February 2, 2013 by IowaTriBob
After a month of owning a Computrainer and trying to learn all the ins and outs of the system I was ready to tackle what seems to be a cool feature (and advantage) of the system – creating my own 3D course of an actual upcoming ride.
I’m registered to start my 2013 triathlon season this April in South Beach, Miami. I’ve never done this triathlon before so I wanted to see if I could create the bike course and train on it over the coming weeks to prepare for a great race.
Unfortunately this was a lot easier said than done. Computrainer (or RacerMate) has a course builder available on their website but its $149-$209 and I’m not 100% convinced that the 3rd party provider (DeLorme) is fully committed to the product’s future. For whatever reason I’m not willing to spend that type of $$ considering having just spent a small fortune buying the Computrainer in the first place. In fact, IMO, this type of feature should be built in as part of the default software itself.
So over the past week I’ve spent countless hours reading forums, blogs, and downloading dozens of programs in an effort to create my first course. Below are my findings and step by step instructions.
The first step in creating your Computrainer 3D course is to create a map of the route you’d like to ride. There are several sites out there such as mapmyride.com that allow you to create a map; however most don’t allow you to export the map with the elevation data included. Unless you’re looking to ride a flat course, this makes the exports of these maps quite useless. There are a handful of mapping sites that do allow elevation data to be included. After using several, I found the map creation at RunningFreeOnline to be the easiest and most user friendly.
- Go to http://www.runningfreeonline.com. Note: If you’re using IE 9 as your browser you’ll have to click on the “Compatibility View” in the address bar in order for the elevations to be recorded on your map or switch to using Chrome or Firefox to create your map.
- Sign up to create an account (required to save a map to download).
- After you create your account and sign in, click on Maps in the top menu.
- Click on Create from the menu on the left (this will open up a Google maps view).
- On the right hand side of the screen, you can set several preferences, such as miles or kilometers and hide several default features on the screen. I changed the Elevation to “aristos!” but you can try each and determine which you like best.
- Now create your map.
- My goal was to create a map of the South Beach Classic Triathlon bike course. To get started I typed in “South Beach, Miami, FL” into the Google <search the map> in the lower left corner and clicked on search. This redraws the map to South Beach. Of course Google will display several ads on the map but you can easily remove them by clicking on the “Clear results” link just above the search box. Now you have a map showing South Beach Miami or whatever your search was for.
- Click on the “Cycle” option in the upper right corner next to the preferences. This will allow you to begin mapping out your route.
- Now click on the map where you want to begin your bike route. You’ll see a blue square appear where you click. (I’d recommend zooming in to a closer level than the default view to get the exact location and route desired).
- Next you can click points along the route and the map will follow the roads or trails and connect the points for you. If you find that the route isn’t following the road or picking up the trail you can zoom in even further and retry by click on “Undo last point” or you can click the “Freehand” and add more points. In “Freehand” mode the route won’t try to follow the road or path and instead will draw a straight line between the points you set. Note: When clicking on your second point in the map you should see the elevation between the points automatically show in the elevation box. If you don’t see any elevations being mapped, see the Note in #1 above as you’ll need to enable Compatibility View if using IE 9.
- To pan around the map simply click and hold the mouse button down and drag the map in the direction you desire. This won’t leave a point and when you hold down the mouse a hand will appear instead of your cursor to allow you to drag the view around. Take a few minutes and you’ll easily get the hang of it.
- Now complete your route. A nice feature for an out and back route is the “Loop back” button in the upper right. Once you get to your turn around point, simply click the Loop back and it will redraw the return route along the same path you drew. Note: Take your time creating your map; this is the most important part of what you’re looking for after all.
- When you’re finished with creating your map, click the Save button in the preferences menu in the upper right corner. Give your route a Title and fill in any of the other details. If you want you can save your map to the RunningFreeOnline community so others can search and use it as well. A nice feature that could potentially save you or someone else some precious time in the future.
- After the map is saved you’ll now see a Download option in the upper right menu, just below the Save button. Click on “download” then click on the GPX button that appears in the Download window. You may be prompted to confirm you want to save, click OK. The file will then be downloaded to your download location.
Now you have a GPX file with elevation that can be used to create your Computrainer 3D course.
At this point I’ve discovered several different options to create your Computrainer 3D course.
There is a free software program available from RacerMate but it’s unfortunately at end-of-life status without any updates in a while and little to no support. I’ve tried the software several times and each time have run into errors and issues trying to convert the GPX file to a 3D course.
If you’d like to try your luck here are some directions for the Computrainer TopoGPS software.
The software can be downloaded directly from:
Once downloaded, click to run the setup file and follow the install instructions.
On my Windows 7 operating system, when I initially try to launch the TopoGPS application I immediately get several errors. To work around these errors you need to manually create a folder called “Courses” at C:\Computrainer 3D V3\. None of this existed on my computer after install so I had to create each folder and all sub folders on my C:\ drive.
Once I created those I had to close and restart the application and it launched without error.
To create your Computrainer 3D course:
- Open TopoGPS Course Creator.
- Select the “Create a new 3DC course” option and click on Next.
- Select the “From existing GPX file” and click on Next.
- An explorer window will open, find your GPX file created above and select it and click on Open.
You should receive a message showing “Created C:\CompuTrainer 3D V3\Courses\<name of your course>.3dc. Several times I would get an application crash error and have to start over, other times it would appear to create the file but when I tried to open it as a 3D course, the RacerMate software would crash. No luck for me.
