Touring - using a gpsr and making custom maps (some advice)
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05-25-07, 05:00 PM
this is going in 'touring' because i see the most gps threads in here. but it should interest any and all flavors of gps bikenerd..
so i bought a gpsr this week. it is so so awesome. the software issues can be a headache, though. and i quickly discovered that making your own custom maps is really really complicated. here is my review of the gps i bought and the results of my several days of obsessive software research:
first, this is a bike forum, so im just gonna say-- get a garmin, no question. next, i highly recommend the etrex venture cx, which is what i bought. its not a 'cycling-specific' unit, but i want it for other things than biking, too. the 'cx' means it is mappable and takes microsd cards. dont even bother with a device that cant do this. i paid $190US for it. if you live in europe, find a usa friend to send you one (thats what i did), cuz its like 3x cheaper over there.
the venture is the cheapest one in the new etrex cx line, but the other models are virtually identical for a HUGE price increase. do you have a usb cable like the one that came with your digi camera? good. do you not mind carrying a cheap compass 'just in case'.. or just not worrying about it? good. are providing these two things worth $50-150 more? ummm.. *cough* you, garmin.
ok now some comments on software.
1) do not underestimate garmin mapsource! i did at first, because it is hugely expensive and very difficult to pirate. but after tooo loong looking at other applications i finally came back to it. it is rad. it even has some miniscule mtb trails running through the black forest in southern germany. and so far, its been dead-on accurate. also, the only difference between the pricier 'city navigator' and the lesser 'metroguide' is that the latter is not routable. but there is a freeware hack to fix this. get it here (http://www.geodude.nl/gps/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=3).
2) google earth. it might seem to be little more than a bloated version of google maps. and this WAS my opinion until i found a program called stitchmaps (http://www.stitchmaps.com/). it may not be worth the cost, but with this program you can compile a single jpg made out of hundreds of google earth images (taken at the closest level, with the most detail) for basically as large a region as you want. and it does it automatically in just a few mouse clicks, including automatically calibrating the whole image. i now have the whole of southern germany in a huge jpg ready to be plugged into mapping software and exported to my gps unit. i think thats just great.
3) easygps (http://www.easygps.com/) (freeware) and expertgps (shareware version). decent editing software if you cant get yourself a copy of the more badassed..
4) global mapper (http://www.globalmapper.com/)! this is what im using now, and it just kills it! automatically fetches usgs maps (including topo). and if your area isnt covered, you can import maps (like from stitchmaps). if they are not calibrated, it makes it relatively easy (calibration is a total headache.. thats why stitchmaps is huge).
5) using the map editing programs you need to eventually get from raster images (photos, scanned maps, etc) and other data input (topographical info, etc) to a vector image (line and point based image). and specifically in the '.mp' file format. global mapper, for example, has a simple 'export' command that can compile your image data and save it as an '.mp' file. once you have an '.mp' file, you need to make yet another conversion, since garmin has chosen to be a ***** and use a proprietary format called '.img'. the only conversion software that will build you an 'img' file is cgpsmapper (http://www.cgpsmapper.com/buy.htm). luckily its free to use. only catch is it runs as a cmd prompt, which can be awkward for some people (but see #6, if this is you) the same author has also developed a great piece of software called 'sendmap', which allows the easy transfer of map files to your gpsr (same download link, scroll down a bit.. its also free).
6) the last program is gpsmapedit (http://www.geopainting.com/en/). its shareware, but theres a free version with most functions. this one does similar things to global mapper and expertgps but with a few hidden tricks that make it worthwhile. one of them is that it integrates cgpsmapper, so you can convert from .mp-->.img from within the mapedit file menu.. which makes that step a bit more convenient.
05-25-07, 05:07 PM
ps- i really think that bikeforums should start hosting a gpx tracks repository. gps is coming. dont deny it!
05-27-07, 11:01 PM
I'm not geeky enough to follow all that, but are you saying you can make your own maps from google earth and USGS topos and load them into your Garmin GPSr?
05-29-07, 01:43 PM
I have very much the same question as the previous poster. I just purchased a Garmin eTrex Vista Cx for an upcoming European bicycling tour and a number of other outdoor activities I do.
I also bought Garmin's City Navigator Europe and I'm in the process of plotting my routes. I guess it's more of a hobby activity since I don't anticipate using the GPSr to navigate while on the bike. I'll most likely use maps because it's difficult, if not impossible, to map a bicycle route that DOESN'T follow a roadway. Garmin's City Navigator maps, while very informational, simply do not have bike routes and bikeways.
