Using GPS coordinates for cycling


We’ve launched a new version of this guide here:

Using GPS cycle routes on your mobile phone

With the release of the London Cycle Routes eBook the most common question I’ve had is: “How do you get your hair to look so good even though you cycled here?” Oh wait, no, that’s not it. The question I get asked is: “Andreas, thanks so much for the eBook, it is awesome, but how on earth do I use the GPS coordinates?”

Well, here I’m going to explain how you can use GPS coordinates for cycling. After all, it hugely helps when navigating a cycling route and with the widespread availability of GPS devices you too could easily be getting in on the GPS action.

GPS files usually have the extension “.gpx”. An example one is for the quirky London bike ride which you can grab the GPS file for here.

Once you have the file you can do whatever you want with it.

Show GPS route on a map

Lets take for example if you want to see the route on Once you have an account choose “Create Trip”. Upload your GPS file and follow the instructions. You can then see the route on a map.

That’s all well and good but where things really get exciting is when you are actually cycling along the route. This is when you need some kind of GPS device such as…

IMG_0449_thumbAn iPhone

Yes, that world famous thin device you see everyone carrying around is actually pretty awesome for cycling. Especially when combined with a bike mount and cycling apps.

With the iPhone you generally have a choice between two apps. The first is Trails. Whilst I’ve had a couple of problems with the app crashing on me, everyone else seems generally very satisfied.

The second is Outdoors. I like the simplicity of this application and the way it uses very little battery life. The reason for this is that all the maps are already pre-loaded into the application.

To load a route onto either of the applications you need to first upload it to EveryTrail. You can then search for the name of the route and download it into the app.

A Garmin GPS

If you have a Garmin GPS you can use the software provided to load the GPS files into the device. This is usually done via USB cable.

The most popular models are the Garmin 305 and the Garmin 500. These usually come with a bike mount so you can have it on your handlebars.

satmap-gps-for-cyclingOther GPS device

There are plenty of other GPS devices. The SatMap device comes very highly recommended but is a little more expensive. If you have one of the latest Smartphones then it may have GPS capabilities. All you need is a good application to follow the coordinates.

GPS for cycling

As you can see GPS coordinates are very useful for cycling. Especially for longer rides. The simplicity of having a map infront of you with a dot showing your location means you can focus on cycling rather than reading maps. Unfortunately GPS devices are still a little expensive at around the £200 mark. If you plan to do lots of cycling however they are a worthy investment.

Tomorrows post is a roundup of all the going’s on in March on London Cyclist and on other cycling blogs.

See also:

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

, ,

15 Responses to Using GPS coordinates for cycling

  1. James 30/03/2010 at 2:05 pm #

    I’d add the EDGE 705 to that list – the 305 is a training device and not much good when it comes to navigating. There are several excellent route planning sites that are EDGE compatible, is my weapon of choice.

    • Andreas 31/03/2010 at 6:55 am #

      Thanks for the recommendation. I should speak to Garmin and see if we can get hold of some test units to pit them against each other

  2. Andreas 30/03/2010 at 6:07 pm #

    And what’s your trick with your hair? 😉

    • Andreas 31/03/2010 at 6:54 am #

      I don’t give away trade secrets like that! haha

  3. Teresa 31/03/2010 at 11:43 am #

    I use for all my rides – i have a garmin 405, which only takes .crs files, not .gpx and it is the only site where you can download routes with all the different file types. You can also export routes to google earth, which allows you to have a look in advance at junctions (say…) so you know what to look for when you get there.

  4. Guilherme Zühlke O'Connor 31/03/2010 at 3:51 pm #

    It’s funny you should mention the garmin on this post because I’m currently making my mind up on whether or not to spend that king of money one one.

    Now, I you mention the Garming Edge 500, but I didn’t know it had navigation on it, I thought it was just a tracking device (that tracks your route and shows it later on the computer) so I was mostly deciding on the 705 alone.

  5. Teresa 31/03/2010 at 4:06 pm #

    There are different levels of ‘navigation’ on the different garmins. The cycling specific garmins such as the 705 have maps on them, so really easy to use.

    You can load routes (or courses as they are known) onto the 500 and the 405 (that i have), but you don’t get a map, rather you get a little arrow telling you where to go and whether you are on or off course.

