New Route Suggestions Feature on Strava

I have to admit, I’ve been a Strava Summit ghost user for nearly a year now. I signed up for Summit a few years ago but eventually learned that I didn’t use many of the Summit features for which I was paying. The features I did (or could) use were often included in one of my other cycling apps. Full disclosure: I toggled to “off” the option to renew my annual Summit subscription when it comes due this summer.

Strava’s new Route Suggestions feature now has me questioning that decision. As any experienced cyclist knows, route planning, especially in areas with which you are unfamiliar, is extremely time-consuming and challenging, well, at least if you want to ride a GOOD route. You can easily plot lines along big highways, but no one wants to ride alongside a bunch of fast-moving vehicle traffic. Today, finding those hidden gems that still manage to get you from A to B is a lot of leg work (pun!) and often involves pulling in local knowledge.

It was this difficulty, in fact, that inspired us here at Sporra to create the route challenges. Our aim is to not only build a comprehensive repository of curated, high-quality roads and routes, but to encourage and motivate folks to get out and explore them.

I would argue that this is the first feature driven by Strava’s massive activity data cache to truly benefit the service’s end-users. The heat map is kind of interesting to look at, but as a route planning tool it leaves a lot to be desired. So while a cool visual, its utility is limited. Now they’ve taken the leap and given us something we can use!

For a detailed walk-through go take a look at DC Rainmaker’s always-excellent product reviews here, and he also did a video review you can watch here. On the whole he is positive about the feature, adding that based on his local knowledge the routes it suggested were pretty good. Perhaps a few odd decisions here and there, but nothing that would be terrible to ride. DCR reports that longer routes are more consistently good, whereas things get messy with shorter routes, particularly those in town.

I took a look at some routes it suggested here around the Tokyo area where Sporra is located, and on the whole I would concur with DCR’s assessment. There were a few odd roads that locals would avoid. There were some others that locals go out of their way to ride. I can only guess at what’s driving these misses, but most likely the algorithm is working to hit some distance or elevation target even if the heat map may indicate most cyclists taking a different path.

It’s also only giving loops, out-and-backs and in some cases Y-routes, so if you’re touring from one place to the next then this feature is not meant for that use case. I will add that single-day, one-way rides in Japan are not uncommon due to extensive system of high-quality public transportation. That system enables cyclists here to go on long ride in one direction, then just hop on the bullet train at the end and be back in town in an hour.

On the whole, however, not bad at all. Unfortunately this nasty covid-19 virus has Japan locking down, but once we’re past this, if you’re traveling to Tokyo or Japan, be sure to reach out to us on Twitter, our Sporra sub-reddit or our Facebook page and we can give you some good suggestions. If you’re of the let-the-algorithm-drive variety and will be cycling around a particular area then yeah, it’s hard to fault this new Summit feature.