A great feature on the Strava app is the ability to create your own custom cycling routes. This post is about how to create a route on Strava, and then how to follow your custom cycling route on your Smart phone or Garmin Edge bike computer. Note that it is possible to follow the route on your smart phone, but following it on a bike computer with navigational features is a lot easier.
Related: How to Use Strava for Cycling
The key to creating your own routes on Strava, is that you need to create such routes within the Strava app itself. Don’t try to make a route on some other app and then get it into Strava. It can be done, but it is a major headache. So, just start with Strava.
How to Create a Route on Strava
First, you need to log into Strava on your computer, and go to the Route Builder part of Strava, which is here.
You can also navigate to the Route Builder from within Strava, as follows:
- Hover over your Dashboard tab (top left) to open the drop down menu and select “My Routes”.
- Click the “Create New Route” button near the top left of the My Routes page.
- From there, you will be taken to the Route Builder tool.
Next, run through the very brief tutorial, accessed through the button on the left that looks like an information symbol (an “I” inside a circle).
Once you have done the tutorial, you will have some insights into using the Strava route builder. However, you will still not have a clue how to actually create a route, because the tutorial omits to mention this! So, watch this useful video next, because it shows you exactly how to create a custom route on Strava:
Once you have watched this video, you are ready to start building your route! For some reason I found it impossible to do this on my Apple laptop. I just kept getting error messages. However, it worked very well on a desktop Mac, and is in fact very easy to use. There is a default that will ensure you stay on more popular cycling routes (you can turn this off if you wish). You can also switch on a default to minimize elevation, if you wish. Complete your cycling route and save it.
Other Ways to Create a Route on Strava
There are a few shortcut ways to create a route on Strava. One way is if you see a route you like on Strava, done by yourself or someone you follow. In this case, you can copy the entire route. Just go to the ride, click on the wrench, and choose create route.
Following a Route on the Strava App on Your Smart Phone
You will not immediately see your routes on your Strava app on your smart phone. However, once you hit “Record” on your Strava app, you will see an option to “Load Route”. If you click on this, you will see all routes you have created or saved, and can select the appropriate one. Then you select the “Use Route” option at the bottom of your phone.
Note that you can simultaneously follow a route and record your ride. This might seem self-evident to you, but I have seen it as a question on many forums, so I thought it would be useful to mention it here.
Your route will be shown as an orange line on your map, which you can then attempt to follow while riding. Note that there are no turn-by-turn text instructions or audible prompts on your Strava app on your smart phone. This is despite the fact that users have been asking for this feature for years, and the technology has been available for decades.
I downloaded and tested a simple route, and found that there are no route instructions or directional prompts on the Strava app on your smart phone. Instead, there are just two lines – an orange line showing the route you planned, and a blue line showing the route you are actually taking on your bike. In the broadest sense, you can look at your phone and see if you are still on the route, or not. You pretty much have to stop your bike to do this safely. And then if you are no longer on your route, you need to figure out how to get back on it. You can see this in this screen shot from my phone.
Strava still does not offer turn-by-turn navigation, despite the fact that the technology has been around for decades, and users have been asking for this feature for years.
Because of the lack of turn-by-turn instructions when a Strava route is used on a smart phone, it is a much better option to follow a Strava route on your Garmin Edge bike computer. The Garmin Edge Touring, 520 Plus, 820, and 1030 all have a built-in capacity to give turn-by-turn text instructions and audible prompts (beeps). They can use this ability with a Strava route, once you have exported that route to your Garmin Edge device. And the 820 and 1030 can even create a route for you, based on an address you input, and then give you turn-by-turn text instructions (so that you don’t always need to spend your time creating a route the night before your ride). The newest Garmin, the impressive and affordable Garmin Edge 520 Plus, can calculate routes and give you turn-by-turn text instructions for your Saved Places and for places you find on the included Yelp app. And it can give you turn-by-turn text instructions for routes that you download to it.
Related content: Garmin Edge 1030 vs. 820 vs. 520 Plus
There is one more aspect here that no one seems to talk about too much: I find that using the Strava app on my iPhone is a massive drain on my phone’s battery power. I have ended up with a dead phone in foreign cities because I was relying on my phone for mapping and recording. And cursing myself for not having used one of my Garmin Edge bike computers, so as to save the batteries on the phone. For that reason alone, I would rather download routes to a bike computer than to a smart phone. But that’s just me – I really don’t like being in strange places with a dead phone. Even though I spent the first few decades of my life going places with no phone at all in my pocket – imagine that!
How to Export Your Strava Route to a Garmin Edge Bike Computer (Touring, 520, 520 Plus, 820, 1030)
In the Strava app on your computer, select the route you want to export. Click the “Export” button. Then, you can select your device for further instructions. Bizarrely, Strava does not mention the Garmin Edge Touring, but if that is your device, select the GPX format. The GPX format is for devices that have mapping abilities, which includes the Garmin Edge Touring (obviously, as this bike computer was a trail blazer in mapping and navigation). You can read my review of this bike computer here. Now that the Garmin Edge 820, Edge 1000, Edge 1030, and even the Edge 520 Plus, all have mapping and navigation abilities, the Garmin Edge Touring is kind of fading out of popularity.
Follow the instructions to download your saved Strava route to wherever on your computer you want to temporarily store it. Then, plug your Garmin into the computer. Next copy the file you have just saved on your computer to the folder called New Files on your Garmin Edge device.
The route will then show up under routes in the menus on your Garmin Edge bike computer. For example, on the Garmin Edge Touring, select: Where to/Saved/Routes.
Note that you can simultaneously follow a route and record your ride on a Garmin Edge bike computer.
How to Follow Your Route on a Garmin Edge Bike Computer (Touring, 520, 520 Plus, 820, 1000, 1030)
Once you have selected your route on your Garmin Edge bike computer, it is of course easy to follow the route. You get turn-by-turn text instructions all the time, such as “Turn left in 500 feet on Smith St.” You get beep warnings when a turn is coming up. You get more strident beeps if you miss a turn. Of course, you still have to look at the device, but it is a lot easier than trying to figure out if you are still on the same line. It is also easier if you have a large bike computer (see my comparison of Garmin Edge 1030 vs 820 vs 520 Plus).
I find turn-by-turn instructions very useful when cycling in strange places. However, I will not be 100% satisfied until the text instructions are given as verbal instructions, which you can listen to on safe cycling headphones. You can get this with any car GPS, so I cannot understand why it is taking so long for this to get to the world of cycling technology.
Bottom Line on Strava Routes on Smart Phones and Garmin Edge Bike Computers
The Strava app for creating cycling routes is excellent, and I will be using it on all future cycling tours and vacations. However, following routes on your Strava app on your smart phone is very primitive, and not very useful. And it burns through your battery power too. On the other hand, you can quite easily follow a Strava route on your Garmin Edge Bike Computer (Touring, 520 Plus, 820, 1000 or 1030), using the text prompts and beeps.
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