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Living Off the Slab Blog
The Best Route Planning Tools | Here's What I Use
04/18/2021

Last time we started a discussion on route planning, and I pointed out that with the advent of online mapping solutions, we now have detailed maps available any time of day, at our fingertips. These digital maps have become my preferred method of route planning.

For this video/blog, I want to continue our discussion by talking about the tools which I used to plan and execute my tours.

Before I begin, let me point out that there is no one way to do anything. Certainly, with the sheer number of applications available, there are numerous methods to achieve the same outcome that I do using my chosen toolset. While I will mention a few additional products, my focus is going to be on those applications and devices I have found to work best for me.

Ultimately the tools you choose will be based on how you intend to use the product. If you just want to pick a start and end location and let the application or device pick a twisty or adventurous route for you, then using something like a smart phone app will most likely be sufficient.

On the other hand, if you are like me and want complete control of your route, then a mapping application and GPS device is the way to go, at least in my opinion.

Maps:

Even though most of my routes are created electronically and followed with a GPS device, I do still use maps for planning and emergency purposes. Some of my favorite maps are those created by Butler.

Butler Maps are specifically created for motorcyclists with color coded and graded roads. Butler has a team of folks that go out and ride the various regions around the country, creating the rating system.

G1 (Gold) is best, G2 (Red) is next and G3 (Orange) as slight grade downward. Butler also lists Paved Mountain Roads and Dirt Roads in the region. Along with the roads and routes, the Butler Maps also include descriptions of Points of Interest and best rides on the reverse side.

While these maps are a fantastic resource, remember that they only represent a faction of the available roads in any given area. For example, the roads where I live in the Eastern side of Massachusetts are not listed nor in most cases even visible on the map. This is of course understandable given the scale. As I mentioned in the previous video, you cannot always find all the good roads on every map, which is why I like the digital versions.

If you want access the Butler Maps, another option it to join Rever. Rever is another online navigation platform that allows you to create custom routes and export them as GPX files. You can follow Rever routes with your GPS or a proprietary phone-based application.

If you purchase the “Pro” version of Rever (about $50 per year) then you gain access to the Bulter Maps and their color-coded, graded road system. Rever has some of the best “social” options out there, allowing you to create events and challenges, but for me the navigation functionality is a bit limited. I maintain a subscription to Rever so that I can utilize Butler Maps for research purposes, but for actual routing I use the application I am going to talk about in the next section.

Routing Applications:

When first started touring in 2006, like most guys my age, I built my first trips using paper maps. In 2009, after I purchased my Victory Vision, I want to do longer trips and started looking for mapping software to create my custom routes; I settled on “Microsoft Streets and Trips.”

Streets and Trips was a great application, simple to use with great features including real-time construction information. My understanding is that it was extremely popular among the RV crowed as well as folks who traveled for a living. Unfortunately, in their infinite wisdom, Microsoft decided to end support of Streets and Trips in 2013, in an attempt to move everyone over to Bing Maps.

With the demise of Streets and Trips, I moved to a desktop application called "Tyre to Travel." This is another excellent routing tool which in 2013 became the official platform used by Tom Tom.

In around the 2014-2015 time-frame, the folks who made Tyre to Travel decided that a move to the web was in order creating "MyRouteApp.com," which would eventually become "MRA Routeplanner."

As a life-time Tyre to Travel user, I switched my subscription over to MRA Routeplanner in 2016 and have been using it for all of my planning ever since.

In the intervening years, between 2013 and 2016, I did try several other applications including Basecamp, but have always returned to Routeplanner for its ease of use and robust functionality.

Before I go on, let me say a few words about Garmin Basecamp, because I know someone will bring it up. Garmin Basecamp is a desktop application that has been around for quite a while. It is free to download, and while you can do a lot with it, it also comes a rather high learning curve and many people become frustrated before learning to be proficient.

Garmin also goes back and forth about continuing to support the product. It was officially "unsupported" around 2017, but the last update was in September of 2020. At this point Garmin still does not have a replacement product, so it seems they continue to reluctantly support Basecamp.

Personally, I have tried many times to like Basecamp but find it to be too cumbersome especially given that there are other affordable options available, such as MRA Routeplanner, which allows me to do almost everything that Basecamp does with much less headache.

Yes, I know that I am about to get slammed by the Basecamp faithful…please remember, this is just my opinion based on personal experience. If yours is different, that is ok…

MRA Routeplanner Features:

Like Rever, MRA Routeplanner is a fee for service application, costing under $50 per year for the Gold package, which is what I use. The Gold package gives you all of the features available in MRA Routeplanner, but excludes the ability to navigate on your phone via their proprietary app. If you want phone-based navigation, the "All in one package" runs about $70 per year.

Let me say here that I am not affiliated with MRA Routeplanner and make no money recommending them. I do so simply because it is the tool that I have chosen and that give you the best combination of features and ease of use.

Here are a few of the features I find especially useful in MRA Routeplanner:

1. Ability to create folders for route organization. Believe it or not, most other web-based application to do NOT allow this (Rever for example).

2. Ability to set and compare different route calculation methods, inlcuding Open Street, HERE (Garmin) and TOM TOM. You can overlay these three options to compare the output and make corrections if needed.

3. Ability to use map overlays on top of the base map set. Some of the available overlays include; Google Maps, Google Satellite View, HERE, HERE Satellite, Open Street, and Open Street Terrain.

4. You also have the ability to split a Route into two or more sections/routes.

5. You can join two routes together.

6. MRA Routeplanner offers the ability to view more than one route on the same screen.

7. Ability to save the routes in several different formats, incuding; GPX 1.0, GPX 1.1, .INT (TOM TOM), .KLM (Google Earch) and turn by turn directions as PDFs, which can be printed.

Where you can find MRA Routeplanner: www.myrouteapp.com

GPS Devices vs. Phones:

Here I go again, I am going to get myself in trouble…But I do not like navigating by phone. I know that phones are becoming much more popular for navigation purposes, and that I risk being CANCELLED…but my preference is to use a GPS device.

Here’s Why:

  • Phone are generally not waterproof or ruggedized.
  • Phones are not glove friendly.
  • Phones are not made to be viewed in bright sunlight.
  • Phones are dependent on cell coverage

I know there are work arounds for all these limitations, but that is just it, there are "work arounds." Cell phones were not designed to be mounted to the handlebars of a motorcycle traveling over bumps and potholes, through intense heat and torrential rains. I know a lot of people do it, but personally I would rather have a device designed for the rigors of long-distance motorcycle travel.

With all that said, the biggest reason I do not like using my phone to navigate while traveling, is that I want to be away from the damn thing.

I am out on the road to be silent, to be contemplative, not to be constantly notified about every Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube post. I also don’t care about traffic warnings or when someone is pulled over ahead. If I am on a road where I need such things, then I am probably on the wrong road or I am trying to make time on the Interstate and even with the backup, it is still the fastest way.

I am traveling to be free of such things and my phone stays in the trunk until it is needed.

GPS Devices:

For me I have always preferred a dedicated GPS device. One that contains all the maps I need, without having to worry about pre-loading them. I also want a device that is everything a phone is not, that is ruggedized and waterproof.

For me I have always used Garmin GPS devices. My first one was a Zumo 220 and then a Zumo 390 (which I still have) and now a Garmin Zumo XT and Navigator VI for my BMW.

Have all these devices always been perfect? No of course not, I have had my love hate moments, but over all they have functioned and served me very well.

One caveat is that you do need to learn how to use these devices. Most of the functionality is very easy, once you do it the first time, such as using GPX tracks.

Creating Epic Road Trips Course:

This is why I built the "Creating Epic Road Trips" course. I have done videos on various routing and planning topics over the years, but the YouTube format of shorter and shorter videos is a very difficult one in which to properly educate the viewer on a more complex topic. The Creating Epic Road Trips course contains more than 3 hours of material.

If you want to learn more about how I use MRA Routeplanner and my Garmin GPS devices to create my epic road trips, head to my website at www.livingofftheslab.com/courses.html.

Next time, we are going to pull from the first module of the course and talk about the 7 things you need to ask yourself before planning your trip.

Ride Safe!
--Craig Ripley

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