Hello. This page is to collect together some tips for people doing longer, more complex tours where they want to follow a very specific set of roads, such as the Twistybutt!
So when you do a Twistybutt, unless you’re one of the brave few using a piece of paper taped to your handlebars (and probably riding a Ducati classic), you’ll be using some form of GPS navigation system on the ride, aiming to follow the route TougeExpress [TE] has carefully crafted for us.
What is GPS?
The Global Positioning System [GPS] is a US military Global Navigation Satellite System which gives you a location pretty much anywhere on the planet Earth as a set of coordinates. There’s actually a growing number of these systems being deployed as countries and companies look to reduce their dependency on a single system which could be taken away at some point. There’s a decent list here for those interested.
So you get this file, shove it into your device or phone and then just go right? Oh, it’s not that simple? When is it ever. Let’s review this to ensure happy happy Twistybutts.
The file is usually sent by TougeExpress as a .kml or .gpx file created on Google Maps, or from Garmin BaseCamp, so let’s start there.
What is a .kml file?
KML (Keyhole Markup Language) is a standard file type usually associated with Google Maps and Google Earth. It’s called that because Google bought the company Keyhole to start it all. These are usually .kml files but there’s also a .kmz file, which is a zipped format containing the .kml file and any other useful meta info. It’s designed as a presentation format for annotating maps.
What is a .gpx file?
GPX is another file format which is designed to encapsulate a lot of data about topography, including GPS data and other locations. The format has explicit formats for routes, waypoints, and tracks as distinct data types.
.gpx is generally considered the better option for transferring data between GPS devices and it’s a fairly open and widely supported format.
However, there’s more to it than that. Again.
Points, Waypoints, Routes and Tracks
Points: A GPS point / co-ordinate are a set of numbers received and processed from orbiting satellites which defines a point on the Earth’s surface (to an accuracy dependent on the system used).
Waypoints: These are single fixed locations which you may have set yourself, or the application may have chosen, such as a good restaurant or a geographic location, stored as a GPX location – think of these as ‘via’ points.
Track: This can be a large file, with a high number of GPS points to follow, meaning an app can usually place them on a map and see the roads you wanted more accurately. A potential downside is that some apps and devices may have a limit as to how many of these points they can render at a time. These are also the types of files created when you record a run/hike too, like a bread-crumb trail.
Route: This fewer waypoints – fewer GPS positions – and your app/device may use its own logic to decide how you will navigate from one waypoint to the next, depending on your settings. This means that two riders with two different apps, devices or settings, may go down different roads despite sharing the same route. And that’s before we talk about basemaps…
These are the sources of the maps we use, either paper or digital. It’s worth mentioning that maps are not all the same, indeed some are intentionally not the same so companies can see if someone copied their map without permission.
For this page though, we’ll just be looking at digital maps.
These differences in maps can make a difference as to how a device sees and chooses your route from the GPS points you give it. We need to be aware then of what map we’re using and test to see what differences that has to the one that the route/track was created on.
Some may be using Google Maps, so that’s your basemap. Some of us might be using Garmin devices and the Basecamp app which is their own they’ve created from licensed sources. Some other apps and devices might use the OpenStreetMap project.
OpenStreetMap and Google Maps are sufficiently different that designing a route on one may not get you the exactly same sequence of roads as on the other. This is often because we’re going on small, minor roads with lots of branches so when the app overlays a GPS point on a map it might not be on the road we want, but on a road nearby, so it will route differently. (This may be an issue with the app as well as the map.)
So what did I do on my first Twistybutt?
Let’s look at my own example for what not to do:
My first year I had the source route “golden master” [GM] .kml from TougeExpress made in Google Maps. I imported that .kml file into trip planning website Furkot – which also uses Google Maps – and exported as a .gpx route and then imported it into my navigation application on my phone – OSMAnd+.
It didn’t go so well.
When I missed a turn the app running on my smartphone would try to recalculate to get me to the next waypoint, since it was the only real information it had, and the way it chose to get there may or may not have been on the GM since it was finding its own way between waypoints.
Some of this was my lack of understanding of the application but I also didn’t understand that the exported Furkot route was still using Google Maps base, and OSMAnd+ is based on OSM (OpenStreetMap). My app was therefore trying to create a 500Km set of roads from very few waypoints, relatively, on a map which was sort of the same.
An exported track would’ve been better, but not perfect.
What did I do on my Second Twistybutt?
The next year I used the Kurviger website which also uses OSM. I went the long way around by making an exact copy of the Gold Master roads by comparing TE’s route natively in Google Maps and Kurviger side by side and then exporting from Kurviger as a .gpx track. This meant I had to split the route into 3 sections as this is a high resolution solution, and at the time Kurviger seemed to struggle with more than a certain number of its route designing points. This issue with Kurviger seems to have been resolved by 2022.
