While we don't recommend using a smartphone and an app while in the saddle, Strava allows you to track and record your rides even if you do not own a GPS enabled dedicated cycling computer like the Garmin Edge 500. Limited battery life will keep you on shorter rides, but this app can be a good transition for someone without a computer to the ride tracking online communities.
For obvious reasons, using your phone on your bike is not ideal. Here we are opening the STRAVA app to start a ride, with the iPhone 5 mounted on the bike and safely protected from weather. We prefer to use Strava by leaving the phone in our jerseys or recording our ride on a different GPS enabled computer and loading it to the website afterwards.
Photo: David Mackey
Ease of Use
The STRAVA app is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. Using the iPhone 5, the download took almost no time and was free of charge. Signing in via a Facebook account enables you to see friends already using STRAVA. The only downside to this is adjusting privacy settings through the Facebook web site — not the mobile app or mobile website. You have the option to fill out a quick profile with a photo, age, gender, height, and weight, which plays a role in calculating calories.
When we were ready to ride, the opening screen has a very large 'start' button. This starts the timer, and you are ready to roll. The large screen of the iPhone 5 shows elapsed time, distance, and average speed. Although displaying three modes falls short of most of the other computers tested, these are the basic three points of data used when riding.
Most cyclists wear riding gloves year-round, but they are a necessity in the winter. One downside to the touch screen is not having the ability to use it with gloves. During our colder jaunts, instead of removing the two sets of gloves on one hand, we found that the nose will work just fine to start and finish a ride with the touch screen.
Although STRAVA only displays three modes while riding, the range of data collection and features are vast. After finishing a ride, the application uploads it to the STRAVA website. Since the app is GPS based, it gives you a detailed map of exactly the route you have ridden. This includes biking trails in addition to roads.
For each ride, STRAVA tracks distance, moving time, elevation, calories, speed, heart rate, and average temperature. The elevation is shown in chart form, detailing ascents, descents, overall gain (in feet), and max elevation. Speed is also shown in chart form, with average and max speeds included. Heart rate can also bee seen in a chart, showing average and max heart rate. All of these can be overlaid to see how they compare with each other. This is a very useful tool to see how hard you worked on different sections of a ride. A note worth mentioning is that a third-party ANT+ sensor is needed for the iPhone to pick up a heart rate monitor. If you have the iPhone 5, you would also need a Lightning to 30-pin adapter, making the sleek design of the phone much more cumbersome while riding.
For us, a surprisingly fun aspect of STRAVA is the social connectivity of the program. You are able to 'follow' other athletes, which shows their recent activities in your feed. Clicking an activity shows the same details you get for your ride, and even does a side-by-side comparison of things like average rides per week, weekly mileage, and all-time stats. We found ourselves checking STRAVA on a regular basis just to see the activities of friends. On more than one occasion it was the deciding factor to get on the road when cold or rain would otherwise have kept us inside. The interface is extremely well done, making it easy to find what you are looking for.
STRAVA has the ability to create 'segments' in a ride. These are usually climbs or descents on regular routes that you want to track progress on over time. You can keep these private, or make them public for other riders to see. When public, any cyclist can see these segments. STRAVA keeps a leaderboard of the fastest times, with the top rider earning the KOM (King of the Mountain) badge. You can compare your own efforts on this segment, and then compare to other riders in your area. STRAVA then keeps track of your Achievements by letting you know personal records or if you rank overall on a segment.
You are also able to link to your Instagram account, which will only post pictures you have taken during the time you were engaged in an activity. This way photos of your epic ride, not last night's bar crawl, end up on your STRAVA account.
The optional Privacy Zone eliminates the origin of rides so that users are not able to see exactly where you live, just the general area.
STRAVA also lets you keep track of different bikes and components, which allows easy tracking of how many miles each bike or part has been used.
Although we do not recommend this behavior for obvious safety implications, you do have full functionality of the phone while recording with STRAVA, including taking photos (for your Instagram/STRAVA feed), making calls, and typing texts. We even took a speaker phone call at 20mph without interruption.
There is also an upgraded Premium account that opens up more features. This is $5.99/month or $59.99/year, and is charged through your Apple account. The upgrade gives access to the Suffer Score, a number using heart rate, elevation, speed, and cadence to quantify how hard you have worked on an activity. It also enables Weekly Progress Goals, Leaderboard Filters by age and weight, Power Zone Analysis, and exporting GPX files.
Finally, the STRAVA app is not necessary to keep track of rides on the website. If you currently own a GPS computer like the Editors' Choice winning Garmin Edge 810, Garmin Edge 510, or 200, you can upload rides from those computers directly to STRAVA via the website, giving you all of the above features for each ride. STRAVA also keeps track of running activities and can upload from GPS devices like the Garmin 405, 610, 910xt, and more.
A mount is not needed to keep track of your activities. Many of our uses of the STRAVA app included turning it on and putting it in a pocket until we finished our ride. Most of the detailed information is better gained after the ride is uploaded anyhow. However, there are a variety of third-party bike mounts for the iPhone 5, ranging in price and protection. Most attach to either the bars or the stem. Due to the size of the iPhone 5, this can be somewhat of a hindrance while riding, and weather can play a big part in whether or not you want your phone exposed to the elements.
The STRAVA application is great for a variety of cyclists and appeals to a wide range of people. The social aspect works well for friends who keep track of each other's rides, as well as serious athletes who want to compare themselves to the local competition and national professionals. It is a nice way to track moderate progress, and a powerful training tool to hone technique and see physiological improvements, especially with the Premium account. STRAVA does a good job of making itself relevant to all riders.
STRAVA is based on a 'Freemium' model, meaning the standard version is available to everyone at no cost, but the ability to upgrade to a Premium account comes at a price. If you already have a device like an iPhone, STRAVA provides more details and functions than many of the other computers in this review free of charge. Free is an incredible value for what STRAVA provides. If you are an athlete that is interested in the detailed metrics for each ride, the Premium upgrade is well worth the $5.99 (or less) per month for direct comparisons with the Suffer Score, Power Zone Analysis, and Weekly Progress Goals. The main downside is that use of the website requires the ownership of a smart phone or a GPS enabled bike computer.