– how to find them on a map
Almost everywhere, there are great circular routes near you with little or no traffic that will suit you in terms of length, difficulty, scenery and features. Some can be found on websites, but often the best are the lesser-known routes that you find and plan yourself. For this you need a good digital or paper map.
The example below is from the UK’s Ordnance Survey. These maps are ideal as they show much more detail than other maps.
Take a look at this example. The thinnest yellow roads have very little traffic; you may see none at all, so these quiet lanes are ideal for cycling along. The thicker yellow roads have a little more traffic but are still much less busy than B-roads (brown) and A-roads (red).
Off-road tracks (bridleways for bicycles or horses) are shown as big red dashes __ __ __ , not to be confused with short red dashes, which are footpaths _ _ _ . Compare the two on the left of the example map, just north of Widford.
So on this example map, you can easily work out a pleasant circular cycle route on very quiet roads and off-road tracks, with an optional stop at one of the village pubs (PH for Public House) marked on the map. It’s a short ride, but easily extendable.
Flat or hilly?
Another vital map feature for cyclists is elevation. Elevation lines show how hilly or flat your ride is going to be. Look at the light brown lines on the example map. Each one represents a height above sea level, with 10 metres between each one. The closer they are together, the steeper the slope. So roads and tracks which cross lots of brown lines are hilly, whereas those that run more or less parallel to the lines are fairly flat.
You can tell which way the hill goes – up or down – by looking for the height figures. Can you see the labels for 140 and 130 (metres) on the map? And of course where there’s a river, the slope is bound to be down towards it.