So you want to go for a ride, but need some inspiration, something new, something different, fresh tracks... We all have our favourite routes and, like pulling on a comfy hoodie, it’s sometimes reassuring to pound familiar tarmac with local landmarks flashing by, segments pinging up and triggering an extra few watts of effort. But all of us need variation too. What to do? Well luckily Strava has your back!
Computer says Yes
Whatever level of riding you do there will be a route for you, paved or dirt, hilly or flat, short and snappy or long and sappy. One of Strava’s 50 million+ users will have probably been there before and, even if they haven’t, the algorithms behind their route generators will stitch together the best bits to create a course based on your needs. The maths behind the algorithms uses data from public Strava activities as well as open source data from OpenStreetMap to generate the perfect route based on details you enter for distance, elevation and surface type.
Strava goes off route
As with a lot of Strava functionality there are differences between what you can do on the mobile app and what you can do on your computer, as well as the options for those with a subscription opposed to those that have free access. 2020 was the year Strava decided a paywall would be needed so that they could keep developing their technology and make the brand viable in the long term. As you’d expect, this split opinion, some refusing to dip into their pockets and some more than happy to contribute for an app they use day-in day-out. And that is probably the difference; some people use Strava ‘casually’ and only really need the basic functionality, but for others it is a crucial part of their training and more generally their life! This time last year Strava announced they’d passed 50 million users and 3 billion activities logged! What Strava have done well is make their two options distinguishable but still relevant - there is more than enough functionality remaining on the free version to keep their user base intact and also more than enough add-ons in the paid version to differentiate it and make it a no-brainer for regular users.
Paved or dirt
The web platform gives you the capability to be a bit more creative with the route, making more edits and playing around with changes until you get the perfect course to follow. Meanwhile, the phone app gives a more streamlined approach that, in a way, is more intuitive and the reduced features create a quicker and more spontaneous output. Either way, you choose your sport, decide on a distance, pick elevation preferences and then surface type. Obviously if you live in central London then you’ll be hard pressed to find a 50km loop with 4,000m climbing on dirt trails, but the technology will do its best to match your requirements.
Pick the popular line
Once you’ve made your choices the app will give you a selection of three routes to pick from and save straight away, get your kit on and head out the door to test it out. It is worth saying, though, that you should do a modicum of sense-checking before you do leave the house to avoid any hiccups. Like with any new technology, Strava Routes has had its gremlins; in earlier iterations users reported that it sent them down footpaths, motorways or impassable routes, so do take responsibility for where you are going! If some of the route is dodgy or it looks dangerous for any reason, you’re better off tweaking it and picking an alternative option before you depart. Once you’re happy with the route, it is up to you how you follow it - either direct through Strava on your phone, or downloaded to another device like a Garmin bike computer, or whatever you normally use, GPX and TCX as you’d expect.
The route to glory
Another feature of Strava Routes is that it can hunt down segments for you, so for those athletes that have the need for speed and want to search out the available segments in their location, you’re also in luck! Using the Segment Explorer function you can find segments nearby and give yourself the chance to chart your speed and fitness against both your own efforts as well as others in the Strava community. It may take you a while to get to grips with the full functionality available to you, but if you make the time then you will be able to reap the rewards and find inspiration with just a few clicks of your mouse or swipes on your phone screen.
One of the main benefits of Strava as an app is the community it creates amongst athletes of all abilities, on a scale from the local to the global. Riders can share routes and activities amongst friends or club mates in just a few simple steps. Training can be reinvigorated and formally familiar territory can be remapped to bring out new angles and new perspectives. You may be a Local Legend in your own neck of the woods but if you’re visiting a new area on holiday (Covid restrictions permitting!) or visiting friends then you may need some assistance. Digging out an OS map can provide some fun and the chance to grasp the wider scale of a run or ride - and even OS now have an app which can suggest walks - but if you need GPS and you need the ability to plug and play then Strava is likely your best option, especially for athletes. The popularity of cycling and running clubs at the moment is definitely something to lean on. If you are a club member yourself, then why not get other members to suggest their favourite routes and post them on your club website and social channels? This community spirit will give visitors some options if they are in town, as well as offering members new ideas. If this karmatic approach filters around then, hopefully, when you visit somewhere new you can just hunt down the local clubs online and see if they have any tips or guides that can help you explore with ease!
Eats, Routes and Leaves
Sharing Strava routes is so simple and will save you a lot of time and stress. Gone are the days of scribbling a route map on a scrap of paper and shoving it up your bib shorts (or was I the only one to do that?!). Even if you don’t have a GPS bike computer, your smartphone is more than capable of getting you from A to B with no drama. If you are in London, Strava have compiled a top 10 list of routes that can get you out into the countryside, whether you want to head north, south, or west, ranging from 70-180kms. In fact, wherever you live in the world Strava has done some leg work for you and curated a guide for a selection of major cities! It may be a bit heavy on guides for US cities, but that just proves what a popular app it is in America.
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Strava Routes aren’t just for cycling either. If you’re hitting the trails for a run or a hike then you’ll definitely get some value out of having a hunt around on the app for some suitable options too. As with the guidance on planning bike routes, do take care if you’re heading out on foot - crumbly cliffs or fields with livestock in might be beyond the algorithms for now! Running clubs like bike or triathlon clubs are also a source of inspiration here; drop your local club an email or message and see if they’d recommend any routes. You never know, they might even offer a guided trail run if you’re lucky!
However you choose to use Strava Routes, you are bound to have fun doing it. Less time indoors planning and more time in your trainers or in the saddle - let’s be realistic, that's what it's all about. We love studying the stats and crunching the numbers, comparing ourselves against friends and the pros, but to do that we need to be out there, eating up the miles and getting fitter and faster. The more efficient the process can be for getting out the door, the better!
Blog by Nick Bentley
Nick is the senior UK Editor at Opta, where he has worked as a Sports Data Journalist for over 12 years. When not wearing a white coat in the stats bunker Nick can be found on the lanes and trails of Oxfordshire, where he is an active member of the Abingdon & Vale Triathlon club. Nick has completed triathlons at all distances from super-sprint to Ironman and also enjoys adding to his weekend warrior cycling palmares which includes 8 Stages of the Tour de France, Liege Bastogne Liege, Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix. He's addicted to new kit, the outside, maxibon ice-creams, sunshine and Strava.