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?
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.