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In the second in a new series in which road.cc writers celebrate their favourite bits of cycling kit Dave Arthur shares his love for Strava

Yes that’s right, one of the things I couldn’t ride without is Strava! Well, to be more precise, I mean a ride tracking app, and there are many available, it’s just that I’ve been using Strava for the last seven years and I use it pretty much every single day.

Here’s why, but first…

What is it?

Strava was launched in 2008 and is a ride tracking app. It lets you record rides through it if using a smartphone to record a ride, or you can upload rides to it from any GPS computer. It’s free to download and use, but you can upgrade to premium to unlock more features.

Not only does it record your rides and gather them all in one handy app, letting you explore each ride in immense detail and view a map of your ride, but it has become popular for two reasons; leaderboard rankings and the friendly community.

Leaderboard rankings are good if you’re a competitive type and want to measure your performance against other cyclists. You can create segments, say for a local hill, and see how you compare to other cyclists that have ridden the hill. You’ll get a ranking, and the fastest men and women cyclists are awarded KOM and QOM trophies. Be warned, it can be very addictive!

The other appeal is the social media network. It’s a big community of like-minded cyclists (and runners) sharing rides and challenges. You can follow and be followed and you can give kudos to deserving rides and you can comment on rides as well.

There are also clubs that might be an emulation of a real-world club you’re a member of, or you can join many of the virtual clubs based around a particular interest or brand.

All of that can help to motivate you, especially if you ride on your own a lot. There are monthly challenges you can join if you need encouragement to get out on the bike, and one of the most popular is the yearly Rapha Festive 500 run over the Christmas period (that I’ve yet to do due to family commitments and general festering).

There’s a huge appeal in the performance measuring side of Strava as well. If you use a heart rate sensor and power meter there are a wealth of analysis tools to help you track and monitor your performance. You can get a handle on your improving fitness, see how fatigued you are, and much much more.

You can also build routes and here the app lets you tap into the huge amount of rides that are uploaded so, say you’re visiting a new area you can see which are the most popular roads to ride and avoid those that locals also avoid.

What makes it so useful/special/can’t ride without-able?

I started using it in 2011. Before that, I was using Garmin Connect, and I dabbled with a few other apps at the same time. But I stuck with Strava not just because it was on the ascendancy at the time, but because it offered a social element that no other ride tracking app offered.

I’ve never really been that bothered by KOMS or leaderboards - if I want to race I’ll pin a number to my jersey - the kudos are nice to get but really it’s the commenting aspect and being able to follow cycling buddies, letting you keep an eye on how much training your rivals are doing or see some of the interesting challenges and exploits people you’ve met through cycling are getting up to around the world.

But why record and share rides at all? It’s a good question. I’m sure when I’m old I’ll throw the GPS computer in the bin and just ride with no concern to my speed or distance. But when I was a kid and got my first decent bike I remember the excitement with being given a cycling computer and how cool it was to be able to see how fast you were going. I still vividly remember hurtling down the steepest hill in my village trying to set the highest max speed. (There wasn’t much to do in our village.)

Fast forward many years and I got into road racing. That meant training (ergh!) and tracking rides, by manually writing down key data into a notebook from an early computer that involved attaching sensors to the fork and a magnet to the spokes and trailing a wire up the frame and trying to calculate the wheel circumference to get the correct speed.

When Garmin introduced GPS enabled computers everything changed. No more strapping sensors to the bike and you can switch the computer from one bike to another easily. And best of all, you could upload all the data to the computer. No more writing down every ride in a notepad! The development of GPS cycling computers has arguably been one of the biggest revolutions of the modern bicycle and led to an explosion of ride tracking apps, with Strava arguably the biggest of them all.

These days I don’t race much but switching on a cycling computer before a ride is such a habit I’m not sure I’ll be able to break it for a good few years yet. I do like to keep track of how many hours and miles I ride a week/month/year and I find it useful for testing bikes (knowing how many miles/hours I’ve ridden on each test bike or component for example) and the social side of Strava keeps me coming back.

