Route Planning – Sometimes it goes wrong…

Back in March we wrote about the various resources available for planning your own routes. It can be tremendous fun trying to link some of the places you want to go to with good roads to get you there.

However, it doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes the road is very different in nature to how it looks on the map, or on Google Streetview. Today we thought it would be fun to tell you about a time when it all went wrong…

Best laid plans…

Prior to last weekend we had a laudable aim –to develop a 100Km route that would serve as a gentle introduction to the world of Audax. The trouble with a lot of the events that start and end in Cardiff is that they are upwards of 200Km and a big undertaking for someone unaccustomed to riding that sort of distance, or in dealing with controls and timings.

However, whilst there are 100Km events, particularly the Trefil Travail, 100Km routes tend to be really, really hilly because they don’t earn points for the season. You get 2 points for a 200Km audax, but 0 for 100Km, so they make them hilly to earn Audax Altitude Award (AAA) points. This is also a big undertaking for a novice.

So, after a short brainstorming session we came up with the idea of an easy, mostly flat 100Km ride with perhaps one hill. We would be starting from Plan2Ride and so needed a good climb within easy reach. Remembering the penultimate climb of the Cambrian 1K, another absurdly lumpy 100Km audax, the road up Llanwonno from Blaenllechau was a shining beacon of light on a day of climbing largely busy passes between valleys.

It had to be that one. The trouble is, how do you find a nice way up the Rhondda valley? If you plot a route on any mapping service it’ll probably take you through the centre of Pontypridd and onto the A4058 to Porth before turning onto the A4233 to Ferndale.

My first mistake was not questioning that selection of roads –they were horrendous. Absolutely horrendous, but we were fortunate that they were quiet at the time. We should, in hindsight have picked our way through the streets of Ynyshir and Pontygwaith. Instead, a group of about 8 of us had to put our heads down and hope to get to Ferndale in one piece –with me feeling an overwhelming amount of guilt the whole way.

That being said, we certainly saved a lot of time. We also got very lucky with the weather, giving us a spectacular climb up a very special hill in beautiful weather.

The plan was to then make our way down to Ynysybwl and onto Pontypridd before making our way across to Nelson, Hengoed and Draethen. However, we ended up heading for Caerphilly instead before calling it a day. The weather had turned and time was getting on.

A lesson learned…

The one lesson to take from this is, sometimes the best route isn’t the most obvious one. There may be a slightly slower, more convoluted route that will give you a far better experience than barreling down an A-road.
Also, sometimes these route planning tools will change earlier parts of routes as you attempt to force them to your chosen destination. You need to check and double check the route it has picked for you before attempting to extract a GPX file from it. Whilst it is unlikely to take you onto the M4, there are single-carriageway roads that can be just as dicey at the wrong times.

Use a mixture of CycleStreets and Google Streetview to get a feel for the best route to take. It’s also worth taking to social media, particularly the South Wales Cycling facebook group to try to obtain some local knowledge. Alternatively you can ask on our Facebook page or on Twitter and we will endeavour to find out.

Second time lucky

The plan for this weekend is to refine the route by taking a different path up to Blaenllechau and continuing with the route as we had planned it. It’s just that first bit that needs work, the rest of it is nearly there. Then and only then will we write about it!

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