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Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Strava Struggles and Stats

Posted by on February 4th, 2020 at 9:59 am

north portland bike ride

Data is fun.

A couple summers ago, our family would go on big bike outings down and around the Smith & Bybee Wetlands area (it’s fun, you should try it!). My tweens and husbeast would go speeding up ahead of me, while I struggled behind, pulling the hard-bottom Burley trailer, our picnic stuff, and our kindergartner. It was easily over a hundred pounds.

I’d get home afterwards and my husbeast and I would compare notes and it would just irk me that Strava recorded me having a leisurely bike ride with minimal effort while it recorded him, half as sweaty, as having a vigorous one. I looked all over the app trying to find a way to change some sort of effort or cargo-pulling settings, but there was no such thing.

I have no plans on going pro. I realize I am privileged to say I don’t diet or track much of anything health-related in any earnest effort, but data sure is fun. Why is it that just because the data is there to observe, we need it? Or we need it to be correct? It’s not like I was going to change anything in my life if the data was accurate. I just wanted my little gold star, dammit

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Apple Watch data.

This summer I pulled the Burley trailer out one last time with the now-70-lbs-7-year-old and off we went to the Peninsula Park Rose Garden before I sold it. It was a great trailer but needed to be passed on. Since my youngest couldn’t quite ride her bike on her own yet, I got a tandem-trailer. Again, I’m pulling 70 lbs. and Strava thinks I’m barely putting in effort.

Meanwhile, I have the Apple Watch health app synced with Strava and that seems to be giving me way more effort than I really deserve to a trip to the grocery store and back. While I realize Apple is looking at my heart rate and Strava is just looking at my mileage, I’m suspect of the accuracy. I’d like to think maybe Apple is trying to make it up to me for all those rides where Strava called me lazy.

Do you track your mileage? If so, why? What do you use? If not, why? Is it just a giant time-suck of poking around on the app? Or is it a good way to track wear and tear of your bike and other gear like we do with running shoes? (Runners often use apps to track mileage for training, but also it helps us know when shoes have hit max usage.)

There’s a part two to this Strava thing that’s washing around my head with all I’m learning here by reading BikePortland. My professional background has always been in the world of marketing, but I went to school for finance. That means I like to see hard numbers. I also love social science and I love to put those two things together.

Here’s what I’m thinking about: If Strava releases their data every year, and it shows 44% of the entirety of Portland Strava users are logging as commuters (which means the remaining 54% of all Portland users are logging as recreational), wouldn’t it behoove us to consistently use Strava for every little commute trip?

Wouldn’t statistics showing higher usage of alternative forms of transportation as daily commute from a third-party be helpful to people pushing for more bike lanes (and proving to PBOT and ODOT that we exist)? What do you think?

— Becky Jo, @beckyjopdx on Twitter.
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David Hampsten
Guest

I’ve been using cycle computers (but not Strava) for about 30 years now. When you get right down to it, I find looking at the display boosts my ego if I’ve gone far and pushes me to do just a little bit more when I’m feeling lazy. I also keep a written trip diary of at a minimum my daily mileage (including walking, pulling a trailer, etc) and sometimes the weather, whether I’m traveling, etc. I then eventually enter the data and analyze seasonal and longitudinal (time) variations in my mileage. For example, I actually bike more miles here in NC than I did when I lived in Portland, probably because the light rail was so convenient in Portland and I would use it shamelessly to transport my bike to downtown or Beaverton, whereas here transit sucks (but the intercity Amtrak service is rather better and more useful.)

Al Dimond
Guest

It doesn’t “behoove” anyone to complicate their routines, strain their batteries, or lend their attention to any odd company that makes an app if they don’t personally get something out of it. Strava is never going to be a representative source of data to inform public investments and there are plenty of potential harms in trying to make it one. If you want to track yourself, track yourself, but it simply is not anyone’s duty to do so.

David Hampsten
Guest

The city I live in is now using live cell phone data to track drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrian movements, to track road usage and congestion, just like Google Maps does (so much for personal privacy). And they are using the data to “inform public investments” such as street repaving and build new roads where business is thriving or let streets decay where it’s losing out.

