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Strava Review

September 9, 2019

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Strava Review

Strava Review
4.8

Summary

Strava is often a first stop for when exploring the dozens of cycling apps available, since it’s been around since 2009 and uses GPS and other data to reliably track your location and monitor your performance, regardless of your device preferences—including those with iOS, Android, and Garmin operating systems.

After using the Strava app for several years, across thousands of miles, and as both a free and a Summit member, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s worth downloading and trying out.

Like any technology, though, it’s not perfect: I’ve found it occasionally stops recording mid-ride, the GPX files are minimally editable (only the beginnings and endings), and you can only revise your custom routes via the Strava website.

Still, I think a Summit membership provides a lot of bang-for-the-buck. Why? Read below to get the full scoop.

  • Price
  • Ease of Use
  • Feature Variety
  • Functionality
  • Overall Value

Pros

  • One of the top fitness apps available, regardless of your device
  • Easy to use
  • Lots of data available at your fingertips, including custom routes
  • Social aspect (segments, challenges, feed, etc.) can connect you with other cyclists and keep you motivated
  • Beacon allows safety contacts to track your live location
  • Free version available
  • The paid version allows you to choose between different Packs, depending on your goals
  • Tons of third-party apps that can use the data to boost functionality further

Cons

  • The Strava app (rarely) doesn’t record an entire activity
  • A Summit membership can be expensive, depending on your budget
  • Several close competitors to choose from, which might better meet your unique combination of needs and preferences
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In this Strava review, we’ll help you learn more about the app by taking a detailed look at its core features, pricing, and competition, and sharing my firsthand experience.

About Strava

Strava—the Swedish word for “strive”—is an app that promises to turn every iOS and Android smartphone, smartwatch, and head unit “into a sophisticated running and cycling computer” capable of tracking and analyzing data gathered from GPS, a heart rate monitor, or your bike’s power meter.

Then, you can then share your ride information and performance metrics, and connect and compete with other cyclists on the platform, which is why the company advertises Strava as “the social network for athletes.”

According to Inc’s Jeff Haden, Strava reports more than 42 million existing accounts, with an additional one million users signing up to the platform each month.

Should you be the next member? And if so, should you choose a basic or Summit membership?

I’ve been a Strava Summit member since 2017, during which time I’ve logged more than 270 rides and 8,100 miles. By combining details from the company, other cyclists, and my first-hand experience, this article can help you decide whether or not it’s worth downloading.

Let’s start by quickly taking a closer look at each of the app’s core features.

How Does the Strava App Work?

The Strava app is compatible with a wide variety of third-party devices and apps, including those with iOS and Android operating systems. In fact, the website indicates that “if you can export or record your activities, you’re most likely compatible.”

And while Strava is a robust app with dozens of features, nearly all of them revolve around data tracking and socializing, which we’ll break down below.

Segment Tracking

Strava supports 25 activities in addition to cycling and running, including swimming, hiking, alpine and backcountry skiing, ice and inline skating, rock climbing, stand-up paddleboarding, and yoga, to name just a few.

To add data, you’ll press Record inside the Strava app. Doing so allows you to track your performance stats (distance, average speed, max speed, power output, etc.) across different segments, which are popular road or trail sections used by other Strava members.

After your ride’s finished, Strava then overlays your segments onto maps provided by Mapbox, with Terrain, Standard, and Satellite views available.

If you’re on the Strava website and select an original segment from your ride (i.e., one that hasn’t already been named by another athlete), you can scroll to the bottom of the page, click on the Create a New Segment button, and then adjust its starting and ending points.

After deciding whether you want your new segment to be private (only visible to you) or public, you’ll then press the Create button. Then, you can view your new work of art under the Created Segments of your Dashboard.

Creating a new segment in Strava is super easy—and addicting if you frequently ride in areas less traveled by other athletes on the platform.

The entire route for your ride is also saved to Strava’s database, which allows other athletes to upload it to their phone or GPS devices.

Want to build a route of your own? You can access Strava’s Route Builder tool via their website, add points to a map, and then sit back as their engine automatically calculates the best path. It will also display your route’s total distance, elevation gain, and estimated moving time.

If necessary, you can zoom in and edit individual points, after which Strava’s engine will configure the route accordingly. Together, the company calls it “The world’s largest route and trail resource.”

