Use Strava to Improve Your Cycling

Cycling is one of those rare things in life that you can do without moderation, is predictably amazing, and comes loaded with benefits to your well-being. Whether you’re out attacking some flowing single track or simply cruising along on your daily commute to work, cycling’s positive effects are the same for everyone.

However, despite everything we already know about how cycling makes us feel good, regularly getting out on the road can sometimes be a pain. Life gets in the way and before you know it, several weeks have come in between you and your promise to ride every day. Moreover, for those already riding often, doing so without a social connection can make cycling feel tedious or stagnant. Finally, there are those who just want to take their established routine to the next level but are lacking a carrot to chase.

Just as social apps have revolutionized the way people share photos, find love, and eat food, they’ve created a paradigm shift in the way we ride bikes, too.

Strava is a self-described social fitness network geared toward any physical activity done on two wheels – even though runners know full well that Strava has them in mind as well. The concept is simple – you go on a ride using a GPS-tracking device or a smartphone running the Strava app, and when it’s over, you upload it to the Strava network and let the kudos (the Strava version of likes) roll in. You can spice up your ride by adding a training journal, ride metrics provided by your power meter or other training tools, and helmet-wearing selfies you may have taken along the way.

Sound simple? Maybe even a little too simple? Well, it is, and that’s also what makes it such a powerful tool for improving your cycling. As modern behavioral psychology has taught us, nothing, and we mean nothing, works better for motivating someone than positive social reinforcement.[1] Even though it may be hard to admit, there’s a uniquely satisfying feeling associated with refreshing the Strava app and finding kudos pouring in from your friends – and it makes you want to ride more often, even further, and depending on your personality, faster.

Strava doesn’t solely rely on boosting your ego to get you in the saddle, though. There’s another element to it that’s all about community building, and while the kudos sure do feel good, building a digital cycling world with your fellow riders feels even better.

Building Community Through Competition

Of all the debates surrounding the effects of social networks, perhaps the most pervasive is whether or not social networks help or hinder social relationships themselves. As we oversaturate ourselves with the opinions, photos, and news of complete strangers, the case can be made that social networks may be pushing us apart.[2]

The difference, however, is that while most social networks pressure us to do things that are, in some ways, detrimental to our lives and well-being, Strava peers are motivating each other to go outside and engage in the profoundly healthy habit of exercising.[3]

It does so, in part, by pitting people against one another in friendly competition using segments. Any road, trail, or goat track can be digitally plotted on Strava by users after they’ve ridden through an area with GPS recording enabled.

Using the ‘Create a Segment’ function on Strava[4], it’s easy to build a segment that goes from, for instance, the bottom of your favorite hill-climb to its peak. After building and naming the segment (we’ll call it Hillary’s Pizza), Strava publicly lists the segment so that anytime a person using GPS rides through it and uploads to Strava, they enter into virtual competition with anyone else who’s ridden that segment as well. Everyone who passes through Hillary’s Pizza goes on a leaderboard, and the fastest times receive a King or Queen of the Mountain designation.

Depending on how busy it is where you live, there’s a good chance that every meter of road, truck trail, and singletrack in the area has been converted into thousands of segments. The beauty is that even if you’re riding earlier than everyone else or don’t know other riders in the region, you still have segment leaderboards populated with times. Instead of riding against yourself all the time, you can get into friendly competition with your neighbors – or, if you’re visiting a new place and happen to have your bike with you, why not raid the local leaderboards?

Strava has a way of getting you to know each and every rider’s name in the area. When you’re scanning the leaderboards for segments you care about, you’ll see the names and times of riders above and below you. After clicking a faster rider’s time, you can check out how and where they ride, giving you route and training ideas you may not have thought about.

Strava Flyby

There’s another nifty community-building feature in Strava that few riders know about. It’s called Strava Flyby[5], and it allows you to see the names of other cyclists who were out on the road or trail while you were. It only works between cyclists who upload their rides to Strava, but it’s a great way to finally link up with another rider who you’ve waved to plenty up times but never had the chance to properly ride with.

Building a network of other athletes is an affirming and vital way to live not only a healthier lifestyle but to achieve athletic goals en route. Considering that Strava has grown to become the de facto training app for endurance athletes worldwide[6], it seems that the formula does work for many (perhaps only too well since for some riders, if the ride didn’t make it to Strava, then it didn’t happen).

So, if you’re wondering how to take the next step up in fitness and are at a loss for how to make that step both fun and socially fulfilling, consider giving Strava a shot. While you’re there, join up with the rest of us in the Adventure Freak Strava Club – and let’s get riding!

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  1. Kendra Cherry. Social Reinforcement and Behavior.–2795881  ↩
  2. The Social Clinic. Does Social Media Bring Us Closer Together or Further Apart?.  ↩
  3. UPenn School of Communication. Social Networks Can Motivate People to Exercise More.  ↩
  4. Strava Support. Create a Segment.  ↩
  5. Strava Labs.  ↩
  6. Kurt Wagner. How Strava Is Building a Niche Network for Athletes – Without Ads.  ↩

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