Creating a GPS cycle route on Google Earth

You can plan any type of route on Google Earth – not just a cycle route – but in my case I'd like to plan the route for a cycle tour in Denmark next May. Denmark has a network of cycle routes, some of which run alongside roads, but some follow country tracks that aren't all marked on Google Maps or other online mapping systems like OpenStreetMap. The advantage of Google Earth is that you can actually see the cycle routes and the sort of terrain they pass through. The way I'm doing it is to draw a 'path' by clicking a succession of points along where we'd like to cycle.

Drawing a path on Google Earth

Drawing a path on Google Earth

Transferring a path from Google Earth You draw a path on Google Earth by clicking the 'Draw Path' button on the toolbar above the map – see the pink oval at the top of the image above. This opens a dialog box into which you can type the name of your route and select a colour and line thickness. It also converts the hand symbol to a square cursor. You can drag this cursor along the map, laying down a track of points, but it's probably better to create the route by clicking, otherwise there will be too many needless points when the route is stored on a GPS. In fact, on the GPS unit (mine is a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx), the route will be stored as a track, not a route, because more trackpoints can be stored than routepoints. My route is the blue line on the map (example only). Once you've finished drawing your Google Earth path, you close the New Path dialog box, save the path, then email it to yourself before you close the program. This process is illustrated in the second image (inset), which shows the Google Earth sidebar menu. You will receive a .kmz file in your email inbox, in my case called Cycle path.kmz.

Saving a path from Google Earth As an alternative to emailing the path to yourself you can save it from Google Earth to your hard drive with File / Save / Save Place As (illustrated).

Either way, the .kmz file then has to be converted to a .gpx file suitable for a GPS. Use RouteConverter. It works well, and gives you the option to convert with 'save as route, track, and waypoint list' as well as providing several map options in the map window. RouteConverter actually allows you to plan a route in Google Earth view too, but doesn't display all your position markers at once, as Google Earth does (the little red or blue squares on the map above). Converting .kmz files to GPS-friendly .gpx format can also be done online at GPSies.

Following the route with a GPS

Garmin eTrex Legend HCx trackline The Garmin eTrex Legend HCx allows a maximum of 250 routepoints in a 'route' you can navigate, and 500 trackpoints on a 'track' you can follow. 'Navigate' is when you set the GPS to guide you along a thick purple line with directions. You can also navigate a track using 'tracback' – a bit fiddly in my experience, but in any case I don't want to navigate as such. On a cycle tour you want to conserve your GPS batteries as the unit will be switched on for most of the day and there isn't always somewhere to recharge the batteries. 'Following' a track uses less power. All you do is select your track and follow the trackline on the GPS map (see example, right).

Preparing the track in Google Earth

For a multi-day cycle tour you'll probably prepare a separate track for each day. That means 500 trackpoints maximum per day. The eTrex Legend HCx can store 10,000 trackpoints internally – enough for 20 days.

Following the track essentially means following the path you created in Google Earth. It will be a series of straight lines between the places you clicked on, so it won't necessarily be directly on the actual road or cycle route at all times, as you will be. So you need to make sure that when you create your path, it will be close enough to indicate that you're going the right way when you compare your position on the GPS map with the trackline. The 500 trackpoints your have at your disposal per day are normally enough for a whole day's cycling.

To 'fly the route' in Google Earth, there's a Play Tour icon button at the bottom right of the Places box in the sidebar. View a 'fly by' example here (the Nyborg to Odense leg of our forthcoming cycle tour in Denmark – requires Google Earth installed on your desktop). Alternatively, use the Navigation Controls to zoom down and tilt the view, then drag and let go the hand symbol with your mouse in the opposite direction to the 'flight', keeping to the path by rotating the North point as required.

See also route planning in Google Earth »

17 comments on “Creating a GPS cycle route on Google Earth”

  1. Mary wrote:

    Hi Patrick, thanks for putting this info onto Cycleseven. I shall have a go later today with this for my route that I am currently planning on the island. I have a SATMAP GPS system. Fabulous, except I also complicate things further with an Apple Mac. I down loaded Micks system that he advised, and sadly it does not operate with SATMAP. Anyway, will certainly try Google Earth. I was a big fan of Bikehike, but now of course you cannot save store or post others the routes and I miss that for sorting out elevation points.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Mary, as an alternative to Bikehike you could try the GPSies track creator. It does allow you to store your routes. In my experience, an advantage that Google Earth has over these online route planning websites is that the display tends to be faster. It's also nice to see the photos that people have put on Google Earth.

  3. Chris wrote:

    Not that I want to muddy the water, but here's another plug for I wonder if the screenshot below shows the options you could find useful.

    My only objection to this site is that you have to pay to save and print your maps. Otherwise, I find it useful.

  4. Patrick wrote:

    The route planner on mapmyride seems to work well, but you have to be a registered user to export a route. True, that's the same with Bikehike, but mapmyride is so obviously a money-making website and cluttered with adverts. I'm a big fan of Google Earth. I love the way you can zoom down to almost ground level and 'fly' along your route in virtual 3D, viewing other people's photos as you go along. I've registered to add my own photos to Google Earth but haven't added any yet.

  5. Chris wrote:

    After a short ride out to the foot of the Wolds yesterday, and seeing Garry's fine photographs, I fancied my first ride to the coast on my new bike. (We take the dog to Mappleton, a place which is slowly disappearing because of coastal erosion.) I got up at seven this morning, put my Brooks saddle back on after lending the Kinesis to a friend for yesterday's ride, remembered where I'd left my fig rolls... then, right on cue: snow. And it's still coming down. So I've had to console myself by following some good advice and 'flying' the intended route on Google Earth. However, it doesn't seem to allow me to view other people's photographs. It is also a little difficult to be sure where you are so I have tried to compare with the street view version open in another window in an attempt to find some checkpoints.

