Toolkit for Turning Garmin Forerunner 201 Data into Overlay Maps

I finally took the time to sit down and figure out how best to create overlay maps for runs and rides that I take with my Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS Personal Training Device. The impetus for doing it was a 50-kilometer bike ride that I did on Sunday in Lancaster, PA with my father-in-law, George Kuykendall. I wanted to be able to discuss the ride with friends and family, but I find that difficult to do without showing them maps or pictures so that they can get a better feel for the course and the level of effort.

Here's a map I generated of the Lancaster 50k ride. Click on the image to see a larger version:

Lancaster PA 50k Ride
[ Produced with GPS Visualizer, background map courtesy of Geographic Data Technologies ]

Here's the set of tools that I used to produce this image:

In order to collect the data, I rode 50 kilometers (31 miles) with the Garmin Forerunner 201 mounted on my bike's handlebars. When I got home, I uploaded the GPS data to a PC in my office, and split the uploaded file into separate workouts. I downloaded the ZIP file back to my PC and unzipped it.

From there, I used GPS Visualizer's Forerunner-optimized map form. The resulting map was produced through trial-and-error experimentation. The GPS Visualizer has a ton of options, but I found the following options to be critical to producing a meaningful map:

  • General map parameters:
    • Border: produces a box around the resulting map,
    • Title: provides a convenient explanatory label for the map,
    • Background map: Europe & US: political map (street level), this particular map is owned by Geographic Data Technologies.
  • Track options:
    • Colorize by: Altitiude/elevation, my choice, but I didn't think people would care as much about my speed.

GPS Visualizer lets generates an SVG file (Scalable Vector Graphics), which can be displayed in-line on a web page using Internet Explorer and the Adobe SVG Viewer. One neat feature of the combination of GPS Visualizer, IE, and Adobe SVG is that I was able to move the GPS Visualizer-generated labels around before I put the map into Paint Shop Pro. I used the Paint Shop Pro screen capture tool to grab the resulting map. Then, I added a couple of additional text labels, like Start / Finish.

Once this was all done, I saved the resulting image to a JPEG file and uploaded it to Operation Gadget. The entire process, including experimentation, production, and this writeup, took less than two hours. In other words, it took less time to produce the graphic and write about it than it did to complete the ride.

The technology that the Garmin Forerunner 201 puts on your bike's handlebars or on your wrist is amazing. You probably have most of the other PC software that is needed to complete this project. Kudos to Adam Schneider, the developer of GPS Visualizer for making it relatively easy to integrate all of the data necessary to produce informative maps like this.