I have been a Strava user for a few years now, and I think it’s a great service. The interesting thing about that, though, is how drastically my reasons for liking Strava have changed since I first started using it in 2012.
Like most competitive people–and I am most definitely that–I was first drawn to Strava for its timed segment “virtual competition” features. In those early days it was all about chasing down as many KOM crowns as I could, and rising as high as possible on the leaderboards. Over time, however, it became obvious that Strava’s leaderboards are far from black and white: they don’t (and can’t) account for the numerous variables that affect speed and segment times.
What sorts of variables? Oh let’s see… you’ve got tailwinds vs headwinds vs crosswinds vs no winds, group rides/pacelines vs solo riders, road bikes vs recumbent bikes vs time trial bikes (and more), the dubious practice of motopacing, and even those sad individuals who have such a low sense of self-worth that they outright cheat.
There was never a point at which I flipped a mental switch, but over time and with experience my reasons for enjoying Strava shifted dramatically. These changes were gradual, and went mostly unnoticed by me–that is until a friend of mine recently joined Strava for the first time. This rider’s list of concerns–which closely mirrored my own Strava frets back in the early days–really brought into focus how differently I now view Strava.
I gave my friend the following advice: “Ride hard, have fun and let the Strava chips fall where they may. If you start worrying about group/no group, wind direction, cheaters and other variables you can’t control, it becomes a grind and takes the fun out of it.”
…and that pretty much sums up my current philosophy about that aspect of Strava. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the virtual competition feature of Strava, but I take it with a grain of salt, and I definitely don’t take it too seriously or stress over it.
Thankfully Strava has evolved considerably since its early days, and now offers significantly more to its members than just leaderboards. This is especially true for Premium members, and those who ride and train with power meters get even more bang for their Premium membership buck. I have numerous articles discussing some of Strava’s many lesser-known, yet highly useful, features in the Articles section of my site.
I mentioned power meters in the previous paragraph. Once I started riding and training with a power meter, everything changed for me. If you want to know what I consider to be the single best single investment a cyclist who wants to get faster can make, my answer is simple: get a power meter.
As most of you know, I’m a data junkie. I absolutely love analyzing my ride data, and I make no apologizes for it. One of the most enjoyable facets of cycling is sitting down after a hard ride with a recovery smoothie and going over my ride data. Of that ride data, none is more important to me than the data gathered from my power meter. This post-ride data analysis is not only fun and interesting, it makes me faster: I can quickly pinpoint my weaknesses, and then work on addressing those holes in my game.
We all ride for different reasons, so when people say to me, “Oh wow, man, like, just enjoy the ride, dude!”, my reaction is, “Who the hell are you to tell me how I should enjoy cycling?” The arrogance of a statement like that is staggering. I am enjoying the ride–my way. How about you ride the way you want, and I’ll ride the way I want.
I’m finally getting to the main point of today’s blog (thanks for sticking with me!)
To me KOMs are weaksauce compared to power output personal records. As mentioned above, Strava segment times are affected by any number of factors that are completely outside my control. Power output PRs, on the other hand, do not lie (assuming a properly calibrated and accurate power meter, which almost all are these days). None of the external factors that find their way onto the Strava leaderboards will improve power output. Power meters are pure and honest, and they answer one simple question: how much power was I able to transfer to the drivetrain over a given period of time? I like that.
So when I upload a ride to Strava, there was once a time I zeroed in on the trophies like a laser. These days I take note of the glimmer, but I usually gloss over the virtual awards and immediately head over to the most exciting part of my ride data: my power curve. That’s the real stuff. When I see that I’ve set a new power output personal record, I get infinitely more satisfaction from that compared to a new KOM.
For example, on yesterday’s ride I took down three new KOMs, but that’s not what made me smile: it was the 5 power output PRs I set! I put down more power for 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 minutes than I ever have in my life. That’s tangible improvement, that’s worth smiling about. Here are the new PRs:
08 minutes: 338 watts
09 minutes: 340 watts
10 minutes: 342 watts
11 minutes: 338 watts
12 minutes: 326 watts
These results were obtained over a 10m15s effort (yes, inspired by a segment), and the cool thing is that I actually increased my average wattage output over the final two minutes of a very tough effort (+4 watts at 10 minutes vs. 8 minutes). This indicates to me that I could have gone a little harder. 🙂
Strava will accurately estimate your FTP using established methods (90% of an 8-minute effort, or 95% of a 20-minute effort), and display that on your power curve (click to enlarge):
My new FTP is 305–a 16 watt improvement over my previous FTP of 291, which was established three months ago. That’s a very nice improvement, and I actually believe it to be a little on the low side since I continued to increase my wattage output for two minutes after the 8 minute mark. I’ve also set new 1.5 hour, 2 hour, 2.5 hour and 5 hour power PRs this month, so I’ve definitely become stronger over the past few months.
Even though I’ve added a little weight, my power output improvements have more than offset that, giving me a new FTP/Kg of 4.02–a slight improvement.
My complete current power data is always available on my Power Output page.
I am going to be easing up a bit as we close out 2014, but in early 2015 when I cut weight and resume hard training I am confident that I can further improve my power output while dropping about 15 pounds. Even if I only maintain my current power output, 68.04 kilograms (150 pounds) would put me at 4.48 FTP/Kg, which is well into Cat 2 territory.