As when creating segments, Strava’s Route Builder allows you to design a new route in minutes, gain access to essential details about the route, and then share it with other athletes on the platform.

Socializing With Strava

After you’ve finished recording, you can edit your ride’s name, add images, and enter a brief description.

Strava then posts your data to the community leaderboard, where you can see how your performance stacks up against “every athlete who has been there before.” And based on your performance, you can earn badges and trophies.

In addition to standard metrics like distance and time, Strava Summit members (more next) can also access unique data like Power Curve (maximal effort during intervals), Fitness & Freshness (uses heart rate data to calculate improvement and fatigue), and Relative Effort.

Similar to popular social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, other Strava members can view your individual feed, take a look at your rides and performance stats, give your kudos (i.e., thumbs up), and leave comments.

Inside the Strava app, you can view the feed (left) of athletes you follow and check out your activities (center), as well as members of any clubs you support (right).

Strava also hosts hundreds of thousands of worldwide cycling clubs built around everything from friends and locations to shops and brands. Whether on their website or inside their app, you can search these cycling, running, triathlon, and “other” clubs by name, city, and/or state.

In addition to segments and feeds, thousands of clubs makes Strava a “social network for athletes,” according to the company.

How Much Does a Strava Summit Membership Cost?

All of Strava’s core features are available to unpaid members, including the ability to record rides, track distance, speed, and heart rate, as well as socialize with other members.

On the other hand, a Summit membership (known as Premium before August 2018) provides access to three different Packs, which Strava describes as “a collection of features focused on a purpose.” You can select individually, or choose all three:

  • Training Pack: $2/mo – A pack created by expert coaches that allows you to track real-time speed, distance, and location; set goals for distance, time, power, and segments; compete with other members who share your age class and weight group, and make “sure your workouts are hitting the mark.”
  • Analysis Pack: $2/mo – According to Strava, this pack allows you to take a deep dive into data pulled from heart rate monitors and power meters, track your fitness over time and across different sports, see your pace and lap details, and receive real-time segment performance.
  • Safety Pack: $2/mo – Allows you to share your live location with safety contacts, as well as discover new routes.

Pro tip: Signing up for an annual Summit membership will save you about $12 per year, versus paying monthly.

Strava Summit Packs Comparison
Basic Training Pack Analysis Pack Safety Pack
Record Rides
Track Distance, Speed, HR
Social Aspect
Real-Time Distance, Speed, Location      
Expanded Goals      
Compete w/in age class and weight group      
Data Deep Dive      
Multi-Sport Fitness Tracking      
Set Pace/Lap      
Real-Time Segment Performance      
Share Live Location w/safety contacts      
Discover New Routes      

Summit Perks also provides members with “exclusive deals from the best brands and retailers,” according to the Strava website. A few current examples include Suunto, New Balance, Competitive Cyclist, Audible, and Aaptiv.

Finally, Strava advertises that Summit members’ support questions “go to the top of the queue,” so you could expect a faster response, and you can upload as many photos to their activities as you please.

If you’re already a free member, you can also upgrade to a Summit membership and test-drive it for seven days before committing.

At these prices, does Strava Summit deliver value? Next, I’ll talk about what I’ve learned over the years.

My Experience Using Strava

I first downloaded the Strava app in 2013, although I primarily used MapMyRide—as a force of habit, more than anything else—until I canceled my membership and signed up for a Summit account in 2017.

Since then, I’ve logged more than 8,000 miles between hundreds of rides with Strava. Here are my thoughts about its features:

Recording Activities in the Strava App

Over the years, I’ve mostly used the Strava app to record my rides and to log mileage and elevation data. I don’t have any equipment (e.g., heart rate monitor or power meters) attached, and I’ve never logged any sports with the app other than cycling.

Logging real-time activities is super easy—I just press record and head out for a ride. I can also input manual activities or delete past events with just a couple of taps inside the app, which is handy for adding indoor cycling sessions, or rare instances when it misrecords.

Viewing My Strava Results

Checking my times is one of the first things I do following a ride, where the Strava app ranks each segment by time, age group, and weight class (Summit only) on the leaderboard, and awards badges and trophies accordingly.

The app also allows me to set a simple annual mileage goal, with a progress bar on my Dashboard that quickly outlines where I’m at for the year.

The Strava app provides tons of data at your fingertips for you to dig through, all of which is quickly viewable from your Dashboard. The screenshot above is taken from their website.

