Thursday, October 8, 2015

Using Strava for good, not evil... How to make a route on Strava!

Love it or hate it, Strava is one of the most popular cycling applications out there today. It's as simple or as in depth as you want to make it, and personally i use the many facets of it almost daily. Whether you like to record your rides or not, Strava has another big upside that i think gets left out a lot; route planning/building tools! There's several applications out there that you can use to build routes to upload on your GPS, but i find the Strava one to be the most useful and intuitive while providing many cool layers to aid in planning your next journey! 

Folks that know me know that i make lots of routes and enjoy doing so. I've made routes for weekend rides, group rides, recreated race routes, bikepacking routes... well, you get the idea. I'll also get people asking me to either make them routes or suggest ways to make routes so i figured i'd write up a quick blog post on how i create them (there's many ways and i'm sure not everyone will agree, but this is how i do it).

First off, when i open up the route builder, the first thing i like to do is turn on the Terrain layer and Heatmap. I like to see the topography of where i'm going to ride so i can plan accordingly (i like hills). The Heatmap is what sets the Strava builder apart from other tools. Basically Strava takes all of the user data it acquires and it shows "heat" intensity on roads/trails that people ride according to frequency (side note: this feature is available regardless of whther or not you are a premium member). Here's what the map looks like with those two layers turned on:

You can see the popular trails lit up in red along with the frequently used roads. I find the Heatmaps most useful when i'm planning routes for places i've never ridden like China haha! It's also a good way to search around an area you like to ride for little secret trails, paths, etc... 

As you draw a route, the builder estimates the mileage and elevation for your proposed route. The default for the drawing tool is an automatic snap which follows the known routes/trails/paths that Google has on their basemap. You may find that some of the trails or roads won't let you click or trace a route onto them, and that's where the manual mode comes into play. On the top toolbar you'll find the manual mode which you can toggle on to manually draw your route on the map. I find that i have to use this when trying to route over trails (Big M, Ski Hill, NCT, etc..).

Once you've drawn your route it's pretty easy to load it onto your device of choice, or if you have the Strava application for your smartphone you can run the route right from there. I have a Garmin 810 so that's what i frequently load files onto. So, you;ve got your route, you've clicked the Save button in the upper right hand corner, given it a cheeky name, and here's what you'll see:
Underneath that surprisingly creative name you've dubbed your desired journey you'll find a button that says "Export". If you click on this a dialogue box will open up that will allow you to select what GPS device you're using and how to load it onto said device:

While the Garmin GPS units may at first seem to be a box full of black magic, they're really quite simple when you break them down. If you plug your Garmin into your computer, Windows File explorer should pop up and show the Garmin as basically a glorified USB stick. Click on the folder called "Garmin" and then click on the folder titled "NewFiles" and that's where you drop that file that you saved from Strava and boom, done! When you turn the Garmin on you should find the route in your courses. One common mistake a lot of people make is to first, not read the directions shown on the screenshot above, and second, to open the "Garmin" folder and see a folder titled "Courses" and assume that's when you put your course file you downloaded. While that seems like it should make sense and work just fine, alas, it does not and you will be sans route if you try it that way. Probably something with the Garmin needing to digest the file in the "Newfiles" folder like a cow chews cud...

If you want more info on how to load stuff on Garmin devices, how the different ones function, how to use your smartphone, etc.. I would suggest Googling DC Rainmaker and searching through his massive amount of info on such subjects. 


  1. wow DC Rainmaker looks like a great resource. Good post Matt.

  2. Is there any button to click which makes the route a round trip, or out and back? I cannot find one anywhere.