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Saturday, November 16, 2013

GPS Turn-by-Turn Files

The Google Maps bike-route creator (Beta) is an awesome app. Activate it and Google Maps chooses a plausible bike route, making use of bike trails, known biking routes on roads, etc. But what is more amazing is that it is possible to "drag" a projected route to different streets, or bike paths. In the early days this produced routes that looked more like spaghetti in some parts, but more recently the process is smoother.

What is produced is a smooth track, but with applications like Tyre, it is possible to convert the Google maps route into a "turn-by-turn" file that can be downloaded into your GPS unit. This is done in part by creating a set of via points (similar to waypoints) as needed when there is a turn or a curve. If all goes well, the upcoming via point alerts your GPS to signal a turn. Usually, there is a track along with the via points so that you can see that you are on course. With a route loaded into your GPS, you can get a reading of how far it is to your destination and what your ETA is. Very comforting on a long ride in new territory.

I think that Google did not intend to make available this feature as soon as has come to be the case. They very likely will be introducing their own way of making "turn-by-turn" technology possible. In the meantime, programs like Tyre and others translate the information that is associated with a route shown on your screen into a file that can be downloaded into your GPS.

All of the routes you have seen so far on the Blog have *.gpx files associated with them. These are projected turn-by-turn routes. They undoubtedly have glitches, but for the most part are accurate and can provide something like the "turn-by-turn" experience, including distance and time to destination.

Since we are not in France, however, we can't test them directly. What I intend to do is to test them locally and then edit and emend the ones for France as needed. In the meantime, download these zipped *.gpx files here.
  • From Castlenaudry to St-Ferreo Reservoir
  • From St-Ferreo Reservoir to Bram (or thereabouts to rendezvous with the boat)
  • From Trebes to Lastours and return
  • The Minervre Excursion
Feel free to  test them in your own GPS unit. Garmin software works quite well but programs like EasyGPS work well too and are free. Surprisingly, iPhone apps like MapMyRide and others are said to be capable of importing *,gpx files (usually as email attachments).

The most recent GPS units handle lots of waypoints and via points. Older units, such as my Garmin 60Sx, are likely overwhelmed with a route generated by Google Maps for the whole trip, but likely do well with individual (daily) routes. I would welcome testing by canal boaters (and others) on perfecting the "turn-by-turn" experience well before we arrive in France. But the time is coming when cyclists will be able to navigate from a common *.gpx file they have imported into their GPS units (operating from the satellites) or iPhone or Android or Windows phone (operating from cell-tower triangulation). 


  1. Just talked with Tom Shelly about an Andoid capability to use GPS without a data plan. The idea is to download map info from Google Maps when you have a wifi connection. Then you can use it off line. Even in remote areas. This is pretty neat! The steps to set it up can be seen in this URL:

  2. For converting Google Earth kml files to gpx format and the other way around, I would suggest checking this free tool which can provide fast and accurate converted results. No need to install, it's available online, just upload files and try, maybe it's useful.