Lifelong worshipper of road cycling. Now dabbling elsewhere with lots of enthusiasm & mixed success.
Killing The Tradition Of Secret Training Rides
May 8, 2012
- The question used to be Do you use Strava when you ride? But, like clipless pedals or heart rate monitors, it’s taken ahold of our sport with a rare combination of broad and deep appeal. So the better question now is whether you use Strava as a verb or, in a moment of mid-ride hypoxia, find yourself playing word games –
To ride significantly harder during training than originally planned (e.g. on a climb or a defined stretch of road) in order to increase one’s ranking on the Strava Leaderboard for a specific segment.
To purposely drift off the back of a group prior to the bottom a climb, then accelerate to catch the group after the climb has started. In finishing the climb in the middle of the group, you get the fastest time on the climb and assure yourself the highest ranking on the Strava Leaderboard for that segment.
Is Strava religion or disease? It’s all a matter of perspective. However, the one irrefutable truth is that except for reading the awe-inspiring accounts of Eddy Merckx’s training habits in William Fotheringham’s Half-Man, Half-Bike, little will motivate you to train more and train harder than Strava.
What Makes Strava So Awesome
1) Data is the cruelest taskmaster. There was once a time when I paid a coach to interpret my power data. Those days are long gone, but in reviewing Strava’s Leaderboard data, it’s déjà vu. The fear of being ranked 100th out of 150 on a climb — and having that placing visible to the public, no less — must be what it’s like get screamed at by a DS.
2) The discovery of new roads. As you choose to ‘follow’ more and more riders, you eventually learn of every last road and climb within a day’s reach. Yes, Strava will kill the tradition of ‘secret training rides.’ But its mapping functionality reveals what roads interconnect and ones you never knew about.
3) It makes riding alone that much better. Training is an escape from reality. That extraordinary bliss called silence is what you get in the absence of family, of employees, of customers, of the world as a whole. The ultimate bummer about group rides is the group itself. People pull through too fast or too slow. They need to pee or they don’t. Worst of all? The conversation.
But training alone means missing out on testing your fitness against others. Strava gives you that benchmark. Whether your preference is to compare time, heartrate, power, or VAM, the Leaderboard ranks you. Now there’s never a reason to not ride solo. The gifts of solitude, silence, and transcendence no longer come at the expense of ignorance or self-delusion.
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What Makes Strava Not So Awesome
1) Paying for the Premium version gets you what? Strava is a free service unless you want its full functionality. By paying $59 per year you get three features:
First is age and gender specific Leaderboards. If you’re tired of seeing your PR’s getting clobbered by youngsters who get to train 25 hours per week, you can narrow down to your demographic. Second is a type of gamification called ‘Suffer Score’, what appears to be an analogue to kilojoules on a powermeter. That is, it represents in one number just how hard and long you rode. Finally, if you ride with a powermeter you get power file analysis.
While I pay for Strava, I don’t use any of the Premium features. I’m rooting for the long-term economic viability of Strava as a company. Its viability hinges on encouraging non-paying users to upgrade to Premium. As it stands now, however, the case for Premium isn’t adequately compelling. Strava’s core functionality comes for free. And the free version has no ads, so (unlike weather.com or mapmyride.com) upgrading to Premium doesn’t suppress anything annoying.
2) The community needs a louder voice. Let me be clear that Strava does a great job in helping you find people to follow in the first place. I don’t recall its means of doing this. It could be based on your Facebook friends, your email contacts, your geography, or all three.
Where the community falls short, though, is in the reach of your friends’ comments or ‘kudos’. The heart of Strava is the ‘Recent Activity’ page. Akin to a Facebook Wall, it’s where users spend the most of their time since it’s the page where everyone’s rides appear. And that’s the problem. Unlike a Facebook Wall where information of all sorts can show up, the Recent Activity page only shows the rides themselves, and the comments and ‘kudos’ specific to that ride.
My suggestion is that every time one of my Strava friends comments or gives ‘kudos’ to anyone’s rides, they should appear on my ‘Recent Activity’ page. In not doing so, it limits my ability to find new people to follow and new rides. Additionally, being able to add photos and coffee shop (and gas station) reviews and other sorts of information would be nice bonuses.
3) Garmin GPS units have sketchy reliability. I had the good fortune of riding in the Bay Area last week. I heard from several sources that the ultimate testing ground is Old La Honda road in Palo Alto. Apparently last year some Irish ‘pro’ rode a disc, skinsuit, and aero helmet to crack 15 minutes on the most popular segment, called ‘Bridge to Mailboxes.’ I was told that sub-18 was generally considered fast, so that was my target.
My wristwatch told me I did it in 18:04. But I wanted the authoritative number from my Garmin. Immediately after the ride — before a shower, even before a post-ride beer — I downloaded my Garmin file to Strava only to be crushed when that segment didn’t show up on my ride file. Apparently there’s a phenomenon called ‘GPS drift’ where the Garmin thinks you’re someplace you’re not. Strava couldn’t match that part of my ride to ‘Bridge to Mailboxes.’ So 18 minutes of spit, snot and heaving was for naught. It took four post-ride beers to drown my sorrows.
Pick whatever name you’d like for the American economy: The ‘social’ economy, the ‘app’ economy, or maybe the ‘bubble’ economy. But based on the billion dollar valuation of Instagram and the 100 billion Facebook is trying to fetch, one truth emerges loud and clear. The current M.O. for start-ups is to build a dominant platform first, then worry about monetizing it later. As the old saying goes, nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. In tech it appears that value is a function of your command on the crowd.
Is Strava building the dominant platform? By comparison, Training Peaks is too wonky. Its only other rival is Map My Ride, a site with mostly inferior UI, is clotted with ads, and that may have a different monetization model (based on the value of its data, rather than the revenue stream of its subscribers). Map My Ride is doubtlessly bigger than Strava, but has little of its boutique appeal. Strava is sexy, but if it’s to become an industry-defining platform, it must reach out to the recreational cycling (and running) market owned by Map My Ride. At $59 per year, that’s unlikely to happen.
Strava is an amazing site that makes cycling distinctly more fun. It should be fascinating to watch where market demands and customer expectations drive its development over the next year or two. In the meantime try to beat 18 minutes up Old La Honda.