From a glance at the searches that have landed people onto our Garmin Edge 800 review it’s evident that there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding how to create and load courses. Here’s a step by step guide to how I do it…
I create my courses on BikeRouteToaster. In the past, Emily and I used BikeHike, which was very similar, but then they pulled the functionality to save and load courses, making the site useless. MapMyRide is probably similar but invalidates itself as a usable site by swamping you with ads. Garmin’s own BaseCamp software should be the best – but I find it miserably unusable.
The BikeRouteToaster site has four pages shown on these tabs:
Step 1. Create an account on the Courses tab and get logged in.
Step 2. On the Map tab find the start of your course. You do this by zooming out using the slider control (see picture on the left) to get your map view broad large scale enough and then click/drag it to get your start in view somewhere near the centre. Then zoom in (again using the slider control) to get the resolution you need to choose the roads for your route.
Step 3. Click on the place you want to start and then click on the roads (if you’re making a road route) to define your route. You will occasionally need to drag the map around to re-centre it. If you accidentally click somewhere and it adds a point you don’t want, simply hit Delete Last from the Edit panel to the right. If you’re using a trackpad and mac gestures like me you may sometimes find that the map suddenly zooms out massively. This just happens with Google Maps and (all) you have to do is zoom back in again.
Step 4. When you’ve finished your course (in my case this is normally by getting back to the start) click to the Summary tab. You’ll probably want to save it, which is when you’ll need to be logged in (see Step 1). You can make this public if you choose, which generates a link like this:
More importantly you’ll want to create a course file. Personally at this point I save a tcx file To File rather than directly To Garmin GPS. You can do either, and choose gpx format rather than tcx if you prefer, in the Download panel.
Step 5. Download Garmin Training Center if you don’t already have it. Forget the ANT+ agent and the legacy versions and download the version of Training Center that you want (PC or Mac) here.
Step 6. Fire up Training Center and open the file that you created in Step 4. You open the course file from File/Import… on the Training Center menu bar. On a mac it will be in your Downloads folder called something like course.tcx or course-3.tcx (depending upon how many times you’ve done it – the file naming is uninspired). The course then appears in the Courses folder in My Activities, as in the screen snippet here.
When you click on he course you just made you can see a representation of the course on a bad map and get a view of the Elevation profile (also available on BikeRouteToaster) and the gradient profile (which is simply the first derivative of the Elevation profile but still interesting). Here’s an example using the latest course I created, which I intend to ride next weekend:
As well as these panes, and this is important, you get to preview the navigation cues that you’ll see on the Garmin. These represents exactly the same data that you can see on the BikeRouteToaster Cue Sheet tab, apart from any text that you add there for creating and printing a paper Cue Sheet – these are not transferred over.
Here’s another important point: if you simply upload a gpx file from a website you may well not get these directions. You can check this by looking at the pane in Training Center where the Turn Right/Turn Left cues were listed above. For example, when I look at the course generated from the gpx file on the Glastonbury 100 MIler website here’s all I see:
There’s the bad map and the elevation/gradient profiles but no directions in the pane at the top. This meant that on the road when I did this event I was relying on the Garmin’s route rather than the actual course. If I hadn’t known better than to ignore this I would never have finished.
Step 7. Transfer the route to the Garmin 800. I do this by plugging in my Garmin to my computer using a USB cable and then choosing Send to device from the Device menu. I do this because I like having my activities and courses sync’ed up between my 800 and Training Center. If you’re not bothered about this you can bypass Steps 5, 6 and 7 and export the course file directly to your Garmin in Step 4.
Step 8. Check it on the Garmin. If you now look at your Garmin 800 courses you’ll find the new one listed. If you load the new course you’ll be able to find this page too:
This lists the same directions that you saw in the Training Center and on the BikeRouteToaster Cue Sheet. These directions are not created by your Garmin’s mapping software. You will see the same directions – e.g. Turn Right – appear on your Garmin as you approach (or, in my experience, as you pass) the relevant location on your ride. These are the directions you should follow – and absolutely not the Route directions created by the Garmin – if you want to stick to your course. You can see them before you get to your next junction by looking at the same page as you ride – then you’ll also see how far away the next turn is. When the Garmin buzzes and shows an “Off Course” message it’s because it thinks, usually rightly but occasionally wrongly, that you’re not tracking to the course.
If you want to get advance notice before you get to each junction you can tick the Add Course Point Warnings checkbox in the Download panel when you create the course in BikeRouteToaster. This creates a duplicate direction in advance of every actual one. The default setting, as you can see, is for this to appear 200 metres ahead but you can change this. You can see what this has done – simply a doubled up the cues – by comparing this Training Center snippet with the one above for the same course without warnings:
As I wrote before, the essential points are these:
- The difference between a Course and a Route is crucial.
- To stick to a pre-defined course you need to follow Course directions/cues. The Route will get you to your destination but will often misdirect you relative to the course.
- Course cues are created before the Course gets onto the Garmin, not by the Garmin.
- Many GPX files don’t come with course cues.