Strava versus Garmin Connect for tracking cycle rides

I love my Garmin Edge 500 GPS cycle computer. It tracks pretty much every piece of data I would want (I don’t have a power meter though) to know how I’m doing on my rides. Up to now I’ve used the Garmin Connect site to upload ride activity for viewing and analysis.

Connect is very good, and whilst lots of people seem to complain about it, I’ve always found it fine in terms of performance and stability. There are a few things that I find annoying: I don’t like that they moved to Bing Maps, they just don’t work as well as Google and there’s no terrain view. I also wish they would show an indicator on the map when you hover over a point on the various graphs (e.g. to see where exactly the elevation occurred on the map) and finally I wish they would show some form of gradient information. Connect does however do a good job of displaying and making accessible all of the data that the Edge captures.

The sharing capabilities are basic on Garmin Connect. The Facebook sharing is pretty poor as it just displays a Connect logo on the news post. The Twitter integration is also poor with no ride details in the default message being posted. Finally, blog integration is via an iframe widget which doesn’t work in WordPress. There is an OK third party plugin which I’ve used here (and which in the latest version allows you to use Google Maps!)

Recently however I’ve been looking at a site called Strava. I’d seen it referenced on BikeRadar and other forums, mainly as it has a nifty feature which extracts hills and other segments from the rides people submit and tracks performances and generates leader boards.

However, as a pure Garmin Connect alternative, Strava seems very useful. It uploads from my Edge 500 directly, uses GMaps, includes gradient info, links the maps and graphs and what’s more it is entirely HTML with no Flash (another pet hate about Garmin Connect)

There are a couple more features in Strava, including a power estimation (which should probably be taken with a large pinch of salt) and a “suffer score” which rates your rides according to how tough they were based on your HR zones.

The social aspects of Strava are also much stronger than Garmin Connect. Whilst you can find other people and rides on Connect, it always seems like an afterthought only provided through a search interface. In Strava you can follow other riders, view their profile, give them “kudos” for a particular ride and also find clubs in your area. Clubs themselves can establish a presence on the site. It feels much more like a cycling social network.

Finally, Strava is much better at sharing your ride data outside. It integrates to Facebook and Twitter via Connect and OAuth well and default messages are better than Connect (e.g. on Twitter it includes the ride distance) There are nice widgets for including information on blogs, though again they rely on iframes which WordPress will strip out of blog posts. Thankfully I found an excellent plugin which solves that (see the previous post for examples of it in use) The plugin makes use of the Strava JSON API (Garmin also have an API) and I make a small tweak to it to display distance/speed in miles/miles per hour. Finally, it has some good privacy options including the ability to obfuscate certain locations on maps. For instance if you start/finish rides at your home you can tell Strava where that is and it will truncate routes to make it less obvious.

There are some niggles. Firstly, and most importantly, to use all of it’s capabilities requires you to pay a subscription ($60 per year) which I have done. However they recently lifted the 5 ride upload per month limit for non paying users which makes the site much more useful if you don’t want to pay. I also find that navigation could be better, the search doesn’t deal with non US locations too well (e.g. defaults are not local to me) and there could be more contextual help available. Finally it is difficult to bootstrap your network of people. Options to import friends from Facebook/Twitter would be good.

All in all however I’ve already found it better to use and much cleaner and fresher than Garmin Connect. Given the difficulties that a lot of people seem to have with Connect right now, and their bungled updates recently, then maybe Strava will be the winner.

8 thoughts on “Strava versus Garmin Connect for tracking cycle rides

  1. Yeah, I love Strava too. I put all my rides up on Garmin Connect then share them to Facebook & Twitter for the other cyclists there, but since finding Strava I’ll be doing it from there instead. I love the segments feature, probably its biggest USP. Since uploading my rides and hooking into existing segments, as well as creating my own, It’s been really interesting to analyse my performance over them – I’m way slower now than last year on the majority of climbs! It was also interesting to see that I was way quicker (over some types of trail) than some other acquaintances who I know but haven’t ridden with, who I thought would be quicker than me!

  2. It seems Strava has hit a home run relating to tracking individual performance on ride segments. The cycling club I ride with has always been into some serious hill climbing but the virtual competition aspect is driving many of them to chase after our local King of the Mountain awards. This feature is definitely inspiring a lot of additional training and effort.

  3. Is there an easy way to transfer my data from Garmin Connect to Strava. It seems Strava for some reason will only take my last 18 pieces of data, but Garmin Connect took my last 500+.

  4. Is there possible to share “performance” data to non-strava friends? When I use share option only the elevation graph is available and I can’t find any option to show also hr, speed, etc. data.

  5. I’m not that interested in sharing my rides with the world and I’m not interested in knowing how many faster guys there are than me going up my local hill climb. How depressing would that information be unless I were an actual pro rider?

    It’s not clear to me then that using Strava offers me any advantages over the free Garmin site (BTW, there no map differences that I can see – the Garmin page has an optional source maps setting that includes Google).

    Are there any other differences?

  6. Another difference, in favor of Garmin Connect: Strava doesn’t allow downloading activities. Garmin Connect does.

  7. There is an Export GPX option for me. Not sure if it is a feature only for paid members though.

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