Bob Ward wrote a great article recently titled, “Why Strava Sucks the Soul out of Mountain Biking.” I thoroughly enjoyed his article, agreed with his position, and thought that it was a very valid opinion to hold.
In case you missed it, I’ve written about why you shouldn’t race your mountain bike before, and I think that includes becoming a Stravahole obsessed with leaderboards, like Bob talked about.
That said, I personally love Strava, and have been using it for almost 5 years.
And here’s why.
1. Statistics Tracking
The number one reason I use Strava is to track statistics, because I’m a total stats nerd. I love to look back on the year and see how many miles I rode, how many feet I climbed, how many hours I spent hanging out in the woods, how many new trails I rode… you name it, I want to know it! As long as it doesn’t have to deal with speed, that is. 🙂
The thing is, I was tracking my mountain biking statisics long before Strava existed. I haven’t become more or less stats-minded since the advent of Strava, it’s simply made cataloging and analyzing my stats easier than ever before. Strava hasn’t changed what I’m doing, just what tool I’m doing it with.
I have now been using Strava since the end of 2011 (closing on five years!), and now not only can I analyze stats for a given year, but I am having fun analyzing all-time stats over the last half-decade of mountain biking.
2. Historical Record
Strava’s calendar feature, listing all of your rides and other activities in a calendar view for as long as you’ve used Strava, has served as an incredible way for me to keep a historical record of my life.
Yes, my entire life.
You see, I have a hard time remembering details of when things in my life happened off the top of my head—when I took certain trips, visited certain people, lived in certain places, etc. But, my Strava calendar can tell me exactly what I was up to and where I was located on a given day or week, now going all the way back to 2011.
I’ve used Strava activities to help me remember all kinds of different activities and life events that have happened in the past. Maybe this just shows how addicted I am to mountain biking or how much time I spend in the saddle, but simply knowing when and where I rode effectively provides a chronicle of my life.
3. Keeping Up with friends
Strava’s social media aspect rarely seems to get any press. The focus with Strava is always on competing with other riders on leaderboards—people who you may or may not know.
However, one of my favorite Strava features is being able to “friend” other riders that I know, and see when they’re riding and what trails they’re exploring.
Through simply watching my social feed on Strava, I’ve gleaned interesting trail ideas or route combinations that I want to explore. This has helped motivate me to get out the door and check yet another trail off my #1trailaweek challenge!
On the other hand, over the years I’ve ridden with great people all around the nation, and even around the world. Friending them on Strava allows me to keep up with the most important aspect of my friends’ lives far and wide: where they’ve ridden their bicycle most recently.
While maybe most people don’t get into this social feature, I personally enjoy browsing my Strava feed way more than browsing my Facebook feed!
Plus, there’s no politics on Strava.
I pay the absurd Strava subscription fee for one simple–yet amazing–feature: Heatmaps. I wish I could buy just that one feature a la carte from Strava Premium and skip the rest, because that’s the only one I use… but for now, I’m so addicted to it that I just can’t quit!
This point does go back to my addiction to statistics, but I’m also uniquely addicted to maps. In my opinion, there are few things as cool as seeing all of your rides from all time displayed on one zoomable, pannable map–and not only that, but being able to see which trails you’ve ridden the most, and which you’ve ridden the least.
Personally, the Strava Heatmap really helps motivate me to ride obscure dirt roads and trails, solely for the purpose of connecting all the lines on my Heatmap together. Through the process of playing connect-the-dots on my Heatmap, I’ve discovered some truly awesome, yet totally obscure, singletrack and doubletrack in the middle of nowhere!
Above and beyond the Heatmaps, Strava aids me greatly in my efforts to map trails for Singletracks. For one thing, Tracker automatically imports maps for rides that don’t have them yet (only if you connect it first—learn how here), which makes the entire process really simple. But if I want to go above and beyond, I can easily export files from my Strava records, open them in my map editing program on my computer, and export smaller portions of the ride, custom trail combinations—you name it.
Sure, you can do this with any old GPS unit, but if you go back up to point #2 about the historical record, having all of my data from all time organized historically allows me to go back and grab an old GPS file that at the time I didn’t think I would need ever again, but then down the road I find a need for one project or another. This has happened countless times, and without my historical calendar record on Strava and all of that saved map data, I doubt I’d ever be able to retrieve the appropriate GPS tracks.
While I agree with Bob on basically everything he said, I do believe that Strava can be used responsibly, and that it doesn’t have to suck the soul out of mountain biking. At least, I’ve been using it for almost five years myself, and I don’t think it’s ruined the soul of mountain biking for me.
That said, I try to keep my singletrack experience as pure and technology-free as possible. I press the start button on my GPS watch when I begin, the stop button when I end, and that’s the extent of the time I spend messing around with my technological gizmos out on the trail. I leave the uploading, file naming, and route analyzing until I get home and am back at my computer, and I keep my time in the woods focused on riding, enjoying nature, and the company of the people I’m with.
But you know what else is sweet about leaving the Strava minutia until I return home? Reminiscing about the ride as I upload and import the file makes the mountain bike experience feel just that much longer!
Your Turn: Undoubtedly, there are many more ways to use Strava that don’t involve leaderboards, that I didn’t mention above. Share your favorite Strava uses in the comments below!