Strava’s Social Aspect

In my opinion, uploading photos is a fun way to add life and color to Strava’s data, as well as to give my friends a better idea of the scenery along my rides. I can also tag someone who didn’t record, which (with their permission, of course) will automatically upload to their feed and count toward their metrics.

And as a map nerd, I think Strava’s Heatmaps—which show how often you ride in different areas—are pretty cool to check out every once in a while. I can even save and compare them at the end of the year as a fun way to visualize my progress.

While Strava’s Heatmaps don’t necessarily add to my cycling tracking or training, they’re a super fun way to visualize where you most often ride.

Speaking of which, dozens of third-party apps can use the data recorded by Strava and deliver additional visualization (e.g., Relive.cc) functionality, along with training and wellness, and performance analysis.

Creating Segments & Routes in Strava

As a map enthusiast, I really dig Strava’s Route Builder engine and segment creator, along with the mileage, elevation base maps, and estimated moving time it automatically calculates.

All I have to do is double click on the map’s starting point, double click again somewhere nearby, and the engine automatically calculates mileage, elevation, and estimated moving time between the two. Then, I continue clicking along at crucial turning points until I’m finished, and the website works its magic.

Together, Strava’s route engine allows me to map out new areas I want to explore ahead of time, which is indispensable as my family travels full-time around the western US.

Strava’s Route Builder is a fast and—mostly—accurate method of creating new rides, planning what you need to bring ahead of time, and sharing with other athletes in the community.

Pro Tip: However, it’s important to emphasize that Strava’s mapping engine doesn’t always differentiate between public and private property. For example, in some areas of rural Texas, I’ve spent time building routes in advance, only to encounter an impassable road (e.g., gated communities, private gravel roads, etc.) somewhere along the lines.

To this point, the Strava website emphasizes:

“Route recommendations may be incomplete and/or inaccurate and may contain sections of private land and/or sections of terrain that could be challenging or hazardous. Always use your best judgment about the safety of road and trail conditions and follow traffic and property laws.”

Finally, I don’t find that Strava’s Route engine is quite as robust as the one offered by Ride With GPS, though, which also allows you to add points of interest, choose between automatically following roads or drawing lines, change route color, and optimize for cycling, walking, or driving.

Related: Ride With GPS app Review

Using Strava’s Safety Beacon

While tracking my mileage and other essential metrics was the primary reason I originally downloaded the Strava app, their Beacon feature—which allows me to share my real-time location with any safety contacts I choose in case of an emergency—provided the incentive for me to upgrade to a Summit membership.

It automatically sends a text as soon as I press the Record button that includes a shortened tracking URL, which expires as soon as my ride is finished.

Strava Beacon sends a text to my contacts as soon as I begin each ride, which allows them to carefully track my location in the event of an emergency.

Overall, because I regularly ride in relatively remote areas, I feel better when someone knows where I am, so the peace of mind alone is worth the extra $5.99 per month.

In fact, my safety contact has on more than one occasion mentioned that the Strava app tracks my tiniest movements (such as when going inside a convenience store for mid-ride snacks), so I feel confident it would be invaluable in an emergency.

However, it’s worth mentioning that this could be a privacy concern, depending on whom you choose to share your information. Let’s carry this thought over to the next section.

A Note About Strava’s Privacy Settings

Strava allows you to individually update your privacy settings for individual and group activities, flybys, heatmaps, and segment and challenge leaderboards.

Even if you leave all of these areas as-is, though, I’d strongly recommend setting up a privacy zone, which hides a portion of your activity within a small radius of your home (or any other common starting location).

Otherwise, as MIT Technology Review’s Rachel Metz reports, you could unknowingly disclose your sensitive location data.

Pro Tip: Along these same lines, you might want to think twice about listing expensive bikes and other components under your Strava athlete profile. Otherwise, you could let everyone know not just where you live, but also the gear you own.

Alternately, you can make all of your activities private, although this prevents others from viewing events on your feed, thereby eliminating Strava’s social aspect.

My Overall Opinion About the Strava App

Between its ease of use, accuracy, robust functionality, and popularity, Strava is my number one cycling app. I use it to track all of my rides, keep in touch with cyclists I’ve met along the way, and regularly import its data to third-party apps that further boost its functionality.

Related: What’s Going on Between Relive.cc & Strava?

