Downloading this app is like installing a bit of electronic motivation for someone burned out on riding the same trails over and over. We find ourselves in this situation quite often sadly. Now that we’re living back in the Bay Area, we find our riding spots lacking a bit. Many of the trails close to home feel more like sanitized hiking trails and sweet jumps are few and far between. On the upside, we only have to ride a short 3 mile stretch of pavement to hit some of the best single track in the East Bay.
The problem is that riding the same stretch of trail, no matter how good it is, gets repetitive very quickly. We make an effort to sample fresh dirt regularly, but it is an activity that usually requires a full day’s commitment and a lengthy drive. So we ride our local stretch of trail often, and to give it a bit of spice, we’ve taken to recording our rides via the Strava app on our smart phones. (free to use, with Premium features available with subscription) I’ve used apps to record GPS tracks of rides in the past, but having a bunch of files on Google Maps didn’t really do anything for me. That’s where Strava does it right. By combining the social element and networking experience of sites like Facebook, we’re able to share our rides with our friends and revisit our experiences after the bikes are stowed away.
When starting out on a ride, you press a button to start recording a new ride, then stick your phone in your pocket or pack. When you finish your ride, pressing the “finish ride” button uploads and auto syncs your ride to your account on their site. The website interface has a social element not unlike Twitter or Facebook, where you can view not just your recent rides (it tracks runs and other activities too) but follow others and comment on their activities. You can also find out where other people are riding – assuming they allow you to follow them. (profiles can be set to public or private)
Posting fast times on ride segments is recorded as achievements, with the fastest time on a segment awarded the King of the Mountain title. Which doesn’t really mean anything in the real world, but it does offer bragging rights to anyone else that has ridden that section with a GPS. On the upside, heading out for a solo ride becomes a lot easier when you’re out racing yourself. (The downside of course, is the potential trail side conflicts that could occur with dudes riding multi-use trails at race pace)
In addition to the social element, the site allows you to use the interface’s calendar as a training tool, where you can easily reference the number of miles ridden, hours spent riding, and other details. Rides can be separated as road, MTB and commutes. The main downside to date has been on the over emphasis on road and XC achievements. Strava is skewed toward rewarding fitness as opposed to downhill achievements, but this is likely a result of two factors: Strava staff is predominantly made up of roadies and runners, and the lack of gravity riders using the service and creating segments.
I’ll warn you now, downloading this app could have an adverse effect on your next ride. It’s a bit addictive. It also may create a bit of gear envy. It could just be me, but my Carbon Nomad, which I considered the perfect trail bike for riding trails in the North Shore or Hood River’s Post Canyon Trail System, is now heavier than it was before. These days, when someone in a full XC kit, riding a bike more similar to a road bike with fat tires passes by on a climb, I feel every pound of weight in trying to maintain their pace. In fact, lately I’ve found myself dreaming about an XC racer-light trail whip. (like this Santa Cruz Blur TRc, which would still give me the handling I desire on the descents while climbing mountains like a goat)
There is major flaw to the app; the limitations of a phone’s ability to maintain a signal. Recording rides in areas with poor satellite coverage is difficult, and we’ve come home to find gaps in the tracks. Smart phones and the app are easy ways to start playing, but once you start getting addicted to documenting your adventures and fitness progression, you’ll want to upgrade to an actual GPS unit. My phone has died on a number of rides trying to record a track, which could potentially be dangerous if you need your phone for emergencies. (I just bit the bullet and purchased a Garmin Edge 200, feedback coming soon) Using a GPS means you’ll need to plug your unit into a computer post ride and adds one more step that the one app bypasses.