Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why You Should Go Premium With Strava

Photo by Dillon ClappRoad Magazine

Last week, I was invited to come ride with the fine folks of Strava over some stunning terrain in the Malibu area. I happily accepted to enjoy exploring (read: climbing) somewhere new, hear from Strava, and meet some other writers and editors in the cycling industry.

Strava is a much bigger part of my enjoyment of cycling here in Southern California than it was in Southern Ontario. If you ask on any group ride, "Is this a segment?" you'll probably get an eye roll. Everything here is a segment.

But I've noticed a few things -- and heard a few thing from friends -- that had me wondering. I took my curiosity to the Strava meeting and they helped clear things up.

1.) I've been a Strava freeloader for years. Why haven't I been pressured to upgrade? 

Strava has worked from the beginning to be a tool of the cycling community, not the cycling industry. There are some powerful features you can get with an upgrade, but you can still enjoy Strava's basic functions to the fullest without paying. It's a no-strings-attached app for cyclists and runners, by cyclists and runners. End of story.

2.) So why should I upgrade? 

Strava is not yet a profitable company, though they expect that will change in the next 18 months. Its primary revenue stream is its premium membership option. You may have noticed Strava does not host advertising, and that's how they intend to keep it.

For me, the number one reason to upgrade is to support a company/tool that supports cycling. Strava, as you can imagine, has a lot of data. Over 50,000 new users join every week and 65% of Strava users are outside the U.S. The best part? They want to use that massive amount of data to advocate for cycling. IMBA and Strava are already partnered on some projects and Strava is also interested in working with city planners to make cycling in urban centers better. For example, using its heat maps, Strava could share the most popular routes taken by its users to show where best to build a bike lane. Conversely, if a route has a bike lane, but riders aren't using it, planners could use that info to figure out why, and how to improve it.

Upgrade to support Strava's effots to support you. Added bonus? You get some pretty amazing analysis of your scores, power data, heart rate data, your own personal heat maps (so you can see what ground you've covered) and more. And it's only $59 for the year.

3.) What about brand-sponsored challenges or rewards? 

Strava is proud of its relationships with brands in the cycling industry. That said, it remains committed to keeping advertising out of its revenue stream, so it's conscious to work with brands in a way that does not cross the line to look like an ad. Keep an eye out for those challenges and rack up those miles and badges.

4.) My Strava feed looks totally different -- what happened? 

The day we rode, Strava had just launched Strava Mobile 4.0. It combines the running and cycling app into one, included five more languages, a more social feed that includes instagram snaps, better functionality (just one click to kudos!).

On the app, you can now see which of your friends/followers are active in real time and as always, Strava is completely compatible with pretty much every third-party device/cyclo-computer you can think of. (We heard that there's a guy at Strava who's whole job is to learn about these "wearables" -- lately he's been trying out a t-shirt that stealthily monitors your heart rate and breathing rate. Wild.)

For Premium members, there are real-time notifications and audio updates delivered at the beginning, halfway point and end of segments so you know right away if you bagged that KOM/QOM (as long as you starred the segment beforehand). And you can compare your times by age group, weight class or a variety of other classifications.


Introducing The New Feed from Strava on Vimeo.

I also want to mention the Route Builder function on strava.com, free for all users. I hadn't realized it was there but it was an update to the site last year. Route Builder lets you input point A and B and using heat maps, Strava will give you the most popular route between them. It will also use your prior week's data to estimate how long it will take you to complete the ride (unlike Google Maps which uses your grandmother's personal best to estimate ...). You can also select the "minimum elevation" route to keep your climbing to a minimum if you want. (Sadly, there's no "maximum elevation" option yet).

5.) What about the rumors? Is Strava going to start removing "dangerous" downhill segments? 

No. Strava has never removed a downhill segment for fear of lawsuits and they say they won't either. Strava provides a tool, only. It is brought to life by its users. That means it's up to you not to be a jerk and mow down hikers and bird watchers because you're on track for a PR. If you hurl yourself down a technical descent that's over your head, that's on you, not Strava. There is no excuse for being a poor trail or road user.

All that said, there sure are a lot of segments out there! And a lot are duplicates. Since people are not likely to stop making duplicate segments, Strava is working on a strategy to consolidate. But with over two million activities uploaded per week, you can imagine that might take a bit of doing.

As for safety, Strava's number one message to its users is to be safe and have fun. If you feel a segment is unsafe, and you have ridden it before, you are qualified to "flag" it as hazardous and it will be removed. Strava is working on flags for those pesky redundant segments and also "temporary hazards" as well, such as construction.

Bottom line: Strava has no interest in being the segment police.

PS: New rumour for you! Strava is working on adding even more activities ... keep your eye out for those developments this year (XC skiing anyone?)

So on last Thursday's ultimate Strava ride, I learned a lot about this impressive company and super bonus, we were guided on a metric century over hill and dale in the backyards and driveways of some truly jaw-dropping estates. Thank you to Alex and Michael at Strava and Peter at True Communications for taking such excellent care of us. Here are a few photos from the day:

A gorgeous day for a ride - Santa Monica

One of many stunning properties we passed, with LA in the distance

Optum Pro Cycling's Jesse Anthony does a good deed in Malibu for this fellow with his first flat (!) since leaving San Francisco on a cyclo-tour

Cross-canyon capture of the Strava support van and riders in our group

Bike Mag's Nicole Formosa climbing out of Tuna Canyon

BRAIN's Megan Tompkin's descends from Saddle Peak