to ride (or hike, drive, or even wheelchair), and optionally configures a random seed (for reproduceability). Openrouteservice then figures out the rest. For example, for a 100 km route from central Erfurt with 8 points and random seed 24, it comes up with this route:

Openrouteservice example
Source: Openrouteservice round trip route

You can download the GPX track and use it in your mobile navigation device, or just use it as inspiration. I've used it a couple of times. I find it's a nice way to get to know new places, but it doesn't always select routes that are particularly nice, so I would use it in combination with a good map and take a slightly different route if it looks more scenic (for example, it may spend a long distance on a bike path running alongside a major road, when there's a slightly longer route through the forest along a small river).

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It's worth having a look for local cycling groups, for example on Facebook if you use it. Plenty of people there will suggest destinations and outline routes (take xxx road to yyy town, where there's a good cafe). You may even get some riding companions out of it.

While some groups are closely linked to fast clubs, others are much broader, and more open to all cyclists in the area.

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    Note that my mention of a good cafe, and @Criggie's of a pie shop, are very important. Rides need food, quantity and quality. Coffee stops are also recommended.
    – Chris H
    Jul 12 at 15:19
  • Yes! In the UK at least, lots of cycling clubs publish their routes on their websites. If you're in an unfamiliar town it can be well worth checking if there's a cycling club and scoping out their GPX files!
    – Tom H
    Jul 12 at 22:49
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There's a collection of well curated and well presented routes around London and the south-east of the UK at https://www.routes.cc. I have done a couple and would recommend it!

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I took a trip to Europe a few summers ago and wanted routes to run in each of the town/cities I visited.

I used Google maps to find the location of where I was staying, then to explore the area looking for likely looking roads. Since I was running, not cycling, I looked for things like parks and sidewalks instead of lightly trafficked roads and bike lanes, but the same theory applies.

Once I found a route that was the approximate distance I was looking for, I went into street view to ensure that the neighborhoods I was planning on visiting at least looked decent (there are a lot of places in the US where you can tell just by looking that it's probably not safe for a stranger in running/cycling attire to be passing through early in the morning).

I then printed out a map of the planned run. When the day of the run came, I did my best to commit the route to memory and off I went. I did get a bit off my track in Segovia, Spain, but managed to make it back "home" just fine. All my other routes I managed to run according to plan.

If you're simply exploring around the area you live, just get on the bike and explore! You should know your area well enough that even if you take a wrong turn somewhere you should be able to work your way back to a main road that you recognize in only a few minutes.

Take some sort of GPS tracking device with you - I've used Strava on my phone once or twice to find my way back, even when I was running near my office, missed a turn on a new route and ended up somewhat misplaced. The funny thing is, that ended up being a much better route than what I'd originally planned.

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