Most of us have cycle around daily with powerful GPS devices in our pockets: our iPhone and Android devices. A few of us even have a Garmin GPS. However, few people have used the GPS functionality beyond basic route planning apps such as Bike Hub and Google Maps.
That’s a shame as it can be incredibly useful for when:
- You are taking part in a cycling event and the organisers have provided GPS coordinates in a GPX or KML file
- You’ve purchased a cycle routes book or eBook and it includes GPS coordinates for each ride
- You want to go on a weekend ride and plan out your route, so you don’t end up checking a map all the time
- You are using a site such as Bikely.com or Map My Ride to see what routes others suggest near you and you want to follow those routes
- You are going on a weekend ride with your friends and they want to send you the file so you can see and follow the route
- You’re running a cycling blog called londoncyclist.co.uk and you want to share a great ride with your readers
We’ll cover all of these uses in this ultimate guide to using GPS on your mobile phone (/cellphone for our American readers!).
Importing GPS coordinates to your iPhone, Android or Garmin GPS
Uploading GPS coordinates to iPhone, Android and Garmin devices is easy:
- For instructions to get your GPS coordinates on to your iPhone, see my iPhone GPS video
- For Android, see my Android GPS video
- For Garmin, see my Garmin GPS video
For iPhone you need to download either Bike Hub (free) or Cyclemeter (£2.99). Either app will do. Then, simply email yourself the file, open it up in your Mail app and tap on the attachment. This will give you the option to open it on Bike Hub or Cyclemeter.
On Android you’ve got a couple of options. You can view the route on the Bike Hub app (free) which uses Open Cycle Map or you can view it using an app called My Tracks by Google (free). Importing the GPX file is easy. Simply email yourself the file as an attachment and save it. Then go in to your File Manager and open it. It should load inside the Bike Hub app. For the process to open a KML or GPX file in My Tracks, read the comments below.
Finding GPS routes to follow
Here is a list of some of the sites that allow users to upload GPS courses:
- Race Shape (good article on DC Rainmaker about how to cleverly use this site)
- Garmin Connect
- Ride With GPS
As there is very little moderation of what people upload, you’ll find a lot of routes that won’t be very useful, so it takes some digging. If you’ve used one of these sites and highly recommend it, please leave a comment below with your suggestions.
If you have a more specific route in mind, for example Lands End to John O’ Groats, you can easily find a route by typing it in to Google and appending GPX to the end or GPS.
These days, many new cycling guidebooks and eBooks provide GPS coordinates. You’ll also find routes inside magazines such as Cycling Plus.
Converting GPS files
Sites such as GPSies and GPSVisualizer will allow you to convert GPS files between different formats such as GPX, KML and TCX.
If your route is on Google Maps, there is a link to export to KML. From there you can convert it to GPX for use on your iPhone or Android.
Creating GPS routes
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to route plotting websites. Here are a few of my favourites:
Recently, I’ve come across a new site called Plotaroute.com.
I’ll walk through how to create a ride on that site.
First off, navigate to the site and tap on Plot a route now!
I want my ride to go from Richmond, so I type in Richmond and pick it from the list.
With Richmond in view, I can then switch between Map, Satellite and Paths mode. Paths mode is useful, so I can see the local cycling infrastructure thanks to Open Cycle Map.
Then, I click on the map, where I want my route to start.
From then on it’s just a case of adding more points, until my ride is complete.
Then, I can name my route in the top right, I can tap save the route or export the GPX file to use using the options on the bottom right.
If you’d like to see it, it’s available here:
This is by far the easiest GPS route plotting site I’ve ever found, so I thoroughly recommend it.
Creating GPS routes using your iPhone
A suggestion from DC Rainmaker that I thought would be useful for those of us who like to plan our routes on our iPhones is the EasyRoute app. This allows you to create a GPS route on your iPhone, very similar to the sites mentioned above.
Obviously your iPhone or Android device isn’t much use in your pocket. Therefore a bike mount, can be a really useful addition.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.