Using GPS cycle routes on your Android or iPhone

Using GPS on mobile

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:

To test this out, try using the GPX file for my Quirky London ride from the London Cycle Routes eBook.

gpx-file-icon

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:

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 three 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!

Plot a route

I want my ride to go from Richmond, so I type in Richmond and pick it from the list.

richmond

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.

Paths view

Then, I click on the map, where I want my route to start.

Mapping GPS route

From then on it’s just a case of adding more points, until my ride is complete.

My GPS route plotted

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.

Exporting a GPS route

If you’d like to see it, it’s available here:

http://www.plotaroute.com/map/85

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.

Following routes

Following a map on your iPhone whilst its mounted to the handlebars

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.

22 Responses to Using GPS cycle routes on your Android or iPhone

  1. Russ 11/02/2014 at 9:35 am #

    Is there anyway to import the file in to Google maps so you can use the follow route function over top down view?

    • Andreas 11/02/2014 at 12:17 pm #

      Hey Russ –

      I tried to do this for about 7 hours yesterday. I tried my old technique, which basically involves loading the map in to Google My Places, then copy and pasting the short URL in to your default Android web browser. This then asks you to open it in Google Maps, but on my Samsung Galaxy S3 this no longer works. You can see this technique in action here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drMBt3sXa7c

      What you can still do, is load it up in:
      A) Chrome Web Browser on maps.google.com but not in your Google Maps app.
      B) You can also load the route in Google Earth very easily but this gives you a satellite view which isn’t ideal for following a route.

      If anyone does come across a way, and I’ve searched pretty extensively and I believe it’s simply a feature that Google have removed, then I’d love to know more. I’m fairly sure that eventually Google will add this back in to Google maps.

      Andreas

      • Vincent 11/02/2014 at 4:48 pm #

        Did you try this tip?

        http://mycomputertroubles.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/3/

        • Andreas 12/02/2014 at 7:55 pm #

          Just tried it and that worked for me! The steps were very slightly different on a Samsung Galaxy S3:

          1. Downloaded the MyTracks app (free) from Google Play
          2. Downloaded the file from my email (as per this post, sending it to myself as attachment then choosing save).
          3. Went in to My Files
          4. Went in to Download folder
          5. Copied the file, navigated back to My Files and created a new folder called MyTracks (this is inside /storage/sdcard0 which is the default location of My Files) and another new folder inside MyTracks called gpx.
          6. Opened up the My Tracks app, used the button to get more options and chose Import All
          7. Chose All GPX from /MyTracks/gpx

          It imported the GPX just fine and now I can view it in the Google Maps on Android inside My Tracks. I also see you can import KML files.

          In future, I’ll probably use Google Drive to import the files. That’s even easier.

          Great tip Vincent – hope it helps more people do this! It’s amazing when you know what you are doing.

  2. Rich 12/02/2014 at 1:38 pm #

    Have you tried http://www.bikehike.co.uk for plotting routes?

    It’s similar to plotaroute.com but also has the option of using OS (Ordinance Survey) maps.

    • Andreas 12/02/2014 at 6:41 pm #

      That’s another good one. Thanks for suggesting Rich. I’ve used them in the past.

  3. Matt 14/02/2014 at 4:47 pm #

    I use TomTom for android. I plan and sanity check the route, then plug in an earphone into one ear to hear the spoken directions and put the phone in my back pocket.

    I also use an external bluetooth GPS device with “Bluetooth GPS” to get a much more reliable signal lock in the city than I can get with the built in GPS in the phone.

    Works well provided you carefully check the route planned by TomTom beforehand and are happy sticking with the roads. Although it has a bicycle planning mode, it doesn’t know about hills or cycle paths or cycle lanes.

    Only downside is that on the rare occasions when TomTom crashes, you have no idea, because you can’t see the screen!

    • Andreas 14/02/2014 at 5:27 pm #

      Have you ever tested the Bike Hub app on Android?

      • Matt 14/02/2014 at 5:33 pm #

        Not yet. I’m planning on giving the cyclestreets.net mobile app another look first as they say they’ve added turn by turn voice navigation support and live route replanning too. I think the bike hub app is powered by the same cyclestreets route planning web service underneath.

        • Andreas 14/02/2014 at 5:56 pm #

          Nice – be interested to hear back about how you get on and yes you are right, Bike Hub is powered by CycleStreets.

  4. ken 15/02/2014 at 9:58 pm #

    I’d like turn-by-turn verbal directions on my iPhone for a route I’ve created on one of these sites.

    Similar to when I’m driving and Google maps plots the route and tells me “turn right on Elm Avenue in one quarter mile,” etc…

    But this would be for a route I’ve mapped. Is there such an app?

    I believe Garmin 800/810 computers do this.

    • Andreas 16/02/2014 at 2:11 pm #

      I believe this would work with Bike Hub – have you tested it?

    • Alex 21/07/2014 at 12:15 pm #

      I use co-rider (free on iOS) but it doesn’t give road names which is a bit of a drawback

  5. Craig 15/02/2014 at 10:17 pm #

    For Android, you could also try OsmAnd. Its free, and lets you download offline maps for complete countries. It can show a GPX track, or follow a route.

    • Andreas 16/02/2014 at 2:13 pm #

      Thanks Craig for the recommendation. The ability to download offline maps is also pretty important so that’s a great addition.

  6. Kamil 03/04/2014 at 8:20 am #

    Hi Craig,

    could you give some more details how to upload gpx track in OsmAnd. It would be perfect solution abroad to avoid high charges for data transfer.

  7. Andy 11/04/2014 at 11:33 am #

    http://ridewithgps.com/

  8. Kieren 19/04/2014 at 1:58 am #

    “GPX Reader” on Android seems the best for me so far. You can upload GPX to it and rather than just following the route, you can jump to any waypoint along the way so you know where the points of interest are.

  9. KAF 29/05/2014 at 4:20 pm #

    thanks andreas. Now to see if it works

  10. KAF 02/06/2014 at 8:16 pm #

    This all works except if you export the route to Google Maps, it doesn’t show up – or at least I can’t find it. Andreas mysteriously says he uses Google Maps “in” My Tracks. What does that mean?

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