Breaking it into multiple parts as a track also meant my OSMAnd+ phone app could follow it, and quickly guide me back to the track, not a waypoint if I missed a turn.
This process took a long time for me to do the first time, but you should know what to look for along the way anyway. This worked well for me (and it gives you an idea of the work TE puts in!).
These days, TougeExpress will give you a Google derived .gpx track if you ask, so all you have to do now is to import that into a site / app which has your system’s basemap and check it against that GM. You may have to carve it up for the site or your navi to handle.
Also, don’t forget to mark the fuel stops / places of interest in your system too which TE provides. The fuels stops TE lists are open – sometimes others you see on maps aren’t open when you think they are (sigh). Also, there’s often a gate we need to be through by ~ 5pm. Good to know where it is!
The Final Map Checks
Now I had my .gpx files – and you’ll have what is appropriate for your system. Now load them on your navigation system and quickly compare to the GM – did it get it?
Even at this point I’ve seen some subtle issues which could put you on the wrong road if only for a short section, so I’ve gone back, tweaked, re-exported/imported and checked again. I’d attribute this to very minor differences in the way the application renders the way but also, make sure your points are exactly on the road – zoom all the way in there and check.
Know Your Navigation App
I didn’t fully understand some of OSMAnd+’s options on my first run – as well as not appreciating routes vs. tracks. It all added up to wasted time and missed turns – to the tune of ~3 hours. That was on me. Know your tools and how they work.
- You need to know what basemaps your system uses.
- You need to know if you have a track or a route file and what map that’s from.
- You need to understand what your settings are for routing too. For example, if you have ‘get me there quick’ enabled, there’s a good chance it could generate an unintended route, or when you go off a route, it’ll put you on a main road to the next waypoint – that is not The Twistybutt Way. This may even happen with a track on some devices.
- Essentially, you need to know how you app or device works.
- Keep a copy of the .gpx or whatever file you have locally – don’t rely on a cloud. For Garmin users, make use of SD cards – and carry a second copy on SD just in case.
Some people have tried to use Google Maps and streaming the map data, only to find on the day no data signal in the mountains, so no streaming Maps.
Some people found on the day they didn’t know how to tell Google Maps to follow a specific route. You don’t want to discover these gems of wisdom on the day. Learn your app.
As of late 2019, Google Maps now allows downloads in Japan which should reduce some of these issues – providing you remember to download the map data beforehand.
Those using OSMAnd+ and in fact all other offline based apps should also make sure they have local copies of the locales for the route, and surrounding areas – if there’s an issue on the day and we have to make a detour, the app cannot help you find an alternative if you haven’t downloaded the map data for that new area. You can likely get this over the air, but that’ll be slow, and signal may not be great – download it from the comfort of your armchair beforehand.
Map Not Keeping Up?
Another factor to remember is that on some systems there can be a lag (or accuracy issue) where the device/app thinks you are based on the GPS information its receiving versus where you actually are. This means if you’re going quickly you might miss a turn since the GPS thinks you 20-30m before the turn, so be aware a bit before and keep an eye out for the kind of turn you’re going to be making.
One issue smartphone users face (and this is seemingly less of an issue for dedicated device users) is that their devices can get hot, and either become functionally unstable or flat out shut down.
Firstly, local map solutions like OSMAnd+ seem to have this less as they’re not streaming map data as well as position information in and out.
There are other things you can do:
- Remove any covers on the phone,
- Close any applications you aren’t using,
- Turn WiFi off (even Bluetooth if you don’t really need it) \
- Reduce the screen brightness as much as you can (I find the auto setting usually keeps the brightness up high too)
- Mount the phone where it’ll get some breeze. This might mean moving it on your handlebars, or adjusting/removing your screen. Anything to get some cooler air around it.
Other general smartphone tips:
- Lock the phone’s orientation as portrait (or whichever way you use it) – this will stop the display moving around as you lean on some corners.
- If a phone needs a waterproof casing, be sure it is still usable and is secure on its mount over bumps.
Some Apps to Try
Caveat emptor: I only know my way around OSMAnd+ with any kind of proficiency. These were mentioned to me, but try and decide for yourself.
- Google Maps
- Kurviger App
- (paper) Mapple Touring books – have this anyway, just in case!
Get out there and ride, and be sure to talk about any issues as opportunities for exploration at the bar later.
If this all seems like a lot of work, and yours works fine out of the box, that’s great, but if you do the Twistybutts and have ‘issues with the map/route’, take the time to see if there are any potential fixes here.
Remember: There is NO substitute for knowing your route, or at least recognizing when you are not on it. Time spent in front of your device/computer at home with a cup of tea is much better than when you’re stood in the rain on top of a mountain.