Bicycle tour route planning revolution

If you’re expecting a typical photo-heavy entry about traveling and outdoor escapades, you can skip this post altogether. Come back in a couple weeks. If you’re interested in bicycle tour route planning, then there might be something of interest here.

Historic planning and navigation

I don’t normally write about gear or about the geeky computer stuff that I do, but we had a long covid lockdown, and I spent way too much on the computer.

It was about 28 years ago that I first put panniers on my bicycle and did an overnight bicycle tour. Of course, I’ve updated equipment list over the years, but I can point to one piece of equipment that has made the biggest impact on the quality of bicycle touring — the smartphone (with gps-enabled mapping applications).

We used to deal with paper maps, trying to find ever more detailed maps along the way, stopping at tourist offices to see if they had information about good routes for bicyclists, and very frequently asking people which way to go. All this is kind of fun, but it rarely got you on the best route.

In 1999 we pedaled some 10,000km in Africa with often just a 1:4,000,000 scale map! (That’s a cm for every 40km.) I remember being so excited in 2006 that the tourist office in Lausanne had a map showing the bicycle routes in the city. I picked it up when I first arrived and used it for the four days I spent in the city.

How times have changed. I love paper maps, and I must admit I enjoyed visiting Ethiopia’s equivalent to the USGS in Addis Ababa or INEGI in Mexico City or the widest selection of maps I’ve ever seen, at a store in Berlin, for a few examples.


Only four years ago I met Kurt at the Madrid airport, and he used his phone and some fancy app called osmand to find us a super route from the airport into the center of the city. I realized I needed to look into this technology.

Back in Turkey two months later I installed osmand on Ferda’s phone (I didn’t have a smartphone yet), and we joined a group tour from Kayseri to Antalya. During the three days we spent in Tarsus, I really used osmand for the first time and was amazed by the great routes it found through the city. With my 1:400,000 map and lots of asking for directions, I would have never found such bicycle friendly routes.

Another two months later Ferda and I were bicycling in Sweden. I bought an atlas in Malmö and was still mostly navigating with that, like I had been doing for over 20 years. But that 1:250,000 atlas didn’t show enough detail for finding a good route into Kalmar. Let’s check this osmand thing, we said — we still weren’t accustomed to it yet. Oh, look, it shows a bicycle route straight into the center of the city. It was only for bikes and of course didn’t show up in the atlas at all. Fantastic! I was finally beginning to get it.

Around this time a friend in Antalya couldn’t believe I was still using a Nokia phone with buttons. He gave me his old smartphone. I installed osmand and used it during a tour with Jack in Oman in January 2018. Worked great. Four months later I used osmand again in Sulawesi with Ferda. However, smartphones were still new for me, and I didn’t realize they weren’t waterproof. Really?! People spend so much money on these things, and they aren’t even waterproof??!! It never rained in Oman, but I learned this the hard way in Sulawesi. The screen never fully recovered, and I ended up buying my first smartphone in Rantepao, the biggest city in Tana Toraja. At 1,100,000 rupiah (almost US$80) it seemed like a crazy price to pay for a telephone. That’s the cell phone I still have.

Current route planning

Route planning involves routing, and routing requires two things:

  1. detailed information about the route choices and
  2. an algorithm to take this information and choose the best route.

For automobile users on main thoroughfares both are highly developed and have been for, what? perhaps a decade now. Routes that take cars on the fastest roads are of little interest to bicyclists.

Openstreetmap (osm) is continually improving and provides the former. During the lockdown I discovered brouter which provides the latter. The brouter algorithm takes a highly configurable profile that describes exactly the kind of route you’re looking for and how much weight to give to the choices (think road surface, hills, traffic as examples — we’re limited only by data). I can’t begin to explain everything these profiles can do. The m11n server hosts quite a number of profiles that bicyclists might be interested in. For my riding in Turkey I edited one of their profiles to put a higher cost on osm “path” tags. “Path” is a problematic tag in osm mainly because it covers too many different things, from perhaps paved bicycle paths to steep hiking trails. For my mountain riding in Turkey I put a much higher cost on these paths so my routes would avoid hiking trails. (Compare mine to the one I edited if you’re interested.)

