GPX file editors

Roger Hubbold writes: this page describes a number of online software systems for creating and editing GPX files for use with GPS devices and smartphones. Some of these are free, while others require a paid account, or a free (but registered) account. All comments describe my personal opinions and should be treated accordingly. If you find anything factually wrong please let me know and I will make corrections. I have not attempted to explain how to use each system; the easiest way to learn is to experiment with them, using their help pages and other materials online.  I have only included systems that I have actually used.

As well as the programs described here, there are other commonly used systems. Garmin provide a route planning system (Basecamp) to go with their GPS devices, that runs on your PC or Mac. Route planning can also be done through a Garmin Connect online account. For those of a competitive bent Strava can also be used — it has a route builder too. I have no experience of these.


Ride with GPS

Ride with GPS

Most recently I have been using ridewithGPS.com. Basic facilities can be used free of charge, although two levels of paid-for account are also available ($50 to $80 per year). Ride with GPS is is professionally maintained and provides a wealth of route planning capabilities. You need to be aware, however, that to use it you will need to register for an account and it then stores your routes in that account. You need to set your account profile to maintain your privacy, unless you don’t care about these things. You can see a summary of your routes and you can download them as GPX files, upload your rides, and also sync them with a Garmin account. The more powerful facilities — such as splitting and joining, and rerouting parts of a ride — require a paid-for account. It has an excellent Help system, with many videos demonstrating how to do things.

An advantage of Ride with GPS is that it knows about bike paths and also footpaths — I’m guessing that it uses Google’s routing methods — which makes it more flexible than GPX Editor (see next).

There is also a Ride with GPS app for smartphones that allows you to record and follow rides on your phone, although battery life can be an issue with phones on longer days out. With a paid account you can store maps for offline use on your phone.


GPX Editor

GPX Editor

GPX editor ( gpxeditor.co.uk) was developed by a keen cyclist and could previously be used free of charge. Now, to gain access to routing methods that are good for cycling (e.g. avoiding main roads) you will have to subscribe, which costs £20 a year (easy to set up with PayPal). I have subscribed and tried the new facilities, and it mostly works well.

Nice features include that you can create a new track fairly easily by clicking key points and then you can reroute part of the planned track by dragging sections of the route. This functionality is also available when you load a previously planned track back into GPX Editor. Most other programs use Google routing algorithms to perform road following; this revised GPX Editor uses its own algorithms based on Open Street Map data. This is slower than Google’s methods, but is still usable and the route-dragging works well. BUT, it only works for the UK and Ireland, so cannot currently be used for other countries. ALSO, the routing algorithms no longer use Google (because of expense), so it no longer supports cycle tracks (such as the Biddulph Valley Way), nor does it know about footpaths, and both of these limitations restrict its capability.

The program also allows you to split tracks and also to join different tracks together. OS mapping for the UK is supported, as well as Open Street Map and Open Cycle Map (which shows designated cycle routes, such as NCN). Most of the commands are invoked via pop-up menus by right-clicking the mouse. The nested nature of these is sometimes a bit fiddly, but they have the advantage that the whole window is available for the map itself. The Help page shows a video illustrating how to reroute a track.


Komoot

Komoot (www.komoot.com) is a free system that does a good job of routing along quiet roads. However, it is designed principally for entering a starting point and a destination rather than for plotting key points along a route. It’s also awkward to use when plotting a circular route. It does support modifying a route by simply dragging the route to alter it, which is easy to use. I’m guessing that it uses Google routing, as it knows about bike paths and footpaths.


BikeHike and BikerouteToaster

Both of these have proved useful in the past, but they are no longer supported and some features have stopped working. I no longer recommend them.


Google Maps and GPS Visualizer

Another alternative for creating routes is Google maps. If you choose the Cycle option for routing then it does a fairly good job of choosing routes that we often use ourselves — not surprising perhaps, as cyclists will have contributed the information that is used to propose routes. I find it particularly valuable for planning new routes in areas that I don’t know well.

But, how do you get from a Google route to a GPX file that you can load onto your GPS unit or phone? Answer: use http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/convert_input. First, plan your route in Google, then copy the information in the browser’s address bar that corresponds to your route. This will be a long string, something like: "https://www.google.co.uk/maps/dir/Whitley+Bay/Seahouses/@55.3138633,-1.8590696,10z/am=t/data=!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x487e6c207152e101:0x118a2ccfbe535cf4!2m2!1d-1.4512989!2d55.046389!1m5!1m1!1s0x487e01288de083ab:0xb902aa38d3ed4a9d!2m2!1d-1.651159!2d55.581148!3e1”.  The gpsvisualizer window will look something like this:

Having copied this long string, paste it into the URL field in GPS Visualizer and also click the GPX radio button at the top. Then click Convert. Once converted you’ll see a new page that looks like this:

GPs visualizer-2

and you can then click the link to download the file to your computer. Voila! Now you can import the downloaded file into Basecamp, or any other GPX file editor, and also load it onto your GPS unit.

ViewRanger for smartphones

An alternative to a GPS unit is to use a phone app, such as ViewRanger, which supports OS mapping in the UK, IGN in France etc. Apps that allow you to purchase and download maps to your phone have the benefit that they don’t need an internet connection while riding. Similar capabilities are provided by the Ride with GPS phone app. I find ViewRanger excellent for walking because it uses OS maps that show footpaths. It isn’t free, although it’s not expensive, and you have to pay for OS maps and similar maps for other countries. But you can also download Open Street Maps from the ViewRanger website, free of charge, to store on your phone.