Here's how to successfully transfer and use custom GPX routes on pretty much any GPS device that supports them.
Navigating the menus of electronics firmware can be tedious for those who either aren’t tech savvy or have yet to become familiar with the device in question. For many, this puts GPS modules at the top of their “confusing” list. My goal for this post is to jump through a few basic hoops in attempts to transfer and import custom GPX routes onto any GPS device that supports them.
A lot of modern GPS units still employ GUIs (general user interface) that mirror the look and feel of a mid-nineties cellphone. Clunky buttons and a handful of 16-bit icons find their buyer demographic in part thanks to reliable accuracy and a beautiful in-travel visual scheme. The success of these products is all about trust and clarity, neither of which make themselves known until you enter a destination and hit “go.”
It’s getting to that “go” part which makes this article so necessary. While I myself am staunchly devoted to the Android platform for all things GPS, I can’t pretend I don’t respect and appreciate the Garmin Zumo 590LM for it’s ability to seek out twisty roads automatically. Smartphone apps are more adaptable, however and that’s enough reason to break down a “best” approach to getting GPX files to work with firmware-driven, dedicated GPS units.
What is GPX, you ask? It’s a map file format that’s gained momentum over the past few years. Essentially a list of comma-separated GPS coordinates, it allows 3rd party software to navigate from one “waypoint” to the next in specific order. To date, no other map file is easier to import or convert for a device or software, including Google Maps. We use it exclusively across this site.
As for uploading/transferring these files to your GPS unit, the words of resident author Joe Nardy come to mind. Here are his (wise) thoughts on the matter of sensible motorcycle maintenance …
Whenever I turn a wrench, twist a screwdriver or position a part, my thoughts are anchored in three simple questions: What is happening to the bike when I do this? Which components are being effected? At what point do my actions reach my goal?
The same concept can be applied to our GPX file transfer effort. It starts with a foundational knowledge of your unit’s manual before moving forward patiently with a linear mindset. Assuming you have a fully unboxed, installed and operational GPS, let’s get started …
Most GPS units have some form of USB connection be it mini, micro or otherwise. Should this be the case with your device, we at least know that it can be connected to a computer. That doesn’t mean the computer will recognize it, however. You’ll have to refer to your manual for specifics on whether or not it can be detected externally. Not all systems provide such a convenience, preferring licensed software that can be questionably janky.
On a Windows PC, the Nuvi appears under “My Computer” as an external drive. This makes folder navigation easy. Using Windows Explorer, traverse the file system until you reach Nuvi -> Garmin -> GPX. Copy your custom GPX route(s) into this folder before “properly” disconnecting the unit.
After powering everything back up, tap the wrench that’s located base-right on the “Where To?” screen. This takes you to a different page of the unit’s GUI where you may then scroll to “My Data.” It’s here that the option to import your GPX file is supposedly waiting.
If you don’t see your file listed, double check it’s file location or consider the MapSource method mentioned above. You’d also be wise to note that once imported, your device might not present the route exactly as you designed it. This is due to the unit’s preferred path between two waypoints not cooperating with whatever resource you used to create the file.
There’s also the matter of waypoint limitations. Older devices such as the now defunct Nuvi don’t allow for more than two hundred waypoints total. That ceiling has gradually been raised with the introduction of newer models, a bluntly anticipated development for sport touring motorcycle enthusiasts everywhere (especially since Android’s open-source OsmAnd has allowed for unlimited waypoints from the very beginning and iPhone’s Scenic is working to do the same).
The above instructions are specific to Garmin units and even then, maybe only the Nuvi alone. The point I’m aiming to make is that your device likely has a built in folder structure that’s accessible through a USB or wireless connection. The common elements which may take some getting used to are the manual, dedicated forums and a surplus of patience.
… and for units that simply don’t work with popular, reliable file formats, there’s GPS Visualizer.
Do You Ride Custom GPX Routes Using Your Stand Alone GPS Unit?
Other systems on the market are able to make use of the GPX file format. Which ones have you tried? What do you like about them and why? Your input is invited. Post an article!