How to use a Cycle Routes GPX file

Matt Rudd

One of the best things about cycling is how flexible and free it enables you to be for commuting, for fitness or just for the fun of it. Sometimes it's great just to set out and see where the pedal rotations take you, but often it's good to put some planning in, to get the most out of your time on the bike.

A little thing called a GPX file (short for General Positioning Exchange for the boffins) can really help you plan your ride, navigate while riding, and even enable you to review how well you went.

That's where our cycle routes can help. Everything from our great collection of tried and tested British Cycling accredited routes includes a GPX file, which contains all the route information you need to stay on track. The only thing left to do is decide how to view the info. This depends on whether you have a smartphone app or dedicated cycle computer.

Unlocking the information held in the GPX file isn't as complicated as it might appear at first.

Here are a few quick steps to follow:

Using a smartphone:

  • Either transfer the file to your phone and open in the navigation app of your choice (see below); or
  • Download direct from your mobile browser, and open in the app of your choice (more on these below)

Using a cycle computer:

  • Transfer the GPX file directly to your on-bike cycle computer (e.g. Garmin or Polar computer) from your PC via a USB connection.
  • Or open the GPX file using your chosen route planning tool if you want to view or edit the route in more detail first

But which app to choose? Our in-house route planners share their recommendations...

Tommy uses: the Ordnance Survey Maps app​

“I found it really easy to load my GPX file into the OS app.

“The interface is straightforward to use, while displaying just the right level of information. There’s an arrow that represents you on the map, and also tells you which way you’re facing. Best of all, if you ever take a wrong turn you’ll receive a very welcome message saying you’re off course!

“You can also choose how you want to view the map. If you want to see a very basic street map for a pootle around town, or a detailed off-road map for mountain biking, it's up to you. There’s even an option for riding at night – just don’t forget your lights!”

Rowen uses: Map My Ride

“The desktop version of Map my Ride is good for uploading existing GPX files to view the whole route and then make any small tweaks to your trip. There are clear tools for amending the route and 'snapping' the route line onto roads.

“The tool then allows you to send the route to a mobile device at the press of a button, and away you go.

“There are some useful nutrition and training extras that can be useful when you're feeling a bit more serious!”

Craig uses: Strava

“I find that Strava really comes into its own post-ride, to review my route. I like the clear layout, simple functionality, and just the right level of information.

“I’m not too geeky on stats, but I like to know I’m improving. For those with a competitive streak though, Strava is great for keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing. 'Segments' show up on route sections that are heavily contested – with bragging rights reserved for the 'QOM or KOM'!

“One tip worth knowing – it's worth setting an 'exclusion zone' around your home or office, so Strava doesn't display your regular start or end points to the public. This will keep the location of your treasured bike(s) that bit more private!”

Jon uses: Ride with GPS

“The route planning section of Ride with GPS is easy to use and builds a turn-by-turn route card for you. Any ride saved on the desktop version is instantly accessible from the app.

“If you use a Garmin, you can export a TCX file to get turn-by-turn directions. I prefer to use a dedicated cycle computer, as I like to save my phone battery life in case of emergencies!

“Ride with GPS gives you the option to set ride goals and then track your progress.”

These are just a few of the options available on desktop or from your smartphone's app store. They're all great for bringing our GPX route files to life.

Once you've found an app you like, you can go out and ride, safe in the knowledge that you'll know which road to take. Just don't forget to give your batteries plenty of juice, before going out to charge your own!

FInd your next great cycle route here