Friday, April 24, 2015

Mapping Your Route: A Better Alternative to Google Maps that Works with Your GPS

Back in 2011, I wrote about a method of mapping a route using Google Maps, then transferring that route into a file that could be loaded into my GPS.   

The advantage of using Google Maps is that you can drag the route anywhere you want -- away from the mundane roads and the quickest way that Google Maps (and most GPSs) initially take you.  Instead, you can pick the roads and routes you want -- often the ones that are curvy and more interesting.
Like this one:

Or this one:

Unfortunately, the method I found back then of converting the Google Maps route to one for the GPS, utilizing a browser bookmark called GMapToGPX, depended on the then-current Google Maps format.  Google has changed that format, so the conversion of the Google route to a GPS route file doesn't work any more.  It is, as they say, "broken."   

I might add that the new Google Maps format is less intuitive, does not serve the function of showing routes and portions of routes in a blog posting, and is slow.  (Lest you think that the "Return to classic Google Maps" selection you can find by clicking the question mark in the lower right hand corner of the screen makes GMapToGPX work again, it doesn't.)  The Google Maps changes are also the reason why some of my blog postings have maps that don't correspond well to the related text any more. 

And, Google Maps still doesn't export a route file directly to a GPS either. 

There had to be another solution.  I looked a little at the Garmin mapping application called Basecamp.  It is not easy to learn and is much less user friendly than the old Google Maps, so I gave it up after a short, frustrating trial. 

I remembered something, though.  I had compiled an extensive list of GPS Goodies that consisted of file conversions, mapping aids, points of interest, and many other things, so I looked there.  I found a great alternative that works almost exactly like Google Maps, and transfers a route into the appropriate .GPX file in your GPS. 

What is this miracle, you ask? 

It is -- Ta Da:

New Harley-Davidson® Ride Planner.
Powered By H.O.G. ®

Now before you turn up your nose because it is associated with Harley, wait to see what it can do. 

Their description of the planner:

Your ride, like your chrome, should never be dull.  If you’ve already used Ride Planner, you can access your saved rides anytime.  New features help you dial in the route to make your next ride your best ride.  Enter a starting point to begin.  Add your own favorite stops or let ride planner throw in some suggestions [like these].

  • Roads – Great riders know great roads. Here’s where we share them.
  • Dealers – Your home away from home. Pick up a t-shirt.
  • Hotels – Book a bed to put your boots under.
  • Events – This is where you go to find the party.
  • Points of Interest (P.O.I.) – Find local attractions, good restaurants, and your next tank of gas.
Read on, please:

They have a very nice help section too, that describes how the routing website works in simple, easy to understand verbiage.  That's ideal for me. 

It can show -- and print -- written maps and directions, and you can add notes to describe the route you worked out.  You can send your route to someone else via. e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter, and you can save that route if you create a H-D profile and log into the site.  You can also make the route private or public. You can even use your smartphone to generate and show the resulting map and route. 

Best of all, you can transfer the route to your GPS either manually or by a direct hookup to your computer.  Even my getting-to-be-ancient Garmin nüvi 765 is supported.  

Lets see how to do it. 


All information given here is thought to be correct, however, it is YOUR responsibility to make certain that it works correctly, works with your GPS, works with your computer, and so on and on. 
Routes generated in various ways may cause you to be routed in the wrong direction -- maybe off a cliff.  That, too, is YOUR responsibility. 
Do not fiddle with your GPS while riding. Always stop in a safe place before attempting to manipulate your GPS screen.
There are no warranties on anything here whatsoever, express or implied. 

Most of these instructions are written for the Garmin nüvi 765.  Your GPS may be different. If it is, consult your instruction manual. 


What you will need:
  • A computer with Internet capabilities
  • A compatible GPS Product (one that accepts custom routes)
  • A USB cable for the GPS

Here is a simple route between two locations (destinations), Easley, SC and Pickens, SC. 

The route above is the one that H-D Ride Planner found, and it is the most direct route between the two cities.

Now, let's modify the route to use a road further east, SC-135, for the first part of the trip.  

Note that there is a little circle on the route where it follows the SC-135 portion.  That is where I dragged the route from the original that had been selected by Ride Planner. 

Next, we'll break for review of a few definitions:

  • Route - Shows how to get from one location to another.  (That is what we are creating in today's post.)
  • Track - A record of where you’ve been. 
  • Waypoint, Placemark, or Point of Interest (POI) - Terms for specific locations that have been marked on your GPS.  H-D also calls some of them "locations." 

Let's go on to the procedure for getting the route into the GPS: 

Plug your Garmin unit into the computer via USB.   Your computer will recognize it as a USB flash drive, and assign a drive letter to it. 

You can export the route two ways, depending on your GPS.

