If you use Strava, the chances are that you will be aware of the new route builder feature that is accessible from the platform’s mobile app, such has been the publicity surrounding it. Supposedly, this is starting out as a Summit only feature, available to those who have subscribed to one or more of Strava’s premium plans. Imagine my surprise then, when I logged in to the mobile app earlier this week to update a run, to find an invitation to try the beta feature at the top of my feed. Don’t mind if I do…

I should mention that I use route builders for my runs a lot, i.e. for every run. Unlike some runners who like to just head out, take a few known turns and make judgments on the move as to where to head and when to turn back, I like to pre-plan my route and know the exact distance that I’m about to cover prior to leaving the door. Maybe it’s an engineer thing. So, I really want this feature to work and, given that it uses the mass of data from other Strava users and their routes, it is potentially something that I would subscribe to Summit for, if it turns out to be as good as it promises. But, at the minute, it really isn’t.

OK, OK, I know it’s currently a beta feature and I’m confident, no, certain that it will be improved. But, since they’re asking for feedback, there are a couple of things that could be improved.

I had my car booked in for an MOT on Friday afternoon in Coventry and decided to get my weekend long run in whilst it was being done. This gave me a good opportunity to give the route builder a try. I had 13 miles planned and, whilst I know my way around Coventry very well, 13 miles still requires a bit of planning. I opened the map and began to navigate from my current location (home) to the location of the garage. The first thing I immediately noticed was that the only paths available were roads. There’s a park quite close to where I live with a path that winds through it. On the Strava app, this path doesn’t exist. More on that in a second.

I centred the map on the garage and selected the draw/create icon in the bottom corner of the screen and swiped around the corner in my intended direction of travel. True to its promise, the app snapped my swipe to the nearest path (the road) and the beginning of my route was created. Or I should say, my entire route was created, because there’s no way to add to, or change your route following your first swipe. See below.

This is an issue. If you’re creating a route of precisely 13 miles, or even +/- 0.5 mile, being able to edit your route following one swipe is essential. The chances of you getting it spot on first time round are slim. Also, the garage is on a side road, which disappears from the map view if you zoom out too far, which you may need to do if you’re trying to create a route of, I don’t know, say 13 miles.

This is a non-starter for me, but just going back to the off-road paths, take a look at the screenshot below from the Strava app.

What you can’t see here is a couple of nice, off-road paths coming off both Brownsover Road and Brownsover Lane that take you through a local nature reserve. At the end of this is a small section of road which leads onto a farm which then leads onto some great trails to the west of Rugby. None of these are shown within the app and are therefore not available for selection for your route. As a comparison, see the screenshot below from a different app.

This screenshot is from an app called Footpath. It works exactly how the Strava one should, and is strikingly similar, as can be seen from the respective interfaces. It also works by swiping, but it allows infinite swipes with which to create your route. Zoom in or out as far as you need to, tap the centre ‘create’ icon and swipe the screen. The app will then snap your swipe to the nearest road/path. Sound familiar? You can then tap the icon and swipe again to create the next section of your route, and you can continue until you’ve plotted your 13 miles. You can add sections in by swiping away and back to already created routes, and there’s even a rubber feature to delete sections. The image below shows how this works.

Footpah is available for free, and I highly recommend it. If you want to save routes for future use, you will have to subscribe, at which point you also receive additional outdoor maps. For me though, someone who plans each run before they head out, the free version is perfect. I’ve included a screenshot from the Apple App Store below if anyone is interested.

I think this is exactly what Strava are looking for with their new feature, and it is already oddly similar. Copied? I don’t think so. Strava will get there eventually, and I don’t believe it will take them very long. The desktop version of their route builder is near faultless and includes all of the missing paths mentioned above. I expect the mobile version will be too. For now though, I’ll be sticking to Footpath, although I do fear for the app’s future once Strava do get it right.

I’m not sure if the beta route builder is available to everyone or just a select number of Strava users. If you want to see if you do have access, open the app and tap on the centre “Record” icon. Then click on the squiggly line on the left to open your existing routes, if you have any. Finally, tap the “+” in the top right corner and it will open the mobile route builder. If you find something I’m missing or doing wrong, please let me know. Otherwise, good luck.

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