Journey types determine the route
The route you plan is fully dependant on the type of cycling you will be doing. I tend to have three main types of cycling journey; commuting/domestic, leisure/pleasure, touring.
When I'm commuting or popping to the shops I only have one thing on my mind, a short and fast route with the least stops and delays. I'm therefore looking for more main roads and going with the traffic flow. I will avoid roads with high volume and high speed traffic, but most roads are congested and gridlocked so its me doing the overtaking!
If I'm only going out for the day I tend to just throw a map in my bag and head out following my nose. I do tend to stick to the quiet roads and minor roads. If you don't know good roads in your area then I would suggest joining the CTC and heading out on their weekly rides. You'll soon come to learn quite a few good quiet routes in your area and then you can start exploring out from these.
For full touring a route and plan does need to be decided in advance. I tend to plan firstly for the area I want to go to, then add specific destinations in the area I want to visit, then start to link them all together. I start by using a road atlas or a travel map to ge tthe general route, then I use larger scale maps to finalise the route.
Planning a route
When planning a journey I primarily choose the shortest route, and then adjust that route to utilise the quietest roads possible without adding length. I also take care not to use too minor a road as sometimes the surface can be quite bad as less maintenance is undertaken on these roads due to the lesser traffic throughput.
As you become more skilled in planning your route and map reading you will come to learn to look out for features on the maps which will help you. A slightly longer route that takes you around a hill may be preferential to going over it. Following rivers will generally give a less hilly ride. Some new main roads will have the old main road still running nearby, these will have a good surface but little traffic.
Don't be fooled into thinking you have to use specific routes though, just because a cycle route exists there is no need to use it. Don't be scared of traffic and cycle miles just to avoid a road or use a traffic free facility. As you cycle more and become more comfortable sharing the road, you will find more routes to use and gain more enjoyment in your riding.
It is all very well planning a route to avoid main roads, but like rivers they will need to be crossed at some point. Look for the bridges or underpasses near your route, and adjust the whole route towards them, rather than taking quiet roads to the obstruction and then cycling alongside it for a few miles to find a crossing point.
Taking only the minor roads will also keep you away from much of civilisation, prepare for this by carrying food, drink and repair kits. If you want to find food, refreshments or other aid then you will need to plan your route to take you nearer a village or town.
When planning your route, either highlight the route on the map (I tend to take photocopies, rather than ruin my master map with pen and rain) or make a note of the local village names.
Once out cycling, especially on the minor roads you may see that the signposts point in unexpected directions, especially when they mention larger towns and destinations. The reason for this is that the local traffic planners are signing the route they want motor traffic to take to prevent the little villages becoming inundated with traffic. These are actually the roads and villages you want to be cycling through!
The only way to ride following signposts is to know every little destination on your route and link these together, you canít rely on only knowing the towns. Always follow your map and/or route sheet rather than signposts.
I prefer to take a proper map, or photocopy, with me rather than rely on a written route sheet. The advantage to this is that if I find the planned route unsuitable I can change it immediately whilst not getting lost. Never worry about either sticking to your planned route or getting lost; finding new routes and places to see is half the fun of cycling!