Recap of Gravel 301: Mapping and Navigating Gravel

Wow! What a great turnout last Tuesday evening at WebCyclery for the last of our 3 seminars this spring: “Gravel 301: Mapping and Navigating Gravel”.

The focus of last evening was:

  1. How to find a gravel route to ride.
  2. Downloading a route to the RideWithGPS phone app.
  3. Following a route using RideWithGPS.

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Finding a Route to Ride

The easiest way to get started with gravel riding is to use the Dirty Freehub website.  Look under the tab Gravel / Oregon. Within the Oregon tab, you can begin to select rides by location with a deeper drill down (distance, elevation gain, listing of off road sectors, and a short description) via the pins. There is a second drill down after the pin dialogue opens, to a dedicated route page with ride pictures, a written description, route statistics, author, date posted / updated, route map, and GPX file download. For an example, see the Over the Rainbow route page.

Below the Oregon state map, all 5 Star gravel rides within Oregon are listed alphabetically.

And, for those more tech savvy, there is the database feature.  From here, you can sort by distance, elevation gain, and location. You can also filter by tags such as ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’, and ‘advanced’ and ‘5 Star’ routes versus ‘Training’ routes.

Downloading a Route to RideWithGPS Phone App
We highly recommend that you download each route before navigating / following  the route in the field. By downloading the route you will ensure that you have access to the route and underlying map even if you do not have cell coverage in the field.  By downloading the route you are physically downloading the information onto your phone. (Hint: to save battery life in the field, we recommend placing the phone into airplane mode. In this mode, the GPS tracking function of the phone still works.)

All Dirty Freehub routes are available for free download with the RideWithGPS free subscription plan if you are a Dirty Freehub Club member.  Click here to become a Dirty Freehub Club member. Click here to learn about the benefits of being a club member. The ability to download routes for free is courtesy of WebCyclery.

If you do not download the route, you run the risk of not having the mapping information if your cell reception is spotty or not available at all.

Following a Route with RideWithGPS
Following / navigating a route starts before you even leave the house. Pre-screen the route so that you know the structure of the route:
– is at a loop or a lollipop?
– will you be riding in the clockwise or counter-clockwise direction?
– where are the first turns at?
– where are the major climbs?
– are there “bail out” points along the way?

If you get off route, stop and take your time to analyze the situation. Be deliberate and check all of your navigation sources and confer with your riding partners.

Lastly, know when to “pull the plug” vs continuing.  We’ve all been there … it’s taking longer than expected to travel X miles.  There are Y miles to go.  Turn around or continue?  We’re not sure there is an easy rule for thi,s but factors that come into play are group dynamics, weather, water availability, route difficulty, etc. Sometimes it is better to turn around and back track.

Below are a couple of the slides from last night to remind you of features that are not always that evident.


Here are some other key take aways from last evening:

Practice, Practice, Practice! To be proficient at navigation you must practice. Do this when the risk is low, such as:

  • when riding with a group
  • doing a local route that is close to town
  • when riding a route you have ridden before, but not navigated

If you don’t yet own a dedicated GPS device, use RideWithGPS to become knowledgable about navigation so that when you go to purchase a dedicated device you can make a more informed decision.  Discover what you like in an device, discover what functionality you need, discover what functionality you do not need. (Hint: when using RideWithGPS on a ride mount your phone to bike stem with a device like Quad Lock or use an earpiece with the audible turn by turn directions turned on in the settings menu.)

As you get more experienced and begin to take on more risk, ensure that you have a primary and backup means of navigation.  This can be a combination of hard copy maps, a phone app (like RideWithGPS or Gaia) and a dedicated GPS device (like a Wahoo or Garmin).

Devices and apps mentioned in the seminar:

Contributing authors: Gravel Girl, DavidB, AndrewM, MikeH.

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