Update 1/27/12: This article continues to be the most popular post on this blog. The original post, which was published on March 29, 2011, is a bit outdated because Strava has been updated several times since then. I am currently working on an updated review of Strava. Stay Tuned.
As cyclists, we are confronted with myriad products that promise us everything from lateral stiffness to vertical compliance. When making difficult gear choices, like determining whether Aerospokes or Zipp’s Sub-9 “negative drag” disk wheel will provide the most comfort for your commute, you turn to a respected source.
Often times that respected source is your trusted bike blogger. Through my prolific bloviating (okay, okay – 8 posts) over the past two months, I know I’ve become that source for you.
So, today I present you with a bike product review, and that product is Strava – a site that collects GPS data from your rides, analyzes it, compares it to others who’ve ridden parts of the same route, and presents it in a neat user-friendly package. While it may seem geared toward serious athletes (and it is), even the casual commuter can have fun with the program.
The best part about the prospect of analyzing your rides is that you don’t need an expensive power meter or even a GPS-enabled cycling computer to upload your data. You can use a smartphone to record your route, and Strava’s algorithms will chew up your data and spit out (estimated) power data and other fun statistics for your ride. If you do have a fancy-shmancy Garmin unit and power meter, it will integrate any power, heart rate, and cadence data you provide. (Strava just released an iPhone app this week. Android users can use the MyTracks app do record their GPS data.)
Perhaps the most entertaining feature is that Strava will compare your performance on certain challenging sections of road, that Strava refers to as segments, to other people who’ve ridden the same segment. Below is the segment for Summit Ave. in Brookline:
If you haven't ridden it, Summit Ave. averages over 10% for a third of a mile. Ouch!
You can create your own segments (such as your daily commute) and compare your daily rides to each other.
Some days, especially this winter, its really hard for me to get myself motivated to get out and ride by myself. Why push hard? The benefit from training isn’t seen until your next race, if at all. Strava, however, offers instant gratification for your hard work. If I push really hard on that one climb, I’ll upload my GPS file as soon as I get home to see if I’ve captured a new KOM (King of the Mountain – there’s a Queen of the Mountain for women, don’t worry). Strava has definitely made me train harder by raising the stakes of a training ride.
Strava is also a useful tool for finding ride routes and climbs in your area. Below is a list of categorized climbs (similar to how climbs are rated in the Tour de France) in the Boston area:
There aren't too many climbs in the Boston area that can compare to the cols of the French Alps. Are you surprised?
Additionally, nothing beats good customer service, especially with a relatively new service like Strava. Strava succeeds in this area. When a site update left me unable to log in, I tweeted about it and heard back from Strava within minutes. Also, Strava has a support forum that allows users to prioritize new feature development.
Strava is undoubtedly a very social tool. Strava isn’t very fun if you don’t have others in your area to upload new rides, create segments, and challenge you on your created segments. Unfortunately, in some areas (I’m looking at you, Western Mass.) there just aren’t that many users on Strava to make it worthwhile. However, in the Boston area, there are plenty of active users and some very contentious segments.
If there aren’t many people on Strava in your area, it’s easy to think that Strava is a good idea that’s just not catching on – something I thought at first. However, I just read that Strava recently received $3.5 million in venture capital to ensure it fully develops some features that are sorely missing.
Strava lets you upload five rides per month for free. To upload more, you have to fork over some cash, either $6/month or $59/year for unlimited ride uploads.
Some cyclists love to crunch data from their rides. Others prefer to gauge their rides simply by the smile on their face. If you’re in the former group, Strava is worth a try. You can upload five rides a month for free, so you have nothing to lose except for a little bit of time.
Certainly, Strava has some features that need further development, and its utility is dependent on the number of cyclists using the service in your area. The recent capital investment and its recent increase in users bodes well for Strava’s future.
Full disclosure: I paid $6 for a month of unlimited Strava uploads – no special deals for me. The only benefit I get from writing this review is from having a few more people on Strava uploading routes, creating segments, and challenging my KOMs.