Want to know more?

Check out 6 reasons to use Strava here and there are loads of other similar apps here you can check out.

Previously on Things I couldn't live without...

Why the Gore Shakedry jacket is a  jacket I couldn't live without. Read it here

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

9 comments

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Oranj [44 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

 

The other appeal is the social media network. It’s a big community of like-minded cyclists (and runners) sharing rides and challenges

 

This, x100. I think like most, I started out using it for challenges and KOMs, but now it's my no. 1 "social media". I think this is something that scares off a lot of athletes: they think it's all about showing off how fast you are, but it's so much more about the shared experience.

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McVittees [81 posts] 2 months ago
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The thought of not having a record of all the time and effort I put into cycling fills me with dread. Sad but true.

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simonmb [681 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

"I’m sure when I’m old I’ll throw the GPS computer in the bin and just ride with no concern to my speed or distance" - You won't. Miles are still important, speed perhaps less so - you're still on the rivet, but the rivet is in a different place.

I think the older you get the more you value riding alongside buddies and sharing comments in real time. 

Throughout my cycling life though, the best social networking has taken place whilst in the saddle and in the café afterwards.

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StraelGuy [1603 posts] 2 months ago
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McVittees wrote:

The thought of not having a record of all the time and effort I put into cycling fills me with dread. Sad but true.

 

Me too. I'll give up my annual mileage spreadsheets (complete with lovely bar chart) when they pry them from my cold dead erm... computer.

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Mungecrundle [1176 posts] 2 months ago
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I have no interest in tracking my decline into old age and decreptitude.

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ReadingTim [3 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
simonmb wrote:

Throughout my cycling life though, the best social networking has taken place whilst in the saddle and in the café afterwards. 

As a recent convert to the world of cycling clubs etc, I've found that the strava-based social networking tends to reinforce those connections made initially in the saddle and cafe, so the two are very much complementary.  

 

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NorthEastJimmy [151 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

I'll admit I'm massivley addicted to Strava and don't mind either,  I would rather delete all my social media profiles and go without a mobile phone for life than lose all my data on Strava!

I'm no KOM chaser, although I do have a few to my name that I'm proud of.  It has genuinely encouraged me to ride through times I wouldn't have.  Challenges have made me ride further and climb more hills (especially when paired to the 100 climbs app).

I've kept in touch with friends through it, have organised and plotted some awesome routes with the route builder.  I've also met (IRL) the most fascinating person I've ever come across in my life through the use of the fly-by feature!

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Organon [125 posts] 2 months ago
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StraelGuy wrote:
McVittees wrote:

The thought of not having a record of all the time and effort I put into cycling fills me with dread. Sad but true.

 

Me too. I'll give up my annual mileage spreadsheets (complete with lovely bar chart) when they pry them from my cold dead erm... computer.

I won't be giving up Strava but Excel came first. 5.8k  to the post office depot and sainsb. 7.4k to work. Strava is for when I want to go somewhere, no point recording every commute, but those commutes all count towards my yearly target.

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risoto [90 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

It's a fine app if you belong to the performance segment. I ride to stay fit and use it to store long rides in case I wish to repeat it so I have the map ready.

However, recently I've come to think about 'tech overload'.

I used to be a tech heavy user but have found myself winding down. You spend/waste far too much time on tech, especially social media. I don't miss FB, Instagram, Linked-In, Twitter etc, I follow nobody on Strava. I don't turn on my GPS unit for short rides. I track the miles with a wireless old style bike computer that mainly tells me the speed and distance.

Try and ride with NO tech at all. You'll be surprised how much you enjoy riding then. Does all the tech and data make you a better racer? Imagine Bernard Hinault competing today using no tech. I'm quite sure he would still win, training and racing on 'feel'. Perhaps the control we crave is just an illusion. You might have all the data, analysis and conclusions in your spreadsheet but it's your body and mind that do the riding!