A Beginners Guide to Strava

“If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen!”, is often a phrase you’ll hear hurled around by roadies and mountain bikers all over the world, but what exactly is Strava and what is the big deal all about? Chances are if you’ve been a keen cyclist over the last 5 years or so, you’ll either use, or have at the very least heard of, Strava. Strava is hugely popular, with 25 “activities” uploaded every second and 15.3 million every week. Strava can be used for running and swimming as well as cycling. For those not in the know, we’re focusing on the cycling features of the app, so here’s our quick start to guide to what it is, what it can do and how it can benefit you as a rider.

For years riders have tracked their rides with GPS cycle computers and Strava is very much along the same kind of lines. Not only can you upload files from your GPS computer to Strava after, or even during your ride, you can also use the free downloadable Strava app for your smart phone. This gives you cheap, easy access to ride tracking technology without having to shell out on an expensive GPS computer. And for many riders, that alone is enough to make Strava a winner. But there is a lot more to Strava than its ability to simply track your ride.

While the basic app is free, for keen riders who want to extract the most from the app there are a trio of membership packages that are designed to cater for different riders needs, aimed at safety, training and analysis. These “Summit packs” are add-ons payable monthly or annually and start at just £2.49 per month. The Summit Safety Pack adds real time tracking so friends and family can see where you are at all times, as well as personal heat maps to help people stay safe when exploring. Summit Analysis gives you more tools to play with when combined with heart-rate monitors and power meters which can be used after or during a rider. Finally, the Summit Training Pack is for super keen riders and athletes with dedicated training plans and improved versions of the features included in the free app.

Strava has a range of features built in that allow to get the most out of your riding. These range from performance comparison to social networking and more. Accessible from desktop or your phone/tablet, your Strava profile is the main hub of the app. From here you can access all of the features at your fingertips with ease, like looking over all of your previous rides.

The simple ability to be able to store all of your rides in one place makes it easy to look back on previous rides you’ve done. This is perfect for tracking your progress fitness wise; if you regularly ride the same trail or route, you can see where you were going faster or slower on your last ride and if you so desire you can then use this to your advantage. You can make a change to your training or routine to help you get fitter for the climbs, or if you’re finding yourself going slower downhill, you can dedicate more time to sessioning descents to get your confidence and speed back up. Of course, you can also just as easily use this feature to keep track of how far and where you’ve ridden over the years for reminiscing.

This brings us neatly onto several other handy features of Strava. One of the big draws of Strava is the competitive element of cycling. Whether that is against yourself or other riders, Strava and its ability to create riding “segments” has revolutionised non-competitive competition. With online leader boards, you can test yourself against other riders in pursuit of the ultimate prize – the King or Queen of the Mountain. If the heady heights of the top of the leader board are beyond your reach, you can aim to be the top of the leader board of your local club or your list of riders that you follow. You can also get trophies for new Personal Records (or PR’s) on segments, as well as your second or third best times. Combined with the monthly challenge’s setup by Strava themselves and you have an environment where you can as competitive you like, challenging yourself or others as you ride, all without actually having to enter a race.

This competition also brings rise to the social networking side of Strava. In a similar vein to Instagram, riders can follow other riders around the world, from your local riding buddies to professional athletes. They can then follow you back too. From here, you can comment on rides, give other riders “Kudos” for their ride and see how you compare to them on the leader boards. It’s also great for meeting new riders and finding new routes, all of which can benefit your riding experience.

Strava is a brilliant app, but it isn’t without its downsides. It can become an obsession; the competitive nature of the sport can lead riders to push their limits too far in search of a KOM, putting themselves and others in danger, while many mountain bikers bemoan the simplification of trail features or short cut “Strava Lines” as people search for every little advantage they can. When used in moderation, Strava is a great way to add another useful dimension to your riding.

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