This year, over 120 of the 176 riders in this year's Tour de France are regularly uploading their stage results to Strava. (If you'd like to see a particular rider's feed, check out this list.)

Which, even though the Tour is an incredibly grueling event that requires racing for four to six hours and then working just as hard to refuel and recover and rest... still comes as no surprise.

Because Strava has become the go-to tool for cyclists, runners, and other fitness enthusiasts to record activities, track stats, compare results with other members... and, increasingly, to serve as a social network.

Tha's how I know that on Monday Ineos rider Michael Kwiatkowski's last 50 kilometers of Stage 10 looked like this:

Michal's average heart rate was 153 bpm, with a max of 172. Starting at 10 kilometers to go he averaged a massive average power of 310 watts as he took a number of KoMs (King of the Mountain, what Strava calls the fastest time over user-marked segments.)

Comparison Can Be Useful... 

I don't have any KoMs. Anywhere. Much less on a Tour de France route.

But that doesn't make me feel bad about myself. 

Nor does the ease of comparison tend to make others find themselves wanting: Unlike using a social network -- like Facebook, which research shows the more you use the worse you feel about yourself -- using Strava actually makes people happier.

One study of over 8,000 people conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University showed  89 percent of respondents were happier because they exercised regularly -- and 83 percent were more motivated to exercise because of Strava and its community. Another study showed that social interactions on Strava spurred users to post more activities; in short, to do more so they could post more. Another study showed that activities posted on Strava were approxinmately 8 times more likely to receive some social feedback than a post on Twitter, and another showed that 44 percent of respondents say using Strava improves their social lives: They can offer encouragement to fellow athletes, congratulate others for their efforts... and be encouraged and congratulated in return. 

All of which is why so many Tour riders use Strava. Aand, to at least some extent, just about every fitness enthusiast I know.

Including people like 7-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson:

Strava is a great way to connect with the fitness community. I use it to track my runs, my rides, the bio feedback is really useful... sometimes I'll even wear my heart rate monitor in the car and post it (which always makes for some interesting content and comments.) 

The thumbs-up 'kudo" is so encouraging to give and receive, the banter between people is really fun.... but really it's all about helping people improve their fitness and health. It honestly makes you feel good, and people need that.

I use Strava for many reasons: Motivation, networking, trash-talking, community... and just fun.

Even so, there can be a downside to becoming part of a community. 

... Depending On How You Compare Yourself

Research results aside, still: Some people struggle with comparisons, especially where feelings of happiness and fulfillment are concerned.

Look hard enough and you can always find someone who seems happier, especially if your yardstick is other people's carefully curated social media lives

That's the problem with comparisons. No matter how happy you might feel, there will be someone who seems happier. There will always be someone who seems more fulfilled, more satisfied, more content...

And there will always be someone who is fitter. Faster. Stronger. More active, more accomplished... just more.

And that's okay.

When I first started using Strava, I would go for a ride and then be excited to look at my segment results. 

That excitement quickly faded. I was almost always average, at best. In some cases well below average.

So I decided to stop comparing myself to other people and just start comparing myself to myself. To see if I can improve my time on a particular segment. To see if I can increase my average power numbers. To see if I can ride a certain route a little faster than I have before.

I still check out other people's accomplishments, but I only use them for inspiration. As a sign of what is possible. As a sign that I'm capable of doing just a little bit more.

Of not being better than anyone else... but becoming a better me than I am today.

Which, oddly enough, is exactly how many world-class athletes use Strava.

Knowledge is Power

Julien Pinot is a coach for the Groupama FDJ Team (and the brother of Thibaut Pinot, currently in 11th place in the overall standings.) 

The team uses Strava as a tool to study route segments, and especially the major climbs, to evaluate distances, gradients, and potential speeds so they can choose the right gearing and best tactics. "By having data on the climbs," Pinot says, "we can determine the desired cadence and choose the right gearing."

Groupama FDJ also uses Strava to create a route and export that data to every rider's Garmin (eliminating GPS errors familiar to anyone who has ever ridden country roads.) And to make post-stage analysis much easier.

"The feature I like most about Strava," Pinot says, "is the ability to analyze gaps in riders at any time over the entire course of a time trial. That makes debriefing a time trial extremely interesting. Like at the last CLM du Dauphiné: We could see that Van Aert mostly widened the gap in the false flat up, and that Thibaut had been the fastest (even too fast) on the second part of the climb."

Pre-stage analysis is just as important.

According to Movistar rider Carlos Verona, "During the past Tour of Catalonia, I used the Strava course creator to create my recon training rides. And data like the KOM time, or the VAM (velocità ascensionale media, which basically translates as 'average ascent speed'), helps us know more about climbs."

All of which makes Tour de France riders become better versions of themselves.

And is also what Strava seeks to do as a company.

The Route to Growth (and Profitability)

Strava currently has over 42 million accounts and adds approximately 1 million new users every month, including Peloton riders, rowing machine enthusiasts, yoga practitioners... And over 80 percent of the user base is outside the U.S.

Which means user growth is not necessarily a problem for Strava, especially since many are increasingly active throughout the day. Originally just a place to log activities, Strava now allows users to post photos, stories, race reports, ask questions...

Which is how I found out I should give a ride up Lookout Mountain in Golden, CO a try. (And is how I found out that my sea-level lungs were no match for the 7,000 foot elevation.)

"Since our founding, we've been on a mission to build the most engaged community of athletes in the world," says CEO James Quarles. "Training is hard, it's intimidating, it's lonely... People love how our product connects them with other people, lifts them up, challenges them... and helps them go further. That's where the social aspect of our community plays such a huge role."

But user growth doesn't guarantee profitability, even though Strava appears to be on a break-even path without taking on outside financing. 

Strava's challenge is to provide more services that more users are willing to pay for... which is a significant challenge when your core (free) product is robust enough to generate millions of loyal users.

Even so, don't bet against Strava.

Take me: I use very few apps, pay for even fewer, but Strava is one: Since my heart attack, heading out for a long mountain ride doesn't leave my wife with warm fuzzy feelings. The Safety Pack shares my live location with her (and a few of my other "safety contacts.")

I also like the Analysis Packs, especially for tracking my heart rate and power output.

That's the thing about tools. If Strava was just for fitness tracking, I'd use it. If Strava was just a social platform, I wouldn't.

The fact Strava is those things, and more, broadens the potential user base while allowing people to choose how they wish to interact with the app -- and with other people.

Which means Strava, unlike a number of other fitness-related companies, could have a chance to become a true social center for fitness enthusiasts. And a thriving business over the long-term.

After all: They're betting that all of us want to become better versions of ourselves.

Which is a pretty safe bet to make.

Published on: Jul 17, 2019
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