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Open Source Mapping for Garmin

We’re continuing Garmin week here on Survival Skillls by looking at some alternative GPS technology that can be used on a motorcycle and today’s topic is how to get hold of some top quality maps for free.

Yesterday we looked at one of the cheapest ways of getting GPS-enabled on a bike, getting a Garmin Dakota 10 or 20, with the 10 available online for just £111.99 (The Dakota 20 is £160 online). As I mentioned yesterday, what these devices don’t come equipped with is a map other than the included basemap which is more or less useless.

So we need to get hold of some maps. The most obvious (and most expensive way) is to buy them.

For example, it’s possible to purchase the Garmin GB Discoverer (All of Great Britain) maps at 1:50,000 scale for £200. What you get for your money with the £200 package is the full Ordnance Survey landranger map coverage for the whole of Great Britain equivalent to around £1000-worth of over 200 paper maps showing detailed topographic data includes terrain contours, elevations, summits, footpaths, bridleways, byways, roads and geographical points. Smaller sections of GB are offered too.

Once installed, you also get turn-by-turn directions to your destinations with addresses and points of interest, including lodging, food and drink, car parks, banks, petrol stations, attractions, campsites, and more. Supplied on miniSD card, you can plug and play on the Dakota 20 – I’ll explain how you install the maps on the Dakota 10 later on. One thing to watch out for with these maps is that they are not updatable, and of course, they don’t cover anything outside Great Britain.

A rather cheaper option is to buy the Garmin City Navigator NT Maps. The full UK/Ireland 2012 version is currently around £26 online and offers the more usual “in-car” GPS navigation maps – ie, turn-by-turn routing but without the topographic data and the footpath and byway mapping that the Discover series offers. Supplied on miniSD card, you can again plug and play on the Dakota 20 and when you go abroad you can swap European maps in and out easily, but the downside is that each section of Europe has to be bought separately. If you want more than just one or two cards the costs start to mount, so you’d be better off looking at full Europe coverage for around £60.

Of course, you could also take a look on eBay and see if you can locate a pre-2012 City Navigator map that someone doesn’t need after upgrading their own system. Alternatively, if you’ve an older unit you might even be able to rob the miniSD card from there. Whilst there are people who make a big thing about upgrading to the latest map every year, there really aren’t that many new roads built in the UK and something that’s a couple of years old won’t be missing very much – the odd bypass and some housing estates, the occasional new roundabout and reversed one-way street – but you do look at the signs as you ride, don’t you?

In fact, it usually turns out that the latest version of any software map is usually a couple of years behind ‘real-time’ in any case when it comes to showing brand new roads. However, be warned that my 2009 mapping was totally out of date in Ireland this summer because they’ve had a massive road-building programme there, so it doesn’t always work like that!

OK, that’s some pay-for options. But I’m sure that like me you appreciate a free lunch… or in this case an open source map.

That’s the open source map on my Garmin Oregon – a slightly taller screen than the Dakota

Firstly, what does open source mean? It basically means that the source code of the program is made available for everyone to modify or use as they see fit. In other words, we can download it and install it for free, and even modify it to suit our needs.

OK, sounds good, so where do we get one from? For maps of the UK look no further than the weirdly-named TalkyToaster site. http://talkytoaster.info/ukmaps.htm

There are two mapsets on offer, the newest and still in beta, Ordnance Survey style maps with the familiar OS colours. For the moment, I’d recommend you stay away from the Ordnance Survey style maps as they are very much a work in progress and incomplete.

I recommend sticking with the standard mapsets, either with or without contours. A compatibility list is provided and the Dakota 100 and 200 are both supported. Personally I use these maps on my own on-bike (Garmin Oregon 200) and in-car (Garmin i3) and the only mapping errors I’ve found have been small housing estates – I actually updated the Opensteetmap project personally to put my own location on – and very recent road modifications. If you feel the need, you can do the same as me at www.openstreetmap.org and enjoy the nice warm feel like you’re putting something back into the project and not simply lining the pockets of a big company.

There are limitations and I recommend you read the page in full and in particular pay attention to this warning:

“The only downside it that they are a work in progress and missing some footpaths/bridleways but for most of the British Isles the road data is complete and many paths/tracks are included… No mapping solution is perfect… By the very nature of the wiki-style process there is no guarantee of accuracy of any kind. Then again, few proprietary maps carry a guarantee of accuracy, either. In fact, some have artificially-introduced errors.”

Occasionally, the open source mapping throws up a routing error, usually when I ask it to produce a route over a couple of hundred miles long. I usually get round it by creating a shorter route to a mid-point, then creating a second route from the next point along. That nearly always sorts it out.

Open source map and turn-by-turn routing on my Garmin Oregon

Downloading and installing the maps does require a little technical savvy. As I mentioned yesterday, the Dakota 10 doesn’t have a miniSD slot, so you’re reliant on the 850 Mb of internal memory for adding maps, storing waypoints and routes and also on a PC link to upload said maps to the device, but if you can plug a USB cable in, download software, create directories and copy files, you really shouldn’t have too much trouble and we’ll look into that tomorrow.

The Dakota 20 makes easier work of uploading maps by having the miniSD slot which means you can copy the maps straight to the card via a PC card reader, then simply pop the card into the GPS to make it work with the map.

If you really can’t be bothered with all that, Mr TalkyToaster even offers a service where he’ll copy the map you want to a card and post it off to you! And if you want maps from outside the UK, Talkytoaster can handle that for a small fee, or you can look at:

This page allows you to build your map tile by tile – useful if you’ve limited space on your GPS! You just need to choose your map, input your email address, and wait for the download link

Final point. Don’t forget these maps are fairly hefty downloads, so make sure you use a broadband connection where you’re not paying by the Mb for internet access!

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