When looking to track and monitor your cycling progress it is quite easy to quickly become overwhelmed by the vast array of options that are out there. Let me introduce you to Strava.
Strava at its core is another website/app that enables you to track your ride and relating data. You sign up for a free account (premium option available), download the app to your smartphone or garmin device and head out for a ride, uploading the data on your return. But, this is where Strava starts to come into its own. Firstly, it focuses on the most important elements, the data. With a netural colour scheme and a well laid out user interface it is a joy to analyse your data. The route is displayed in a map (similar to google maps) with your start and finish locations marked out. A gradient profile is displayed beneath with the option to overimpose speed, power and heart rate data.
Another interesting feature is Strava's ability to use an algorithm using a mixture of weight, speed and gradient to estimate power output. Although its accuracy pales in comparison to a dedicated unit due to its inability to factor in wind, it is still a fun feature that can be used to monitor rough gains and improvements. This power data can also be viewed in a 'Best Efforts' graph and table giving in depth analysis of power output over varying times. If, however, you are one of those lucky people who can afford a powermeter, you will be able to upload this data along with your ride, whilst still having access to the power analysis options Strava provides.
Most of the other contenders in this field offer similar features and, other than Strava being more user friendly, this alone would not deserve such a strong recommendation. Where Strava really begins to move away from the competition is the social element. You can follow other users, view their rides and even compare yourself against them on leaderboards. Climbs are automatically detected if they qualify for categorisation and a leaderboard is generated including all rides from all users that complete it. This inspires a degree of competition. You may find yourself targeting a certain climb with the intention of gaining the KOM award and feeling elated when you suceed or furious when Sally from Exeter pips you to the top.
Another interesting feature is the ability to view a climb as a second by second timeline and note where the strong guys start to pull away. Couple this with the latest feature 'Segment Explorer, allowing you to find the top 10 climbs in a specified radius, and you have a powerful tool for individual motivation and competition.
Most importantly, Strava has an effective support system in place with a strong suggestions community upon which they genuinly follow up. Resources are constantly being poured into the application by the owners to make improvements and ensure that future customers have an even more refined and useful product. There are occassional bugs to be found but regular updates ensure these do not become too frustrating.
The main problem with Strava is that, due to its social nature, its main strength lies in the friendly competition it creates. This, however, requires users. The more users the more complete the product. Currently the american share is much greater and offers an exciting insight into the potential of the product. Hopefully over the next year or so the UK market will blossom to match.
I believe it has the potential to improve the RAFCA presence internally. Enabling members to see what each other are getting up to, what training is taking place and even seeing who's around the local area. A RAFCA club is currently available on Strava to make this easier and just like the application itself will benefit greatest from a strong, enthusiastic uptake. There is nothing more motivating than seeing your colleagues training harder