Plan Your Ride Or Just Wing It

The other night I was sitting in my favorite reclining chair discussing with my wife the destination of our next ride. We have been doing a lot of overdue maintenance to our truck and much-needed repairs to our RV so we have not really had any time to ride. As we sat there trying to figure out where to go next, a conversation started about planning rides or just winging it. 

We tend to plan most of our rides to some degree. Sometimes we plan the entire route from start to finish including rest, gas, and sightseeing stops and sometimes we just loosely put together a route. We have on occasion just said let’s head out and see where we wind up but that is extremely rare. So in this article, we want to take a look at the different ways to approach a ride and the pros and cons of each.

Option 1/Planning All The Way

This is the most common way Chris and I ride. We will usually pick an area we would like to check out and bring it up on some type of mapping program, usually Google Maps. Then we start looking for water, mountains, and/or curvey roads. We drop random locations on the map to help us get the roads we want to come up with because sometimes the mapping program just doesn’t agree with the way we want to go…lol. 

We almost always set the ride up as a loop because after all, we need to get back home right? Once a loop has been established we check out the total miles. If we feel the loop is doable, we start looking for cool points of interest along the way. We also print the turn by turn directions, although the printout is not always 100% accurate because of the random points we used.

Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute

Our next step, if we have not waited until the last minute to prepare the ride, is to take the printed version and convert it over to a homemade left/right spreadsheet. Mapping programs sometimes get extremely technical in certain areas especially when roads have a million names for one stretch of the roadway so a left/right sheet makes it much easier for us to decipher along the way.

This method has almost always worked out perfectly for us. The only problem we have is we usually stop way more than planned (most times for pictures or to see something unique on the side of the road) so the estimated time of the ride is usually way off…lol. We are thinking about making these left/right sheets available for our rides so if you are interested in doing the ride you could print it out. Let us know in the comment section below if that is something you would be interested in.

Almost Always

Oh, so you caught when I said “almost always” works perfectly for us. Yeah, about that. There was one time in Tennessee that we put together a ride through the mountains based on a map we obtained through the campground we were staying at. We converted it over onto a left/right sheet and off we went into the mountains.

The beginning of this ride went flawlessly. We even have a 3 part video series called Random Tennessee rides on YouTube that you can check out. Then things started to go sour. The first fail was that the Go-Pro batteries died and we did not have the charger with us. Not the end of the world but still a fail.

The Big Fail

Then came the big fail. We came to a section of the road that did not match the printout of the map or our left/right sheet. We checked our phones for some guidance and yup, you guessed it. No signal!!! No worries we will just figure it out on our own. After numerous lefts, rights, and u-turns we were officially lost!!! 

We had one more trick under our sleeves. We always carry a GPS in the trunk. It was time to break it out. After setting it up with our campground as our destination we were off. The big thing at this time was gas. While we should have topped off at one of the many stations we passed before getting into the mountains we didn’t and now gas and daylight were our biggest concerns.

We Can Laugh Now

Since this happened a while back we can sit back and laugh but at the time it was not all that funny. Ok, yes it was. The GPS took us on some of the most unorthodox roads we have ever been on. Steep downgrades with sharp curves on loose gravel seemed to be a GPS favorite that day. At one point we actually were on a semi level road that was barely a single car width and we were staring at some pretty curious cows mooing at us as we went by.

We eventually made it back to civilization with paved roads and gas stations and the rest of the trip was uneventful. The moral of this story is to carry paper maps!!! 


  • You know exactly where you are going
  • You do not have to worry about fuel or food stops as they are pre-planned
  • Less stressful


  • Takes a lot of time to research
  • Mapping programs are not always accurate
  • Leaves no room to be creative

Option 2/Loose Planning

Another way we put rides together is much less time consuming and technical. We use this one a lot when we just want to get out and ride or are in search of roadside oddities. In this method, we don’t print or write anything. We will figure out a few points of interest that we want to see and just put them into our phone mapping program or GPS.

Then we just get out and ride. As we are on our way to the first point of interest if we see something that interests us along the way that we didn’t program in we check it out. Once we have checked it out we hop back on the bike and we just let the mapping program or GPS recalculate and get us back on track to the original point.

Highest Elevation

An example of this would be when we were riding around on the Florida panhandle one day. We had nowhere in particular to go so we combined method one and two (yes you can do that!!!) and put together a loop ride. As we were riding down one of the roads we saw a sign that said read “Florida’s Highest Elevation” with an arrow in a differant direction that we were headed. 

Being that we spent the previous summer in the San Juan Mountains at an elevation of 7200 feet we had to check this out. The signs led us to a small park with a monument that said Florida’s highest elevation/ 345 feet!!!…lol You gotta love Florida. After a few pictures we just let the GPS recalculate and we were back on our original course in no time.


  • Very little planning
  • You can vary the route and the GPS will get you back on track
  • You pay more attention to sightseeing then directions


  • The GPS can lose signal
  • The rerouting process can be frustrating
  • The GPS does not care what vehicle you are in/on so you can wind up on dirt/gravel roads

Option 3/The Take Me Home Method

The last and final way we will use is the “Take Me Home” method. This is by far the easiest way to get out and ride. If you just want to get out and ride and have nowhere in particular to go or nothing to see this is a great option. 

With this method, you just hop on the bike and ride. Who cares where. Make some rights and lefts and check out anything that interests you along the way. No phones/no GPS or any maps, just ride. When you decide you want to head home all you have to do is pull over to a safe place, an ice cream place comes to mind for me…lol. After you finish your ice cream, I mean once you are in a safe place, just plug your home address into the GPS and off you go. 


  • Absolutely no planning involved
  • Go anywhere you want without worry
  • When you are ready to go home just hit home on your GPS


  • You can wind up much further away than you originally wanted to be
  • You might wind up in an area with no signal
  • You will probably wind up taking major highways home instead of scenic roads

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember no matter what method you choose is to have fun and enjoy the ride. None of these methods are any better or worse than the other. You need to use whatever is most comfortable for you. The biggest piece of advice we can give you is that no matter what method you choose, always carry a good ole fashioned paper map. 

Every now and then we will post a ride that we are going to do and offer for anyone else in the area to join us. For these rides, we almost always use the first method. If you are ever interested in joining us on a ride check out our “Ride With Us” page to see where and when we are going to ride. We’d love to have you along.

Ride Safe/Ride Often

Prior Comments

Note: The Comment Below Was ” Copy & Pasted” From Our Other Site. This Was The Only Way To Preserve The Comment When We Combined Sites

Ethan ZadokEdit

Great article!
I normally use option 1. It is hard work, take long planning, but it pays off at the end.
I use Butler maps, google research, google maps and Garmin basecamp to create my actual ride and to plan my routes.
I rarely use my phone for navigation (unless I rented a bike) and I do print backup step by step (turn by turn) and map.
Since I always limited with time (not retired yet 😉) I have and try to plan the best route for scenery, best roads for motorcycles and maximize my experience in the area. That’s the reason “free style” currently not working for me.
Thank you for great article!

  • DennisEdit
  • Eitan- You know us. We are pretty much #1 all the way…lol. I am not sure what Butler maps is but I will check it out. Who knows, maybe we will see you guys out and about and we can do a ride together. Street ride that is…lol. I see you guys are doing some off road riding. Those rides look cool but those days are long over for us…lol… Dennis
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