Planning resources for a bike tour in Europe

Planning1Planning a bike trip can be a daunting task. The very nature of self-guided bicycle travel usually entails a lot of improvisation, but a little planning can have a lot of benefits.

We found some amazing resources for planning our trip across the continent and provide them below so you can know as much or as little as you want for your next bike journey. Most of it is geared toward using a GPS but even if you don’t use one the resources are still valuable. If you are looking for more fundamental bike tour planning tips this article has some good information.

EuroVelo Routes

EuroVelo (EV) is a good place to start for planning your trip across the continent. Some routes are better documented than others but if you have the time and inclination you can use the available route descriptions and Google Maps to plan your route. You can use whichever mapping program you prefer. I like Google Maps because it integrates with Google Earth easily allowing you to map the elevation profile to assess the difficulty of your route. Of course if you aren’t hauling a humongous trailer like we did hills probably won’t be a problem for you. After making your Google Earth file you can convert it to the appropriate GPS format using a GPS babel tool. We use to convert the KML file to GPX and load it directly to our Garmin GPS. Another nice thing about routeconverter is that it will generate and plot the elevation data if for some reason it gets lost in file conversions.

However you choose to plan detailed information exists for only a few of the Eurovelo routes:

PlanningSignEV5 (and here): England to Southern Italy, the pilgrim’s route.

EV6: Atlantic coast of France to the Black Sea via Europe’s major rivers.

EV7 (and here): Norway through central Europe to Southern Italy

EV12: North Sea coast of England and Scandinavia

Most of these sites are not affiliated with the European Cycling Federation, and are maintained by dedicated individuals looking to further the cause.

Bike Paths

In Europe it is often nice to ride on long-distance bike paths as part of your tour. Many of these paths are not city park multi-use paths found in the States, but are well paved, nicely sized long-distance traffic free routes. Below are the links to maps and GPS files of bike routes through various European countries. These are great planning tools. Our favorite type of paths are usually old railway lines converted to cycle ways. They tend to follow flat terrain, are removed from all traffic and usually offer many opportunities for stealth camping.

Below is a list of countries that have readily available bike route information. Some of them are in their native language but with various translation tools you can figure out what you’re looking at.

France: Voie Verte

Belgium: Ravel, in Wallonie and Fietsroute in Flanders

Luxembourg: Piste Cyclable and Overview Map

Switzerland: Velo Land

If you are looking for more detailed information, maps, and/or GPS files Velo Ravel has cataloged a lot of route information for France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. Remember that even if there is no GPS file for the route you are looking for if it directs you to a Google Map you can convert it to a GPS file using the tools outlined above.

Planning2Some countries have better resources and infrastructure than others. The Eastern European countries are pretty much devoid of digital information. There is some route information on sites like MapMyRide, GPSies and Doing some quick location searches of GPSies yielded some recently uploaded tracks of the Danube route from Passau to the Black Sea (our tracks are below). These would have been nice to have before we did our trip but we could not find complete route information when we looked back in August. Some of these sites are difficult to navigate because key words are in other languages and don’t appear when you search in English.

GPS Resources

Garmin road maps of Europe are generally the best option for GPS mapping, but are quite expensive. As an alternative, there are free downloadable road/bike maps available here. They are based on Open Street Map, an open source project that maps bike routes in Europe. All files are downloadable for free. We used them in Serbia and Romania because Garmin doesn’t support those countries. They are pretty decent maps but are not as well supported as Garmin maps. Searching for cities, street names, and other points of interest can be laborious, disorganized and sometimes yields no results. We noticed that they killed our battery life as well. With Garmin maps we would get at least 2 days of riding before our batteries died and with the Velomaps we were lucky to get 10 hours. Usually that’s not a huge problem but when you aren’t going to be seeing an outlet to recharge your batteries for days of your trip it is something to bear in mind.

Below is a list of links that we found helpful when planning our trip.

Belgium Mapped Out has nearly every point of interest in Belgium

GPS Data Team catalogues many useful points of interest files including wifi hotspots for various countries

Campsite waypoints in Europe

Fiets Route Planner has more gps files throughout Europe.

Here’s the track of the EV6 from our ride between Budapest to the Black Sea in September 2010. It’s not 100% true to route as we skipped Croatia in favor of the more direct route through Serbia. More information and route notes to come but in the mean time you can take a look at the map below.

4 Responses to “Planning resources for a bike tour in Europe”

  1. Paul said:

    Hi all, what is the best GPS unit to get,do you have any suggestions?

    December 11th, 2010 at 11:56 pm

  2. Briana said:

    Hi Paul,

    We use the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx. We find it does everything we need it to and is relatively affordable (on sale for $179 at amazon). There are some higher end models like the Garmin Edge 705 which give you a bigger screen and added features like heart rate monitoring, but we don’t find them necessary for our touring. The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx is the lowest cost model that supports cycling and gives turn by turn directions.

    Hope that helps, we’ll try to put up a more detailed post about this soon.


    December 12th, 2010 at 12:45 am

  3. JP Rousseaux said:

    Quel est la procédure pour récupérer ton fichier GPS pour l’installer dans mon Garmin Orégon 400 Merci d’avance . Je pars l’été prochain du nord de la france pour rejoindre la Mer noire par la méme route que toi Salutations cycliste JP

    December 13th, 2010 at 1:19 pm

  4. Kyle said:

    Hi JP,
    If you have downloaded the GPX file already (right click link – save as) you just need to open it in Garmin Mapsource and load it to your GPS as a track. Sometimes you need to select the .GPX file extension in the dialog box for Mapsource to detect the file. If you don’t use Mapsource you should be able to load the GPX file directly to your SD card and follow it on your GPS.

    Good luck on your trip!

    December 22nd, 2010 at 9:16 am

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