Culture

Commentary: Strava users, put your money where your mouth is

Subscribe or don't, but please don't say you are entitled to cool data for free.

Strava made a bold move today, and put a price tag on some of its key products. I’m sure many of Strava’s millions of users will make a stink, as if we are all entitled to the work of talented engineers, and the interconnected GPS-based data of millions of our fellow cyclists, for free, just because, you know, we enjoy it. But you know what I say to Strava? Kudos!

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For the record, I have no financial connection to Strava. This isn’t a sales pitch. I am simply writing from the perspective of someone who has worked for years in a digital space where many users (that’s many of you here, dear readers) assume that if it’s online, of course it should be free.

Strava started in 2009 and revolutionized the cycling app space. Many of us now use it in some capacity, whether to simply track our rides, or to follow friends and other riders, or to measure ourselves collectively against the clock.

It is this last element where Strava really differentiates itself, as there are plenty of fitness trackers that can easily record your rides and spit out various cumulative metrics.

Strava Segments are very much a thing. Although most of the seemingly endless sections are random, inconsequential stretches of road and trail, many Segments are landmark climbs, the measuring sticks we as a cycling community have used for years. At the VeloNews offices in Boulder before the dawn of Strava, we had a list of the local climbs and known best times pinned to a cubicle wall. Were those times accurate? Who knows?! They were all based on word of mouth.

Now we the cycling community can use Strava Segments to understand what is possible on the upper end of the physiological spectrum for pretty much any stretch of road in the world. And we can often see the wattage, heart rate, speed, and other factors involved in setting such high marks. And, we can put ourselves into the mix, gaining a real-world appreciation of the pros’ abilities, and engage in some good-natured competition with our buddies and strangers.

Strava’s Route Builder is another feature I often use, particularly when traveling. While the ability to map out a digital route isn’t unique to Strava — RideWithGPS has been offering an excellent service like this for years — what is unique is what Strava calls the Heatmap, a deep database of popular cycling routes that pop up as color-coded options in the pertinent area when you’re creating a route.

Both the Segment Leaderboard and the Route Builder are now subscription-only features for Strava, to the tune of $5 a month. There are also some subscription-only training features, which, in my estimation, aren’t all that remarkable, although the workout analysis bar graph is pretty cool.

Now I am not saying that all cyclists should pay for Strava. Use it for free, or pony up and subscribe. It’s none of my business what you do with your money! What I am proposing is that if you just use the free service, then please don’t make a stink about Strava ‘ripping you off’ by putting a price on its premium services. You aren’t owed anything.

There are other ways Strava could make money, of course, such as bombarding users with advertising or selling our data. I’d rather pay the $5.

For my part, I’m happy Strava exists. I’ve been a paying customer for years.