Howto: Plan & Follow a Google Maps Route on Motorcycle with your Phone

You’ve all been there, spent ages on Google Maps trying to plot a perfect super twisty route down all the quiet back roads; but come unstuck when trying to follow the route whilst on the bike. At the end of the day, you’ve got a computer with a route on the screen and  a phone in your pocket with a GPS and maps – why is it so hard to your route from one to other and then ride it? This howto guide goes through all you need to ride a route off Google Maps on your bike, using your phone.

First up the hardware required, you will need:

A Phone

I wrote this howto based on an Android phone, but it’s mostly generic enough to apply to an Apple iPhone too but you’ll need a different choice of GPS app.

Headphones/set

TCOM-VB Bluetooth IntercomSomething to listen to direction with. This could be as simply as a hand free kit with wired ear plugs, connected to your phone in your pocket. Otherwise there are countless Bluetooth headset available, some cheap, some expensive. I’m using the super cheap Chinese Freedconn T-COM headsets (click for my review) off ebay which are perfectly sufficient.

Phone Mount (optional)

Herbert Richter Phone Case - 1Although you can get by with audio directions only, it can be handy to glance at the screen, gauge the exact route you need. Especially on busy interchanges or roundabouts with many exists.

Again, eBay has tonnes of phone mounts, some phone specific, some universal, with varying levels of waterproofness. I’m using a chunky Herbert Richter case (click for my review).

USB Power Source

Phone GPS apps will drain your battery fast, so if you want to ride for more than a couple of hours you will need a USB power source to keep your phone running.

USB-Motorcycle-SocketYet again, eBay is full of USB sockets you can wire into your bikes battery. Some bolt to your bars, some flush into fairing, some combine fag lighter sockets and some with low voltage cut out . Go hunt around, take your bike. Most install easy enough and just wire straight to the battery, though plugging in a relay is preferred to avoid unwanted battery drain.

I’m using an old Maplin USB socket (click for my review), which is unfortunately discontinued.

That’s all the gear you need, let’s get started and create our route.

Google My Maps

Not to be confused with the default Google Maps webpage, you need to use the Google ‘My Maps’ app on Google Drive, as this will let us export our route to a KML file.

Google My Maps
Create a new map in Google My Maps

Use the link above and hit the big red ‘Create a New Map’ button.

On your fresh map you will need to add a ‘Driving Route’ layer, as the default layer does let us add waypoints. Use the little point to point icon and click ‘Add driving route’ in the drop down menu.

Google My Maps Driving Layer
Add a driving route layer to map

Now we can create our route. Either add destinations manually to the layer in the left hand panel, or draw a route directly on the map. You can drag the route around as you like, rearrange waypoints and generally tinker until you have your perfect ride laid out.

Give the route a name, by clicking on the title at the top. You can also delete the original default layer too or use it to add points of interest along your route.

Google My Maps Plot Route
Plotting a route

Now we can export out route. Google My Maps supports the standard KML/KMZ format. The top menu (three dots next to title) has the option to export.

Google My Maps Export to KML
Export to KML

On the export options we select KML format. You can also choose to export all layers or just one.

Google My Maps Export to KML options
Google My Maps export options

Click download and save the file somewhere handy. Next we need to convert this KML route format to the GPX format, which is what our phone GPS app will read. This can easily be done with a free webpage GPX converter at GPS Visualiser. Simply upload your KML file and hit convert.

Convert to GPX
Convert to GPX

We can then download the new GPX file, which we will be copying to your phone shortly.

Save GPX file
Save GPX file

OsmAnd GPS Navigation App

Next up we need a phone app that can read our GPX route. Unfortunately the Google Maps phone app can’t do this. 🙁 So we are going to install the app OsmAnd, which is free, uses a downloaded map and does a reasonable choice of navigation. This is available both on Google Play Store and Apple App Store, however the iPhone version has no navigation…

So first things first, go download this app, and download the offline maps for your region.

Transferring GPX File to Phone

To use our GPX file in OsmAnd it needs to be places in tracks folder of this app. The settings screen of OsmAnd will tell you where it’s data storage folder is (on my phone /media/sdcard0/maps/osmand as I moved it to the sdcard to fit map downloads).

You can copy the file in a number of manners, bluetooth, USB cable or using the Android FileTransfer app (best plan for Mac users).

Beginning Navigation

Now we have everything in place, I’ll show you how to kick off navigation and get riding. In the OsmAnd app hit the navigation button at the bottom:OsmAnd Boot UpNext hit the navigation options button.

OsmAnd Begin NavigationFrom here we can select the GPX file we previously copied into the osmand/tracks folder.

OsmAnd Select GPX MenuThis will bring up a menu of all the GPX routes copied over.

OsmAnd Choose GPX RouteAfter selecting the route, we should tick the option to ‘Pass along entire track’, otherwise OsmAnd will try to take short cuts and skip the start of the route if you are already closer to the end point. Ticking this option will force navigation to take you to the start of the route and direct you along its entirety.

OsmAnd Pass Along TrackNow you’re ready to just hit the Go button.

OsmAnd Start RidingAs you can see, this plan isn’t quite as straight forward as a proper SatNav, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. I have had the OsmAnd app crash a few times, so I’m still on the look out something better. Nonetheless the first half of this guide to create the KML and GPX route files should still apply regardless of your choice of phone app.

This is definitely one of those areas where things change, software gets updated, new apps pop, old apps get discontinued etc. There will be alternative software for each of these steps, this is just the method that worked well for me. But, I would be more than glad to hear of better approaches you know of, so please drop a comment if you know of some funky better apps.

Author: Arthur

Seasoned London commuter, doing my best to stay rubber side down and never stop moving forward.

2 thoughts on “Howto: Plan & Follow a Google Maps Route on Motorcycle with your Phone”

  1. Great article – I’ve been wondering how to do this for months. Currently, I use Google Maps saved favourites and stop at each point and navigate to the next point.

    I tried your method but couldn’t get used to OsmAnd’s way of dealing with roundabouts – i.e. “Turn right” where Google Maps would have said “Take 3rd exit on A111”.

    I’ll look into some other navigation apps which can import GPX.

    Thanks!

  2. This worked great. Thanks a lot for instructions.

    Although, for some reason OsmAnd did try to route me different way on some intersections. It did show my track, but also added suggestion which I think it calculated as faster route. Will play around with settings.

    Thanks again for this Arthur.

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