You don’t have to dig into brouter much to see the power of their algorithm and approach. Excited by all this potential and with too much indoor time on my hands, I decided to write some solutions to the traveling salesman problem (tsp) using brouter routing. Note that traditionally we think of tsp solutions as minimizing distance, but we can minimize anything we want — time to travel by touring bicycle, e.g. (check out the kinetic energy options in the brouter profiles). It’s all so exciting that I stuck my code on github and created a Python package. Now I can find a bunch of places I want to visit and calculate a least effort (or time or distance or cost) tour connecting them all via bicycle friendly (configured to my preferences) routes.

Clearly I need to get out more.

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Likya Way bicycle touring: Korsan Koyu to Kaş? No, Demre!

Alternatively titled: The ancient sites of Belos, Myra, Andriake, Sura

After a pretty hilly ride to get from Antalya to Korsan Koyu, I was amazed to have such a flat road all the way from Korsan Koyu to Finike. It was a coastal road with some nice views.

IMG_20210425_154237 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Likya Way bicycle touring: Antalya to Korsan Koyu

The Likya Way is a ~500km walking trail connecting Fethiye and Antalya passing near ruined Likyan cities and modern Turkish beach resorts. Much of the trail isn’t accessible to bicycles, but in many places there are roads nearby so it’s possible to visit many of the same sites by bicycle. When I put this bicycle route together, I wasn’t specifically trying to follow the Likyan Way, but a few days into the trip I realized that’s what I was doing.

I met my first Likyan walker up in Hisarçandır on the same day I left Antalya. That was Elaine from Salk Lake City. She had just walked solo all the way from Fethiye (more or less). A couple days later I met a trekking couple descending from Beycik to the coast just like I was doing. They were hoping to walk all the way to Fethiye.

My plan for the first week was to head south to Korsan Koyu where I’d meet Ferda and other friends for the weekend. They were coming by car. Of course, going by bicycle sounded more fun to me. Also, not surprisingly, it ended up being very hilly.

I camped by the (very low volume) Çandır below Üçoluk on the first night of the trip. I climbed 1500m to get here.

IMG_20210420_065821 by bryandkeith on flickr

The climb continued in the morning to get to Söğütcuması where I started to get views of the beautiful Alakır Valley.

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Skiing road trip last stop: Niğde

In hindsight when Seb and I left Nemrut Dağı we should have driven southwest via Adıyaman and Adana. At the time, however, our tentative plan had been to spend the last weekend of our ski trip at Erciyes (near Kayseri) and Hasan Dağı (near Aksaray). In their effort to contain the rising number of covid hospitalizations, Turkey announced a weekend curfew. We needed either to get back to Antalya before the lockdown, stay and ski two days at the Erciyes ski resort which we understood was still open during the lockdown, or find a backcountry ski spot for the weekend. Of course, I pushed for the latter. We ended up skiing two days in Ulukışla district (ilçe) in southern Niğde province (il). It was an excellent choice.

On the way south we stopped at the ancient city of Tyana (Kemerhisar, Bor, Niğde) where the most exciting thing to see is definitely the remains of the Roman aquaduct.

IMG_20210402_143242 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Skiing road trip: Hesarek, Nemrut (Adıyaman), and on toward Kayseri

After a little more adventure than we bargained for in Erzurum, Seb and I started heading southwest, doing more driving, more sightseeing, and less skiing. We found a pleasant campsite near a creek about 10km east of the provincial capital of Bingöl. Driving up and out of the city the next morning, Seb spotted a small sign: “Hesarek Kayak Tesisleri”. He didn’t know the word tesis, but he recognized kayak (ski) and swung the car off the highway.

I can’t remember what we had planned for that day, but what a pleasant surprise we stumbled upon.

IMG_20210330_100150 by bryandkeith on flickr

The lifts weren’t open when we arrived, but the only woman in the one group there was on the phone calling around trying to get them to open up. She succeeded, and the T-bar was running about 15 minutes later! Thanks, Dilo!

Here she is:

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