Maps v GPS

It is tempting to hook up with the current enthusiasm (amongst some cyclists) for GPS. Download your route, charge up the battery and mount it on the bar stem. However, when I hear whispers about batteries running flat, or the mere fact that you should never rely entirely on GPS (in other words, carry a set of maps as well!) I am easily dissuaded.

When it comes to maps for long journeys, I hesitate both about the extra luggage and the expense. Maps at a scale useful to cyclists don’t come cheaply, and when you are crossing whole countries, you need quite a few. My solution for my Land’s End-John O’Groats in 2008, was to buy a £1-99 road atlas of Britain  from a service station, at a scale of 1: 190,000 (3 miles to the inch) and tear out the relevant pages. As each page was completed, it was consigned to the recycle bin. No temptation, therefore, to parcel up used maps and send them home for keepsake. The other great advantage of using map pages was that they could be folded up small to fit the maptrap, and this meant no stopping en route to unfold and consult large maps. Very handy indeed!

I was delighted to discover the Michelin Road Atlas series at a scale of 1:200,000 (2kms to 1 cm). The France version will see me safely across Switzerland as well. The atlases for France and Italy have cost me a total of £17 and, at the risk of people crying “foul!”, I will tear out the pages I need (about 20 in total) and leave the rest at home.

I have done the same with guide books in the past, tearing out the relevant pages for an area and leaving the bulky bit behind. I know some of you might report me to the Royal Society for the Protection of Books (RSPB), but it does save a lot of weight and bulk. Try it next time. You’ll find if you do it once, it gets easier and easier ;0)

Donate safely at:

About Frank Burns

My journeys around the world are less about riding a bicycle, and more about what happens when I get off the bicycle. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on August 11, 2010, in Canterbury-Rome 2000kms: a cyclist's tale and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Simon BYwater

    Great tip- You should never go anywhere with out a map. Gadgets are great but no reliable!!

    Remember the saying Keep your powder (maps) Dry


    Ps dont go selling you old atlas on a car boot sale now…. Nothing worse than turning a page of a bargain to realise your now lost!!


  2. Good one Sy. I will remember to “keep my powder dry”! Rather than sell my map books at a car boot sale, I’m the one who would buy them!


  3. I would go for scale 1:100000. If you are trying to avoid major roads. That scale would give you more alternatives, but more weight, even if you cut them into strips and more money.


  4. Dear Mr. Burns,

    My name is Tommaso Peduzzi and I work as webmaster for ( In our website we talk about all kind of news and history about the VF, without any kind of profit. The aims is to improve the pilgrimage route’s knowledge.
    We are very interested in your cycle pilgrimage and we give notice about your trip and your blog into the “Homepage news-block”.

    I would like to talk with you and evaluate the possibility of collaborate and think a way to let our website’s and Facebook’s visitors and friend (the mayority whom lives in Italy) read daily your trip diary of th FV pilgrimage.

    Thank to you attention, I look forward to your reply.

    Tommaso Peduzzi


  5. Hi Frank

    not read all your blog but do agree about paper verses electronics! Also I too have learned to cut maps up and leave the irrelevant bits behind, but I still post back maps I used and in fact glad I did as I have been able to re-use them!

    Am very impressed with your fundraising. Wish I could do likewise


  6. Thanks for your comments Ann. The fundraising is entirely down to the open, generous people who kindly offer their support. Cycling the Via Francigena is simply the catalyst. I have been astonished at people’s generosity, and want to thank them for their encouragement. However, your pilgrimage walk to Jerusalem makes a cycle ride to Rome pale into insignificance. I admire your determination and fortitude.


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