You don't need to stick to marked cycle routes. You can create your very own cycle routes. All you need is a road atlas and your imagination.
Dedicated cycle routes give you the confidence that you are going the right way and that you will be safe; directed away from busy traffic. The National Cycle Network (NCN), with its clearly marked and signed routes, is the ideal way to explore Scotland by bike, but it does not cover all corners of the country, so I like to plan my own routes.
I love thumbing through my road atlas to come up with new possibilities for bicycle routes. Many of the journeys on my website have been created this way. Here are my top tips for creating your own cycle routes:
1. Look for a train station
I use the train to access cycle routes, so I always look at train stations on my road atlas. Some stations are located in magnificently rural areas which give immediate access to roads with little traffic.
What type of roads lead away from the station? Are they minor roads, with low-traffic volume? If the answer is yes, then you may have discovered a perfect cycle route.
It might be that your dream route starts some distance away from a station, but you could still cycle from the station to the start of the route.
For the ultimate isolated station with great cycling try Altnabreac
2. Avoid big roads
This goes without saying. You cannot cycle along the M74, although in 2014 members of the Sri Lanka Commonwealth Games team did it for their training, but they were stopped by police.
On my atlas I avoid roads that are blue or red in colour. The roads I want are the ones with no number, the white roads, because I know there will be hardly any traffic. If I can find a route with ony this type of road I will be very happy.
B-roads and A-roads can also be suitable for cycling, but some can be busy with traffic, so it pays to do a bit more resarch using Google Street View.
3. Use Google maps Street View
If it looks like you might need to use major roads for your route it is worth finding out if the roads are likely to be busy. Google Street View lets you get a good look at the roads. Move along the road within Street View for a few minutes to see how many vehicles are on the road. The chances are that if it was busy at the time the Google car filmed the road it will also be busy when you cycle on it. Street View will also allow you to see how wide the road is. A wider road, even if busy with traffic, can still be good for cycling as it means plenty of room for vehicles to overtake you.
You might even discover a cycle path that you didn't know existed! Several times this has happened to me when using Google Street View. I have seen a cycle lane along a busy road that I did not know about and this helped me to decide to include the road on the route.
4. Ask locals
Once you arrive at your destination try asking locals about the traffic conditions, particularly on the major roads, to get intel on their suitability for cycling. There have been several times where I have ruled out a particular road, believing it to be too busy for cycling, but on arriving into the area I have found out from a local that the road is good for cycling.
5. Build your routes around visitor attractions
Add something interesting to your cycle route. Visitor attractions are marked on road atlases and if you can incorporate these into a cycle route it will add some history, culture and cake! Remember that many of these places have tea rooms, so they also provide a nice respite on a cycle journey.
6. A place to stay
If your route involves big distances there is a good chance that you will need to stay the night somewhere. Factor this in when designing routes, so that the end of each day is in a location with accommodation options. Or if you find somewhere unique to stay the night it might be worth designing the route around this. For example, the old railway carriages that are converted to rooms at Rogart station are a special experience so my cycle route incorporates them.