5 Ways to Make Strava More Useful for Mountain Bikers

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By now most mountain bikers have tried Strava, and they often either love it or hate it. I personally really like using Strava to track my rides, but there are a few things Strava could do to improve the service for mountain bikers.

1. Give us the ability to mark rides as “mountain bike” rides.

As it stands now, riders can only mark activities as “ride,” which lumps trails rides in with everything from road rides to urban trials. This seems particularly unfair given that Strava offers activity types for running, walking, and hiking, which pretty much all involve using your feet to move around. Even skiing and skating get multiple flavors.

Having additional ride type options opens a whole new level of analysis within the Strava app, but also enables third party apps like the Singletracks Tracker to ignore road rides and focus on linking MTB rides with specific trail systems.

2. Throw in some off road-specific challenges throughout the year.

Many Strava challenges involve riding a certain number of miles in a limited time period, which means the roadies have a distinct advantage in reaching the top of the leaderboard.

Strava is built on some pretty sophisticated mapping technologies, so one would think it would be possible to distinguish between tracks that line up with known roads and those that veer off into the dirt. Give us an MTB-specific challenge and enforce it by making sure everyone’s miles are being ridden off road.

3. Leaderboards based on equipment type.

Strava recently added a “bike type” field to the My Gear form that includes mountain bikes, which is a welcome addition. Using this data, we’d love to see leaderboards based on equipment type in addition to age/gender classifications. For example: fastest time on a mountain bike for a particular segment. And don’t forget about the singlespeed riders–those guys and girls already have their own category in most MTB races these days.

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4. Auto-filter ski lifts at bike parks.

On a couple recent rides in Park City I let my Strava app run continuously, which means I was tracking the lifts as part of my rides. That made determining the amount of true climbing I had done impossible, and also gave me an inadvertent KOM on a climbing section that must have paralleled a lift.

Sure, I should have just paused my app during lift rides but the fact is, I didn’t. Again, ski lifts at most resorts have already been mapped, so it could be as easy as just checking rides against a set of known ski lifts and filtering out the data.

5. Enable friendly mode for mountain bikers who aren’t competitive.

The number one reason mountain bikers seem to give for not using Strava regularly is that they don’t like the competitive aspect of it. Either they end up taking the competition too seriously which takes the fun out of the ride, or they don’t like seeing their name at the bottom of a leaderboard every time they login.

Leaderboards are admittedly foundational to Strava, but if there was a way to hide or mute leaderboards for mountain bikers who simply want to track the trails they explore, this might be a good compromise. These same riders might also appreciate a field to enter the craft beer they enjoyed after the ride, ala Untappd. :)

Strava is already a powerful, easy-to-use tool for tracking and analyzing rides and by making just a few tweaks, it can become even more useful to mountain bikers. Which features would you like to see Strava add for mountain biking?

Related posts:

  1. Singletracks Strava Club + Strava Segments on Trail Pages
  2. The Strava Effect on Mountain Biking
  3. How To Turn Your Strava Data into a Usable Mountain Bike Trail Map
  4. New ways to GPS with your mountain bike
  5. 9 Ways to Climb Better on Your Mountain Bike

42 thoughts on “5 Ways to Make Strava More Useful for Mountain Bikers

  1. Yes and yes. Great suggestions. For a lot of us, we just use Strava to track a ride as kind of a ‘journal’. I write notes in mine if I demo a bike, if I’m testing new gear, or if I am coming off of an illness or injury. I still like to see where I am at today compared to last year or last month–compete against myself if you will–but I really don’t care about showing up on a leaderboard. For all I know, the guys in the top 5 have e-bikes or are pro athletes. Plus, I don’t trust my phone, GPS, and/or Strava to give exact results. Whenever I record a ride with both Strava, and my Garmin (which was built for precisely recording ride data–and doesn’t), I often get two very different results. When most Strava segments are often a second or two apart, it makes me question the very validity of using a phone to record a precise ride. How do I know that Apple OS or Android doesn’t record a ride differently (I’d love to see us test this btw), or that some geek didn’t hack his open-sourced android to alter how the GPS records data. All that to say: if you measure your rides or life by Strava on a leaderboard, you are an idiot…because you are working with relative data.

    And hey, Strava, don’t forget a fat bike category…we are growing everyday too! :)

    • I have some experience recording the same ride on two different devices (1 with Garmin device & other with iPhone)..It does come up with different numbers. I generally find my speed & total distance is greater on an iPhone versus my total elevation is generally more on my garmin. Also, I’ve attempted to upload the same raw gpx file to GarminConnect & Strava getting completely different stats on each site, so each provider must use different alogrithms to calculate their stats…Solidfying your point that the leaderboards are useless & relative only to your specific device and only for a given provider (Srava, GarminConnect, etc..)….Otherwise it’s apples & mangos.

