Training update

It’s been a while since I last posted about my training for the Ride Around London. There are now only just over three weeks to go to the event. I’ve clocked up 170 miles since my last update, but mostly on rides of 45-55 miles in length. I need to increase this and aim to get at least one 80 mile ride in my legs. To this end I’ve booked a week off work in the near future in order to give myself the chance to get down to the Surrey Hills and get a long ride in during the week as well as my normal weekend rides.

Whilst the bank holiday was busy I did get the chance to head out with my friend Alice on Monday for a 55 mile jaunt around the Chilterns.

Whilst the pace wasn’t that high, there was a fair amount of climbing involved including going up the Dunstable Downs escarpment twice as well as a drag up to Ivinghoe Beacon. It was also my first attempt to follow a course on my Garmin Edge 500. This didn’t work out so well as the device appeared to crash whenever paging beyond the course screen. In addition when on the course screen it often lost the course altogether and finally decided to completely give up the ghost 9.5 miles from home.

Finally, a reminder as to why I’m doing this – to raise money for Access Sport. Please visit my Justgiving page and make a donation if you can. As my employer, Pearson will double what I raise up to my £500 target so even if you can just spare £5 that is going to result in over £10 (including Gift Aid) going to charity!

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.

Training update – 1 Aug to 7th Aug

As a way of tracking my training leading up to and beyond the Ride Around London (see JustGiving sponsorship widget on the right, hint hint…) I’m going to write a weekly update summary.

The last week saw me head out for one evening ride after work. I clocked up twenty miles and found a couple of nice short steep hills quite nearby. I Got a bit lost in Harpenden though and inadvertently headed back towards Wheathampstead.

On Saturday I headed out with a friend, Paul. We’d arranged to meet in Potters Bar as he was coming from North London. I got a bit lost on the way and ended up in South Mimms Services, but once sorted we did about 25 miles up to Hertford and back through some lovely countryside. I’d always aimed for this to be a relatively relaxed ride but at times the pace was quite high anyway. With the to and from St. Albans added in this was a useful 45 miles.

The next day I once again headed out with my new cycling club on a Sunday Run. I joined the Intermediates again and we headed out towards Leighton Buzzard, over the Dunstable Downs. There were a couple of nice climbs but in general this was an easier ride than the week before. I felt good however, especially considering I’d been out the previous day. The cake stop was nice but the journey back saw the rain start falling for the last 15 miles or so and nobody had come prepared. There were one or two hairy moments on descents and corners but we all got back no problem. One person did puncture, so I spent some time that afternoon practicing changes so that if it happens to me I won’t hold people up too long.

In summary, I’ve managed 120 miles at 15-16mph average over the week, which I think bodes pretty well at this stage. I now need to start increasing the length of one of the rides each week to build up to the point where I can comfortably do 80-90 miles in one go.