It’s certainly not perfect, though. For example:

Tracking Bugs: Just the other day, the app stopped recording and didn’t gather data for 13 miles in the middle of my 55-mile ride. Luckily, I noticed what happened when I stopped for directions and resumed recording.

Editing Limitations: While I can always manually add these miles to maintain distance accuracy, I inevitably lose elevation and speed data. Furthermore, Strava only allows users to edit the beginning or ends of GPX files, so in the example above, the data mostly disappears into the ether and is lost forever.

Tracking Accuracy: I haven’t compared Strava’s accuracy with any other devices, but it’s worth noting that one of the most common online complaints from other cyclists is that it’s inaccurate.

Auto-Pause: I like that Strava automatically pauses its tracking if I stop for a few seconds, which helps me avoid having to open the app, manually press pause, and then inevitably forget to resume recording once I start riding again.

But, if you stop multiple times during a long ride, the few seconds that it takes for the Auto-Pause to kick in can add up and potentially skew your stats, and therefore your rankings.

Are there better options for recording your cycling experiences, though? This is the central question I’ll help you answer next.

Strava vs. MapMyRide, Runkeeper, Garmin, & Other Cycling Tracking Apps

Several popular GPS tracking apps are competing with Strava, many of which offer similar core features like iOS, Android, and third-party device integration; mapping, social feeds, route building platforms, data analysis, challenges, training and nutrition plans, live tracking, and upgraded plans.

Here’s how the top options compare:

Brand Price Key Differences
Strava Free–$6/mo Original (been around since 2009), creator of segments
MapMyRide by Under Armour Free–$5.99/mo Additional apps available for running, walking, fitness, and calorie-counting
ASICS Runkeeper Free–$9.99/mo Tracking for any activity (not just cycling), weather insights, 50 million members, can connect with your custom playlists
Endomondo Free–$5.99/mo Focuses mainly on coaching and achieving goals, multiple sports available for tracking, training plans based on short questionnaire, no route-building engine
Runtastic Road Bike Free–$1.16/week Bodyweight training and nutrition plans
Garmin Connect Free Tailor-made for Garmin devices (you must own one)

As you can see, these apps typically have more in common than otherwise. As such, picking the right one will mostly depend on which key differences you highlight.

For example, Endomondo is the only option in the table above that doesn’t offer a route-building engine, whereas this is a feature that apps like RideWithGPS and Strava emphasize. However, RideWithGPS is the only app that also provides turn-by-turn audio navigation, if this is important to you.

If you decide to upgrade, Runtastic comes in the least expensive, with Runkeeper the priciest. However, Runkeeper also allows you to add custom playlists and access real-time weather reports.

Along these same lines, if you already own a Garmin device, the fact that their Connect app is free makes them the least expensive for access to the most robust features. If you need to purchase a Garmin device, however, it quickly becomes the highest priced option by a wide margin.

Pulling all of these details together, Strava comes with a middle-of-the-road price, mostly positive online customer feedback, excellent firsthand experience, and a reputation as a go-to cycling app. Let’s wrap everything up and help you decide if you should download it.

My Bottom Line: Is Strava Summit Worth It?

With 42+ million members and another million signing up each month, Strava is an undeniably popular fitness app, whether you’re into biking, running, swimming, or just about any other type of physical activity.

Furthermore, the app seems to meet most customers’ needs, since it comes with high marks from online reviewers, and is currently ranked #39 on iTunes under Health and Fitness apps. It’s also completely free as a Basic member, giving you the ability to test most of its features before committing to a Summit membership if you choose.

In my instance, I think the minimal cost of a Summit membership is more than worth it, based on the Beacon aspect alone. But, when I eventually decide to link devices like a heart rate monitor and power meter, I imagine its overall value will only increase.

Are you a Strava Basic or Summit member? What do you think about the app and website? Talk about it by leaving a comment below!

Ready to buy? Consider clicking the link to the right. Why? As an Amazon Associate, TreadBikely earns from qualifying purchases, which helps support our mission. Learn more here.

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Derek has more than two decades of experience as a cyclist. He currently travels full-time with his family via RV, enjoying the country's best biking destinations. A secular Buddhist, Derek frequently explores the intersection of cycling, mindfulness, and compassion in his writing. #rolloutblissout When he's not writing reviews and guides related to bike accessories, parts, and gear for TreadBikely.com, he's riding, talking about cycling, or thinking about bikes he can't afford. #rolloutblissout
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