Creating a Bike Route File for Your Garmin eTrex

Creating a Bike Route File for Your Garmin eTrex

When I first purchased my eTrex 10 (and eTrex 20x) I was a little lost when it came to using the bike routes I had made using the free online service called Ride With GPS dotcom (“RWGPS”). I had been used to using the service to create bike rides for my Garmin Edge Touring and downloading a TCX file that I could then copy onto the device’s hard drive. The device could interpret the TCX file and I was ready to be told by the device where to go when doing the route. The Edge would convert the TCX file into the file type it wanted to use, i.e., an FIT file. Unfortunately for me, the eTrex requires files of the GPX type. And it does NOT convert a TCX file to GPX.

Interestingly, RWGPS allows me to download two varieties of GPX from my route pages without becoming a paying member of the site. One variety only includes the breadcrumb trail information known as tracks. And the other variety includes the waypoint information some might call the cue sheet information. Again, unfortunately, my eTrex desires a GPX file that includes both the track information and the waypoint information. To get that variety of GPX file from RWGPS I’d have to become a paying member of the site.

Even if you become a paid member of RWGPS, you still have to edit the cue sheet information for your bike routes stored there so the waypoint titles are not very long. The eTrex device will only show the first 7 or 8 characters of the waypoint titles when in use. Most of the default cue sheet descriptions start with “Turn Left,” “Turn Right,” or “Continue Straight.” If you don’t delete these introductory descriptions before the street names you won’t benefit much from the default waypoint titles. A waypoint title like “Turn right on Mountain Avenue” should be changed to “Mtn Ave.” You don’t need the direction description because the breadcrumb trail (track) displayed by the eTrex clearly shows you to turn right at that waypoint.

One workaround so you don’t have to become a paid member of RWGPS to get your GPX files for your eTrex is to download your ride from RWGPS as a TCX file. Then upload it to a free service at GPS Visualizer dotcom which will convert the TCX file to the GPX file your eTrex wants to use. This was the workaround I used for a couple of weeks until I discovered the free online mapping program called Plotaroute dotcom (“PAR”) which competes with RWGPS. You can create your route in PAR initially instead of using RWGPS, fix the cue sheet titles there, and then download your route as a GPX file that your eTrex will love. One of the really cool features of PAR is it will allow you to compress your GPX file so it will be as small as is reasonably possible. This helps your eTrex operate more efficiently when in use.

Even though I could totally cut RWGPS out of the creation loop so to speak, I still like to use it to make the initial mapping draft. It is much easier to add cue sheet entries in RWGPS than in PAR. Usually the entries I add are controle points for convenience store locations and the like. However, I like to delete cue sheet entries in PAR more. And I like to edit the waypoint titles in PAR more. I also definitely like PAR because before I do a long brevet I like to break the route up into segments. Segment 1 would be the route between controle 1 and controle 2. Segment 2 would be the route between controle 2 and controle 3, and so on. Doing this is very easy in PAR, and rather difficult in RWGPS.

So there you have it. This is how I make my GPX files for my two eTrex GPS devices that I use on my long distance randonneur bike rides.

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