Roadbook navigation – A simple guide for beginners
So you’ve bought yourself a bike and you’re keen to explore its full potential by entering a rally. And then you read the words – Roadbook Navigation and your brain goes straight into panic mode, imagining you’ve inadvertently sighed up to some Dakar style nightmare.
‘It’s too complicated’ – ‘I can’t manage all that’ – ‘I’ll get lost.’ These are all common reactions
But Hey relax! It’s not complicated, you will manage and if you follow the book correctly, you shouldn’t get lost! But to help out, here’s our handy guide to roadbook navigation to help you go from roadbook zero to roadbook hero.
WHAT IS A ROADBOOK?
OK so let’s start at the beginning. A roadbook is just a way of breaking down the intended route of a rally or route into bitesize pieces, each giving you specific information. To follow the route you need to read the roadbook from left to right as you ride, in the same way you would read a cartoon strip in a newspaper of magazine.
For more complex routes like the Dakar itself, the principle is exactly the same, but there may be significantly more information such as compass directions and specific route notes. For this reason there will be just one image in the centre supported by information to the right and left. Other rallies and organisers may use the same layout, whereas others use a two or three boxes for less competitive events.
LOCK AND LOAD
So rather than start with a Dakar roadbook, let’s take it down a notch to a simpler roadbook that uses three images across, with a total of two rows of images visible at a time within the viewing window,
This is the set up used by Sport Adventure and as the company is run by Chris Evans, former manager to four-time Dakar winner Cyril Despres, we’re pretty confident he knows a thing or two about navigation.
The roadbook needs to be held in a roadbook reader, so first off you are going to need a suitable frame or mounting plate to hold it in place in front of you without getting in the way of your speedo or more importantly trip meter. The ones Sport Adventure uses are made by Touratech, renowned off-road specialists, so you know they’re up to the job.
For trail bikes, mounting is relatively simple as there’s little to get in the way, but on adventure bikes, mounting may be a bit more involved.
In the image, there’s a simple frame shown that attaches to the fork legs with heavy duty locking cable ties. Once fitted you then attach the roadbook holder case and then you need to load up the actual roadbook inside it.
The roadbook itself will come as a roll of paper that will have been painstakingly prepared by the rally or tour organiser, and will contain everything you need to get you to the finish point.
Hopefully the organiser will go through any points of note at an event briefing, highlighting difficult turns, busy intersections of anything else that you might need to know. This is the time to make additional notes onto your roadbook alongside the relevant instructions, so get your biro out and start scribbling!
Once done you’ll need to load up the book to your reader, so that means unrolling it to the end, attaching it to the roller and winding it back so that all of the book is on the bottom roller. When fully wound on, the top of the scroll is attached to the top roller, making sure the slack is taken up.
On a manual roadbook reader, loading the book takes a while, but this is clearly quicker on a reader with an electric motor! That said, as a novice it’s probably unwise to invest in a full on button-controlled electric road book reader until you’re sure that rallying is for you! Roadbook navigation is fun, but don’t blow the budget at your first event!
On a manual reader, the roll is moved on using the knurled winders on the side of the box. The controls need to be on the left side so you can wind on the book using your clutch hand as you ride. You can see from the image that the clear lid is now fitted and held in place with gaffer tape, allowing six images to be seen at any point. The STAY RIGHT reminder is a good idea if you normally ride on the left!
CRACKING THE CODE
OK so although it might look like an undecipherable code, it’s actually a pretty simple system. The image represents everything you need to know, with the black dot being where you should be and the point at which the distances relate to. The arrow is the route you need to follow. All the illustrations or letters you see either side of the image and lines give you information as to what you will see around you or information about the upcoming trail, so the words ‘Moulin a Vent’ tell you there is a windmill just ahead of the turn you are should be taking.
Below the illustration, there are three figures. The first is the distance since the last instruction, the second is the stage / instruction number and the final number is the total distance travelled in that stage.
