What Kind of Wandrer Are You?

20 January 2024 by Charlie LaNoue

If you’ve stumbled your way onto this blog post, chances are you’re already a Wandrer yourself. You probably already know the sweet satisfaction of pedaling down an unfamiliar road, knowing it will soon be another line on your ever-expanding Big Map.

If you’re like me, you’ve scoped out the Leaderboard situation and maybe even clicked on a few Wandrer athletes and checked their map out – that’s part of the fun of the platform. What I noticed: not everyone does it the same.

In the wise words of Desmond Tutu, “There is only one way to eat an elephant, a bite at a time.” For those not familiar with the platform, adding new roads to one’s Wandrer map is sort of like eating an elephant. With over 64 million kilometers (40 million miles) of roads, paths, streets and alleyways to explore on Earth, there’s no way to see it all. Not even close. In fact, the current top Wandrer – having covered a mindblowing 123,000 unique kilometers (77,000 unique miles) on Earth – can only claim to have pedaled down 0.18% of our planet’s roadways.

For this reason Wandrer is an unparalleled experience; it’s a project that one slowly adds to for years, and never finishes. Given this unique scenario, it should come as no surprise that athletes have a wide range of methods to go about wandring.

Sure, your home turf dictates a lot of what is available for you to explore. However, there’s loads of underlying factors that influence how people use Wandrer. Whether it’s differences in personality type, propensity to take on the unknown, biking style, urban vs. rural location, availability of time - there are plenty of reasons why cyclists (plus hikers, runners, and pedestrians!) have vastly different approaches to Wandrer.

After viewing hundreds of different users’ maps, patterns started to emerge regarding how people create routes and chip away at their overall maps, and we’ve broken them down into different archetypes. Because cyclists cover more ground than those on foot, these descriptions mostly apply to those on two wheels. Keep reading to find out which kind of Wandrer you are!

The Neighborhood Completionist

A sea of gold/100% completed achievements

Sure, there’s a big world out there; but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If they don’t have damn near 99% of their own town or neighborhood covered, these laser-focused Neighborhood Completionists aren’t going to do a whole lot else. They have a residential chip on their shoulder, and are ready to ride every last obscure sidewalk, park pathway, and dead-end street to make it right.

They treat their own locale as a dusty floor to be carefully swept through, ideally without leaving even a scrap of unfinished business behind. Then, once they have consumed as much as they can (that last 1% is basically impossible), they move onto the next neighborhood over and repeat the process, expanding ever-outward, one chunk at a time.

The Completionists can also be diligent editors of OpenStreetMap, making sure that every detail of every road is correct. They’re making the map better for all of us, and we salute you.

The Tile Hunter

Not quite a grid, but you can almost see each individual row

The original, and still very popular, “go everywhere” game, a lot of wandrers are doing double duty: not just wandring to find new roads, but maybe occasionally throwing their bikes into a canoe and paddling it across a lake to get that tile coverage too.

The basic concept is: divide the planet up in to a grid of square tiles, each about 1 mile square. You earn a tile just by visiting it, and you can then see how big you can get your “max square” (the biggest square of tiles with no unvisited tiles within it)

For no reason at all, I’m reminded of a passage from the book Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin:

My father knew a family named Wolfawitz who wanted to go on vacation but didn’t know where.

It hit them. Take a two-week road trip driving to as many towns, parks, and counties as they could that contained their last name: Wolfpoint, Wolfville, Wolf Lake, etc.

They read up and found things to do on the way to these Wolf spots: a hotel in a railroad car, an Alpine slide, a pretzel factory, etc.

The Wolfawitzes ended up seeing more than they planned. Lots of unexpected things popped up along the route.

When they came back from the vacation, they felt really good. It was easily the best vacation of their lives, and they wondered why.

My father says it was because the Wolfawitzes stopped trying to accomplish anything. They just put a carrot in front of them and decided the carrot wasn’t that important but chasing it was.

The Aimless Cruiser

As the saying goes, “Not all who wandr are lost.” However, these folks probably are, at least half the time. As in, genuinely, they’re out here wandring without a care. No GPS, no pre-planned route; no thinking through which roads to go down or memorizing a few turns. They’re just making it out here in the world, one pedal stroke at a time, truly freewheeling, letting their intuition, whimsy, and maybe even the wind determine their whereabouts. Unintentionally venturing into dead-end neighborhoods or suddenly contending with a four-lane stroad; it all comes with the territory for Aimless Cruisers.

Of course they still log the ride – after all, gotta get that data – but they have no idea where the road will take them when they leave. When they return home and check their ride details, they are pleasantly surprised to see which segments counted for new roads. They would never check their Wandrer map mid-ride and veer off to intentionally hit new roads (that would be “cheating” for the Aimless Cruiser). It’s all about keeping it organic and random.

The Radial Looper

Dead-ends count too, y'know...

A cul-de-sac? Pfffft… no time for that nonsense. These goal-driven road warriors are here to maximize as many new miles into each route as possible. This of course entails primarily riding on “new” roads, but it also means traveling at a decently high speed and hence, definitely not doing any 180s or doubling back. The usual outcome: Going on a nice big loop.

