5 Adventurous Ways to Navigate on a Bicycle Trip

Navigation by compass

Cycle the world like an explorer!

Travelling around the world nowadays is effortless, and that’s all thanks to the wonders of technology. With smartphones and the incredible apps that come along with them, there’s no question that you can go anywhere you want.

Think about it; you can visit a non-English country and be all right with Google Translate to help you communicate. And you can tour almost any attraction site you want without getting disoriented with several map apps available. Without a doubt, it’s a remarkable time to be a cyclist.

However, there’s quite a downside to it. Relying too much on technology seems to take away the spirit of adventure.

Although we’re not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just that the experience you get isn’t the same. If you’re like us and love taking small risks to pump up the adrenaline and enjoy the bicycle ride at its finest, then this article is for you.

Use Physical Maps

Yes, what you’ve read is right, use physical maps! We’re talking about the ones you actually hold, scribble on, and fold a hundred times just to fit in your pocket.

Although paper maps take more space than phones, there are still various advantages to using them. And here are some of the best ones we’ve got:

  •  It works without a battery, so you can use your map all day long.
  • You can draw on a paper map to highlight routes and places to your liking.
  • According to PHYS.ORG, print maps will make you be more acquainted with the geography of the location and have a better understanding of its culture compared to digital ones.

There are excellent maps that are designed just for cyclists. We used the Bikeline maps published by Esterbauer and absolutely loved them. You can also get one at Cartovelo, which sells the best cycling maps online.

Use the Sun

The sun is definitely the most accessible navigation tool we have – as long as it’s a non-cloudy day, you can rely on it. During our three-month bike tour, it was the sun that helped us navigate most of the time.

Whether you are cycling, driving, or even hiking, knowing how to use the sun will help you be more oriented pretty much all the time. Of course, it may not be as accurate as a smartphone app or compass at pointing your direction, but it’s reliable enough to keep you on track.

So here’s how to use it:

You just have to know that the sun will always rise east and set west. It’s not perfectly aligned with those cardinal points and changes a bit on every season, but it should give you a rough estimate that if you face it when it rises, your left should point north.

So if you plan on travelling south and want to make sure you’re going there, having the sun at your left side in the morning is a good sign that you’re on track. And it should be on your right side when it’s about to set.

Use a Compass – for Better Precision

Now, if you’ve run out of luck, and the sun is nowhere to be seen due to a cloudy day, the next best thing is a compass! It’s an essential navigation tool that can tell you the direction you’re going to, day or night. Furthermore, it’s more accurate than using the sun as your navigation tool.

The compass is a small item, and it’s super lightweight. So there’s no reason for you not to carry one. Plus, it’s also very cheap and you can buy one here (Suunto MC-2 is the one we use and recommend)

Talk to People – They Won’t Bite!

In our experience, they would even accompany you to make sure you won’t get lost. On various occasions, locals were kind enough to cycle with us despite heading somewhere else.

Aside from asking people on the streets, there’s nothing wrong with knocking on people’s doors as well. We’ve done it a couple of times, and nothing went wrong – some of them even offered water, food and even hospitality.

Use Post-it Notes

As surprising as it sounds, you can use post-it notes or any sticky paper to jot down the names of all the towns and villages you’re aiming to cycle through. Why? First of all, it’s an efficient way of remembering the route. Secondly, you can stick the notes on the handlebar for convenience. This tactic allows you to avoid stopping all the time to check your map.

Having post-it notes on your handlebar adds an extra flavour to your cycling trip. And just in case you get disoriented, you hand the paper to a local for directions. They might happen to know a better road for you to take, making the adventure a better experience.

Bonus: Useful Apps

The above may be a bit too overwhelming for some, and we get that. So we added a little bonus to cover for people who want to take it slow. Here’s a list of navigation apps that we think are best for cycling.

Maps.me and Google Maps

Of course, as we’ve mentioned at the very beginning of the article, travelling around the world is effortless. That’s because you have map applications that provide every detail you need to know when in unfamiliar territory. These two maps give you road information, hotel locations, and stores available near you. You even have the option to download specific areas to run them offline in case there’s no data reception. 

Komoot, Ride with GPS, ViewRanger

If you want to be more specific in your journey such as planning the route ahead, where to take a break, and whatever action you have in mind, these apps are for you. They’re navigator apps designed to help bikers, hikers, and basically, any adventurer who takes off-road journeys. Plus, they also provide you with an accurate elevation profile of the areas you plan on visiting. So you’ll know when you need to buckle up and use most of your energy and when to freewheel down and relax. 

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