The key to following the roadbook is keeping a clear eye on the distance you’ve travelled using the tripmeter, and when you are approaching the figure given, then looking for the geographical details given on the illustration.
Looking at the start of the roadbook above, it’s clear that the first box gives you the length of the route and the distance to the lunch stop. The second box starts the ride with an instruction to leave the parking to the left of the start point and proceed between the accommodation – the bed symbol, and the church – the cross and circle.
Box three says that after 0.1 km or 100m there is a right turn to be taken, and to assist the orientation, the road on the opposite side is shown. Bear in mind that 0.1 km is the smallest distance that most tripmeters can show, so it might be a little less.
The forth box tell you that after another 0.1 km the trip meter will be at 0.2km at the black dot and the next turn is also a right, passing by a left turn.
Box 5 tells you that one your at 0.3 km, there is a bridge ahead and after crossing that you should take a left turn in front of a house, helpfully shown as a house! Another 1.4km on from this you will approach a T junction where you should turn left as on Box 6.
Are you following? Simple isn’t it
If you own a KTM or Husqvarna – roadbook navigation is made all the more simple by using the T2 setting on the speedo as this can be adjusted up and down to keep accuracy. You might need to adjust from time to time out on the trails in case there are slight differences between the distances recorded on the roadbook using the organisers vehicle when mapping the route and your own tripmeter.
If you don’t have this function on your tripmeter, things get a bit more complicated. You may need to download a suitable roadbook tripmeter app and run your phone in conjunction with the roadbook reader. This also means you’ll need a phone holder and a suitable power supply. Have a look at 3pMaster or Trip Master as possible apps, or search the App store for the equivalent but they may not be free!
So, let’s look at another example. On the first image You should have travelled 0.3 km since the last instruction and you’ve reached 20.8 km on your tripmeter. Ahead of you there is a T junction where you need to turn left. The D! means that the road goes down fairly steeply, the D being short for the French word ‘descendre’, the steepness denotes by the exclamation point. Some roadbook terms are based on the French language – a throw back to the French origins of the Paris-Dakar event. Thus in our example we have D for downhill and M as uphill – short for ‘montee’, V for ‘ville’ etc
From here you can see that the next box tells you that you should proceed for 2.9 km, which will take your tripmeter to 23.7 km. Ahead of you there is a bridge on you left that you should follow, but before doing so you need to reset the tacho to zero as the stage has ended. Once done then you take the turning and the road will come back alongside your approach route.
The third box tells you the length of the next stage – 57 km, but you focus should be on the next turn as it’s only 100m away, and there is a smaller road on your right ahead.
Taking this for 1.1km the road will approach a bridge on the right, but the route does not go over it. Be careful not to focus on the roads that don’t have an arrow on them! Your next turn is another 0.2 km on from this point, in front of a house where you will have travelled 1.4 km from the reset point.
DIFFERENT BOOKS, SAME SYSTEM
As we have said, different companies or rally organisers will use different formats and different abbreviations, but the basic principles will be the same – the dot says where you should be to interpret the image, the figures represent the distance from the last instruction, the stage number and the total distance since the start of the stage.
There may also be precise grid references, road numbers and in the case below, the distances given in both miles and kilometres. That said, kilometre based roadbooks tend to be more common and arguably easier to follow and most modern speedometers can switch between metric and imperial units.
And once you’ve got the system dialled then every roadbook becomes simple. The final images is from the 2019 Dakar roadbook, showing how even the toughest race in the world uses the same basics logic and rules to allow riders to navigate massive distances and massive speeds.
The main difference with the Dakar roadbook is that in an area that does not have clearly defined trails, the turnings off the main track are backed up with bearings in degrees to ensure the route is followed correctly. Otherwise the stage number, distance since last information point, cumulative distance and image are all there, backed up by route notes and suitably highligted by the rider prior to setting out.
