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How to get the most out of Strava

Craig Cunningham
15 Nov 2017

Seek out the true path to becoming a master of online ride tracking with our guide on how to reap the benefits of Strava

'If a tree falls and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a noise?' Wise men and women have debated this question for years. And for the modern cyclist, this conundrum has taken on a new guise: ‘If you went for a ride but didn’t record it on Strava, did it really happen?’

Indeed Strava’s become almost as essential to the modern cyclist as, well, their bike. So how can you get the most from this astonishing digital thingummy? Step right this way to find out…

In 2009, Strava was born and cycling changed forever. It’s since become the world’s favourite online athletic tracker, with millions of cyclists joining in the fun.

Around 116 million rides were uploaded in 2015 alone, amassing over 4,100 million kilometres worldwide.

But while most cyclists know the webpage and smartphone app that tracks your rides and pits you against rivals, giving out trophies and badges, few know of its other wonders which can help you with just about every aspect of your riding.

Creating routes

Route Builder

Planning a new route can sometimes be a bit daunting. We’ve all had it when we’re an hour into a new ride only to find ourselves on the M25 scratching our heads as to how we ended up there.

With Strava’s Route Builder you can not only formulate a route but tweak it to perfection. How? Having planned your route and set the mileage, simply clicking ‘Use Popularity’ will allow Strava to adjust your route so that it incorporates the most-used sections of roads close to your planned route.

These are the roads that are much loved by local cyclists, whether it’s for the climbing challenge, the scenery or just the fact that they’re safe.

Coupled with the choice to find the flattest possible option (just toggle the ‘Min Elevation’ switch), you can create your perfect route without ever having visited the area.

Strava Global Heatmap 

For an even greater level of insight and planning, you can also enable Strava’s Global Heatmap.

This overlays the world in colours from light blue to dark red, indicating which are the least-travelled roads (light blue) and which are the most popular (dark red), giving you an easy visual understanding of the ride that best suits you.

Not only is this great for finding new routes at home but also abroad. So next time you’re on holiday, crack open your Strava app and have a peruse through the Global Heatmap to see what the most popular segments are in the area around where you’re staying before rolling out. 

Local

Creating your own route can be fun but if you prefer to just get out there and ride, Strava’s got you covered.

Using the website’s ‘Local’ tab you can find ‘favourite’ routes that have been compiled using data from every single ride.

These are then carefully selected by the app’s staff members to offer a wide range of routes.

From simple 10-mile sightseeing rides around town to a 100-mile tour of hardcore suffering, Local has a little bit of everything featuring cities around the world.

These aren’t just cracking rides, either, but total events. With coffee shop pit stops and photo opportunities built in, you can judge where to stop and have that well-earned espresso.

With new routes added regularly there should be something for everyone but if you find there really isn’t anything for you, well, you can just make your own.

  

Using Strava to become fitter 

Training Plans

Although Strava can help take the weight off your shoulders through stress-free riding, it can also help you lose a few pounds from around your waist, too.

One great way of doing this is by using its Training Plans function. Strava’s free service is great, but once you go Premium with it (it costs just £3.99 a month), a whole host of different options open up to you, and where your fitness is concerned that can mean help with everything from increasing your climbing endurance to bettering your VO2 max or lactate threshold.

A really great feature of these is that you can adjust a training plan based on the volume of riding you get in during the week.

For most of us, work plays a big part in determining when we get to ride, so even if you ride as little as four hours a week, Strava will adjust your plan accordingly – even if the weather sucks.

You see the digital heavyweights have partnered with Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) to provide Strava Premium users with a choice of training videos that can be used indoors any time of year.

And if these videos don’t punish you enough, fear not, there’s also the option to link to your very own Sufferfest videos if you really want to lay the hammer down. 

Fitness and Freshness

A crime than many cyclists are guilty of is not giving their body the right amount of rest.

‘If you fail to schedule in enough recovery,’ British Cycling told us, ‘you’ll stop making progress, lose motivation, risk developing overtraining syndrome and possibly expose yourself to increased risk of injury or illness.’

Yet so many of us cyclists torment our bodies until we’re feeling more punctured than pumped. One way to  avoid that is to use a Strava premium tool called Fitness and Freshness. 

Used in associaton with a heart-rate monitor or power meter, this tool calculates your fitness and fatigue levels to give you a great indication of when you should give the bike a miss or when it’s OK to plough on.

