Designing a Route

One of the more difficult tasks is designing NER Routes. They need to be approved by RUSA, easy to support, and most importantly enjoyable to ride. This page walks potential route designers though the process. Route design is the same Brevets, Permanents & Populairs, and team events. (Fleches, Darts, etc.)

NER’s Route Coordinator (Justin Brooke) or the RBA can answer route questions and help you in the process. Justin has also developed a well-regarded cue sheet format — ask him for help or the template.

Step 1: Figure out how long you want to ride to be. ACP routes are considered to be exactly 200, 300, 400, 600, or 1000 kilometers in length irrespective of actual distance. The actual distance can be longer but not a meter shorter. Try to make your route as close to the “publicized” distance as possible as riders will not get extra time or distance credit for riding beyond the stated length.

RUSA-only events can be any length above 100k so these are generally easier to design.

Step 2: Pick a start location. Boston events have traditionally used Hanscom Field as a start but this is by no means required. Rides can start from a local bike shop or cafe, a park-n-ride lot, or even your house. Starting the event from your home can be especially desirable if you have adequate street parking and don’t mind sharing your bathroom and living room. NER routes can start almost anywhere in New England, not just the Boston suburbs.

Ideally start locations will have access to a restroom, have ample overnight parking (for longer events), and have an indoor location where riders can get out of the elements and purchase hot/cold food and drinks.

Step 3: Start mapping the route. We’ve used and other online route tools with good success. Here is what you should consider when mapping:

– The route needs to be fairly direct between controls. Backroads are OK provided that they don’t add more then 10-12% of additional distance instead of riding direct on state/US highways which allow cycling. For example, if the distance between two control locations via MA 115 was 40 miles and by using the nicer backroads the distance becomes 45 miles, this is generally OK. But if the backroad distance was 50 miles this would be too much overage and you’d need to use an intermediate control or take a more direct path. RUSA takes this seriously.

– Using dirt roads is OK provided that you make it clear to riders that not all roads will be paved. Many riders have a strong dislike of dirt and will not ride an event if so much as a mile is unpaved.

– Keep navigation easy and try not to have more turns then needed. Not everyone rides with a GPS.

– Think about the time of day riders will be using the roads — stay away from high traffic or urban locations if riders would be passing by these locations at night. Conversely, if your route is mostly backroads and info controls, consider having the route periodically pass by a donut shop or gas station where riders can purchase water and snacks.

Step 4: Pick control locations. There are three types of controls you can use: NER fully Staffed, Local Merchant staffed, and info controls.

– NER Fully Staffed controls are ideal as riders get to see a friendly face and have access to food and drinks. When picking out a location for a staffed control you’ll need to consider the following: The NER volunteers will need to have permission to be at the location for the duration of the event. Nearby bathroom access is important as is cell phone reception. There will need to be parking for the volunteer’s car. Gas stations, fast food restaurants, country farm stands, and park-n-ride lots, etc have worked well in the past.

– A local Merchant staffed control can be any place where someone is going to be working and has agreed to initial rider’s cards. Donut shops, gas stations, cafes, and bike stores tend to be good choices. Just make sure the merchant is going to be open when riders will be passing though. This can even be the home of a friend who lives along the route who has agreed to stay home for the day to initial cards.

– An Info control is one where riders need to answer a question in their brevet card based on a landmark. (Example: “At the intersection is a church. According to the sign out front, what time is their Thursday night service?”) Since an info control can be almost anywhere, they are easy to use when designing the route. But info controls can be rough on riders as they don’t give the rider a chance to stop and refuel. Try to use them sparingly. When using the info control it’s important the question is not known to riders in advance of the ride start (don’t list it in the downloadable cue sheet) and that the question be answerable at any time of day. (Don’t pick something that can’t be seen in the middle of the night.)

Step 5: Drive the Route. Once you have a good route on paper go out and drive it in its entirety. You want to make sure the roads are actually passible by bike, that the control locations are still open, and that your cue sheet is accurate. Make note of landmarks to add to the cue sheet such as town line signs, useful stores to stop at, the distance at the peak of a major climb, etc.

Step 6: Ride the Route. When riding the route navigate entirely by your cue sheet, not just your GPS. Clarify the cue sheet as needed. You might find the pavement of a road is so horrible that you want to remove it from route.

Step 7: Submit the route for approval. Contact NER’s route coordinator and provide them with the PDF of the cue sheet plus the link to the online map with the controls clearly listed. RUSA generally takes 1-2 weeks to approve a route.

Important: The perfect route is the one you enjoy riding. Every route is going to be too hilly, too rural, too urban, too difficult, or too boring to some riders. You’ll never make everyone happy so don’t go nuts trying. Just make sure it’s something that you’d enjoy riding yourself.