What I'd like to be able to do, and I'm not sure it's even possible, is scan my bike maps (Fiets Atlas of all of The Netherlands bicycle routes - 1:75,000 scale), import the maps into Mapsource, calibrate/overlay them to the actual scale and GPS coordinates, and then map my route in Mapsource for export to the GPSr. I don't need to export the scanned maps to my GPSr, but it would be very helpful for route planning.
I don't know if this is even possible but I'm also concerned that it may be that accurate either, if the maps don't "line up" just right to the Mapsource coordinates. Could you please elaborate on how you get scanned maps to line up perfectly with GPS coordinates?
I'm curious to understand how other people use GPS on tour. Does anyone use it to navigate by, using a pre-planned route? Or is it simply used a reference, to navigate around a large city, find hotels & food, or for when you get lost? I'd like to believe that someday, you can map an exact route and use your GPSr for navigation but I have a feeling that that day has not yet come, not until there are good bicycle route maps online and usable in Garmin's proprietary software. Until then, I'll plan to map out a loose route & upload it to my GPSr, using Garmin's City Navigator Europe road maps, and probably only reference it when I'm lost using my paper map.
ephemeralskin If it's too difficult to explain here, please PM me with more information. I have a few follow-up questions as well. Thanks for the info, you've inspired me to geek out before my tour.
05-29-07, 02:01 PM
I have only used the GPS as back up in cities, but it worked well there and saved loads of time.
I can see where it would be useful for following pre-planned routes, I tried to follow some of the routes in the book Cycling the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg and got confused a few times. If you could transfer those routes to GPS it would make things easier. Then you would have to figure out how to go from book to digital map to GPS.
On the other hand when I am out there a lot of the time I make up my route as I go along, the GPS would just be back up for staying found.
I'm not geeky enough to follow all that, but are you saying you can make your own maps from google earth and USGS topos and load them into your Garmin GPSr?
I would like to know ephemeralskin’s opinion on that too. In particular on this: “…a huge jpg ready to be plugged into mapping software and exported to my gps unit. i think thats just great.”
In other words: “5)using the map editing programs you need to eventually get from raster images (photos, scanned maps, etc) and other data input (topographical info, etc) to a vector image (line and point based image).”
That means you need to draw a vector image manually, doing a copy of a raster image and then to save it as a vector image file. This is mapping software is used for. IMO sounds not optimistic at all, because I think the job takes a lot of time. There are object recognition programs like EasyTrace, R2V, WinTOPO to do it automatically, however the result is still not perfect.
So I don’t see any way how to use calibrated raster images (scanned or google earth) with garmin mappable receivers.
Probably the US, Canada and Western Europe are well covered by high quality commercial vector maps. As to the other world, the mapping function of a gpsr IMO is still useless, for bike touring at least. We have garmin maps of Russia here. They are too expensive and only “base detailed” (means no forests, and no local roads). To add some non-garmin map to the receiver looks like a hacking process. That is very poor to compare with wide-available calibrated well-detailed raster maps of almost all Russian regions on DVD for $10. That is why a gpsr with mapping is still not my choice.
Nevertheless, how can we see us on our detailed bike routes atlas or a space shot of the area? I don’t know another way but to use a PDA with a gpsr module or connected to a gpsr, which supports NMEA protocol. OziExplorer program is all you need. Of course, one must be careful because PDA is not an outdoor device and should not be on all the time to save power. I also turn off the display lighting.
06-02-07, 04:21 PM
hey all.. sorry ive been gone all week. ill try to clarify things--
mapsource will, indeed, not be of use to you, since garmin stubbornly continues to release only proprietary maps that cannot be customized. to get the bike routes you need uploaded onto the gps, i can think of a few different ways to do it. basically, you just need some starting material:
1) the most obvious would be to enable tracking on the gpsr, and then ride all the trails. this could form the basis of a map, which could be used as-is or edited and cleaned up according to the methods i outlined in the first post. i know this obviously isnt useful for you now, but if you end up relying on the atlas during your trip, you could still do other bicyclists a big favor by saving the gps tracklogs and uploading them to a site like bikely.
2) you can try to scan and calibrate your bike trails from the fiets atlas. ive never seen this particular map, but as long as you have a real to-scale map with lat/long lines, scanning it and calibrating the image should be a snap. you want to start with as good a scan as you can make, with the map as squarely pointing north as possible. then you can use any number of freeware/shareware applications. i would recommend easygps, global mapper, or ozi explorer, which, if im not mistaken, should all allow you to calibrate the map without paying for the full versions. to do this, you just need to select the style of map projection used for the original map (usually printed somewhere on the map, otherwise you can make an educated guess), and then plot a few of the lat/long points. a great way to check if you got it calibrated accurately would be to use stitchmaps and google earth to make a satellite overlay of the same region. once you have the calibrated image, you can use a map program to trace a vector overlay. this is as simple as just tracing the trails with your mouse. if you use a full featured mapping application, you can then label the important roads/trails, add geographic details as polygons, etc. if all you need is the netherlands, i dont see this taking long at all.