  • If yours is one that is supported by the website, then you press the GPS SYNC button near the upper right of the screen, and select Automatic Mode.  It then detects your GPS -- in my case, the Garmin nüvi 765 -- and prompts you to provide a name for the route.  Then it transfers the route into the X:\Garmin\GPX directory, where X is the drive that your computer assigned to the GPS when it was attached via. USB cable.  Garmin Communicator is required for this transfer. 
    Make the route name short and avoid spaces if possible. 
  • If your GPS is not supported by the website, then after you press the GPS SYNC button, select Manual Mode instead.  Press SAVE AS GPX FILE.  This then prompts you to provide a name for the route, and creates a GPX file that you can save to your computer, then copy to the same directory as above, X:\Garmin\GPX directory. 
    Make the route name short and avoid spaces if possible.  The file that Ride Planner creates will have an odd name such as hd_1429109793918.GPX, but it will again have the name you gave it here when you Import Route from File, as described below. 
    (You will probably find a file called  "current.GPX" and maybe "position.GPX" already in the same folder.  These are the files that show where you have been since that last time you cleared your tracks.  It does no harm to delete them or move them to your computer if you don't mind not being able to see those tracks on the GPS.  A new version of the files will be generated as soon as you begin moving with the GPS turned on.) 

Use your operating system's procedure to safely remove the Garmin [USB] drive.  Disconnect the GPS from the computer. 

To import the route(s), do the following for Garmin nüvi 765 units:
  1. Restart the GPS. 
  2. Go to "Tools, My Data, Import Route from File".  A list of routes will appear.  Amongst them will be the one you created, identified by whatever you named the file.  Select it, and press "Import".  The screen will show "Calculating route", and a percent complete, then "Data imported successfully".  Press "OK". 
  3. Press "Back" a couple of times until you are at the main screen.  Press "Where To?".  Scroll down and press "Custom Routes".  Your new route will show as one of the items in the list.  Press the one you want. 
    The screen will display the distance and travel time.  Press "Go!". 
  4. The GPS will ask you if you want to "Navigate to the start of the route?".  Press "Yes" if you want to do that, but be aware that it will direct you back to the starting point even if you are already beyond it along your route.  If you are already on the route, press "No" and it will start you out from wherever you are on the route.
The route we worked with here has only two locations (destinations), Easley and Pickens.  If the route you created in Ride Planner contains intermediate locations, there will be additional routes to import, with names that are the same as the one you picked, but with a numeral after it.  Say you called the route from Easley to Pickens "Pickens."  If you added another location, then another file would appear called Pickens 2.  You import both of them.  If there are four locations, then there will be three files, the last being Pickens 3, etc. 

To delete routes from your GPS: 
  1. Plug your Garmin unit into your computer via USB.   Your computer will recognize it as a USB flash drive, and assign a drive letter to it.  
  2. Go into the X:\Garmin\GPX directory and delete the files that you no longer need.  They may have odd filenames.  Look at the date(s) they were created to help you determine which ones you don't need any more.  If you are not sure which files to delete, don't delete them.  Some files may have other uses in the GPS' operation. 
  3. Then go to Tools, My Data, Delete Route(s), pick the routes you don't need any more, check them, and then delete them.  
  4. The import procedure will also have created Favorites for the locations your route contained.  If you don't want these any more, go to Tools, My Data, Delete Favorite(s), pick the ones you don't need, check them, and delete them. 



If you generated one route where you are intentionally coming back the same way or nearly the same way you came, there could be a problem.  That problem is that once you are using the GPS to guide you along the route, it may become confused about which way to tell you to go if you stop or backtrack to see something along the way that you missed.  The GPS may think that you have already completed the "going out" part of the route all the way to the furthest point, and send you back, skipping some of your two-way route. 

Rectify this by creating two separate routes, one to get there, and one to return.  

However, if you are already following a route that uses the same or nearby roads for both the out and the back routes, and you have the above problem, do this:
  1. Get yourself back onto the route you desire, 
  2. in the direction you want to go, 
  3. stop the current GPS route, 
  4. reselect the route you were on, and
  5. press "Go!"
Do not press "Yes" if the GPS asks if you want to "Navigate to the start of the route?". 

The GPS should now direct you along the route in the desired direction. 


Well, now you should be able to create a route in H-D Route Planner and transfer it to your GPS.  Pretty slick, don't you think?  Better than the old days of using Google Maps, and trying to get your route into your GPS from there. 

Enjoy your new capabilities, but watch where you are going -- not at the little screen -- when you are riding that scooter of yours: Your GPS can't watch the road for you!

Maybe it is worth considering a Harley the next time you buy a bike -- to help them defray the costs of maintaining their very helpful website!

Other GPS Postings:

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Toby Kraft said...

Thanks for posting this, Bucky! Worked like a charm on my NUVI 2455. Copied GPX file to memory card, opened Trip Planner, and there it was. Nuvi found the file and loaded it in automatically. Thanks!
[I had imported a route from google to basecamp and it didn't work very well. Also, for return trip, don't just reverse an existing route using basecamp. The waypoints will be on the other side of the freeway or different on/off ramps and confuse the heck out of the gps.]

Bucky said...


Glad it worked. Creating a custom route, then loading it into the Garman had been very frustrating for me.

If you have a chance, perhaps you could pass this along in your blog posting to help others.

There are some other GPS tips linked in my Bucky's Ride blog posting that might also help you.