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Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Review – Is Strava Premium Worth It?

Strava meme
I’ve asked myself this question many times. Many of the features are gimmicky and premium members don’t really get a lot of value for their money, especially if you don’t have a power meter or virtual power.
I’m pay as you go and like many others I haven’t stopped my payment because of the low value return. I’m a supporter of Strava and use their free service a lot. At a cost of £4 a month, my subscription is more like a charity donation. It’s not a lot of cash for the return.

Should I upgrade to Strava Premium?

This depends on the type of rider you are. There’s more value if you own a power meter and like top level, easily accessible stats. Don’t care for such things? Then you may struggle to see the value. Let’s review the premium features one by one.

Power curves

For power meter riders only. I find this top level view of my performance and progress very useful. I can easily see my power for 5s, 1, 5, and 20 minutes, which is pretty much all I need to assess my performance. Sure I could get this for free from the open source Golden Cheetah but this is far too complex for a part-time, self-taught cyclist like myself.
I’m guessing most power meter owners have other paid for services where they can get much better data, like trainingpeaks or perfpro.

Fitness and freshness

Despite the misleading information from the Strava Premium sign up, Fitness and Freshness can be used with either a power meter or heart rate monitor. This was the only feature I found useful before I used virtual power. The graph provides you with trend lines based on your workload, giving you a basic picture of your fitness, form (freshness) and fatigue. Whilst I highly doubt the accuracy and validity of these numbers it’s a nice little guide. Nothing beats listening to your own body of course.

Filtered leaderboards

Want to compare yourself to people the same age and weight? You can with Strava Premium. Me? I rarely use this feature as I only benchmark myself against myself. Without any indication of wind speed or direction Strava leaderboards create a false sense of cycling hierarchy. Sometimes flattering, always misleading. Even when I do look at leaderboards I don’t seek to claim victories by age or weight. A leaderboard filter I might use is wind speed. And value of bike perhaps!

What about the heatmaps?

Follow the snake. A data visualisation of the Dunwich Dynamo from Strava
Follow the snake. A data visualisation of the Dunwich Dynamo from Strava
It’s a bit of a gimmick this one. Sure it’s novel to see all of your rides mapped but is it worth paying £4 a month? Treat yourself to a month’s subscription each year to check your heatmaps if you like to see how many roads you have conquered.

Training plans

I’ve already written a full blog on the value of Strava training plans, particularly the daily emails which do make you feel like you have a coach! The plans are a great introduction to intervals for beginners, giving you an idea of the different types of workouts and also motivation to complete the plan.
However the plans are not customizable despite the claims of the marketing. There’s a very limited selection of plans and most are virtually the same with the odd adaptation. They are also very intense compared to most other plans. Again, sign up for a month or free trial to try a plan before moving onto more varied training plans elsewhere.

Sufferfest videos

I’m yet to train using a Sufferfest video. You get a whopping 7 videos to choose from. Hardly value for money and more of a cross sell to get you to spend yet more cycling dollars for yet another service.

Suffer score

Tired cyclist
Another novelty feature. ‘Yeah, I was epic today.’ My legs tell me how much I suffered, not Strava. It can be useful for seeing your workload but there’s more useful measures such as TSS (Total Stress Score) which is hidden away in the fitness and freshness section for some odd reason.
Seeing your time spent in specific heart rate zones is useful, especially if you are following training plans. Again, most of these measures are found in other cycling services, with better analysis too.

Setting goals

Another feature I’ve not used. You can only set distance or timing goals which isn’t too valuable. I don’t really cycle big miles and don’t want to ride junk miles for the sake of it. You can also set goals on segments, but here my only goal is to beat my best time.

GPX download

A useful feature but another I’ve yet to use. I get route inspiration from those I follow but I prefer to craft my own routes so I can see the terrain and choose quiet roads.

Real time segments

I can wait. I don’t want to be staring at my phone on a ride. Half of the fun of Strava is waiting to upload your data when you get home and relive the ride. Besides, I want to save battery and data when riding.

Active friends

Has anyone ever used this feature? I guess it could be helpful if you are meeting someone but otherwise its unlikely I’ll see person x is active and rush on my bike to join them. Might be nice if your girlfriend or boyfriend wants to track you for safety reasons.

Trophy case

Strava badges
Seriously? My badges of honour are my chiselled calves not my virtual badges! I can see how this motivates some to ride, which can only be good, however the badges are focussed on random distance and climbing targets when my training has become a little more focused. OK, a lot more focussed. There’s spreadsheets and everything.

Exclusive content

The exclusive content is thinly veiled marketing. Jerseys you can buy and that’s about it. I’ve seen no sign of exclusive events. And certainly no surprises.

Strava Beacon

A new feature and one that I can see many joining Premium just to use. Strava Beacon shares your location with selected people who can then see where you ride or run. They don’t need to be a Strava member or have the app, you can simply send them a link and away you go, peace of mind for both parties. It’s a nice feature although available elsewhere on apps such as Glympse, Strava Premium users now only need to have one app running.

Strava alternatives

Zwift sunset
The truth is, segments and leaderboards aside, Strava’s rivals usually offer much better services for most of the above because they have specialised in solving one customer need. Zwift for indoor riding, TrainerRoad for workouts, TrainingPeaks for data, any number of suppliers for better routing.
Strava seems a little directionless at the moment and there’s been very little innovation in the past few years considering how quickly online cycling services are growing.


All in all it is hard to find value in the premium membership. Why? All of the value is in the free functionality. Leaderboards, comparing your own segment history, PBs, a training diary and the social side of things with comments, creating routes (less useful without Streetview since Strava stopped used Google Maps) and of course, simply scrolling through the activities of others.
One day Strava will begin charging users to view leaderboards if it wants to monetize its users. I doubt its training tools will become too sophisticated as this isn’t mass market.
In the meantime they get my charitable donation in the hope it helps them buy more servers so I don’t spend half my life waiting for their site to load during peak periods.
I’ll wait until the cycling service market consolidates, as it surely will either via a new entrant or mergers because the market is currently too fragmented with none of the tools providing a good one stop shop for my online cycling needs.
Until then keep on enjoying Strava. It’s a service I use daily and am happy to contribute a small amount to although now I’m looking at rivals, these days could be numbered.
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