Jason
Guest
Jason

If you take it to logical extreme, you could say that a ride cannot commence without your device. That is, if you become dedicated to using it. And in the end, it’s just a barrier to the best part of riding, freedom.

SERider
Guest
SERider

I use strava to track my runs and bikes. It is really annoying that you can’t customize “tags” for your activities though. They have a few options (like “commute” for cycling), but it would be great if you could just make your own. I would love to make a “stroller” one for running. Would be a great way to search and group my runs with my daughters.

Also I’ve stopped bike racing, so going after segments around where I live does give me some extra motivation to make some hard efforts on rides (and I live in a semi-rural/suburban area so there aren’t THAT many other cyclists around).

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

I use FitBit to track my rides and pass the data onto Strava. I think you’re probably right that Strava will use the heart rate data to provide more accurate effort estimates. It seems to be consistent with my commutes. Rides generally downhill to the river get a lower effort rating than heading back up hill away from the river my heart rate is much higher too. I also wish I could auto flag my rides as commutes since I don’t really ride recreationally. It lets you set a default bicycle to take but as far as I can tell it doesn’t let you default the ride type.

Tony Thayer
Guest
Tony Thayer

I’ve been using a Wahoo ELMNT BOLT for nearly every ride for three years now. It syncs with Strava and RideWithGPS automatically at the end of my rides as long as it’s within range of my home’s wifi network and so is braindead simple and easy to forget about. I like to know how many miles I’ve put behind me and also use it to gauge when it’s time to do maintenance and whatnot. Fitness goals also really help me keep on track so I can tell if I’m behind for a given month/week. Stats!

Given all that I would probably enjoy riding just as much without all the supporting tech. I rode with a basic Polar cyclecomputer for years before moving to something that did GPS for all the crazy OMTM rides where it’s very nearly a requirement due to the unsupported nature of those routes.

Kate
Guest
Kate

I use Strava for both recreational rides and commutes. In the last year or so I’ve started tracking my weekly/monthly mileage and elevation gain. I hear you about hard rides that register as easy. My partner and i had a running joke from cross races that I recorded that were a muddy, brutal slog of effort but would show up on the app as slow and easy accompanied by the passive-aggressive strava comment “Way to conserve your effort”. ;/ I eventually got a power meter on that bike which measures the actual torque you’re putting on the pedals, but it’s not an inexpensive solution.

I don’t worry about it for my commutes, though I think there is a new feature that lets you self-assess how hard the effort was. As a sidenote, I think having people track their rides, particularly for commutes and other in-town errands is enormously helpful for planners such as myself. It’s useful to see the actual paths people take versus what we’ve put down on a map.

dachines
Guest
dachines

Strava typically generates its assessment of relative effort from data that it is receiving from either a heart rate monitor or a power meter unit, or both. However, if you don’t have either of those, it appears that Strava does allow you to rate your own perceived effort by editting your activity.

On the main screen of your latest activity there is a pen icon which allows you to edit the activity, click it. On the new screen titled “Edit Activity” there is a slider scale for Perceived Exertion, sub-titled “How did that activity feel?”. You can slide the scale from Easy to Max Effort, thus allowing you to rate the effort without the need for a heart rate monitor or power meter. (NOTE: I am presuming that this feature is available even if you are not a Strava Summit member) This isn’t as ‘accurate’ as a the information derived from the HR monitor or a power meter, but it gives you something.

