Sunday, May 27, 2012

The app happy cyclist

I haven't really been doing the miles lately (nor updating the blog) mainly thanks for work and weather. Of the two work can probably take more of the blame, sometimes a ride in the wind and rain can be just the invigorating thing one needs, as I found out today, racing the rain squalls down the valley.

One of the things that has sparked my interest of late has been the iphone app Strava. I've been using Cyclemeter for the last 18 months or so and I'm very happy with it. The app is reliable and does more things than most people would ever want from an app. My favourite feature is the app talking to you at pre-set intervals, informing you how you're doing. It's quite a nice addition to the top pocket of the handlebar bag.

Strava takes a different approach. The app itself offers a similar, if simplified interface for logging rides, but it's online that it really comes into its own. Think of it a social networking for cyclists. Apart from "competing" with your own times, Strava logs the times of every other cyclist who rides sections of road nominated by users as "segments". These are usually hill climb. The app then ranks you against other riders automatically, producing a league table for the segment. So for any given ride, the app or website may inform you that you've done a personal best, or even ridden such and such a segment faster than anyone before.

I'm a pretty slow rider so there's no King of the Mountains results for me in there, although it is quite amusing to know that on my meanderings I'm recording the slowest or second slowest times for sections near and far.

There's a paid version of Strava, which adds some features. I'm always keen to support apps and websites when they provide useful features. I'm holding off with Strava for a few reasons. One is the app is still pretty basic, displaying only time, distance and  average speed on the front page, which makes Strava pretty useless as a bike computer replacement (the workaround here is to use something like Cyclemeter and upload the GPS file to Strava.) It lacks auto-stop,meaning if you stop for a coffee, you need to remember to stop and restart the timer. Somewhat obviously the whole concept is oriented to the go-fast brigade, with little interest shown in how you're competing with yourself. For example, while the website notes only your fastest time for any particular segment, there's no way of seeing your other times. Cyclemeter offers this within the iPhone app.

Strava offers a little applet for your blog, which is handy, although mine displays miles not kilometres despite the opposite being my preference and doesn't seem to update correctly. These little niggles are perhaps outweighed by the fun of seeing just how many speedy cyclists there are out there to 'ride against'. The free Strava app is well worth a look. I'll see how Strava develops before laying out for the Pro version, which estimates watts and gives a 'suffer score' - whatever that may mean.

1607km so far this year.