Saturday, 1 August 2015

Strava app: Initial impression. My first two months of cycling with GPS

Strava is king right now. King of its own GPS tracking mountain. Its an amazing successful running / cycling app which logs your progress and uploads it to the cloud. The really clever bit is that it compares you to everyone else who has ever taken that route (and logged it) and if that doesn't appeal then it compares vs your previous times.

It seems that strava has about 8.2 million sign ups and about 1.2 million monthly active users.[1]


Strava was created by Harvard rowers Michael Horvath and Mark Gainey.  Strava uses GPS tracking in your smart phone or watch and lets lets you upload them as soon as you finish. The whole process takes only about a minute.  More than 4.5 million segments have been created globally 3/4 cycling and 1/4 running times. Its accurate too, it even deletes portions where you stop for more than 10seconds, there is a lot of processing going on behind the scenes to tie up sometimes flaky GPS signals with what you actually did. Have a look at this link for in depth strava GPS musings of impossibly fast times.

 Now here is where it gets interesting. You can bag a badge for a quick time (maybe they should do super slow badges too ;) ). The best time claims a KOM or QOM (King or Queen of the Mountain), and the site also tracks each top 10s for all time and top 10 for this year. Finally it logs top 3 personal times (for the year and for all time). And it does this for every single segment (roughly 1km+ stretches of your route). It all looks like this:

Now you might ask so what? I started using strava in May 2015. I signed up for the free premium trial but there is no need to do this, its still awesome in its free format. I have logged 71 rides and 1 run. I can attest it seriously addictive. I wouldn't dream of going for a ride without strava now, unless its an intentionally slow nip to the shops!

Now I am not a particularly good cyclist, powertap has my 30min PB at only 250w. A pro cyclist is in their recovery zone at 300-350watts and they can cycle 250w with one leg! So not so good then. Neverthless like anyone I can go hell for leather for short periods! Using this and other tactics I have got about 5 KOMs.....ok on unpopular super quiet routes!! But the bottom line is its fun and it keeps your cycling and its a great target for improvement. This is one app which makes you think, technology is amazing these days!

Now for the downside. Some people go crazy. Some have even been killed racing for KoMs. So much so Strava has been sued, and has adapted its app. See this BBC link for an interesting description.

There is a lot more to strava on a personal level. Of course you have your route, speed, distance but you also have watts (estimated and not accurate btw....its about 20% under reporting compared to a watt meter like powertap) and energy used. Speaking of energy used...I went flat out for 30mins and used 467kj of energy (111kcal). Sadly that is about 200mls of orange juice which i drank in 10 seconds of returning to the house! Here is a screenshot of the ride:

Strava knows your entire history (if uploaded) so it can act as a useful training log.

There are also a lot of pro riders on strava link here, with unassailable times and huge rides and some riding on annonymously too.

The bottom line? Strava is free, its accurate, its fun, its motivational. Love it!


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