GPX vs TCX – which should you use for your cycling computer?

GPX and TCX files are files that contain track, waypoint and route data that you can add to your cycling computer to direct you along a pre-planned route. This is achieved by marking a line on the map on your device that you should follow. Some cycle computers also offer turn by turn information.

But what is the difference between GPX and TCX files, and which should you use?

What is a GPX file?

GPX stands for GPS Exchange Format. It is a file that contains a bunch of waypoints that a GPS device will use to construct a route on a map. Each way point is stored as a latitude and longitude value. Depending on the software you use to create the GPX file, it may also contain other information such as elevation of each waypoint.

The GPX file format is open source, meaning anyone can use the specification to create their own GPX files and other devices that use GPX files will be able to understand it.

What is a TCX file?

TCX is a file format created by Garmin. The file extension stands for Training Center XML.

Although it is a proprietary file format, Garmin hosts the specification for the file on their site so others manufacturers of fitness trackers and websites can generate files in the correct format.

If you were to export a TCX file format from your cycling computer it would contain the GPS information, as well as ride and health information such as power data and heart rate. A TCX file can be used to import a route into your bike computer ahead of a ride, as well as export an actual ride activity that contains this extra data about your ride.

Turn by turn navigation

Whether you can get turn by turn navigation working on your cycling computer will depend on the device and the maps you have downloaded.

Some route planning tools will allow you to download a TCX file with ‘Advanced Turn Notification’ data included.

This is different to proper turn by turn navigation which requires a routable map on your cycling computer. The latest Garmin devices do offer turn by turn navigation for both GPX and TCX files.

How do you create a GPX or TCX file?

If you are taking part in an event such as a Sportive the organisers will usually make a GPX and TCX file available to participants. If you can’t find one on the event website I would suggest getting in contact with the organisers.

If you want to create your own route files, the popular apps to do it with are Strava’s route planner and RideWithGPS.

Strava is particularly good as you can download the GPX files of other people’s rides – which is a good way to find new training routes.

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