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.


cycle.travel

cycle.travel

This is the latest route planner to be brought to my attention, and from all the tests I’ve tried thus far it seems to be really good. Key features that I like are: you can plan your own  route by clicking on a map; you can amend the route by dragging a point on the route to reroute it where you want, and it is very responsive while doing this; it knows about cycle tracks and also paths where you may have to walk a few yards; you can enter start and finish points; you can ask it to give you a circular ride back to your start point; you can request that only paved roads be used or paved roads and tracks. If you choose a circular ride it will generally give you a different out and back route — not all other systems do this!

If you ask it to plan a route by entering start and finish points it generally picks a good route, but you can always amend it by dragging it afterwards. For example, I found it occasionally uses stretches of main road that can be avoided. It also has a library of routes that you can search. Finally, you can save your route and you can output the route as a GPX file. It is free to use and developed in the UK, but has maps for the whole of Europe, based on Open Street Maps.

Registering for an account. You can upload rides that you created in some other way, such as recording on a GPS unit, or using another planning system. However, to do this you will need to register for an account. Managing your uploads and saved routes is then performed  via your account page (click on Journeys), rather than from the map page. By default, any routes you create and save or upload will be publicly visible, though you can set them private via your account page. If you just want to plan a route and export it as a GPX file then you don’t need to register, but your route will be called cycle.travel. If you want to give it another name you’ll need to register and then save the route, which allows you to add a description as well.

The easiest way to learn it (as with other systems) is to try it. It has a few quirks, but once mastered it works well. You can find some brief help information on route planning here, and some info about maps here. One thing to note: if you reroute a ride by dragging, it will insert a via point (a numbered marker); if you subsequently change the route again it will leave this marker in place and try to route via it. To stop this behaviour you can click on the marker and choose Remove via from the pop-up window.


Ride with GPS

Ride with GPS

For some time, 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. 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.


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. You can now subscribe to OS maps for the UK through ViewRanger; this costs £24.99 a year, but for that you get the latest OS maps at both 1:50,000 and 1: 25,000 for the whole of the UK, which is good value. You will require an internet connection to download maps, but they are cached (temporarily stored) on your phone, which means you can then view them even when you don’t have a connection. You can also download Open Street Maps from the ViewRanger website, free of charge, to store on your phone.


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. But recent planners such as cycle.travel (see above) make a good job of this, so using Google is no longer really necessary.

That said, 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 “provide the URL of a file on the Web” 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.