Veteran triathlete Frank Smuts demystifies Strava’s new Routes app, and demonstrates how easy it is to transfer someone else’s run or ride as a complete course (with turn-by-turn directions) to your Garmin sportwatch or Edge cycling computer.

Strava has just released a new app called Strava Routes. This is great news for anyone owning a Garmin GPS sportswatch or Edge cycling computer, because it opens up a whole new world of training opportunities. What it does is allow you to sync any Strava session, from any athlete, as a “course” directly to your Garmin device. And the beauty is it only takes about 30 seconds to accomplish. Then, all that’s really left for you to do is press the start button on your watch or bike computer and hit the course, aided by the turn by turn navigation prompts the app provides. So now you can go and do any unknown route without going off course or getting lost, ever!

Why would you want to use it?
There are many reasons why you might benefit from turn by turn navigation along a route – the main one being not getting lost! But to help spur your imagination on a bit further, here are a few scenarios that spell out the necessity of having a course on your watch when going for a run or ride.

First up, sometimes you see a route all your Strava buddies do, but you have absolutely no idea of the exact directions, so you write it off because the likelihood of getting lost is just too high. However, syncing the route from Strava as a course sorts all that out. So if you’re scared of missing any route markers of a newly-launched mountain bike or run trail, just wait until you see the first successful ride/run of that course on Strava, and sync it to your watch. Problem solved.

Secondly, if your buddy tells you of great runs/rides he or she did while on an overseas trip, again just sync it to your watch – that way you’ll be ready should you ever get a chance to visit the same destination.

Finally, ever so often a good training plan necessitates the re-riding or re-running of a race course you’ve done previously. The problem is, the absence of any route markers along the route probably means you’ll get lost. Mountain bike and trail run race routes are invariably full of twists and turns, and getting lost is oh so easy after the fact. So just sync them from your previous races and you’re sorted.

How to set up Strava Routes on your sportswatch
For starters, you need to download the Strava Routes app to your Garmin sportswatch or Edge device. In principle, all you need to do is “star” a route on Strava itself. However, it’s important that you understand you’re going to star a “route”, and not a “segment”. Most of us know how to star segments, but don’t get confused here. Starring a route is different from starring a segment, but it’s still very simple to achieve. As the video at the bottom of this article illustrates, it can be done in about 30 seconds. And believe me, it’s easier and quicker than making a cup of tea. That said, I advise you do this via the browser on your mobile device or desktop computer, and not in the Strava app itself. Personally, I’ve set up a Safari bookmark on my iPad and do it from there.

When browsing your Strava buddies’ activities and you see a ride or run you’d like to do, execute the following steps. (You only really need to know step 1 – you’ll be prompted as you go and the steps flow quite intuitively).

1. Open up the activity, click the “spanner” icon in the top left corner and select “create a course”.
2. The course will open up, then click “save” in the top right hand corner.
3. Then select the activity type, give the course a name (if you want) and click “save”.
4. Click “view my route”
5. The route will then open up. Now click the star in the top left hand corner, next to the name of the route. That’s it.
6. All you need to do now is sync your watch, and the route will be ready and waiting.

Viewing Strava Routes on your watch
Just go to the Strava Routes app on your phone and press enter. All saved routes will then become available on your watch – just keep your mobile device in Bluetooth proximity. You’ll then be prompted through very logical steps, as illustrated in the photo below. You can even view the elevation profile. Once you’ve selected the route, you’ll be prompted to select the activity type. After that, just press start and off you go.

How is it better than uploading GPX files to your watch via your computer?
The question itself contains the answer. Using this option can be a hassle as it involves hardware, cables and downloading the GPX file, etc. For starters, the GPX file needs to be available. Of course, there will always be the need to upload courses manually from your computer, like when an event organizer supplies a GPX file of the route for recce purposes. Since you’re going to upload it via your computer, it implies connecting your watch with a USB cable, downloading the GPX file and copying it to the new files folder of your watch.

You can also save the GPX file as a course on your Garmin Connect account, and sync it from there, but this too has its own complexities. There are also other apps like DWMaps that work with syncing but, once again, this represents another learning curve.

Bottom line: If a course exists on Strava, it is without a doubt the easiest way to get it on your watch. And it truly takes less than 30 seconds.

Erm, about that second use of Strava’s Routes builder?
What could have been said at the outset of this article, but would have distracted from the novelty of “grabbing someone else’s activity as a route”, is the following: The Strava course builder (that generates these routes) also allows you to build your own custom courses and sync them to your watch. However, you can do exactly the same thing in Garmin Connect. Technically you can also import GPX files into the Garmin Connect course builder and sync them to your watch or device as a course. But syncing it from Strava is just so easy – there’s no reinventing of the wheel anywhere.

It needs to be said, though, that Garmin course builder is awesome for creating custom courses, and also serves this purpose very effectively.

Are there any limitations?
Not really. The nice part is that the act of browsing your Strava buddies’ activities becomes a virtual shopping spree. If you see a course you like, you take it, as many and as often as you like. The only routes you can’t access are Strava activities that are marked as private by members. Also, you don’t need a Premium account – the free option works just fine. And, as far as Garmin watches and devices go, anything after and including the Edge 520 and the 735XT are compatible. Happy training! – (c) 2017 NavWorld

Download the Strava Routes app from the Garmin Connect IQ store here and go ballistic with this amazing technology.

You can also follow Frank’s step-by-step instructions on how to set up Strava Routes on your Garmin sportswatch in his short video below:

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