Friday, May 20, 2011

Review -

"Athlete" home page
Over the past couple of years, I've used several types of "ride management" programs for the data that's recorded off my Garmin Edge 500. Several of the program are very training oriented, such as the excellent open-source program Golden Cheetah as well as (to a slightly lesser extent) Ascent for the Mac. I don't have much experience with any Windows programs because I'm a minion of Steve Jobs.

Aside from the standalone programs, there are several web-based training programs that are quite useful. Training Peaks is the first one that comes to mind and is one that I know several people use because it allows them to share their ride data quickly with their coaches.

Strava is a different kind of website though. Rather than focusing exclusively on training data, it takes the data from your ride and makes it "social". What does that mean?

When you upload the information from your ride, Strava displays it in the following manner:

Ride description
This data was from my ride this past Sunday. There was rain and thunder during the ride so not exactly ideal riding conditions. The ride page shows most of the usual information: total time, moving time, speeds, cadence, etc. If you have a heart rate monitor and/or a powermeter, that data will be presented as well. If you don't have a powermeter, the website will guesstimate power based on a number of variables, including your weight.

This is all fine and good but it's not anything particularly remarkable. There are many programs that have this kind of functionality. What makes Strava brilliant is the fact that you can then compare your ride against your own past performances as well as those of others. As soon as you upload your ride, on the upper left hand corner of your ride page, this appears:
It may seem insignificant but those little "achievements" are incredibly powerful motivators. When you first look at your ride page and you see a bunch of little medals along the top, it's very rewarding. (Yes, I am a simple-minded man.) For the many of us who enjoy the challenge of pushing ourselves on the bike, having this kind of feedback is great!

(As a side note, the achievements are for "segments" of the ride that are created by either yourself or other cyclists. For instance, if there is a hill that is in your neighborhood that you use for your own workout, you can create a "segment" for that hill if it doesn't already exist. If other people also use that hill for workouts, they may have already created that segment, in which case it will pop up on your ride page.)

You can drill down into a particular segment of your ride to see all your times for that segment. For instance, this is a hill in Central Park that I've ridden way too many times (demonstrated by the fact that there are 14 pages here). 
Personal results history
Perhaps even more fun (and challenging) is the fact that you can compare your rides with other cyclists in your area. There are leaderboards and KOM records that Strava maintains for all the segments. At least for me, this is a great motivator since I can look at the times that are slightly faster than mine and challenge myself to beat those who are a little faster than me.
Segment leaderboard
One other interesting aspect of Strava is that it also tracks the ride data for a few professional athletes such as Ted King and Craig Lewis... which is really interesting because you can see the unreal numbers that these guys put up. The flip side of this is that when the pros ride the same segments that you and I ride, they essentially destroy the leaderboard. Take a look at Ted King's ride from Stage 5 of the Tour of California... he took 9 KOM medals, which means that 9 poor cyclists lost their position at the top of their segments.
Ted King abusing the KOM leaderboards
Strava is a great website that lets you upload your rides and compare them against other cyclists in the area. It adds a fun aspect to all the data that your GPS or cyclocomputer gathers. Granted, it won't replace any training-intensive applications or websites out there but it's still a great place to share your rides with the cycling community. There is a free version which limits you to 5 uploads/month and a paid version ($59/year) that allows unlimited uploads. I paid for the yearly plan and think it's definitely worth it.

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