Cycle Navigation by GPS

When you use a SatNav in a car, the objective is usually to get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient manner.  When you cycle, it’s more frequently a requirement to get from Point A to Point B via a specific route.  It might be a scenic route, a flat route or a route that avoids busy roads.  Whatever the reason, the car SatNav is probably going to be useless for the job.

Dedicated Cycle GPS systems are produced by companies such as Garmin but they’re usually hideously expensive and frequently still not ideal for the purpose.  Anyway, what’s the point of spending all that money?  Most of us have a Smartphone with built-in GPS and some really great software that’s tailor made for getting around by the routes of our choosing.  The purpose of this post is to explain the hoops I jumped through to turn my phone into an effective navigation aid.

The first, and by far the biggest issue is that of data downloading.  Smartphones cache a small area of map and then download more data as you move around.  This presents two issues: First, you need a data signal at all times and that’s not very likely in the remoter parts of the UK that are best for cycling.  Second, data downloading costs money!  Your contract might say ‘unlimited data’ but there will be a fair-use clause.  Having a phone constantly downloading map data, hour after hour, day after day will soon blow that clause and the huge bill will inevitably follow.  To overcome this, you need a means to download a map that encompasses the entire route on to a phone.  Before we get on to the means of doing that, you need a tool to create the route.  Here it is:

http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en_uk/earth/index.html

I’m not going to explain Google Earth.  It’s been explained in infinite detail by infinitely more literate and intelligent people than me.  Suffice to say, it has all the functionality required to create and edit a route (known as a Path in Google Earth) and to then export that route as a kml type file.

http://www.gpsbabel.org/
Convert Google KML format files to GPX-XML format.  This is required for MOBAC to load the track and calculate a map selection polygon around it.

http://mobac.sourceforge.net/

  • Atlas – New Atlas – RMaps SQLite
  • Mobile Atlas Creator – Select “Load GPX” (Bottom right of screen)
  • Select Zoom Level – 18 is most detailed, 15 is a good choice for cycle maps.
  • Maps – Selection Mode – Polygon
  • Maps – Add selection by GPX Track
  • Atlas – Create Atlas

Plug phone into computer and transfer Map file and also Google Earth KML file.

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