Join a group ride or ride with friendsWhen I began cycling this was the first method I employed to discover new trails (besides simply hoping on the bike and trying luck). One of the greatest advantages of joining others it that it is a mix of exploration of new trails, socializing and often improving performance. Because the groups usually don’t explore new trails and usually ride on roads, known to group members, you don’t risk getting lost, being late home for lunch/dinner or wandering on an unpaved road (if you’re a road biker). Unfortunatelly, for the same reason participating in group rides quickly looses it’s excitement from exploration perspective. Also, you are stuck with the determined start time, duration and the groups’ effort intensity.
Participate in a race on a new terrainA great way to explore new terrain is to take part in long (marathon, granfondo) races and especially stage races. Even if you don’t like racing, I encourage you to participate for some good reasons. First, organizers prepare a route for you and you simply follow the physical directions or provided GPS route. Second, the organizers take care for food and drinks along the ride. And third, specific to stage races, the organizers take care for accommodation and transport your luggage between the stages. Actually, participating in some of the stage races is also the cheapest way to explore new terrain in a foreign country, because the organizers often offer accommodation under very low prices, which you cannot match outside the race. I can vouch firsthand this is the case in Transalp and Transpyr MTB stage races. Also, the organizers remove the costs and the hassle of complicated logistics of transporting your luggage between stages, which should have been otherwise done by your friend or a family member. And don’t be afraid to look weird as the only “competitor” who is using the race infrastructure to explore new trails and not care for the overall standings. I’ve met plenty of individuals, who participated in a race for this reason only. If you ask me, participating in a stage race is the most underused way to explore new terrain and I hope that this article encourages you to finally register for Transalp, Transpyr, Breck Epic, Singletrack 6, Haute Route or any of the other great stage races.
Plan your ride in advanceI have been joining group rides for years and I am surprised that usually nobody plans a route in advance. I noticed it is not much different with my cycling buddies, who usually start deciding on the route once they hit the road. Because most of us have many obligations, we can’t afford to spend a whole day in the saddle. And the lack of prior planing forces us to grind the same old routes, because we simply know the surface type and duration of the ride. The safest way to explore new bike trails without unplanned delays (due to unwanted surface type or blind alleys) is to plan the routes ahead and export them to your GPS computer. While you might keep the details of a shorter route in your head, your memory is probably going to fail you on longer routes and especially in the forest. A GPS computer is going to guide you on an unknown terrain and improve the ride flow by eliminating the need to stop and check your map/phone to establish your location and next turns. That being said, you should invest in a cycling GPS computer with navigation capability (the ability to import a .gpx or a .tcx route and follow it) and find an online app, which lets you create routes. No matter the app you intend to use, if you intend to use it to create and export routes you should definitely pay attention to the (lack of) following functionalities:
- map with information on surface type (paved/unpaved),
- the ability to create and export bike routes (if you’re a mountain biker, make sure you can create routes on unpaved roads),
- accurate ride duration estimate,
- a personal heatmap,
Move the starting/end point of your rideEven if you are doing all of the above and faithfully plan the rides in advance, you slowly start to run out of new trails in your area, if you always start and end your ride at the same location. To avoid grinding the same trails you should move the starting/end point of your rides (and still plan the rides ahead). The simplest ways are:
- pack the bike in the car and drive to the starting point that is outside your “known trails radius”,
- hop on a bus or train with your bike to take you to a new starting point. This way, you can either make a loop at the end destination and take a bus/train back home, or bike home from end destination. There are some useful tips: (1) Make sure that the bus/train allows you to take a bike with you. (2) In the summer, take an early train to avoid riding in the midday heat. (3) If you can afford, don’t take buses and trains during the weekends and especially not to/from the most crowded destinations.
- make use of websites/FB groups, where people offer to take passengers with them (e.g. blablacar.de, prevozi.org etc.). Make sure to tell people that you need to transport a bike as well. From my experience, people are quite hesitant to transport bikes. It helps if you write them a text message, briefly explaining that you plan to do a training and you really appreciate their help. Additionally, attach a (clean!) picture of your bike.
- the MFCEO project
- the Tim Ferriss Show
- ride to your vacation, relatives’ birthdays etc. with your bike and arrange your spouse/friend to drive you and your bike back home;
- take a bike with you, when you have a meeting outside your hometown and plan a bike route after the meeting, before returning home.
Written by marko