3) instead of scanning the atlas and using it directly, you could just use stitchmaps to generate a detailed satellite photo of the region. the satellite images in google earth are definitely detailed enough that you can actually *see* all the bike trails. you can then refer to the atlas for names and whatnot, while tracing the routes you need over the google image.
4) you could try to hack the mapsource map. i havent tried this yet.. but i dont see why it shouldnt work. its probably not legal, and so isnt discussed on mapping forums (like the very helpful easygps forum, for example), but i bet its really not hard at all. if you can import the mapsource map into a map editor, then you could trace your trails on that.
in summary, i can only recommend you keep playing with the etrex. as you get used to taking it on rides and navigating around town, you will begin to realize its potential. get a 1-2gb micro sd card and log all your tracks. import them into the mapping software of your choice and play at editing them, drawing shapes, etc. then play at uploading these very rudimentary maps.
i have not successfully found any software that will automatically import *all* the data from a raster map into a vector map. BUT you can very easily import the topo information using global mapper. this is not so useful in some places (eg the netherlands) but it has been amazing for my trips around freiburg. last week i successfully found the highest point in the black forest using nothing but my etrex loaded with mapsource metroguide and my own transparent topo overlay (made in global mapper, then converted and uploaded with cgpsmapper and sendmap). it was one of the best bike rides of my life, but doing it without a gpsr would have been incomparably more tedious. these days i barely even plan a ride. i just go.
once more, in case it still isnt clear:
using google earth satellite images, yes you will still need to trace the vector map 'by hand' as an overlay. then you can export whatever you trace onto the gpsr. this isnt as tedious as it sounds, but it does entail some work. the software i listed, as well as similar mapping applications, makes this task a lot easier. once you become skilled enough, it is basically as easy as tracing over a map by hand with labeled points and shaded geographical regions, etc. you obviously wont be getting *all* the detail.. but i have only been using this method as a supplement to mapsource, which, is usually a lot better than i had expected for things such as bike and hiking trails. it IS possible to get a full-featured gps map without tracing, but it involves hunting down the data. sadly, most available geodata is usa-only. the major exception ive found is the topo data (available for free d/l with global mapper).
to get a sense of the two approaches, here (http://home.cinci.rr.com/creek/garmin.htm) is a tutorial over whats involved in the 'automatic' approach. i imagine it works great, assuming one can find the necessary data. this next pdf tutorial (http://www.globalmapper.com/helpv8/cGPSMapper.pdf) is off the global mapper help page, and gives a decent overview of the 'tracing method'. my own conclusion has been to use mapsource maps for most purposes, with the addition of topo data. for single-day rides, i havent found it to necessary to add extra bike trails beforehand, but its a lot of fun to view my tracks over the google earth satellite images afterwards, just to see exactly where i was and to edit the tracks into a more polished route, in case i want to ride the same way again.
06-03-07, 11:30 AM
Thanks for the info E,
What I've been doing is trying to find existing GPS tracks of the regions that I'll be visiting, with some luck. There is a dedicated site for the Netherlands for this very purpose and I've been able to locate a few approximate tracks. I've pulled the .gpx tracks into Mapsource and traced over them with the Route tool, and now I have a navigable route along bike paths (some of which are just blank spaces on my City Navigator Maps). The problem of course, is that I can't find all of the tracks that I need to plan my tour, ah well.
I've tried starting in Google Earth but I lose my way on the bike paths very quickly, as it becomes hard to tell which is path and road.
I've stitched together a rather big map and I'll plan to calibrate in one of the programs that you've suggested. Without perfect calibration however, this map could be quite useless, I'll report back to let you know how it goes.
I appreciate the advice and I do plan to track my whole tour and upload it to Bikely upon my return. I hope others do the same because this data is very useful for GPS users.
06-05-07, 01:38 AM
sweet! ill look forward to seeing it.. maybe by the time you return we will even have a bikeforums gpx repository set up.
when you say 'stitched', are you using stitchmaps? cuz if you do, the map should already be calibrated. you just have to choose which type of calibration file to generate (there are maybe six or seven choices that cover the biggest mapping software like global mapper, ozi explorer, touratech, etc). although this may only be an option if you are using the 'plus' version..
06-05-07, 09:56 AM
No, I tried stitchmaps but it didn't look like things would line up correctly. I have experience with Photoshop so I stitched it myself.
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