Maybe they have a set destination in mind and take a different route there and back to maximize the new-roads-factor. Or maybe they are looping multiple towns together (see Town Collectors below) and returning back home a different route. When their friends ask them to ride along on an “out and back” route, Radial Loopers can’t help but cringe at the wasted opportunity of not taking a different way back home.

Radial Loopers tend to escalate their pursuits as they progress. Once they’ve been an hour out in every cardinal (and let’s be honest, intercardinal) direction, they start expanding their Big Map farther and farther out from their home base. After a while, a Radial Looper’s Big Map might resemble a bird nest, assuming a dense enough urban core.

The Nomadic Tourist

Life on the open road

Not all bike rides begin and end from the same home base waypoint. Whether that means doing a modest multi-day ride or venturing out on an indefinite, long-term, life-changing bike tour – some of the most prolific Wandrers fall into this category. In fact, the most surefire way to continuously discover new roadway is to simply keep on going without returning to your starting point!

These Nomadic types never stay within the confines of one location too long, their wandrlust posing too great a pull to resist. Although their numbers are few, a wide range of personalities fit under this umbrella, from affluent credit card tourists to dumpster-diving drifters. However, they all have one thing in common: an insatiable desire to see more of the world, cover more ground, and overcome the rigors of life on the road.

The Dotted Line Enthusiast

Whether it’s a gravel country road or some gnarly singletrack, these riders seek out the rougher terrain. Basically, route planning for this ilk is just connecting the dots. As in, literally, connecting multiple off-road segments (denoted by dotted lines on Wandrer), often taking wildly circuitous routes to minimize the dreaded boredom of pavement.

It may seem that these roads-less-traveled are few and far between if you live in a large city. However, juxtaposing a few figures from the highly developed United States puts things in perspective: While the US Interstate System boasts an impressive 46,000+ miles (74,000+ km), the US National Forest System estimates an incredible 373,000 miles (600,000 km) of inventoried forest system roads.

It is true: folks in some urban regions may find dirt or gravel roads inaccessible, and it may be necessary to board a car or train with one’s bicycle to reach those tantalizing new stretches of non-paved roads. For others, local off-roading may be limited to mountain bike parks, canal pathways, or rails-to-trails sections. For others in more rural areas, it’s the pavement that is rare and gravel reigns supreme. Whatever the case may be for you, if you enjoy seeing fewer cars (and people) and don’t mind traveling a bit slower, you might find yourself in the Dotted Line club.

The Town Collector

It may just seem like a boring dusty town trapped in the 1980s to you, but to a Town Collector, this little outpost is another feather in their cycling cap. Fancying themselves as part explorer, part land surveyor, Town Collectors are generally eager to check new towns off their list – and generally not okay with unvisited towns existing a mere day’s ride away from them.

Perhaps technically just a variant of the Radial Loopers, members of this group get stoked to see a “Village Limits” sign of an unfamiliar hamlet. Maybe they stop at a local diner or grab some snacks at a convenience store to “seal the deal” – forever cementing their position as a real, bona fide visitor of said town.

Pitstops aside, the real hallmark of a Town Collector is of course going on a quick meandering detour ride through town, deftly covering just enough side streets to hit at least 25%, thereby earning a sweet Wandrer achievement and adding a dash of color to their Big Map.

Depending on the population density in your locale, mileage may vary. Typically, Town Collectors are forged out of medium-density regions which harbor a vast network of small towns featuring quite a bit of unincorporated land in between each distant town or municipality.

The Strava Artist

The snail, hidden in south Atlanta

This rare breed of explorer (world record Strava art there, BTW) has a different set of values and principles guiding their mission: aesthetics. No, not the visual appeal of their bike setup, or the scenery they pass on the way – but the aerial image created by their route drawn on a map. If you assume this would necessitate an incredible level of dedication to pull off, you’d be correct. From brainstorming what shape the art could take, to scouting out the availability of useful roads, to painstakingly planning each turn of the route beforehand, to diligently executing the plan despite the conditions on the ground – there’s a lot that goes into being a Strava Artist.

Now, ensuring that your precious work of art stays relevant and visible on your Wandrer Big Map, that takes another level of commitment. This entails either never venturing near your work of art for fear of sullying its contours; or alternatively, planning the artful route far enough away from your Big Map “cluster” to ensure its existence for years to come.

End of the Road

Whether exploring your own city, distant parts of your country, or other countries entirely, there is no one set way to go about wandring. If you’re like the author, you may spend time as each of the archetypes mentioned above, as your journey progresses. Eager to discuss wandring at greater length? Come join the discussion over at our Wandrer subreddit or Strava group!

Related Stories:


How Wandrer Reinvigorated My Love of Biking

We’ve all been there – for whatever reason, the thing that used to bring you joy no longer does. What to do?

Read article
articles, community

Traveling with a baby for a mountain biking vacation

Craig and I hesitated about having a baby for a long time because we weren’t sure it would be possible to continue having adventures once we were responsible for a little one. But we haven’t stopped! We bike toured in Taiwan from age 4 to 6 months and spent almost a month at my family’s home in Maine at age 11 months. And last week we took a road trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, primarily to mountain bike with a group of riding friends while also hanging out with our 13-month old baby. I wanted to share a little bit about what we found in Bentonville and our experience traveling to mountain bike with a little one in case the info is helpful to anyone else.

Read article