Cycle route planning for Garmin eTrex Vista on Ubuntu 18.04

Obviously, this is a summer holidays post, not work related. One of my long-term popular posts on this blog is about Using Garmin eTrex Vista HCx with Ubuntu 14.04LTS & QLandkarte GT. That post has the info about how my eTrex is set up to connect to Ubuntu and to use OpenCycleMap, which still works for me. This post is just about the route planning, which has moved on. In short I use Google Maps in cycle mode plot the route, to download a GPX of that route, gps babel to simplify and transfer the GPX file to the eTrex, and QMapShack to view and manage the various GPX files on Ubuntu. For navigation en route I follow a planned track on eTrex and/or on my phone using OSMAnd.

I tend to do my route planning for bike rides on Google Maps. I’ve tried lots of others, including the following a route using the Garmin eTrex or phone/OSMAnd as satnav, and routing on QMapShack, on Cycle Streets and Bing Maps; they all have their strengths, but Google wins because of two features. First, it’s dead easy to change the route by adding and dragging an intermediary way point; second street view and the aerial photos let me check out the type of road/track that it’s sending me on. There are still one or two stretches of cycle routes that it won’t add to routes, but another factor when compared to some other routing services is that it won’t send me on a detour over a rough path instead of a short distance on a medium busy road.

Once I have the route I want, I use to convert it into a gpx files of the track point and route points that I download. For the route points I use the advanced options to get next turn info and turn directions. There may be other options, I haven’t looked because this does the job nice and simple (it’s nice to leave a donation if you think so too).

The only problem with the route points gpx file is that is has way too many  points for the Garmin. gpsbabel has a great option that will simplify by removing any points that are within a set distance of the line drawn between its neighbours. So if you’re happy with the line being up to 100m from the actual route point (which I find works fine) you can use

$ gpsbabel -i gpx -f track.gpx -x simplify,crosstrack,error=0.1k -o gpx -F track_s.gpx

That done I use QMapShack with the OpenCycleMap map to view and manipulate the route and track gpx files. I check that the route isn’t missing any obvious cycle routes. Google Maps is good enough at using cycle routes, but doesn’t display them particularly well, so they’re easy to miss. Actually editing the track or route on QMapShack is a bit of a pain, but it’s really quite quick to edit on Google Maps and re-download. I sometimes create waypoints in QMapShack with the name of the route point turn instructions. I put the route the track and the waypoints into a single project, (and if I am planning a multi-day tour I put all days into a single project) and save as a single GPX.

Three cycle rides in QMapShack as routes and tracks, one highlighted with waypoints.

I haven’t been able to get QMapShack to talk to eTrex, so I use gpsbabel to transfer the files:

$ gpsbabel [-t|r] -i gpx -f filename.gpx -o garmin -F usb:

Using -t at the front transfers track, -r transfers routes, using neither transfers the waypoints. See the docs for more options.

To transfer to my phone I just plug my phone into the USB and mount it for file transfer copy the file over and choose to display the GPX file from the Configure Maps option.

When riding, I just follow the track on the GPS device (phone or eTrex) with the waypoints giving me text hints (I would love to know if there is an easy way of setting proximity alarms for way points in bulk on the eTrex, to give alerts when a turn is coming). Having the route to display can be useful at times, but I have found that both devices tend to send me on unwanted detours and down unsuitable paths if I allow them to use the route for navigation. On the phone with OSMAnd, using a track for navigation works better, but there is a problem with the battery life on longer rides.


3 thoughts on “Cycle route planning for Garmin eTrex Vista on Ubuntu 18.04

  1. Thanks for all this useful info. One thought: have you tried using instead of google maps? I find it much superior, particularly for off-road planning where google maps falls short

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