Also worth noting, on that same “Edit Activity” page there a number of other items that you can change/manage, such as the sport, sport type (like race, workout, etc.) and a few limited tags (like commute).

turnips
Guest
turnips

maybe I’m just having a rough week, but all the Stravas and Fitbits and Apple Watches of the world are getting me down. clearly there are benefits to these technologies, but how much is lost by reducing human experience to data? what nefarious ends will unaccountable corporations put that data to? why isn’t remembering the feeling of the bike ride enough? why complicate it with these contraptions? what do we gain by paying acquisitive technologists to flatten our experiences and feed them back to us as numbers and graphs on a screen? are we elite athletes? do our livelihoods depend on this information?

some folks obviously gain a lot from using these things. and good for them. their prevalence mostly just makes me sad.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

I feel you turnips. Those are good questions that I think about often too… And I also use Strava and GPS devices pretty regularly. The world is strange and maddening and complex and beautiful and i don’t have any answers.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

The way I look at it is if I’m going to regularly use a computer, cell phone and just generally the internet I’ve pretty much given up a lot of that privacy so I may as well get some personal benefit from it. I like the GPS, health and sleep tracking. Not to mention having a personal entertainment device with me all the time.

Jason
Guest
Jason

The Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world gain by us feeding the big data beast. I can’t see any value in it myself. I say that having used a Garmin 810 with heart rate monitor and cadence meter for a few years. I’ve (thankfully) regressed back to just riding my bike without post ride analysis. My mantra has become, “I don’t have anything to prove”. This is where I find my happiness.

Asher Atkinson
Guest
Asher Atkinson

Instead I ask how much is gained by layering data over human experience. I ask what useful insights will these innovative and risk taking entities surface. I think of how many more people will now remember the feeling of a some activity they would not otherwise have done without the motivation these devices provide for many. But mostly I think of what a wonderful world we live in where individuals have so many tools at their disposal and can use them how ever they’d like without needing the permission of others. All this makes me happy, not sad. Cheers.

Jason
Guest
Jason

The modern existential question, “did it really happen if there’s no big data to show it did happen?”

joan
Subscriber

I generally track runs and hikes and rides I think of as recreational and for exercise (I don’t upload this to share with others; it’s for myself only). I don’t track my commute or really any rides on my town bike. I’m not sure it ever occurred to me to do so. If I walk to the grocery store, I don’t track that. So why track it if I’m on my bike? Is it better if I walk my dog faster? Or ride to the store more quickly? I do lots of little short trips by bike, and I feel like this would just drain my battery. I do know some folks who have a little computer on their bike and track their total bike mileage, and that’s pretty fantastic. And of course some folks have wearables and track their walking and activity. But turn on a battery-sucking app because I’m riding my bike to the library? That’s not for me.

I do log my rides during bike commute challenges, but that’s for participating in the community and encouraging new riders more than logging my miles.

Tad Reeves
Guest

I put all my rides into Strava as I like to try to beat my own mileage year-over-year, to keep encouraging myself to cycle more. It gives me good excuses to get on the bike when I would take another mode of transit, and seeing other people’s strava tracks biking on a day where I chickened out is also a nice motivational tool.

It’s actually the only social network I enjoy these days because of that.

Jason
Guest
Jason

The easy answer is, use a heart rate monitor. When you configure Strava (if I recall correctly) you put in your height, weight and age. Then it guesses the effort you put out based on speed. With a heart rate monitor, it can empirically evaluate the effort you expend.

Simple.

Now, why do you want all of that? You know what you did, how much effort you put out. Anyone who watched you pull a bike trailer loaded with a tiny person and food who then disputes the effort you put out is arguing without a leg to stand on.

trebor
Guest
trebor

I can’t speak to the Apple Watch, but I used the (I think) similar Fitbit for a while, and found its heart rate data to be pretty inaccurate. It was good at tracking my heart rate when I was poking around the house or riding at a leisurely pace and was excellent the three times I used it to check my resting heart rate when I woke up. However, the harder I rode, the less accurate it was– to the point that it was undercounting my heart rate by twenty-five-or-so points on really steep hills. I consequently decided to stick with my slightly less-comfortable Wahoo heart rate monitor and computer. I’m really not sure how accurate it is i an absolute sense, but, as I mostly use it in a relative sense–i.e., to compare rides–it works fine for me.

Gold stars work!

SERider
Guest
SERider

Wrist-based heart rate monitors (HRMs) are notoriously less accurate. If you want accuracy you’ll still need to use a chest strap.

