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Did You Strava That?

May 10, 2013

Strava-Subscription-Card-OnlyOdds are that you’re intimately familiar with Strava, the cycling and running site that’s one part performance data collection and aggregation and one part social network.

I’m late to the game and am only now somewhat familiar with it. I’ll be the first to admit that for the longest time I didn’t really get it at all. Racing “virtually?” King of the Mountains when nobody else is around? Fastest person to ride the length of your own driveway? Huh? If you want to race, go to a race. If you want to see which of your friends is fastest to the top of City Park Road, ride there with your friends. Need to know your fastest commute to work, use a watch. Simple, right?

Now that I’ve tried Strava I see the appeal and see that it’s not that simple.

Strava allows you to download ride data from your GPS device or Strava’s own smartphone app to your computer. Of course, programs abound for such data collection. But what Strava also does is compare your ride against every other person that has ridden that same route or sections of it and your performance is ranked against others who have covered the same “segments.” Segments are user-defined sections of road or trail that riders “race” for bragging rights.

A look at my Strava dashboard with recent "personal achievements."

A look at my Strava dashboard with recent personal “achievements” over various segments.

It’s pretty fun if I’m being honest. After all, it’s easy to say I’m faster than my buddy down Cournevaca if I beat him down the road one day, but how do I stack up against local pros, or against my buddy when he’s on his best day if I’m not there? I mean, I’m probably not going to ride with any pros tomorrow and I can’t always ride with my pal. Strava let’s me measure up against the pros–not well it turns out–and let’s me see all my friends’ best efforts, and in a funny way, motivates me to ride more.

Over 26,000 folks joined the Specialized Classics Challenge.

Over 26,600 folks joined the Specialized Classics Challenge.

The other thing that Strava does that seems to push folks to ride more is it pairs with other cycling industry companies and hosts challenges. In April, Strava and Specialized presented the Classics Challenge challenging riders to cover the distance of all the Spring Classics–1,319 km–over the course of April. It was in fact folks around the shop talking about this challenge that got me on Strava to check it out. For May, Strava and Castelli are hosting the Battaglia in Montagna Challenge in connection with the Giro d’ Italia. Ride the distance of the 5 major summit finish Giro stages–813 km–in 14 days between May 13 and May 26. (Castelli, a company that’s really into social media, is also hosting a corresponding Instagram photo contest.) Folks who complete a challenge get the previously mentioned bragging rights in the form of a digital “badge” on their Strava dashboard and often times goodies of some sort from the partnering company. For the Battaglia in Montagna, there’s a chance to order a limited run Castelli jersey for completing the challenge.

Battaglia in Montagna Challenge finishers will be eligible to purchase this limited-run jersey from Castelli.

Battaglia in Montagna Challenge finishers will be eligible to purchase this limited-run jersey from Castelli.

So you’re “racing” friends and strangers along roads you ride all the time as well as ones you may only ride once. Strava’s not only collecting your ride data and ranking you against others along the various segments on your route, but you’re also able to follow friends and other riders, give them “kuddos” for their rides (akin to the ubiquitous Facebook “like”) and share your own rides on other social networks. As the social media saying goes, if it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen. So not only is it a performance metric service, but it’s also a chance to socialize about your rides and share ride stories as cyclists are apt to do. Pretty clever.

For me though, more than the sharing of rides and following friends and strangers alike to see how their riding is going, it’s the data collection and breakdown that I find most appealing. There’s a value to the person who is looking to improve their riding in not only collecting ride data, but also being able to easily parse it. Strava’s clean user interface makes seeing totals, averages, and best performances pretty easy when compared against Garmin’s Garmin Connect or the free version of Training Peaks, both of which are adequate, but not as easy to use or as visually appealing in my opinion. (Strava offers a premium paid version of their service which offers even more data analysis than the free version.)

There’s a fine line between racing and riding. If you’ve ever been first to a city limit sign on a ride with friends, seen how fast you could clean a section of trail, or timed a bike commute, you’ve raced. Strava is in some way an extension of that concept–making riding fun and challenging and creating stories to share on future rides.

Happy riding. And Stravaing.

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