Logging GPS tracks of your rides can be fun and informative. You can compare your times from previous rides, use the data to make full-blown maps for yourself or others, and you can even use those maps to earn a free,
lifetime pro membership here at Singletracks!
Just a couple of years ago, tracking your ride required a dedicated GPS device, some retail or otherproprietarysoftware on your PC, andusuallya paid membership to some website to upload all the tracks to. The evolution of GPS-enabled smartphones has changed all of that for the casual user. There are stillexcellent dedicated units on the market, and they usually come with bundled software and special websites, but for this article, we will focus instead on doing it for free with the smartphone you already haveand some free software tools. Please note, this is about creating logs of your rides, NOT navigating via pre-existing GPS data. I will cover that in another article.
This article assumes you have access to a smartphone with built-in GPS. The first step will be to select an app to log your GPS position to a file every few seconds while you ride.
For Android phones, MyTracks is a free app that works with your phone’s internal GPS to generate a track of your trip which can then be exported as a GPX, KML, TCX or CSV file (more on these formats in a bit.) In addition to GPS data tracking and display, if your phone happens to be ANT+ compatible, MyTracks can also interface with a Polar heart rate monitor or SRM power meter. This basically turns your phone into a Garmin Edge 800!
I have played with this app a little on my wife’s Evo 4G and it is fairly straightforward to use and seems to be accurate. Tracks are exported to the SD card, or can be uploaded to Google Maps, Facebook or Twitter. There is not an export viaemail feature.
iPhone users also have a number of free and paid apps for GPS. GPS Tuner was reviewed by trek7k here on the blog, and it comes in a free ‘lite’ version, or you can gain access to the full feature set for $6.99. The lite version supports saving and exporting GPX tracks as per this post. You can read trek7k’s review of the full version here.
For my Blackberry I use and highly recommend the shareware app GPSLogger II. This app can log your progress at a set time interval and can be set to log track points at or above a preset speed (so that it doesn’t log your bathroom or snack breaks.) In addition to the basic logging functions, it also has a track-back feature to retrace your steps, a multi-panel display to show various stats while you ride, a ‘bike computer’ display mode, an audible alert for pre-defined distance markers, and an emergency alert mode if you stop moving for a set amount of time (that last feature requires cell service.)
Working With The Track Data
Okay, you’ve downloaded a GPS app to your smartphone, you’ve been on a ride and captured a track. … Now what?
First, about those file types…
The ‘standard’ format for GPS data files is .gpx, which is a form of XML. You can open one of these files in Wordpad to get an idea of how they work. TCX is aproprietary format created by Garmin. For regular old GPS data it is not needed, but if you also track heart rate data during your ride you will need this format.KML is a format specific to Google Earth. CSV is the same XML format as GPX, but formatted to open in a spreadsheet. GPX is the common denominator that works in all scenarios, so we’ll stick with that for the purposes of this post.
Using whatever method is appropriate to your phone, get the .gpx file to your computer. If you need to edit out anyextraneousdata from wandering around the parking lot, or even from the drive home, you can do so quickly and easily with a program called GPX Editor. Open the program, browse to and open your .gpx file, and it will be displayed graphically. You can then select and delete sections or segments, and save the trimmed version for uploading.
The next step is to find a place to upload the file.
First, there are a number of trails here on Singletracks.com that are lacking solid map data. If you record and upload three new or updated tracks, you will earn a free lifetime Pro membership to Singletracks.com. How cool is that! To upload here, look up the trail page for which you have GPS data. Under the ‘Dashboard’ section in the upper right, click the Add GPS Data link. Browse to the .gpx file on your hard drive, write a brief description and then click ‘Finish’ The submitted data will be reviewed and added to the map page for that trail.
Several websites allow for uploading and long-term tracking of your ride data. I have tried a bunch and have settled on Strava.com. The site allows you to upload and store your GPS tracks and then easily view charts and stats over the course of a number of rides, a specific time frame, etc. You can even tag rides to a specific bike and view stats per bike. (Handy for usreviewers.)
My second favorite site is Trimble Outdoors. Two of my favorite features on their site are the ability to ‘draw’ missing or extra sections by hand, for example if your GPS device misses a section, and the ability to embed geo-tagged photos. The latter is handy for creating a trail guide with pics of major intersections like this.
And finally, there is GPS App (beta) from the creators of Singletracks.com. GPS App has basic track management features, and also allows online editing of your track without the need for a standalone program.
