Planning your own Dual Sport Route?

The availability of great dual sport routes is the number one factor that drives our trip planning. The route dictates our lodging choices, how we select and pack our bikes, what gear we’ll wear, and how many days we’ll allocate for the trip. Here we’ll cover the most popular routes, tools and resources for planning, and a few questions to consider before starting.


Major Routes in the Lower 48

Numerous pre-planned routes are available like the Trans America Trail, Shadow of the Rockies Trail, Kokopelli Trail, White Rim Trail, Continental Divide Ride, and Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR). Many of these are free or available for a small fee. The list continues to grow. Four wheel drive guides and products sold by FunTreks are also valuable research tools. In addition, many scenic byways are advertised by state agencies. The Kiamichi Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway, Natchez Trace Parkway, and Skyline Drive are just a few.


Route Planning Workflow:

1. Pick a geographic location. A few suggestions include Colorado, Northwest Arkansas, East Texas, Big Bend, Western North Carolina, New Mexico, even Oklahoma, and everywhere in between.

2. Research ride reports on AdvRider or other forums for trail descriptions and details. Know what to expect. Some rides have their own pages like the BDR or TAT routes.

3. Map your route. Break it up into days, so you can keep track of daily mileage estimates. This will allow you to gauge where you should look for lodging options. Even if you don’t make reservations it’s a good idea to scout the camping or motels before you arrive in an unfamiliar town at sunset.

Mapping can be done on Google Maps, Garmin MapSource software, ArcGIS, or paper USGS quadrangles, NatGeo Trails Illustrated maps, Latitude 40 maps, or maps sold on the product page of Dual Sport Dispatch.

A good rule of thumb is 100-150 miles per day of dirt road riding. Is more possible? Of course. However, I’ve found that this is a good distance if you enjoy taking pictures, want to stop for lunch, and want to arrive in time to set up camp before dark or shower before hitting the town for dinner. At 25-30mph average speed this length of ride will take you 5 to 6 hours when moving at a steady pace.

4. Navigate the route! There are many options available for navigating while riding. Electronic navigation is more expensive but is becoming cheaper with the hardware built into most smart-phones. Garmin also makes bike-specific GPS units like the Zumo series. Battery life, water resistance, and durability can be issues with electronic navigation, so it’s good to be familiar with paper maps. Latitude 40 makes a spectacular product if you’re traveling public land in the Rockies. You can also purchase tank-bag friendly ride descriptions on Dual Sport Dispatch’s products page.  More states and rides will be available soon.

Two Mile Creek Loop, Ouachita National Forest

Sample tank bag insert for a 27-mile “stretch your legs” ride just south of Mena, Arkansas.  The route begins near Shadow Mountain RV and is highlighted yellow. The red circles denote mileage.


5. Let someone know your intended route and return date. Riding is dangerous enough without the safeguard of someone knowing your location. If a personal satellite locator beacon like the SPOT isn’t in your budget, do your loved ones a favor and give them a copy of your route and planned return date. It’s nice to know someone will notice if you run into trouble.


Questions to ask before you start:

How many days do you have for travel?

Geographic region?

How long to get to/from that spot?

Truck or trailer to starting location or ride from your house?

What dual sport routes are available in your area of interest?

Do you prefer a loop (end where you started) or a point to point (different start and end points)?

What lodging options do you prefer? What is the best time of year to go?

Who can I leave a copy of my route with?


Route Types

Super-Slab – Interstate, Freeway, or major two-lane divided highway. We try to avoid this as much as possible.

Connector Pavement – High-speed paved roads. Sometimes the route can’t avoid that 10 mile stretch of black-top in and out of a town or around an urban area.

Twisty Pavement – Fun paved roads with densely packed turns and elevation changes.  Throwing these smile-inducing routes into the mix can be a wonderful break from gravel, mud, and dust.

Gravel or Dirt Roads – Wide two-lane gravel roads with a consistent, maintained surface. These are roughly paved or unpaved, but well-traveled and are often labeled as forest service (FS) or country roads (CR). Your state designation may vary.

Lesser Maintained Dirt Roads (Trail) – These are less traveled and receive little to no attention from the grader. Many have long stretches of sand, can be dotted with mud holes, or traverse rocky outcrops and dramatic elevation changes.

Heather:  “The difference between a Dirt Road and a Trail is that on the Trail you need to pick a line”

Two-Track – Like the name says, there are two tracks for one four-wheeled vehicle to travel. Beware of the middle area as tire flattening rocks, stumps, or other obstacles may lurk in tall grass.

Single-Track – A six to twelve inch wide path for travel. Often shared with equestrians, hikers, and mountain bikers. Line selection is critical, especially on a heavily loaded bike.

Open – Believe it or not there are still several open riding areas in the Continental US. The shale hills near the Grand Junction Airport are a great example. These provide a whole new set of challenges, but generally aren’t included in any specific adventure route.

Check out Dual Sport Dispatch GPS data page for new routes monthly.

Photos: Richard