Bike GPS / Bicycle GPS
Using GPS tracking data for bicycle mapping and bike trip reports
I have wanted a way to make detailed, accurate, post-trip maps of my rides, including both top-down views and elevation views. My previous efforts have involved glomming mapquest images, which doesn't offer the elevation view and really didn't meet what I wanted to do.
Elevation Analysis is an important factor in trip planning, and it's not often supported. For instance, when I was planning a Pittsburgh-DC trip, I plotted the elevation and noticed that travelling eastbound made more sense than westbound- but I had to look up the elevations on paper and then plot them in Excel in order to "see" the data. I sought advice from a tech-savvy rider with more experience and ended up with DeLorme's Topo USA. With the Topo I can click along a route and generate elevation profiles without any GPS, such as this profile view of the 2005 TOSRV:
My GPS Requirements List
I think that when you're buying a techno-gizmo you need to have a requirements list, so I looked around and decided that my requirements were:
When I went online, there are several cool units that will perform GPS tracking and store a lot of data, and there are a few business fleet vehicle tracking solutions, but they were quite expensive. They cost more than my bike.
Delorme has a brand-new GPS tracker that was at the right price, but it'll only store 8 hour's info onboard-- but it offers BlueTooth transmit capabilities, and you could use a Bluetooth PDA to store the track info. I don't have a BlueTooth PDA - I have a Blackberry, but that's really not a programmable utility device like something running the Palm OS. I didn't want to get into learning Bluetooth; I'm about geeked out on WiFi and I just want to make maps.
My 2005 bike GPS KludgeThen I learned that you can use a lower-end GPS receiver (as a GPS sensor), connected via a cable to a Palm pilot (as a storage device), and you'd meet my described requirements. Since I happened to have some old Palm-IIIs sitting unused, leftovers from a spec programming project that never caught on, I was halfway there.
I bought a used Garmin ETrex GPS receiver on Ebay. I took it out of the box, read the thin manual, turned on the tracking mode and took it on a bike ride- the resulting map looked pretty good. The next trick was to get the info out of my GPS and into my computer.
Since I was going to use a Palm3 to collect data on lengthy rides, I chose to use not buy a GPS-to-PC cable, and would rely on the Palm as my conduit for moving any GPS data into the network.
There are different types of cables that connect to the ETrex GPS, my connector appears to be an eType. The folks at Blue Hills Innovations had a $30 cable that would connect my Etrex with my Palm, so with a click of the PayPal my order was enroute. Eventually the mailman brought the cable, and it performed as advertised.
I downloaded Trax into a Windows98 computer (it had a serial port that I could use for the Palm3) and hot-synced the Palm to install the software. I powered up the GPS, made sure the setup was set to NMEA, and connected it to the Palm. The Palm recognized the GPS, indicated the number of satellites the Palm was hitting, and stored the track route.
The route files are transferred when you sync the Palm with the PC that Trax was installed on. Then you click the new Trax program on your PC, identify which track you want, and it launches an Excel macro which delivers the lat-long data. The lat-long data includes speed, distance, time, and the lat-long. I deleted the speed/distance/time info and saved the lat-long pairs in CSV (comma-seperated-values) format.
Then, to import the data into Delorme Topo, you have to manipulate the datapoints into the Dolorme format, which involves a bit of Excel and a bit of Notepad. But after all that geek-work, Delorme accepts the file and the line of your travels appears on the map, just like magic.
The eTrex GPS / Palm3 / Trax combo works well and delivers a tracking capacity beyond that of a lower-end GPS. I was unable to bring myself to spend more on a GPS than I'd spent on my bike, and this kludge works well enough for tracking.
My 2006 Bicycle GPS Options : Decision Making
If I end up using GPS for navigating a long trip, I think I'll end up buying a higher-end GPS at REI. When I visit their Pittsburgh store and ask questions at the GPS desk I'm always impressed at their understanding of all the different units.
The new CX-suffix units from Garmin seem to have all the memory you'd want with the internal MicroSD card, and the folks at REI seemed very familiar with them. The Venture/Legend/Vista series seems great, but there are some comments that the antenna in these units won't work well under a canopy of trees (like the Great Allegheny Passage / C&O Canal). This bit of info has me looking at the GPSMAP 60CX, with a quad-helix receiving antenna that's supposed to be better under a canopy, and it has a remote antenna capability - which is possibly too geeky even for me.
2006 Bike GPS PurchaseWhen I was getting ready to pull the trigger and buy, Garmin introduced a $100 rebate for some models, so I ended up with this one:
I installed the Mapsource CD, then I connected the GPS. Next I installed the Topo maps, after learning that you could copy the CDs onto your hard drive and avoid running the maps off the CD-drive.
I went to the Garmin product page and downloaded the most recent software updates for the GPS. Then I downloaded 2.7.1 beta, which restores the ability to Store Trackdata On Card. Then I opened MapSource and downloaded the newest update for that. Then I downloaded ximage from Garmin to download GPS screenshots.
I have learned to move tracks from the GPS into the laptop running MapSource.
Forcing one map type over another: 1) (Requires firmware 3.41 Beta or above). On the Map page press MENU, Setup Map, select the "i" tab, press MENU and select Hide/Show the map *product*. This will hide/show *all* maps for the selected product. 2) On the Map page press MENU, Setup Map, select the "i" tab and untick the individual map(s) that overlap (you'll probably need to scroll though the list with the Rocker key).
Joining Tracks. Highlight the first track. Select Join. Do an Alt/Click to the beginning of 2nd track. When joined, track name disappears off left-side list. NEw track is now highlighted along new length; link to start of next track.
Converting track to route: use winGdb .
I took a Montour Trail GPS bicycle ride to get familiar with the functions, and I was able to generate a map of the ride and a list of waypoints.
Useful Bike GPS Links
I found these links useful: