Strava and Category 6

I tried Strava this morning for the first time, and I’m already hooked.

Strava GPS track Menlo Park

Amateur road cycling racers in the United States are divided into 5 categories — from Cat 5 for the newbies to Cat 1 for elite racers.

Bike commuters sometimes joke about “Cat 6 racing.” You see the spandex wrapped roadie up ahead and you push a little harder to catch him. Or Spandex Guy surprises you as he brushes past, and you struggle to keep up. When he inevitably drops you, you mutter under your breath, “It’s not a race” to squelch your competitive drive. European ‘slow cyclists’ claim this is just an American (and maybe British) attitude, but I’ve seen Dutch women try to outsprint each other from a stop light, too. That aggression may diminish with age, but I don’t know that it really ever goes away. After all, the human race didn’t claw its way to the top of the food chain because of our meekness.

A lot of my cycling friends are hooked on Strava, in which you post your ride details from a GPS device to share with your friends. I never understood why anybody would be interested in looking at each other’s GPS tracks.

Until today.

The genius of Strava is that it automatically finds ride segments and compares your ride against other stored rides to turn every one of your rides into a virtual club ride — or, if you prefer, a virtual category 6 commuter race. Riding with other people encourages you to do better, to ride harder. The only way to get better is to push harder, and Strava taps into your primeval ambition to drive yourself to improvement. It’s stupidly simple and I’m really, really impressed with how well it works.

This morning, for example, I tracked and uploaded my simple three mile commute to work through Menlo Park. I didn’t do anything special — I just rode my bike like I usually do.

What I didn’t realize until after I uploaded my ride is that I am compared against seven other people who ride the same segment. I see the stats, and I say, “I want to beat these people,” and I know I can beat at least a couple of them. The infamous Lucas P is even on the leaderboard for my commute segments.

Strava is evil. And it’s genius. And I’m going to spend a lot of time comparing myself against others.

Strava has free signup with up to 5 free ride uploads per month. $6/monthly for unlimited uploads and other features and, of course, Strava has some online holiday specials. With my Android phone usage is super easy — I upload the GPX track directly to Strava, and my ride is posted within seconds.


  1. I first hear about Strava in a post by Cycling Tips last year and he was giving out codes for free memberships so I took him up on it. I was in Saskatchewan at the time and it’s so flat there that it never picked up any of the “hills” in the area.

    Now that I’m in Austin, I keep forgetting to try it out again. I’ll do that soon.


  2. I missed this post when it was new, but I just signed up for Strava last week. I am loving it so far….knowing that I am recording the data is definitely going to motivate me to push a little harder on the climbs (which I really need now).

    I am having a little trouble uploading some GPX files from my AIM Tech GPS though. It seesm to be hit or miss as to what the site lets me upload. Hopefully I can work out the kinks though, because I really do like the service.

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