Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Strava Chronicles: Volume 1

Strava—It’s not just for breakfast anymore

Pop Quiz, Sports Fans!

Which of the following items is most likely to make your waistline thinner, your wallet fatter, make you more desirable to young women, help you to survive the imminent Zombie Apocalypse, and even facilitate recovering your lost debit card?

A. Axe body spray
B. Strava cycling app
C. Tequila (lots and lots of tequila)
D. The mind-numbingly vapid rhetoric of campaign-year election promises


WRONG!  It was a trick question.  The correct answer is in fact ‘E’:  None of the Above.  (And for the record, choice ‘C’ is much more likely to cause rather than solve most of these problems for you.)

Nonetheless, based on my recent experience, Strava can at least help you accomplish one of these amazing feats.  More on that later….

Many cyclists, and most Nerac Earth Cycling members, will already be familiar with Strava.  In fact, it was introduced to me by Nerac folks last year.  For the uninitiated, Strava is a GPS/Google Maps-based smart phone app and online database for tracking cycling activities.  Strava can also be employed for running and other fitness applications, although it’s aimed primarily at bicycling.  As a fledgling triathlete (and by “fledgling” I’ve mean I choked and gasped and flailed my way through one sprint-distance event so far) I’ve found Strava to be a useful tool for tracking running workouts as well.  Strava may also be used to record indoor/stationary workouts, as part of an overall online training log.

I’m sure many of the features Strava offers are also available with a Garmin or similar device (and Strava does work with Garmin).  Historically I have gravitated towards simpler, cheaper cycling computers, as I consider them somewhat disposable, and I’m willing to spend ~$30 every few years for a new unit if necessary.  Strava is a no-brainer for me, since I always carry my iPhone in my jersey pocket while riding anyway, and the free version of Strava is…well, free.  Furthermore I’m really not interested in the grade of the climb up which I’m currently struggling (although some instantaneous navigational feedback would be valuable once in a while, especially on less familiar routes).  The only ride data I feel I need to monitor in real time is how fast and how far, and maybe what time it is.  Everything else can wait until after the ride, when I can review the information at my leisure.

Strava tracks and stores all the cycling data you’d expect:  distance, time, average/top speed, elevation gain, instantaneous/average power output (estimated), calories burned, and even graphs of elevation/power/speed as a function of either time or distance.  Data such as cadence and heart rate can be integrated as well.

Strava automatically tracks your training progress and records your adventures, keeping you motivated to continually work harder and compete with friends both new and old.  The system logs workouts with great detail, and the company seems to be quite progressive, providing frequent updates and new features.  The website is robust and intuitive, and a ‘premium’ version of the application is available for ~$6/month which provides plenty of additional goodies.  I’ve found the system works great for woods rides too, if you’re a mountain biker instead of, or in addition to, a roadie.  Plus, if you encounter any technical issues, responsive and effective support is available, even for the free version.  A word of caution, if it’s not already obvious:  running this app on your iPhone burns through battery power at a notably accelerated clip.  Anything beyond about 3-4 hours and you might be pushing the limit.  I’m not sure if Androids are quite as hungry for juice while running Strava.  For longer-duration rides (e.g., see Pete’s report on Angel Ride 2012), I’ve purchased a spare 1500 mAh external battery (~$50) that can also fit in my jersey pocket alongside my phone, effectively doubling the battery life.

One of the fundamental elements of Strava is the “segment”, defined as any portion of a ride between two points (typically climbs, but can be any section).  The user can create his/her own segment(s), and if one already exists similar to the new one being created, Strava will even suggest using the existing segment (though you don’t have to).  In this manner, you can compete against yourself (seeking a new PR), or battle others for coveted “KOM” (or QOM!) status.  You can even analyze your point-by-point performance on a given segment as compared to the current KOM, to see where you are losing (or perhaps gaining) time.

This constitutes the foundation of the “social media” aspect of Strava.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of phenomena like Facebook and Twitter, but I can understand the appeal here.  You can “follow” or be followed (pending user approval), and the social pressure of knowing someone else is watching, and can monitor your performance, is very motivating.  The Strava folks have dubbed this phenomenon “social fitness”.  John Sattar calls Strava “addictive”, and I’ve described it as both the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to me, cycling-wise.  It’s human nature to strive for maximum effort whenever a known segment is on the horizon, and for many of us, this tends to border on obsessive.  Additionally, Strava’s “Explore” feature encourages the user to seek out and conquer local segments in any area.

Despite the “Big Brother” potential of having a community of riders breathing down your neck while you are breathing hard, there are some appreciated user-customizable privacy features.  For example, one can establish a “privacy zone” around home, within which no GPS tracking will be recorded, in order to obscure one’s actual house location.