What I did find to work rather well was the combination of 3D Route Builder (used to smooth the GPS elevation gradients) and PerfPro Analyzer (used to create the Computrainer 3D course file).
Below are the step by step instructions I followed for each.
After creating your GPX file with elevation I found that in most cases the elevation data can be somewhat choppy with frequent changes in grade over short periods. Unfortunately if these aren’t smoothed out it can make trying to ride the course on the Computrainer a poor experience, a fact even found while riding several of the 3D courses provided by default with the RacerMate software.
After looking at several options I choose to use 3D Route Builder by Hybrid Geo Tools.
The software can be downloaded for free from http://www.hybridgeotools.com/html/3d_route_builder.html.
Prior to downloading and installing the 3D Route Builder I’d recommend installing Google Earth as the 3D Route Builder is dependent upon Google Earth being installed – plus there are some very cool features you can use. Google Earth can be downloaded from www.google.com/earth/download-earth.html.
After Google Earth and 3D Route Builder are installed, follow the steps below to smooth out the elevation and make any final tweaks to the GPX file prior to creating your 3D course.
- Open 3D Route Builder.
- From the top menu click on File and the select Open Route.
- Find your GPX file in explorer, select it, and click to Open.
- You may be prompted about upgrading your GPX file from version 1.0 to 1.1 (depending on where you create your GPX file from). If this comes up click OK to continue.
- This will then load your GPX file and you’ll see all the points along the route.
- Click on Route from the top menu bar and select Enable Edit Mode.
- Next, click on the first row in your data points and then press “Ctrl +a” together to select all your data.
- With all your data points highlighted, from the top menu click Route – Altitude – Smooth.
- I’ve always left the defaults as presented but you can play with the Interval and Distance to suit your preference. Click Preview to see the changes and click Accept to save them back to your data.
- To save your GPX file again, from the top menu click File – Export as… and either save over the same file, or rename to a new GPX file. You will see an Export Options screen appear. Leave the fields as default and click OK and then OK to confirm this is for personal use to complete this process.
You now have a GPX course file with smoothed elevation.
Note: One cool feature of the 3D Route Builder is to use Google Earth to fly over your route you just created. Click on Route from the top menu and select “Drive Route in Geo Tool”.
Last we need a way to convert the new GPX file to a 3D course. I’ve found two ways to accomplish this. One way to create the course file is by using TrainingPeaks software called Real3D. Another is by using PerfPro Analyzer by PerfPro. There seems to be several advantages to using the PerfPro software including:
- It has a 14 day fully functional free trial including the ability to save a GPX file to a 3D course file.
- There are several other features that allow me to analyze my Computrainer rides and progress outside of creating courses.
- The cost after the trial is $49.95.
The TrainingPeaks Real3D also comes with a free trial but it’s a limited version and you’re unable to save a file to ride on the Computrainer without paying $75 for a full license. In addition, the user interface and development of Real3D looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1980 with big blocks and Atari style graphics. It’s unfortunate they don’t allow you to try the full software because it appears to have a built in smoothing feature that might eliminate the entire need for the 3D Route Builder software. However, because of the lack of ability to save a file I chose to go with the PerfPro Analyzer software in my testing.
You can download the free trial of PerfPro Analyzer from https://perfprolog.com/Download.aspx
After downloading and installing you’re asked to walk through a setup wizard that will import existing Computrainer performance files, if you’d like, and create a User within the PerfPro software. Once this is done it’s a simple process to create a Computrainer 3D course file from you GPX.
Note: One annoying issue I ran into with installing PerfPro Analyzer was it required Microsoft .NET Framework version 4.0 which wasn’t on my computer. I had to follow several links and steps to install this framework in order to continue with the PerfPro installation.
- To create your 3D course from within the PerfPro console, launch the program, click to continue with the trial, close the performance file that shows up by default (if it occurs) and then click on File from the top menu and “Open Performance File”.
- In the explorer window navigate to your GPX file you exported with 3D Route Builder, select it, and Open.
- This will open your smoothed GPX file within a separate window in PerfPro. In this window simply click on Save in the middle menu bar.
- When you save in step #3 above, PerfPro will automatically create a Computrainer 3D course. The course can be found within the main PerformancePRO files under a folder called Courses. For my laptop the exact path to this folder and course file is C:\Program Files (x86)\PerformancePRO\Courses. Depending on your computer this might be in a different location.
That’s all there is to creating a Computrainer 3D course file.
To ride this course on your Computrainer, launch the RacerMateOne software, click on the 3D Cycling application, click on Browse in the Course section, navigate to your new 3D course file in #4 above, select it, and click Open. RacerMateOne will ask you if you want to permanently save the file. I clicked Yes so it’s always available in the RacerMateOne console directly.
My first ride was surprisingly smooth. In fact, the elevation data and even the turns seemed consistent with the Google Earth flyby and map. What I did find a little strange was that the 3D environment didn’t quite know how to account for the turns so they would often be sharp with some trees and other graphical items showing up in strange places. I consider those very minor and am excited to be able to train on the actual course I plan on racing in April and from the comfort of my workout room, in Iowa, in the middle of winter. Hopefully the actual ride itself will be close enough that I’ll have an edge going into my first race.
I’m sure there are numerous other ways to build a Computrainer 3D course and would love to hear how others are doing it. If you haven’t done this already, hopefully the information above can provide some use for you.