    The adverts on this site hadn't really bothered me before – in the version above I just dragged the fellow selling premium membership in to the North Sea.

    The route – any route that goes out to the east – is flat. The elevation view below claims there is a maximum difference in height of 20 metres. Frankly I'm surprised it's that much.

    So I'll have to wait until next weekend at the earliest before I can do this route. Part of the reason for doing it is that it's likely to be the final stretch of a planned coast to coast route early in the summer holidays. Another likely participant reckons that Morecambe to Mappleton has a nice ring to it. I think so, too.

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Chris, re:

    ... it doesn't seem to allow me to view other people's photographs.

    Are you actually in Google Earth from your desktop, or viewing in satellite mode on the mapmyride website? There's a big difference. To view other people's photos in Google Earth itself you need to enable a Layer called Geographic Web in the sidebar, then the photos show up as a little blue square that you click on to view.

  7. Chris wrote:

    Thanks, Patrick. I've only just downloaded Google Earth (it's not my own computer so I'm a bit squeamish about putting software on it). I'm sure you're right. I have a play a bit later, ta.

  8. Scott wrote:

    Hi Patrick, thanks for this very useful post. I'm also a big fan of GE and would like to use it for as many mappings tasks as I can. Above in Chris' post (February 21st, 2010 at 10:09 am), there is a cross-sectional view of his ride (in yellow). Given that I have already drawn a path in GE, is there any way to create this type of cross-sectional map?


  9. Patrick wrote:

    Hi Scott, and hmmm... Google Earth paths contain no elevational data (yet). You'd need a track containing that. I've done this before: upload your .gpx track (created in GE then run through RouteConverter to make a .gpx) to a mapping website like BikeRouteToaster. That adds the elevational data (as I remember). Then download and save it. A cross-sectional view should then be available in Garmin MapSource. I think that works. BRT might show cross sections too – I don't remember – but I'd assume you could also use MapMyRide. A bit long-winded but there are ways it can be done.

  10. Tandemaniac wrote:

    Hi. I'm new to the world of planning a cycle route digitally – as my collection of OS maps will testify. However, now armed with an i phone on my handlebars, I'm lovin' it. Thanks to the info on this website I have managed to draw my first tentative route on Google earth and email it to my i phone and then open it. However does look like an ugly set of straight lines instead of closely following the chosen roads and only opens in googel earth. so a couple of questions hopefully someone out there can answer:
    1. Can I plan a route in google earth that follows the roads and not point to point clicks of the mouse?
    2. Is route converter still the best way to convert a route into a gpx file as I would like to have the route either in cyclemeter or bike hub the two cycling apps I use most for routes. And not in google earth
    3. Or is it possible to export a route direct from google earth as a gpx file?
    4. Any other websites/tips/etc for planning routes and loading onto my i phone. I've joined bikely and mapmyride but would like to see if I can do it through google earth before attempting another route because of the issue of exporting routes.

    Cheers! 🙄

  11. Chris wrote:

    Hi, Tandemaniac. Not wanting to hijack Patrick's post, but as you have mentioned MapMyRide... since my comment from February 2010 I now have a Garmin etrex Legend GPS. I previously used MapMyRide just to measure the distance of proposed rides, but now I export the .gpx file from this online mapping site directly to my computer before sending it from there to my Garmin device. It works fine for me, but then I haven't used it with an iPhone.

  12. Patrick wrote:

    A planned route is essentially the same in Google Earth, MapMyRide, Bikely or any other. It is a series of points linked by straight lines. The difference is that in Google Earth you click on each point manually and the points are exactly where you put them – Google Earth does not recognise roads as such. The advantage is precise control and the ability to explore the ground and features on it, 3D, etc. The other systems have a degree of automation and they do generally work to roads (to me that is a limitation).

    You can't export a Google Earth path as a .gpx file – the exported .kmz file must be converted separately. RouteConverter works well for that. I'm sorry but I don't know cyclemeter or bike hub, or iPhones, or even smartphones except that their batteries don't last long in GPS mode.

  13. Scott wrote:

    Hi Tandemaniac,

    I put some time into researching iPhone apps that allow KML capability. The best that I could find and the one that I've been using for the last few months is called Cyclemeter. It allows you to import a KML file from GE (You have to save your GE path as KML) by emailing yourself with the KML attachment, and opening the KML in Cyclemeter.

    Thus far I've found the app to be very stable and the most statistically-heavy compared to other equivalent apps out there, so if you're interested in your riding stats then I'd advise to check it out.

    I also bought a handlebar mount and iPhone case (backup battery included!) which helps a lot with navigating your route. Here are links to the mount and case:

  14. Richard wrote:

    I have use a device called Triplogik with a USB battery pack. It works pretty good. You can watch your trips on Google Map too. The nice thing is I can use it do my mileage report at work too.

  15. Richard wrote:

    Oups I forgot to give you the site

  16. Julliana wrote:

    Hi everyone. I would like to indicate a very useful tool for converting gpx to kml and vice versa. It also allows users to choose from waypoints, tracks or routes and there's no to install it. Upload your files and see how it works.

  17. Romeo wrote:

    I think very thin layer over Google Earth (Google Maps) provides
    It was designed specifically for bikers, thus, it has a very nice altitude graph that can be useful.
    And of course you can download GPX track as well.

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