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Google Maps to your GPS

March 10, 2010

Google Maps are extremely cool because when getting Directions, you can drag the blue line to compare route options or to shift the route onto or off of major roads. For planning a biking route, choosing the Walking option keeps you off of the highways, but can direct you to paths that really are just for walking, and not bikes.  Today Google added a long awaited Bicycling option!

With that option, drawn on the map in dark green are rail-trails and urban area designated bike routes.  That information can be very good to know, but otherwise annoyingly laborious to find online with regional organizations, never mind merging it with road route information.  In planning out an upcoming ride from Montpelier, VT to Wellesley, MA, the Bicycling option found me lengthy rail-trails east of Lebanon, NH and through Groton, MA.  I just hope that their database is accurate!

Google Map of route with Bicycling option.

What is slightly more complicated is getting that nice map onto my Garmin Vista HCx gps unit that I have mounted on the stem of my bike.  Then if I have to change my route along the way for any reason, I’ll still know where I am in an unfamiliar place.  Here’s how to do it:

1) Go to and drag the yellow box to your browser’s bookmark toolbar.

2) Create your route in Google Maps

3) With the Google Maps window active, click on the gmaptogpx bookmark.  The following window will pop up.  Select Full to get continuous track points.  Otherwise you’ll only get track points at the direction cues, which can make for a misleading track.

4) Copy the text and paste into a text document.

5) Rename the file so that it has a .gpx extension.

If your route is short or your GPS unit has a large track file limit, you’re done!  Just transfer to your GPS unit and you’re done.  The track I created has 2429 points, and my Garmin unit has an uploaded track limit of 500 points, so I need to take a further step using TopoFusion.  It is fabulous software for route exploration that can operate in demo mode for free.

6) Open the .gpx file in TopoFusion.  With the hand tool, right click on the track and select Simplify/Split/Spline Track.

TopoFusion window, right click on track to select Simplify/Split/Spline Track

7) Simplify to 500 points to create one file if you’re willing to sacrifice some track point resolution, or Split to save all the track points and create multiple files.

If your track has a lot of points, Simplify or Split to get it to fit on your GPS unit.

8) Save your .gpx file(s), upload to your GPS unit, and hit the road!

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