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Tested: Strava.com

strava logo

It’s always rewarding to win the town line sprint or beat all your friends to the top of the biggest local mountain. But wouldn’t it be even more fun to compare yourself to all the other groups of riders that travel the same roads?

If you join Strava, you can do just that – and more!

Strava is part training analysis tool, part virtual race, and part social network for endurance athletes like cyclists and runners. If you have a GPS device (such as a Garmin Edge or newer smartphone) to record your rides, you can join in the fun.

All you have to do is upload your ride data and they do the rest.

Wait, What’s This About GPS And Ride Data?

If you’ve been living under a rock (like I was until recently,) you’ve been missing out on one of the coolest new tools for endurance athletes – GPS-enabled computers. These devices (the Garmin Edge 500 is probably the most popular) track and record your workouts with the help of GPS satellites. No more wiring a magnet onto your front wheel!

Even better, since they record your workout, you can then download that onto your computer post-ride. You get to see the elevation profile, your speed at any given point, and even see the route plotted on a map. Automatically!

You can use a Garmin Edge or Forerunner, the free Strava app on your iPhone or Android phone, or use a roundabout way to record a GPX file (which I had to do with my Blackberry.)

It was so addicting I had to buy a Garmin Edge!

Now, let’s look at all the different uses for Strava…

strava ride plotted on map

Strava As A Training Log

If you’re sick of recording everything by hand, you’ll love how simple it is to upload rides to Strava. I always liked the simple, personal feel of using pen and paper for training logs (and still do,) but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what all Strava does!

Just upload a ride and you’ll see your ride time, average speed, max speed, distance, elevation change, heart rate, and more! If you dig in, you’ll be able to see your speed, elevation, % grade, estimated power output, estimated calorie burn, and more, at any given point of the ride. It’s all graphed for a nice visual presentation!

Personally I love tracking elevation. It’s just so cool to see it, as in the screenshot below:

strava elevation profile

It’s really eye opening to know, too. For example, earlier this year I did a 55 mile ride that really worked me over! Thanks to Strava, I noticed that ride included well over 5,000 feet of climbing, whereas I’d only get around 3,000 feet of climbing on a hilly 55 miler in my hometown!

You get all of this data for free! Now, I’m not saying their power estimates will be as good as an SRM or PowerTap, and obviously you lack the real-time numbers during your ride, but hey, it’s free. The numbers it generates are based on your weight, speed, and (I think) elevation gain. So it’s very similar to the iBike Newton power meter which costs about $499.

Perhaps best of all is Strava’s user-friendly and intuitive interface. Using the site is simple and straightforward (much, much simpler than TrainingPeaks.) You don’t have to be a software engineer to make sense of it. If you can use Facebook, you can use Strava!

Also, you multisport athletes, Strava has you covered. You can track your running, riding, swimming, and more! The only activity not included is paddling, but I’m hoping they add it.

strava logo

Strava As A Competition

If you’re a competitor at heart, you’re going to love the virtual King of the Mountains (KOM) competition that’s built into Strava! Every time you climb a hill that’s categorized, you’ll get ranked on the leaderboard for that climb.

In my hometown, there are usually only 5-10 people on the leaderboard for any given climb, but I’ve found some popular routes in state parks with around 1,000 riders listed!

You can also create your own segments if you want to track and compare performance on flat terrain or an entire race course. This is also handy because Strava doesn’t always create a great hill segment automatically (sometimes it leaves out part of the climb, or it includes a stop sign, or requires a turn from a specific direction, etc.)

A tip for success: If you want to win a KOM, go at off-peak times when there is no traffic or other riders. Early in the morning, when winds aren’t bad yet, can be an ideal time. Definitely not on a weekend afternoon in a public park!

I enjoy it, and it’s a lot cheaper than actually racing!

strava ride plotted on map

Strava As A Social Network

I wouldn’t say Strava is a social network, but there’s definitely a social aspect to it. Everyone has a profile, and you can “follow” people (have their rides show up on your home page,) comment on their rides, and give “kudos” to show appreciation and encouragement (kind of a “like” or “thumbs up” on a ride one did.) You can follow me if you like!

So there’s interaction, but Strava lacks private messaging. While you can comment on others’ rides, if you want to talk privately, you can’t. You’d have to publicly comment with your phone number or email address, or go find the person on Facebook.

strava uh oh stolen kom

One of my favorite features, which is a blend of competition and social interaction, is the email notifications Strava sends out when another rider steals your KOM. It’s a little like:

“Uh-oh, Faster Rider has stolen your KOM!”

These social features could be used for good or evil, but in my experience, everything has been good. I like the camaraderie amongst my friends and I, as well as random kudos if I snag someone’s KOM. It’s like MyFitnessPal in a way (both sites made this list,) with the community aspect giving everyone a little motivation in one way or another.

What has been most useful for me personally is using Strava to find good roads when visiting a new town. You just “explore” segments for a certain zip code, and if there are lots of riders on the leaderboard for a certain segment, there’s a very good chance that’s going to be a pleasant road to ride. This also lets you find local riders, and then you can look at their full ride routes to find even more ideas.

Speaking of which, if you don’t want random strangers scoping out your ride routes, make sure you pay attention to Strava’s security features. The first thing you’ll want to do is set your profile to private and make it so that other members have to request your approval to follow you. Next, it’s a very good idea to hide your exact home and work locations. You can do this easily by setting boundaries for “Privacy zones” in your control panel.

The Dangers of Strava

You’ve probably heard some of the ridiculous stories about Strava members. It’s mainly about riders being jerks in the name of capturing a new KOM, though there was that lawsuit surrounding a cyclist’s death while attempting to set a downhill KOM.

My advice is, don’t get caught up in the dangerous behavior from certain Strava members! For example, doing crazy downhill segments through high-traffic areas is not smart. You’ll also notice quite a few segments with stop signs and traffic lights in them – follow the rules of the road! Or, simply ignore any such segment.

Sometimes, certain segments are race courses. Don’t bother with these unless it’s race day when you have traffic control and closed roads.

What it comes down to is, don’t be obnoxious! Especially on trails. Even more especially on trails shared with hikers and equestrians.

Finally, don’t get too addicted to KOMs. Stick to your training plan! Only chase the leaderboard when it fits your training plan.

What Does Strava’s Premium Membership Get You?

Though Strava is totally free to use, there is an option to upgrade to a Premium membership.

For $59.00/year, you get the following:

  • Set weekly time and distance goals
  • Performance goals on segments
  • See your “suffer score” which Strava calculates based on HR zones
  • Download GPX files based on routes ridden by others

Personally, I just don’t see a reason for myself to upgrade.

However, the premium features are neat. If I had a fancy Garmin Edge 810, I’d love to download routes and be guided along them when riding in new areas. And if you need more motivation, the goal setting would be a nice touch.

Strava Premium is half the price of TrainingPeaks Premium, but if you’re looking for advanced features for planning and tracking workouts, you have to choose TrainingPeaks.

(Note that both Strava and TrainingPeaks free accounts are awesome!)

My final verdict is…

Strava is freaking awesome for free. It helps motivate me to keep riding hard, even when I don’t have the motivation of an active racing schedule. If you think it will motivate you to ride more, sign-up today!

Even if you’re not into racing or competing, Strava does so much cool stuff, you’ll probably still find at least one reason to like it!

Official website: www.Strava.com

Product Review Details
Company: Strava.
Product: Strava
Reviewed by: Coach Levi
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Date last updated: 2013-09-21
Obtained Product: Free to use online.
CoachLevi.com Advertiser: No.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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