Speaking of using your GPS data for geotagging photos, if your digital cameraincludesEXIF data in the digital image files (most do) then you can ‘geotag’ your photo by adding the GPS coordinates of each photo to the EXIF data. There is a free program for this called GPS Correlate. It comes in both Windows and Linux versions and I have used it pretty extensively. It works by loading up a .gpx file and a folder of digital pictures. It reads the timestamps of the photos and matches them up with corresponding track points on your GPX track. Once a match is made, the GPS coordinates are written permanently to the digital picture file. Sites like Flickr and Trimble Outdoors can understand this EXIF data, including the Geotag, and use it to place your pics on a map.
This is a lot of technical info, so here is a summary of the steps we’ve covered:
- It’s assumed that you have a smartphone with built-in GPS.
- Grab an app for your particular phone and spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the basic operation.
- Bring your phone, start the GPS logger app and go for a ride. Don’t forget to stop logging when you finish!
- Export the resulting .gpx data file to your PC via USB or email.
- If needed, edit your file with GPX Editor or GPS App.
- Upload your file to Singletracks, Strava, Trimble Outdoors, or open it in Google Earth.
- Enjoy looking at your ride all mapped out, and check out your stats such as climbing, average speed, etc.
- Optionally, Geotag the photos you took along the way.
Great primer on creating trail maps with a smartphone.
For those with an iPhone, Wahoo Fitness sells a $79 ANT+ dongle so you can receive data from your power meter, heart rate monitor, etc.
Thanks for the GPS App shout out. 🙂 After launching a couple years ago, the site is still in beta, admittedly because it’s not very user friendly (though the tools can be useful). We’re finally taking the concepts we developed for GPS App and making them easier to use, eventually paving the way to singletracks integration.
Many smartphone GPS apps include the ability to snap photos, automatically geo-tagging them in the process. In fact, your smartphone’s camera already geo-tags photos, it’s just a matter of getting to that data…
I use Strava for the iphone it works great and I love the features!
I use Cyclemeter for my iPhone, it works well but the speed is never that accurate and I usually refer to my computer for that. One feature I really like about it is that I have it set post on FB where I am and when I am riding alone in remote places it puts me at ease knowing that random people that I haven’t seen in years know where I am.
One great thing about Strava is that it will automatically detect if you have ridden a segment that you or someone else has already identified within the service. Then when you save your ride, it determines what saved segments you rode on and shows how you placed compared to your friends and other Strava users. You can then compete to become the winner of that segment.
Well written, even I could understand it. Amazing what we can now do with GPS. Been using DeLorme for years, but started with a grey scale Garmin. Think I’ll download that app for my Blackberry, just so I’ll have a backup. My new Pentax camera has a built in GPS. Great for geo-tagging photos.
I just use the ol Garmin Forerunner 305. Its way easier than the phone, but i have thought aboout using both just to compare the results.
I just want to say that the author of this article is completely responsible for my “free lifetime Pro membership to Singletracks.com”. He helped me learn how to use my Garmin 305 and how to handle the weird file conversions and editing. Mapping trails for singletracks is now one of my major passions. it’s great to see it so well presented here for all.
Great job maddslacker.
I’ll read this 7-8 more times, and then I’ll try to figure it out with phone in hand…
Working into Map my Ride. Gets great reviews.
I’ve been using MyTracks to map trails and submit to Singletracks. did one today. But I got some good pointers from this article. GPS App still needs work. I found what I thought should have made way points but couldn’t get them into the main file.
Yall also need to check out Windows Phones. I have one that I absolutely love and they are getting more and more popular. I have used an app called Runtastic in the past that is available in a free and paid version. However, my favorite and the one I currently use is Endomondo. It works very well, has an awesome website where you can look at friends’ workouts, compete against them, or even encourage them by talking to them if they are out riding! I would definitely recommend that app for any OS. Just my two cents 🙂
I use the Android app My Tracks as well… but didn’t know I could upload them to single tracks!! Great information.
Any idea on the best/decent android app that will allow me to import .gpx files to be used as a reference on the trail. i am currently using route tracker (which is the best ive been able to locate) but for instance the bent creek nc map data from singletracks (its the app, not the site) wont open for some reason…it also has a hard time with trail systems that have multiple routes…it will only show one leg at a time, making it not user friendly referencing where you are on the trail. you have to open each leg at a time and see where you are in reference to it. I would like to be able to look at 30 miles of trail and see where i stand at a glance, rather than spending 15 minutes looking for a file and losing daylight in the hills..my tracks is a great logger, I prefer strava or endomondo which both link to social websites, compete with others, have heart rate monitor options, can export to .gpx to score the singletracks sweet membership options, etc, but lack the ability to import files.
‘Sketch a Track’ for Android (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wolfgangknecht.sketchatrack) could be interesting for you guys to create GPX tracks. You can draw tracks directly on the map and you also get an elevation chart.
The app also works great in combination with the Samsung Gear/Gear 2 to get the tracks on your wrist.
I’m the developer of the mentioned app and would be happy if you give it a try!