By Josh Tack
Activity tracking has come a long way over the past decade. In fact, it’s hard to believe that when I started working at Adventure Cycling in 2007, I was still logging my rides in an Excel spreadsheet! Around that same time, however, the wheels of change were being set in motion. Garmin ramped up a big campaign to target cyclists with their Edge GPS bike computers that allowed cyclists to not only record their ride stats but also take advantage of GPS technology to track their path of travel and later view it on a map after uploading it.
Garmin wasn’t the only game in town tracking rides via GPS. Smartphones were exploding on the scene with cycling-specific apps that enabled you to use your phone’s GPS signal to track rides. All this data that riders could collect was pretty cool, but the ride-tracking websites that appeared in response to this technology are what really turned heads. MapMyRide and Ride with GPS were some of the first such websites to launch in 2007, and the way we tracked, recorded, and shared our rides was about to be shaken up.
The battle for online social activity-tracking supremacy wasn’t as exciting as the social media wars between Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster, but there was a pretty good shakedown that forced different platforms to migrate to different corners of the market. Two successful activity-tracking services that have taken different approaches to how you analyze and share your rides are Strava and Ride with GPS. Here’s a little bit about what those websites can offer and why you should check them out.
Proving that you don’t have to be the first to the party to make a big impact, Strava was introduced in 2009 and has since established itself as one of the premier social ride-tracking websites available. Strava boasts one of the largest online fitness communities and claims to have an average of 5.3 activities loaded by athletes around the world every second.
Initially Strava’s hook was creating a competitive environment that pits you against other riders, as well as against yourself. Within each ride you can cover various segments; a segment could be a climb or a stretch of road between intersections. The segments are most often created by users, and as you pass through them on your ride, your time is tracked for that stretch and you are ranked on a leaderboard for each segment based on your elapsed time.
While Strava is good for those looking for some competitive motivation, the best reason to use their service is to connect with their massive community of cyclists. It also doesn’t hurt that their website is clean, intuitive, and supports nearly every fitness-tracking device out there. In similar fashion to Facebook, you can follow other cyclists to view their rides in your activity feed, give them kudos (similar to a thumbs up on Facebook), or comment on their ride posts.
There are a number of great ways to share or learn about bike routes through Strava. The first way to do this is to follow riders in your area. You’ll see their rides when they post them, giving you some insight as to what folks are up to. Better yet, Strava has a tool that allows you to search for activities in an area. Through that search, you can filter by ride type, distance, elevation gain, duration of ride, and keyword.
Getting a little more involved, let’s suppose you’ve got a weekly local group ride or a few events that you promote. You can create a club on Strava that anyone can join. Through your club account, you can post ride announcements and maps of your routes for ride participants to view and/or download to their personal GPS devices. It’s a great way to get everyone on the same page ahead of a ride.
Like just about any ride-tracking service out there, Strava has free and premium options. Everything I’ve described so far is available with a free membership. For $6 per month, a premium membership will give you advanced ride analysis, allowing you to upload heart rate and power data to your activities, as well as access to customized training plans.
If the competitive environment that Strava can create isn’t for you, Ride with GPS is another great option. It doesn’t have the largest community of users to interact with, but it does have some of the best route creation and analytic tools out there. Whether you’re searching for new rides, or creating them from scratch, here are a few ways Ride with GPS enables you to prepare for the road ahead.
There are a couple of ways to go about seeking out new rides, one of which is to use the “Find a Ride” page, which lets you play around with various filters to help you find the ride you’re looking for. You start your search by specifying a radius around a city or zip code, and then toggle the filters based on how far you want to ride and how much elevation you’re willing to climb. When viewing rides that meet your criteria, you can get quite a bit of detail so you know what you’re up against. Depending on who uploaded the ride, it can come complete with photos, written descriptions, a map, and an elevation profile. Best of all, you can download the route in various formats to be placed on your GPS device.
If you want to create your own ride map, the route editor under the “Plan” page is outstanding. All of the tools available on this page are accompanied by a nice explanation to help you understand what you’re doing. Once you’ve got your map drawn out, you can print out a cue sheet, an elevation profile, and a map of the route. You can also export your map to a file to be placed on your GPS device. It’s a welcome feature that makes it easy to create hard and digital copies of your ride route.
You can do quite a bit with a free membership, such as create routes, upload rides, and share them for others to view. If you’re looking for more advanced features for creating, analyzing, and sharing rides, there are a couple of paid account types you can join up for. Check out the table that compares their plans to see if one of these options has what you need.
Both Strava and Ride with GPS have a lot to offer. Strava gets the win for social connections, but I like Ride with GPS for route creation and analytics. Despite their differences, they do find some common ground. They each have their own iOS- and Android-compatible apps that let you track and upload rides straight from your smartphone, as well as feature-extensive help tutorials and support pages. With both offering free accounts, there’s no reason why you can’t use them both to take advantage of their different strengths. Just remember to share your own rides for others to follow.
Josh Tack is Adventure Cycling’s membership manager. If you have any questions or comments about this article, your membership, or bicycle travel in general, Josh is always happy to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.