PS
Guest
PS

I have an element HR monitor on and a Whoop 3.0 when I ride and they are almost exactly the same with HR. Granted the Whoop is not some fancy watch with a bunch of garbage on it, it just focuses on HR and does it pretty dang well.

SERider
Guest
SERider
fourknees
Guest
fourknees

I don’t use any apps. One more thing to deal with. Keep it simple.
I do keep track of my rides manually on a spreadsheet, mostly just so I can see how many commutes I’ve done in a year.
The bike I ride the most has an odometer, which can be useful.

BradWagon
Subscriber

I haven’t seen anyone mention it yet so I will ad that without heart rate or power Strava would in theory use your weight and bike weight to calculate an estimated power and thus effort. I would recommend creating a bike in strava via desktop website that is called “bike+trailer” and set the weight of the bike at say… 110 lbs? (20 for your bike, 70 for child, 10 for trailer). When you save the activity select this bike as the one ridden and it should adjust the estimated power and effort based on moving a 100lb object.

BradWagon
Subscriber

Doh, my weight math was wrong but you get the idea. (I also assume you have added your personal weight to your profile in the app)

BradWagon
Subscriber

You can even create this “bike” and go back and edit these older rides as using it and it should update them retroactively.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I got hooked on a local app a couple of years ago after reading about here; I think it was just called Ride. It used very little battery, ran in the background, and automatically tracked every ride plus walks and transit. It would occasionally mis-categorize a ride, but you could reassign. Then it would summarize by week and month and year. I loved it! IT was very simple, mostly accurate and super interesting. Unfortunately, they no longer support the app so it doesn’t work anymore- if anyone knows of a replacement I would love to know. I continue to track rec rides on Ride With GPS, just to get a sense of monthly/yearly miles/times, but I don’t like having to turn it on and off.

BrianC
Guest
BrianC

I concur on having a log history if you get into an accident.

~40 years of riding and I went over the hood of a Hyundai Sonata last July on Hall Blvd. Totaled the bike, the wheelset, and my bike helmet. Picked up a free ride to St V in an ambulance and spent ~6 hours in the ER until discharged. Yay helmet! Yay State Farm PiP insurance!

In the interview with the driver’s insurance co, the investigator spent a lot of time asking about my experience, and how often I rode that section of Hall Blvd at the start. That stopped when I told him I typically logged thousands of kilometers a year bike commuting and had been commuting on that stretch for several years. Rain or shine, night and day.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

How come your SO doesn’t tow the trailer and let you ride solo?????

Marty
Guest
Marty

Don’t get hung up on tracking your workouts unless you are a professional athlete. Strava may track your route, but outside I’d that, distance, time and speed has been accurately measurable for cycling since the 1990s and earlier. Before strava, you would have to manually log the data. So it’s not a new concept. People like comparing their strava results to others, but as the author has mentioned there are too many variables to take it really seriously except for comparing to yourself. I often add weight to my bike using a weight from rockbarcycling. It makes climbd harder, but strava would not know that. I also ride different bikes from road to folding to mtb. All affect effort differently. At the end of the day just enjoy the ride and get some exercise.

Trailmike
Guest
Trailmike

For fun, if you are pulling the trailer one day you might change your body weight in the Strava app to account for the trailer weight. Go to profile then edit to adjust your weight and see what happens.

Al
Guest
Al

Strava already allows you to define equipment. I’m surprised that assigning equipment weight isn’t a thing. This would then improve effort calculations based on which equipment you are riding. Back when I had a trailer, I created separate “with trailer” bike entries for the two bikes I used to tow to identify when I was on a ride with a trailer.

How does Strava handle this for ebikes? The bike “knows” how much charge you consumed on a ride so if that information becomes available to Strava, it would be possible tease out the effort on ebikes as well.

So much is possible but we live in a system that only consistently delivers profitable possibilities.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Probably way off topic here, but is there a reason YOU had to be the one lugging the kid and the picnic supplies all the time?