‘We model it the same way as our other fitness tools,’ a clipboard-bothering Strava boffin told us, ‘but on a shorter time scale.

'You’ll notice the score go up quickly after a couple of hard days, but also go down quickly as you take a few days off.’ 

And it doesn’t stop there. Strava also looks to quantify (and therefore improve your) ‘form’ by using your fitness data.

‘Being in form happens when you’re very fit but not fatigued. We model this as the difference between your Fitness Score and your Fatigue Score,’ clipboard bloke revealed.

While this is not the most accurate representation, it holds as a great indicator to those of us who may need a little helping hand when it comes to xtelling ourselves if we’re working out healthily or overdoing it.


Power Curve 

One of the must-have accessories for any serious modern cyclist is a power meter, but these nifty devices are only useful if you know how to use the data they provide effectively.

Which Strava (surprise, surprise) does. Its ‘Power Curve’ tool takes all your data from every ride you’ve done using a power meter, and compiles it into a graph showing your average power output.

The real trick behind using power meters is to understand the different training zones.

Ranging from Active Recovery (Zone 1) right up to Anaerobic Capacity (Zone 6), your wattage output can help you identify and target specified training plans and goals.

Before you jump right into researching the whys and wherefores of these levels, however, you need to find your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) – this is the amount of power you can put out for a sustained period of time, generally either 20, 40 or 60 minutes.

Strava’s ‘Power Curve’ takes all that data and formulates your FTP average, meaning that if you don’t have a 20-minute stretch of uninterrupted road or don’t want to be on the turbo trainer all day, you can still find out your FTP.

Using this figure, you can then structure a solid plan.

Strava metro

However, Strava isn’t just about riders studying their own data or comparing it with other riders.

Your data, along with everyone else who use Strava’s services, can actually be used to help shape the future of the planet’s cycling infrastructure, thanks to the Strava Metro feature, which uses data compiled from riders across the world.

According to Strava, ‘Metro anonymises and aggregates this data and then partners with city planning groups to improve infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.’

In Glasgow, for example, Strava Metro helped prove the need for new infrastructure on a street that many officials believed had no bike usage.

State officials in Queensland, Australia, meanwhile used data from Strava to quantify how a new bike path influenced the use of bikes and cyclists’ behaviour.

In the US State of Oregon, the local Department of Travel used data to decide where to put bike counters and to adjust previous counters so they could capture more data on the state’s cycling behaviour.

Logging your rides, then, isn’t just about showing your mates who’s top dog but paving the way for the UK’s cycling revolution – so get out there and ride the good ride!

Social

Strava’s not just a place where friends can compete, either. It also breaks down the barrier between pro riders and their fans with major stars like Alex Dowsett, Andre Greipel and Thibaut Pinot all enthusiastic Strava users.

Its universal appeal shows no sign of abating either with more riders signing up than ever before. In fact, 5.3 Strava activities were uploaded onto the network every single second in 2015! That’s (quick maths) over 167 million a year!

Once regarded as a data hoarder, what started as a humble app has evolved into it’s a fully fledged social- media monster, carving out its place as somewhere riders can fully interact.

As with other social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, you can tag people in comments if you want to share a particular ride with them just by typing the ‘@’ symbol before their name to mention them in the comments section.

Which is much easier than pestering them via text to give you your hard-earned kudos!

Roster

Of course, Strava’s key draw is the bragging rights that come with earning King of the Mountain times and breaking records on your favourite segments, but did you know you could take one step further?

The Roster is a premium-service tool which allows you to compare segments, breaking down your best effort against other previous efforts as well as against rivals.

It hosts a myriad of graphs and analysis, so you can see when you accelerated to victory or where you might need to improve.

This is a level of detail is not only designed to delight your typical cycling anorak, but gives every one of us the kind of data served up to the pros – often at great expense – in an attempt to help them shave seconds off of world-beating times.

Which is kind of awesome when you think about it. 

Flyby

Strava also has a rather cool tool called Flyby which will overlay the rides of other registered Strava cyclists over the top of yours.

The tool shows elevation, time correlation (time ahead or behind) as well as spatial and distance correlation.

Thanks to the playback option you can also accurately see exactly when someone was dropped from the pack or went speeding past you.

Perfect, then, for finding out if that blur of a bike that just swept past you was indeed Dowsett or Greipel out having a quick Sunday-morning spin.

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