      • I went back to compare my stats between my iPhone & Garmin device over a 370 mile sample. The iPhone was 7% higher in total mileage than my Garmin. The iPhone elevation was about 30% less in total elevation gain than Garmin. Time & Moving Time were very close between devices. So the lesson is: Use your iPhone to pad your mileage, & use your garmin to pad the elevation.

  2. Great ideas here! I’ve thought about numbers 1, 2, and 4 plenty of times before. And #5 is a great idea! However, #3 would be so hard to regulate… and where would you end the subdivision? Singlespeeds, fat bikes, hardtails, full sus, top-dollar bikes, low-end bikes, Walmart specials…. it’s a great idea in theory, but I think just having a “mountain bike” category instead of just “ride” would be a HUGE step in the right direction.

  3. I would really like to be able to track fellow riders while we are riding. For example I was riding with a few new guys and I climbed a hill and they lost sight of me and turned down a different trail. We all realized it about 10 minutes later and had to use facetime and some landmarks to find each other. If I could have seen them on my map I could have found them much easier all without breaking my ride. Maybe call it a team ride where you can see each other actively on each others map.

      • I asked them 6 months ago and they said it was not on the agenda. Hope this will change. Should not be that hard, one would think.

      • Found it: “Active Friends” is a feature for Premium Users. “See which of your friends on Strava are currently out riding or running and show them you’re out too.”

  4. I think this is a huge one that wasn’t mentioned: separate leader boards for Smart phone users and gps users. The more you use Strava and analyze it’s results, the more you see that smartphones are way off. Sometimes up to 10 seconds of a difference which is massive for some MTB sections. If Strava were to separate these categories, it would also encourage more people to play more fair, and get a legit cycle GPS rather than using a cheating app. I know many that have a gps and have given up using it because iPhone and Android users simply run a segment until they get a lucky break. I refuse to do this, but my KOMs are getting taken by cheaters and are nearly gone. This is a huge fault for Strava and MTB!

  5. It would also be nice for strava to filter out break time and not calculate stopped time into total average speed for the ride. I used to use cyclemeter before switching to android and one thing I miss about that app was its ability to calculate time stopped during a ride. It would give you stats based on your overall ride time and not include time stopped….without having to pause the timer.

    • Actually, Strava does do this: It gives you your total moving time (time without stops), total elapsed time (time with stops), and average speed (which doesn’t include your stops).

      • But the segments are timed by how long it takes you to get from point A to point B, and if you stop, your clock’s still ticking. I think this is the fair approach. Otherwise, anyone could sprint 50 feet up a hill, take a break, then repeat until they get a KOM.

  6. I use runtastic mountain bike pro.. Similar? What are differences? I like it, logs miles, maps rides, etc.. But don’t know strava. How do they compare?

    • I used to use Mountain Bike Pro, but I switched to Strava full-time because:
      -App works better
      -Better battery life with Strava
      -Better online analytics features after the fact
      -Better social features with my friends

      However, Mountain Bike Pro is definitely more useful for navigation, with offline map downloads from OpenCycle. That said, I prefer the Singletracks maps for navigation, so if I need to find my way, I just use Singletracks Topo.

    • Probably a better question to ask Strava support but I can tell you on the iPhone app, it looks like it’s a feature that’s only available to Stava Premium users. Tap the segment, then tap “Analyze your effort”, and then you’ll see a message that says “Compare your best and current efforts. Learn more about Strava Premium.”

  7. Just going through the results from our trail survey and it looks like 37% of mountain bikers say they use Strava at least sometimes. That’s a pretty impressive market penetration rate… but I wonder how much higher it could go if the service was more tailored to mountain bikers?

    Or maybe it doesn’t need to be–37% is great! In the MTB industry, I’m thinking only Shimano or SRAM can claim a penetration rate this high. Not even Trek or Specialized can claim this much market share.

  8. Making segment explorer useful would be at the top of my list. Finding the popular segment when hitting a new trail system could be so much easier.

  9. Several readers have compared Garmin to various phone apps with the complaint that the phone apps are inaccurate. I’m curious…how do you know which is the accurate one? Just because it’s a Garmin that doesn’t necessarily make it better (although I suspect it is). I would actually like to read some comparisons between various DEDICATED gps devices. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were variations between them also.

    OK Singletracks…there is your challenge! Test these babies and give us the ugly truth if you dare!

    • I’m glad you said that–I had exactly the same thought! All GPS systems are prone to errors (under or over) and there are a lot of factors that influence those errors, many of which have nothing to do with the device (cloud cover, trees, buildings, placement, etc.). There are a few different grades of GPS chipset that manufacturers are using these days and AFAIK, both fitness devices (like Garmins) and smartphone use the same, high grade chipsets in their devices.