Matt
Guest
Matt

I don’t measure or track anything. At all. Ignorance is bliss. And life is complicated enough already without adding something to obsess over.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

I feel like I have a split personality on this topic. On one hand, I’ve logged nearly every run I’ve taken since 2003 (aka before Garmin wearables!) on an online workout log. I also log all of my bike training/recreational rides there as well. I was tracking my commutes, but it got boring (the same 22 miles every day) — it’s way cool to see the mileage add up, but really boring on a daily basis.

I only use Strava because it syncs with LoveMyRide, which is the platform that is used for the May Bike More Challenge. And I do track all my rides in May, because it counts for something. But I track using a wrist-based GPS ‘watch’ — I sync it to my phone later. I found, when I was doing a lot of committed triathlon training, that paying attention to my stats during my run or ride really took away from the enjoyment of the activity — even if I was doing intervals or other hard training efforts. I love have a long record of all the things I’ve done for the past nearly 20 years, but I don’t want to see it as I’m doing it.

If the City of Portland could somehow give away trackers to every (or nearly every) bike rider to collect data on how/when/where we ride to use that data for planning and advocacy purposes, I’d be all over participating. But now, since Strava is so strongly skewed towards men-who-have-smart-phones I just don’t feel like my data point will really help planners all that much. I want the data of the kids who ride and the folks in East Portland who ride to work near the airport and the people who ride to the corner store way more than my straight, typical, A-to-B commute.

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

They did a bit of that with the Ride Report app…

https://bikeportland.org/2019/08/05/started-in-portland-the-ride-apps-ride-is-over-303007

I loved that app simply because it would track my rides automatically. My daily commutes aren’t “workouts” so I’m not going to remember to tell my phone I’m going to ride to work (who has time to do that when you’re rushing out the door to get your kid to school on time before work?). But the Ride App figured it out automatically. I haven’t found any other app that starts automatically so now I don’t track anything at all.

Terry
Guest
Terry

“Runners often use apps to track mileage for training, but also it helps us know when shoes have hit max usage.” Or they could just look at their shoes! 😉 Kinda like checking the weather app vs. looking out the window. Anyway, I’m kidding, mostly.

For riding, I use an app called “My Tracks” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MyTracks) for tracking my rides which are 99% mountain biking. It has all I need including a map, speed and elevation chart, and basic stats. I’ve always thought the app’s calorie counter was wildly inaccurate for mountain biking, but the simplicity and ease of use has kept me using it. By the way, I use the old “deprecated” version that was from Google. It continues to work moving it to a new phone, though the upload to Google capability is gone, since Google no longer supports it.

There’s another app by the same name, but I don’t like that one as well.

Glenn II
Guest
Glenn II

Everybody loves data, like numbers are always the truth. But data always has many biases and limitations built into it. Before you ever see it, someone has already answered: WHAT shall we measure? Will it be the thing we want (effort in this case) or will it be (more likely) some proxy that’s easier to measure (mileage over time)? And HOW will we measure this thing? There are usually measurement errors and inaccuracies. And omissions. And finally how will we process and display it? There’s massive leeway to tell whatever story the data-gatherer wants to, simply by de-emphasizing or even just leaving out any data that don’t fit their pre-conceived notions.

Hence, it’s all BS. Why contribute to a body of lies about the insignificant? Speaking philosophically here. But also, the day private-sector, profit-motivated Strava is an important data source for government decisions, is a dark day I’d sooner not see. That’ll be the day everybody without Strava (or a cell phone) stops having a voice, and “husbeast” becomes an acceptable way to refer to your husband in private, much less in public. Or at least my wifehorriblecreaturefromthepopularalienmoviefranchise thinks that.

Mdubahaya
Guest
Mdubahaya

I haven’t seen this suggested yet: is there a Strava app for the Apple watch? There is for Android watch, which I have. If you record your ride from the watch app, hear t rate gets factored into an effort value that can be tracked and compared.

Charley
Guest
Charley

Power meter use one. Power meters don’t care if you pull someone. They also take out wind and hills. All they care about is how hard you turn pedals.