The motivation (or competition) factor is also enhanced by the ability to cheer your friends (or jeer your foes).  It is possible to acknowledge another user’s accomplishments with simple “Kudos”, or by posting more personalized comments…for example:
“Nice effort—you crushed it!” or
“Hey!  You stole my KOM (John!)…why you gotta be that way?” or
“Please stop riding to my house to have lunch with my wife while I’m at work.”
or even “I found the debit card you lost…what’s your PIN?”

Plenty of people smarter and more experienced than me know considerably more about the features of this app, and one can simply visit http://www.strava.com to learn more and sign up.  Therefore I won’t belabor all the details here.  However, I would like to point out that there are also potentially unintended—and unexpected— legal ramifications of having Strava track your every pedal stroke.  In March of this year, an elderly gentleman was killed while crossing a street in San Francisco with his wife, when he was struck by a cyclist riding through the crosswalk.  The rider was using Strava at the time, and the data shows that at the moment of impact, he was barreling through a red light at greater than 35 mph (in a 25 mph zone).  The cyclist is being charged with felony vehicular manslaughter.  Before you pass judgment too quickly and condemn harshly, reflect on whether you yourself have ever failed to fully respect a stop sign or red light.  Furthermore, just last month, a lawsuit was filed against Strava (also in San Francisco, incidentally), by the family of a man who was killed when he lost control of his bicycle and crashed while trying to regain his KOM status on a downhill segment.  The lawsuit alleges that the KOM feature essentially constitutes a virtual race, but Strava takes no responsibility for basic measures to ensure rider safety, as would be the case in an actual organized event.

Back to my own recent experience:  on July 1, I was leading a Nerac ride I called the “Firecracker Forty”; a loop I have hosted a few times along the scenic, mostly traffic-free, varied terrain around the quiet hamlets of Lyme, East Lyme, Salem, and East Haddam.  John Sattar was the only rider who showed up that morning.  The problem with inviting your fast friends on rides in your own backyard is that they are going to beat you (and maybe steal your KOM) on your own routes and segments.  But that’s ok—I knew with John as a partner, it would be a safe, fun, and fast ride.  A few miles into the route, John and I discovered an orphaned debit card in the road, so I picked it up and carried it in my jersey pocket for safekeeping.  At end of ride, as I was walking into the house, Strava was uploading the data from my iPhone.  I recognized the name of the guy who had just bested me by one position on the “Leaderboard” for a big local climb within the past hour (and for what it’s worth, he KOM’d that same climb just a few days later).  Amazingly, he happened to be the owner of the lost debit card.  Had the timing played out marginally differently, John and I would have crossed paths with the rider himself, rather than just his debit card.  So I logged into Strava, navigated to his uploaded ride that day, and posted a comment, indicating that I’d recovered his card.  When a comment is posted, Strava emails the recipient with the content.  Within a matter of minutes, I had connected with a cyclist from out-of-state whom I’d never met, about a personal item of his of financial significance, which I’d randomly encountered while riding.  I consider this a to be remarkable testament of how broad and deep the greater cycling community is, and the powerful link Strava can provide to remind us all of our interdependence.  {insert group hug here}

So, if you are training to outrun the ravenous zombie hoard (it’s coming–don’t underestimate them!), looking to keep an eye on how chummy your riding buddies are with your spouse, or just trying to achieve new fitness goals and hammer every neighborhood climb faster than the local fast guys, give Strava a try.  It don’t cost nothing…but it might just save you something.  –Doug B.

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Saturday July 14, Tolland Bicycle Ride

Moose Meadow/Parker/Gurleyville (Willington, Mansfield, Tolland)
75-85 d, degrees, warm and sunny
30 miles, about 2 hours riding time

Dave Geissert, Mark Reitzma, George Parker and Nate Whetten left the Cardio Express lot at 8 a,m. on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and pounded up Rhodes Road heading for “the moose”.  The route turned onto Kate Lane, then Rt 74 to River Road (Rt 32).  We headed up into the hilly countryside on Village Hill (up-up-up), turned onto  Kucko (hills and farms), and then onto shady Turnpike Road and into the quiet, rolling hills with farms and forest.  We turned south onto the rolling Moose Meadow/Parker Road hills, which are always fun.  Photos 1 and 2 are action shots of Dave, Mark, and George.  We are stopped at Route 74 in photo 3.

The route headed briefly west on the partially paved Route 44.  Turning south onto Codfish Falls, Mark blew a tire on the hard bump at the edge of 44 (unfinished roadwork strikes again!).  Approaching the Gurleyville Road hill, Dave was determined to beat previous Strava times. With a burst of speed he disappeared up the hill in a red and white blur.

We pedaled through UCONN, back onto Rt. 195 and finished on Baxter and Goose Lane.

Love those hills!

Submitted by Nate Whetten