      Re: running a test. The problem is there is no good way to do a test since there is no device that is “right” to test against. I can ride the same exact course with a Garmin a hundred times and every time it will give me a different distance. Same with a smartphone. No need to do a test, I already know this happens every time. :)

      For official road races, USTAF mandates the courses be measured using a wheeled device so a wheel-based cycling computer is probably your best bet if you want to maximize accuracy. Still, tire pressure, surface contact, and other factors mean this is not 100% accurate either.

      Strava actually does some work behind the scenes to normalize GPS data no matter the source. For example, you may have noticed the climbing stats on your rides get updated a few hours after you post your ride. This is b/c Strava is comparing the elevation data your device collected to known digital elevation data and correcting it (for example, you can plug in any lat/lon pair to lookup the actual elevation at that point rather than relying on what your GPS reported). I also suspect Strava may be “path fitting,” especially for road rides to cut out any wonky data points that show you leaving the road briefly and returning.

      • You’re correct about there not being a “right” gps to test against which creates a lot of division among us as to who has the most accurate unit. What would be interesting though is to mount a bunch of dedicated gps units and several smart phones on a single bike (or anything else that rolls for that matter) and run them simultaneously. This would at least give us some idea as to which devices are at least close to each other in their measurements. Would the dedicated units line up with each other? How about the phones?

        I have noticed one thing in my own experience. My buddy who has a Samsung Galaxy always ends up with 4 or 5 tenths of a mile more (over a 18 mile MTB ride) versus my HTC. This is with us riding together on the same trail at the same time!
        So, his Strava always shows more miles than me!

      • It’s not the actual App that is inaccurate – it’s the GPS in the phones that are. While different Apps will interrupt the information differently in their own “special algorithm” it’s really the feed form the GPS unit of different phones that makes the biggest difference.

        That also applies to these different services – ie: take your one ride and send it to Strava, Garmin Connect & MapMyRide and you’ll be amazed at the differences! Where these websites really fall apart is when your riding around a body of water – lake or river – this will really jack up the elevation profile!

        I ride with an iPhone mostly, but when it critical I get good data I use my Garmin Oregon 600 – it does a much better job!

      • socaljohn: I’ve run the multiple GPS units on the same ride test and yes, they are all very different–even when they’re all Garmin devices. :)

  10. I use strava primarly for 3 reasons:
    1. Track my performance on Segments
    2. Meet & Track friends
    3. Find new trails to ride

    What I find most frustrating is that Strava deliberately hides the DESCENT information. As a mountain biker, I find regularly hit the lifts or get a shuttle up to the top of an epic mountain (ie: http://www.strava.com/activities/171249372) but the DESCENT information is not available?

    I have talked to Strava’s support and was blatantly told that Strava is a tool for Roadies and they rarely care about this kind information?

    This has put me in a position that I can’t/don’t use the native Strava App, I use Wahoo Fitness App instead and upload to Strava as well as Garmin Connect in order to get all the information I need.

    It’s just plain annoying that they refuse to acknowledge MTBing as a valid form of cycling!

    • That’s an interesting response you got from Strava support. I just assumed they were slow to add MTB features, not that the tool is only designed for road riding. I actually don’t buy that Strava sees itself as a tool just for road bikers, especially given their recent push to get more runners using the service.

      • For a while my version of Strava Cycling (the app) had a picture of a mountain biker while I waited for the app to open. That doesn’t make it seem like they hate mountain bikers and don’t want them to use their service…

        Also, Strava HAS run some challenges in the past that were targeted at mountain bikers and marketed for mountain bikers, but as Jeff mentioned above, the way the stats were logged and analyzed still allowed roadies to have a good crack at it.

    • Also sorry to hear the response you received from Strava Support! I’m on the Strava Support team, and I would not have responded with the information you reported.

      There are some big conversations happening right now about our dirt friends on Strava, and it is development we take very seriously. For example, we’re discussing how to differentiate mountain bike trail/routes in the Strava Route builder, and how to differentiate segments as dirt/pavement. Early discussions are already starting around how to give mountain bike activities more individuality vs. general cycling activities or road bike activities.

      Coming from the Support team, I would suggest you take a look at some of the discussion forums we have in our community section, and add your feedback. In fact, there are existing feature suggestion forums on pretty much all of the topics in the blog. Enjoy, and thanks!