    If you can get one with a map – the only reason i bought the 405 is because i do lots of running so it was useful for long runs, but there is also a bike mount for it, and you still get the stats available with all the other garmins. But it is hideously annoying when cycling, as it is so precise you’ll be cycling round a roundabout and the arrow will suddenly turn off just as you go past the exit, which isn’t ideal! It’s not like a sat nav when you have someones soothing/annoying voice saying ‘at the roundabout, take the second exit…’.

    Hope this helps.

  6. Guilherme Zühlke O'Connor 31/03/2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Thanks Teresa, I does help. It seems the 705 is *the* way to go. If one wants to commit that kind of money, that is.

  7. Andreas 31/03/2010 at 8:32 pm #

    I don’t have much personal experience with the Garmin devices but they have been recommended to me by others. Before you buy make sure you take a look around on the internet and see what people have written about them. Otherwise grab yourself an iPhone and your good to go!

  8. Jon Finch 25/04/2010 at 9:50 pm #

    I have the Garmin Edge 705. I think they are the best out there at the moment, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

    If you think that it’s going to be as easy to use as a car satnav in central London then you are going to be massively disappointed. However, in less populated areas it is fine.

    The main issues are:

    1. Mistakes in London road mapping (esp. for no left/right turns)
    2. When near building 3-4 storeys high it can take 2-3 minutes to lock onto the GPS signal when you first switch it on (much slower than the smaller iPhone bizarrely)
    3. If you go off route it can take minutes to recalculate a new route
    4. Garmin graphics are nowhere near as clear as Google Maps or TomTom car satnavs
    5. When you are creating routes there is no way to switch between the mode where it tells you when/how to turn and the mode where you just follow a breadcrumb trail. This means if you are going to use anything other than road (e.g. bike paths, cul de sacs that allow bikes through etc.) you have to use the breadcrumb trail mode. The breadcrumb trail mode means you have to look at the satnav frequently while you are riding because it does not beep at you when you have to turn.
    6. When you ask it to create a route for you, it’s reasonably good at picking bike friendly ones. However, I did not appreciate being directed down the A3 dual carriageway. Bike paths don’t appear to be included in the maps.

    Hope this helps. If anyone knows of any way round the issues listed above, let me know!

  9. Guilherme Zühlke O'Connor 26/04/2010 at 1:04 am #

    @John – thanks for the detailed explanation.

    I did buy a 705 second hand for a good price (even better considering the box was unopened) and I used it for the first time to cycle to Windsor with my wife.

    I did enjoyed that it was pretty much a no brainer, though I had no knowledge of the route. So I owe that to the Garmin but there are a few issues that annoyed me.

    The Garmin sent me off track at some point (or maybe it wasn’t clear enough and I turned the wrong direction. After that it seems I had to find my way back to the route before it would give me further directions, that was annoying but keep in mind it was the first time I used it so it may as well have been some mistake of mine.

    Another thing that annoys me is the massively fragmented suit of applications to use your garmin with. One to add the maps, another to add the routes, a third one to keep track of trainig, garmin connect to do the same online and it doesn’t share data with the desktop version. In all, I think I have over half a dozen programs installed to deal with it.

    Also, it is a bit slow to find sattlites and to route but I’m happy with the recalculation, though it could be faster indeed. Now I don’t really use much nsvigation in central London, the intention was to use it to go to more distant places like Windsor and I want to go to Brighton and Oxford later this year.

  10. Andreas 26/04/2010 at 5:11 pm #

    Thank you both for the detailed reviews of the Garmin GPS. I desperately need to get myself one to try out

  11. James Le Masurier 07/07/2013 at 11:00 am #

    Guys did you all know that google maps for android features built in turn by turn cycling navigation? It gives you all of the best routes through London and even national cycling network routes. You don’t need a handlebar attachment either, you just need an ear piece because the instructions tell you when to take a turning.

  12. Ben 07/07/2013 at 11:52 am #

    Yeah android does this for breakfast, so sick of people saying get a Garmin or an iPhone

  13. Jacob 07/07/2013 at 8:52 pm #

    What we need is a GPS that works the same way as those for cars, but leads you to the safest bike routes. None of this ‘download maps’ nonsense.

Leave a Reply