Strava – Race your mates

Lucas odometer. The height of cycle tech circa 1975

I love a speedo me. I remember my excitement at age 14 when my mates and I were looking after my Grandma’s house when she went on holiday (how trusting was she?) I “baggsied” my uncle Andrew’s racer for the sole reason that it had a Lucas odometer fitted to it. This little analogue miracle sat right on the wheel hub, a little “spider” attachment turned directly by a peg screwed to a spoke. I dunno why, but I was completely fascinated watching the little red dial turning as I rode – It was somehow as near as I could get as a spotty schoolboy to driving my Mum’s Escort Pop estate.

I suppose it plays to my nerdy side – if I’m capturing data, then I can note it down and improve upon it. It’s the same impulse which made me buy increasingly complicated bike computers for every bike I’ve had since (except Hector – Hector’s far too cool for a speedo).

Cat Eye V3 wireless - the same idea, taken to 2010 extremes

The Cat Eye V3 fitted to the eBay Flyer is kindof the ultimate expression of this, the “Cycle computer” – it reads my heart rate, it tracks my cadence, my elevation, it calculates my calorie burn and counts the remaining seconds/miles of my “training session” down to zero.

When I was running the electric Bike I downloaded an iPhone app called “Cyclemeter” – I’m going to do a standalone review of the app on here – it’s amazing – It does everything the Cat Eye does, and more – it tracks all this data alongside your GPS position on a map and uploads it all to the internet, building up a training profile, allowing you to set yourself goals against previous Personal Bests. It tweets your progress and reads back people’s replies to you – all for about a fiver (although you can spend a lot more to hook it up to cadence / heart rate measurement and view it in its own waterproof case on your handlebars) – utterly amazing.

Cyclemeter - uploads huge amounts of data for you

Which is all very well… BUT

I’m not a professional cyclist. I’m actually way too lazy to draw myself up a training schedule – because I fundamentally don’t care about “training”. It’s hard enough getting out of bed on a sunny Sunday to go for a 20 mile ride ┬áin the country – never mind punishing myself on endless laps around the park on a cold wet Wednesday.

Which is where Strava comes in. Strava (www.strava.com) is a freemium web service which offers a similar kind of data capture to Cyclemeter (or Nike Plus if you’re a runner) – there are many of these kind of services around – Runkeeper (www.runkeeper.com) probably being the best known. But Strava is different. Why? because Strave is competitive

Strava was set up (I’m sure) for serious athletes to test each other out by pitting their PB’s against each other on common routes. There are a fair few professional athletes registered with the site and their (publicly published) times are quite something to behold.

I’m not interested in pitting myself against professional cyclists however – I know I’m going to lose. My work colleagues however – now that’s a different matter. It happens that about 5 of us at work all cycle in regularly, and we all happen to live roughly the same distance from work in roughly the same direction.

We’re sociable people and there’s normally no issues between us – cycle home together however, and everything changes – we are men. Therefore we are competitive. We have all spent lots of money on machines which we think make us superhuman – so inevitably it turns into a race. Which, as the oldest and fattest member of the team, I’m fairly likely to lose. Plus there’s something – well – ungentlemanly about a direct race especially between colleagues of different ranks.

The app works with iPhone android and garmin GPS devices

I’ve often thought it would be great if I could compete against my colleagues times along the same routes. Cyclemeter and Runkeeper technically let me do this, but it’s not simple. With Strava I just have to push a single button. Strava GPS tracks the route we take and plots it on a map/elevation index.

My colleagues and I have all signed up to Strava’s free service. We have all downloaded their free iphone app. We have joined our profiles together into a team. Our times/speed/calorie burn/power figures are therefore pitted directly against each other in our team view.

The really cool bit however, is that Strava recognises sections of our journey that we all share. Our times along these sections are pitted against each other and a league is drawn up. At the same time our times for these sections are put up against the Pros (who may just have happened to ride that section as part of a 100 mile training session the week previously). Any user can define any section of a journey as a measured segment and figures for anybody who happens to ride that piece of road are compiled into a league table like this…

I beat my boss up a hill!

What I particularly like about this is that you can race without actually racing – when you’re side by side with somebody to talk to every day at the office, you don’t want to show that you’re really trying hard to beat them (or that you’re struggling to keep up!) With Strava, you’re just trying to get up the hill as fast as you can – it’s more like a videogame, where you struggle to get the first place on the leaderboard – except the leaderboard is you and your mates…

The app has all the usual goodies you’d expect from a fitness app – you can map your sessions, show your progress over time – even set out training sessions. But for me it’s the competitive bit which puts this head and shoulders above other similar apps.

The app works with iPhone, android and Garmin GPS devices. If you have ANT+ sensors (such as cadence and heart-rate monitors) the app will save those settings too, calculating a “suffer score” for you.

I’m not going to show you how to use it – get yourself over to www.strava.com and see for yourself!

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