  11. here is a comment by mtbTB (the remainder of the thread can be found here, http://dirttreaders.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=14452&hilit=spring+canyon&start=30
    except the opening poster, “holdingcawfield”, aka chris campbell, deleted all posts and submitted ‘hillary clinton 2016′ (he is a republican)):

    from mtbTB:
    “Heard this through a reliable source: “My friend learned today from MTRP’s ranger Mel that all of Oak, Spring and all the feeder trails will be closed to hikers and bikers in 3 weeks. After that time, the rangers will be actively patrolling the canyons writing what they say are $1,700 tickets.
    Apparently the catalyst for all of this is twofold:
    -First there’s the interloper from Colorado [guess who? (chris campbell, my addition)] who’s been butchering the brush on our trails so he can ride them faster. He’s also the guy who knocked off the top of the jumps on Blazing Saddles and the top of Toads, and he’s now butchering the trails out in Sycamore.
    -Second is Strava. While Strava is a fun way to track your time on a given trail, it strongly encourages you to be fastest and become “King Of The Mountain”. If you have the fastest time on a trail, Strava sends you a congratulatory e-mail telling you you’re King Of The Mountain. If someone beats your time, it then sends you an e-mail encouraging you to go out there and reclaim your title. What this has done is turn our favorite trails into racetracks, which is why Colorado boy is butchering and tearing up our trails: so he can have bragging rights as the fastest.
    All this means the trails are getting torn up and guys are riding like idiots, which only stirs up the trail Nazis and encourages them to take radical action.
    Trail closure seems imminent. Without so much as a hearing or community involvement from the biking community, MTRP will be closing the area in 3 weeks. Unless we speak up.
    If you want to ride keep riding in MTRP, you MUST get involved and speak up.”

    So you can thank CC (chris campbell- my addition), the self-centered jackass, for ruining it for all of us. Next time you see him knock him off the trail and break his bike in half. And no, I don’t care that I’m old and slower than you, Chris. I ride because it’s fun – especially blind corners in the bushes. Unless you built the trail, you have no right to modify it in any way.”

  12. I always thought adding a cadence monitor to either device garmin or smart phone would add more accuracy to the data. Am I correct or would stravas system change it regardless to what their algorithms say the ride should be for distance, speed and elevation?

    • thanks for the question! If you use a Garmin with a Garmin Speed/Cadence sensor, Strava will indeed calculate your distance and speed based on wheel-based distance. Unfortunately, if using the Strava app, your distance will be calculated using GPS coordinates only.
      -Elle, Strava Support

  13. Strava -
    Wheel size should now be a feature,more so in the UK where 29″ers are becoming more common.
    Gripes – Inaccurate mapping giving out wild times,road segments near trails .App users getting ridiculous times.Why can i ride my segment 5 times and not get a time on it ?
    Strava is shite,someone better it soon please.

  14. I don’t really use strava for KoM’s or do I really care about them. I ride because it very fun for me and I like to see how I’m doing now versus how I did last year or the last time I rode. I’m in a competition with myself to try and do better then last time. There are always going to be faster and younger folks out there and it is nice to see how close I’ve gotten to their insane speeds and times, but it’s really just a bonus for me. I’m not overly concerned about accuracy (iPhone app) I just like to log my rides. What I’d really love to see the route builder work for the mtb crowd. When I initially read about it I was very excited right up until I tried to use it and it only snapped to roads.

  15. About the GPS vs iPhone accuracy… I was hoping someone else said this so I didn’t have to hah! But the main issue with smartphone gps is that it has a slower refresh rate. Every 3 seconds vs. Every 1 second. On top of that, it has a lot going on in a smart phone, like sending and receiving data which compromises the accuracy even more. I’ve had trails where I had to stop and unclip for a second and then somehow ended up with a PR when other times I rode it much more fluently.

    On top of that, gps drift is a huge huge problem with smart phones. I to this day have a KOM from a trail that runs rather parallel to the trail I was on, but when I received the KOM I didn’t even ride that particular segment. Others in my area all have the same issue, getting KOM or leaderboard on segments they didn’t even ride when using a smart phone.

    I have done side by side testing and the GPS is way more accurate. I use a Garmin 510 edge. Sure you can argue the obvious rhetoric that it’s not accurate or that there are still factors, but think about it. The Garmin is a dedicated gps with a better refresh rate. Not a phone with endless other things going on where gps was intended for driving apps and maps, not a competitive cycling program / app / website. It’s insanely lopsided. Way more than you can even comprehend until you do some more testing with two devices on your own. Phones cheat.

    • Right, it sounds like the biggest argument against the accuracy of smartphone GPS is software-related which is actually where–long term–smartphones have the advantage. Most will never update the firmware on their dedicated GPS but apps like Strava get better–and more accurate–every time they release an updated app.

      One more hardware note: dedicated GPS units can only use GPS to determine your position but smartphones can also tap into wi-fi, cell towers, and even bluetooth to get a better fix than GPS alone. This isn’t a huge help on most MTB trails but in urban areas where GPS signals are blocked by buildings, those additional signals give smartphones an edge.

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