How to Use Strava for Adventure Cycling
With more and more cyclists now picking up their bikes in search of adventure as well as speed, it stands to reason that Strava, “the social network for athletes”, is becoming increasingly useful as a tool to fuel such riding habits. We chat with Strava’s UK manager, Gareth Mills, to discover more about what it offers cyclists in the adventure community.
How can adventure cyclists use Strava to enhance their riding experiences?
I think the best way to answer that is to use myself as an example. I’m currently planning a trip for next week, and I’ve been using the tools on Strava to work out where the best riding might be.
I know the area that I want to go riding in; the Elan Valley in Mid-Wales, and so my first point of call was to look at the Strava global heatmap, which contains route data from 160 million activities, and can be found at labs.strava.com/heatmap. I set place names to visible [Toggle Labels, fig 1], then roughly worked out the route direction I wanted to take, and looked at the heatmap from that area [Fig 2]. From that point, I was able to see routes that looked like they were well-used, but also out in the countryside.
Figure 1 (Left) and Figure 2 (Right)
Then I did an activity search. To do this, you go to your profile, then under the ‘Explore’ dropdown at the top of the page, you’ll see ‘Activity Search’. I put in Rhayader as the place name and Elan – as in the Elan Valley – as the keyword, then played with the other filters of distance, time and elevation gain to find a ride that might suit me.
Once I had chosen a ride from the list, I looked at the route, the climbs that were in it, and some of the photos the user took. At this point, if you still have the heatmap open, then you can toggle between the two, and work out if the ride you’re looking at matches the area you had identified originally.
As a Premium member, you can download the route directly by clicking GPX on the map [Fig3]. However, even if you aren’t a Premium member, you can still create a route. Just press the spanner tool at the side of the page [Fig 3] and click ‘Create Route’. From here you can edit the existing route if you want, or just press ‘Save’, then ‘View Route’, and finally ‘Export GPX’ [Fig 4].
Figure 3 (Left) and Figure 4 (Right)
If I look at my own personal heat map [a feature available to Premium members, which only logs your ride data], I realise how much of the world – not even the world; how much of Britain – I haven’t yet discovered. I find that so inspiring and motivating, and it’s exactly how the idea for this Wales trip was instigated. I was going to North Wales, but I’d realised that I hadn’t done any riding in Mid-Wales, so thought; ‘Why don’t I just stop off halfway to go and ride my bike?’
The heatmaps, activity searches, and being able to create routes from other people’s rides, gives time-poor users a platform to make the most out of the time they do have for adventuring. Like me; now I’m sorted with a brand new ride to go and take on in the Elan Valley.
Strava has perhaps historically been seen as a network of ‘athletes’, which is a term that many people who ride bikes wouldn’t associate themselves with. Are more people outside of the ‘athlete’ mold now beginning to use Strava?
Well, take me for example. I’m not overly fussed with power meters, wattage, and all of that. It’s not really my style. I’m just someone who is very keen on being outside, and I think Strava helps me not just to go and enjoy the outdoors, but then have a look at where I’ve been, and share my experiences.
We are forming clubs too, which are forums for groups of people – athletes or otherwise – to comment, ask questions, give feedback, and share photos and routes. They are a great way of bringing people with similar interests together to inspire and motivate. Apidura has one, I’ve seen it!
How is Strava changing in order to accommodate riders in search of adventure, as well as those out to capture segments?
I don’t think Strava’s product has changed that much; more the community that we’re building. I think that in the last few years, lots of people have got into cycling through road cycling, but they’re now realising that there’s off-road trails, gravel tracks, canal towpaths, and whatever else, to be explored.
You’ve always been able to record a ride on Strava, but you can now specify a ride as a cyclocross ride, or a mountain bike ride (or a time trial, or a commute). You can create your own routes, use heatmaps to discover the path less trodden, or where other users are having their adventures. A good example is Simon Richardson [A presenter at Global Cycling Network], who is more known for being a road rider, but I follow him on Strava and notice his cyclocross rides and mountain bike rides appearing in my feed, and that inspires me to get out and explore different routes and try new things. Other people I follow have run ultra-marathons this year or ridden the Transcontinental, and I just find their activities really inspiring.
This all helps to nurture an explorative mentality in our community, and by creating a network of adventurous people, you begin to see what’s possible, and it begins to snowball. The more diverse the community on Strava gets, the more diverse it encourages other users to become.
How can adventure cyclists look forward to engaging with Strava in the future?
Hot off the press is the news that we are re-launching the global heatmap very shortly, which is very exciting from an adventure cycling point of view, as it’s been developed to be used as an interactive tool to discover where people are riding, pool together route options, and discover paths less trodden.
Keep an eye out for inspiring journeys being made by other Strava users as well, for example Mark Beaumont’s record-breaking ‘Around the World’ ride, which he uploaded to Strava. We’ll be following other adventures through our blog features too, and continuing to build a social tool that enables users to connect with like-minded people.