The New Strava Routes v. RideWithGPS Comparison…..

For some years(!), I plodded along loading maps into my Garmin from the Garmin Connect (free) service, thinking it’s all from Garmin – it must be good.    It caused me to have a somewhat jaundiced with of how good Garmin on-bike navigation was.  I felt it was “just about OK but at a huge price”.

Lots of guys at the Club instead use RideWithGPS.  In a fit of pique one day when Garmin missed a turn again, I decided to pay for a RideWithGPS subscription.  It was a revelation and moved my opinion of the Garmin navigation from “good to great”. Actually better than that – RWGPS plus Garmin navigation is fantastic!   By the way, the key issue turned out to be to transfer the file from the PC to the Garmin in “TCX Format”…  which you have to pay £1 a week for on RWGPS, but was never mentioned as  I recall on Garmin Connect.  But this RWGPS/Garmin combination is is pure gold.

Just now, May 2020, Strava have announced a huge upgrade to their route planning program known as “Strava Routes”.  I looked at this last September for the Cardiff sportive, but at that time it was still definitely inferior. It is a LOT better now – and planning a route plus getting it loaded into the Garmin (as a TCX file!!) was, at last, a breeze.  Reasonably comparable with the RideWithGPS experience.  You end up paying two subscriptions now though – about £1 a week each (maybe less) and I suppose I was vaguely thinking I might now be able to drop down to just one subscription – and that ‘one’ would be Strava.

Possibly in the meantime, RideWithGPS have enhanced theirs so that Routes (aka Courses) are loaded wirelessly via wifi (or possibly magic) into the Garmin.  I will eventually try that out, but my brain is just full up with tech for the moment. You know how its gets!   So on both systems, I map out a route, download it as a TCX file into my PC’s downloads folder, then simply copy it into the Garmin’s ‘new files’ folder when it is plugged in.  Works fine.

So how did the Strava perform on the bike?

Is a TCX file the same from Strava as from RidewithGPS?  No – I don’t think so!!

Today’s experiences:-

  • the bike seemed to start up in full map mode with Strava and I had to manually find my dashboard, …where with RWGPS the bike starts straight away in the dashboard and turn by turn immediately was set properly.  I’m surprised this is in the TCX file, but maybe its is.
  • When I looked, the turn-by-turn list seemed empty or short our something… it didn’t look right anyway.
  • It was a climby route today, but I don’t think the predictive climb graph was offered.  Well. I’m not sure, but it didn’t feel  “normal”
  • I don’t enjoy the virtual partner feature and I don’t notice it normally on RWGPS.  I thought this would be  a Garmin setting,  but perhaps there is something in the TCX file that can set it too. Anyway – its flashed some Virtual Partner messages to me which I didn’t ask for.
  • Although “liveTrack” gave its start and end massages, nothing actually was received on the PC in the house.  To be fair, this has iffy reliaiblity anyway, so this might have been an incidental error…  but usually it either doesn’t work at all or it loses connection mid ride. I’ve never before had the start and end messages, but nothing received at HQ’s monitor.  I’d be surprised if this was anything to do with Strava’s TCX file – but well, who knows!!
  • You know, I’m really not sure that the turn by turn prompts were as timely – and in some cases seemed to have less data.
  • At one point I noticed a turn by turn prompt had lost about 15% of the lower screen to show something a bit like the hill climb graph (except it was flat there).  I’d rather have distance and time to turning!
  • To be fair, it did pick up both my trick junctions.  The left to St Julian’s Road from Tonbridge Road is a “straight on” on the map and Garmin Connect used to miss this. Both RWGPS and Strava picked this up correctly. The second trick junction is Ashcroft Road into Brittains Lane.  It looks like a cross roads but the instructions have to check two turnings ahead because it is mapped as a staggered junction.  RWGPS is immaculate on showing you two steps ahead – just as good as a car.  Anyway, Strava did pick this up – but gave the first destination road as Oaks Lane – the road you cross over. I’ll have to double check how RWGPS handles this – I feel it says “Brittains Lane” and not “Oaks Lane” which I feel is what the rider wants to know.  However, Murphy’s law says they are both the same and I never noticed.
  • Strava missed an instruction for straight ahead at the One Tree Hill cross roads junction.
  • When I plotted the ride, I placed one dot on St Botolphs and one a long way forward on St Julians road.  Out on the bike, half way up Set Botolphs Hill it was telling me the destination street was St Julians.  I feel on RWGPS it names the next street you use, not the next dot on your route plot.
  • I’d swear Strava missed an instruction for the 90 degree left turn from Tonbridge Road into Gracious Lane.  Surely I would have heard the beeps, or looked down to check the Garmin gear display as I rounded the corner.

Conclusion : Strava Routes is still a bit lumpy as an experience for the time being.  One could manage with it though, but if the best on the planet costs you £1  a week, why not use RWGPS.  I am sure that both will improve with upgrades and it surely would be a good idea to consolidate two subscriptions down to one…. but for now I’ll stick to paying both.  RWGPS is marginally more confidence inspiring for the time being.


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