ON THE FLY
As you get the hang of the system, you’ll find you can increase your speed and keep flowing through each of the boxes on the book. As you ride you’ll need to keep rolling the book upwards to keep the correct boxes in front of you. Clearly this is easier if you’ve invested in an electric system,
The knack of using a roadbook is to keep scanning between the images, the tripmeter and the road or trail ahead and processing the information in all three. Spend too much time looking at the roadbook and you risk serious crashes, particularly on the road, but if you don’t keep track of your distance and where the next turn is, then you’ll lose your way pretty swiftly!
Generally, is you have a long section between the instructions, you can relax a bit and take in your surroundings, but if turnings are coming up every 0.5 km, you need to keep a clear eye on the tripmeter and the roadbook.
If you wear glasses, roadbook reading may be an challenge as your focal length is constantly changing between near and distant objects and bifocals are not a great trail riding accessory! Time for varifocal contact lenses maybe?
ON THE CHEAP
As a roadbook reader is just a box to display the information between two rollers, then you can make passable readers from a Tupperware box or equivalent. For big rallies this is common to cut the cost of mountains of bespoke readers. For roadbikes, then the clocks may not show to 0.1 km so some riders will supplement their OEM clocks with a digital GPS based speedo / mileometer, or an app based version on their phones.
The standard symbols used on roadbooks are fairly simple and consistent across all roadbooks, although organisers may add in some of their own. The full set of FIM symbols are shown below, the French origin showing in many abbreviations.
From the route planners side of things, a good roadbook will focus on the things that matter to make the navigation work correctly. If you have to travel on a straight road for 5km without turning off, then there is no point in showing every junction, so the roadbook will not. If however you are on a track with multiple options that could confuse, then clearly there may be more regular updates in the boxes.
Main roads are usually shown as thicker lines than side roads and trails, and routes going off the main track will be shown as a dotted line to indicate it’s not a definite track.
The organiser may also use abbreviations alongside the images, so LMT will mean ‘Leave main track‘ whereas VDS will mean ‘Very difficult to see‘ if the entrance to the required track could easily be missed. Generally if you just look at the picture and what’s been shown, it’s there to help you. If you don’t see what’s on the image, chances are you are not in the right place.
Which conveniently brings us to ..
WHAT IF I GET LOST?
So the biggest problem or challenge with roadbook navigation is that you won’t necessarly know where you are when on the route – it’s not Satnav! So if the next junction does not come up when you expect at the stated distance / kilometres, then potentially you’ve gone wrong somewhere and taken an incorrect turn.
Yes, in non-competitive events you can pull out your phone and call up Google maps, but all that will tell you is where you are in the world, not whether you are on the correct road or track or not – and chances are if the junction doesn’t look like the image in the box at the set kilometres, then you probably are not.
If you are riding with or leading a group, then the first port of call should be the man behind you. As the lead rider, if you’ve picked your ‘second in command’ correctly, then they are as good at roadbook reading as you, often holding back at junctions if they think you’ve got it wrong. Check where they think you are and whether the think you’ve have gone off the track. If your roadbook gives grid references, then clearly you can check these using a smart phone, but to be honest that’s a bit like cheating!
Either way, whether you are on your own or with a group, what you will probably need to do is retrace your route back to the last place you knew you were right, so that’s where the distances, the turnings and the picture was definitely correct.
At this point, return your trip meter to where it should be at that point and set out again, looking more carefully at the instructions to ensure you follow the correct route second time, or even third time around. Don’ blindly set off and hope – this will not work, just be methodical and you’ll find the route.
Just a note here for groups – if you’ve all got a roadbook, you should all be following it so you know where you are! If you get lost or separated from the group, returning to the last known point may help you mates to know where to find you – you know who you are Bristol TRF slackers …
So that’s as hard as it is. Clearly in remote landscapes like the Dakar the possibilities for getting things wrong are far more severe, and the pressure on riders to keep concentration on roadbook instructions while riding flat out on sand is astounding.
But for us letter mortals, taking on roadbook rallies and navigation events can be a great way pf going beyond just trail riding of taking on new challenges and making more of the bike you’ve got sat in the garage.
Go on – give it a go!