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Sunday, January 11, 2009

How to make a Ride Map

I was reading on Charlie Rides a Bike about is little ice-less adventure down at Rocky Neck State Park and I know there are a lot of riders out there that have GPSs and ride with them but I don't see many post ride maps on blogs. Therefore I thought I would throw together a little tutorial. Also, this is good for riders who want to make a map of an area that they are new to, assuming of course you can read a map.

There are quite a few programs that you can use, and some with some insane detail, especially using satellite imagery, however for this tutorial I am going to show you an online web utility called GPS Visualizer that takes a lot of the guess work out of the other applications. Some apps don't let you export the images to a graphic file in which you can print from but GPS Visualizer does and that is one of the reasons I like it.

  1. Download GPS data. The best format to use and the one that is most portable is a file with the GPX extension. For more info on this format look at this wiki on GPX. If you use a Garmin Unit, like one of the Edge series, the format is proprietary, but you can use other applications EasyGPX or Topofusion to download the data right to the gpx format. You can also convert what you already have stored on your machine using a website called GPSies. Just click on the Convert Tab and look for the format you want to convert from and to. GPSies will even import directly from your Garmin unit.
  2. Edit your data. If you are going to publish your maps to a blog or a website, you might not want to include extraneous routing information like to where you live or if you had to park a ways off and shamelessly put those knobbies on the hardball. TopoFusion let's you edit tracks but I have never been successful using it. I prefer using Garmin's MapSource. MapSource also will pull from your Edge. One thing to remember about using MapSource is that it saves files in it's proprietary format (*.gdb v3) so if you want a GPX file (which it will read) you have to do a Save As.
  3. Preparing your data. I find using GPS Visualizer the easiest to use, or maybe it's just that I have been using it so long that I am just accustomed to using it. One caution, however, if your track is really, really big (covers a huge area) then you may want to consider using something else that will give you the scale you need and the level of detail you want. If I needed to do something along those lines then I would find a site that uses Google Maps with the terrain option. The only drawback is I haven't found anything along these lines that lets you use multiple files so you would have to merge all your GPS Data. Best tool for that would be TopoFusion's make network feature.
  4. Uploading your data. From the main screen, select the type of map you want to work with and it will open up to a features page where you can select specific settings for you map. I tend to go right for JPEG option of the JPEG/PNG/SVG maps selection everytime.

    The Profiles option is another one that I have started to use more. If you are in the US, the one feature you want to ensure is that you select the U.S. in the units dropdown.


    This is why I like GPS Visualizer so much because you can upload multiple files. If you had a collection of track files from a particular area, you can upload all of them here and make a network map.
  5. Draw the map. In either option, once you have your settings configured and the files selected, hit the draw the map button. Here is Charlie's ride at Rocky Neck State Park done with GPS Visualizer. He uploaded his track file to Motionbased.com where I was able to export out to a GPX file. His track included a road ride from his parents house that I didn't want to include in this map, so I took it out using MapSource. You can tell the thicker lines are where he looped the trail. Here is what his profile looks like:

If you want to try making a map sometime, you can scour the interwebs for GPX data on a particular area, download it, and make a map of it for your next adventure. One word of note, GPS Visualizer is only for US and Canada. If you are not in North America then you are probably going to have to find some sort of Google Supported site and in order to create a static map, you will need to take a print screen of it and save it in a image format. TopoFusion, has this feature built in but if you are using the freeware version the map download is a little wonky and has DEMO on each of the tiles.

As far as the other sites go, especially those that use Google Maps, they won't let you make a map of a networked file using TopoFusion. I tried this on MTBGuru and Motionbased. If there is a site out there that you have seen that lets you do multiple tracks on a Google type map, let me know!

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