What Strava’s end-of-year report tells us about the world’s cycling habits

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As 2019 draws to a close, the end-of-year stat pieces and listicles have begun to trickle out. CyclingTips has its ‘10 Products I Loved’ series. In music, there’s Spotify Wrapped. And in fitness tracking, there’s Strava’s ‘Year in Sport’.

Since it was founded in 2009, Strava has grown into a behemoth, with a user base fast closing in on 50 million athletes. All of that data – 19 million activities a week – combines to create a vivid snapshot of the behaviours and equipment of the Strava community.

Let’s dive in.

Who, what and where

Strava’s growth has continued in 2019, with 48 million users on the platform, and a million more added each month. In 2019, these millions of users participated in 33 different sports – presumably more, actually, but that’s the selection Strava currently recognises. Sorry, croquet players of the world – you’ll just have to chalk it up as a walk.

There were Strava activities in 195 countries this year – as Strava’s Heatmaps show, there’s not much of the world where activities aren’t being logged. Shout out to the folks in the Vatican City with an eye on worldly concerns such as kudos and cadence.

Peer power

Early-morning bunch-rides are a ritual of many cyclists, so it makes sense that Strava has some interesting stats around these activities. On weekdays, group rides peak at 5am, with 49% of rides at this time being with other people. There’s a similar spike in running, but to a much less significant extent.

Ride activities on the whole peak at 8am on weekdays – a spike that can perhaps be attributed to commutes to work.

There’s a measurable difference in the duration of the activities when riding with other people, too – group rides on average cover twice the distance of solo activities. One in four activities in the US was completed with at least one other person.

The move indoors

The growth of indoor training platforms like Zwift and Sufferfest has been steadily on the rise over the past few years, reaching a peak (so far) in the last year. In 2015-16, just 0.2% of rides in the northern summer were virtual, and 5.5% during the northern winter. In 2018-19, this has multiplied to 4.9% during the northern summer, and 15.2% of all rides during January.

Strava’s report also notes that riding Alpe d’Huez virtually beforehand saves time on the real climb. Two runs on Alpe du Zwift is apparently good for one minute off your real-world time on the Alpine icon; five practice runs should, on average, net you a two minute saving. Whether this is from familiarity, or the extra grunt-work in training, or some combo of the two, is not specified.

Gear trends

Strava doesn’t just track where and when you’ve ridden – it also tracks what you’ve ridden. The ‘My Gear’ section of the profile lets you list whatever bikes you are riding (and even lets you delve into granular detail of specific components). And from that, Strava has pulled together data around what models of bikes are on the rise.

The fastest-growing bikes of 2019 (as judged by year-on-year growth) throws up a few surprises, and suggests that riders are increasingly seeking their jollies off-road. The popular Trek Checkpoint gravel bike leads the pack, followed by Orbea’s Oiz cross country MTB, the Canyon Neuron trail MTB, another Orbea (the Terra gravel bike) and Trek’s trail MTB, the Marlin.

It’s interesting to see the trends around the devices that are being used to record rides as well. Anecdotally, we’d have expected a shift away from Garmin in the favour of Wahoo, but the leading new cycling device is the Garmin Edge 530, followed by the Edge 830 and Wahoo Elemnt Roam.

Fastest and furthest

Strava’s report also outlines the fastest and furthest-travelling bikes of the past year.

There aren’t many surprises when it comes to the quickest category of bikes – time trial and triathlon bikes rule the roost on that front. The Canyon Speedmax is the fastest bike by average speed (28.8 kph / 17.9 mph), followed by the Cervelo P5, Giant Trinity, Trek Speed Concept and Specialized Shiv.

All-round road bikes – rather than endurance bikes – are the bikes with the longest average ride length. The Colnago C64 leads that metric, being ridden an average of 49.24 km per activity (30.6 miles), slightly ahead of the Bianchi Specialissima, Trek Emonda SLR, Pinarello Dogma F10 and Specialized S-Works Tarmac.

Commuting trends

While Strava may be best known as an activity tracker for more fitness- and sport-oriented users, its data can also be used for advocacy and in tracking active transportation. The Strava Metro service can be used by governments and cycling advocates to better understand rider behaviours, and improve infrastructure.

Strava Metro offers interesting insight into commuter trends around the world, including gender disparities on the commute:

The percentage of female commuters is a metric used in transport planning to assess the health of the riding environment. Broadly speaking, female riders are more risk-averse than male riders, and a higher percentage of female riders indicates that a city’s cycling infrastructure is achieving its goals.

Globally, the likelihood to commute among male cyclists is 6.6% higher than female cyclists, with the ratio of male to female commuters particularly poor in Brazil (24.6% higher), the US (14.8%), Australia (14%) and the UK (10.7%).

Happily, it’s not all bad news. France and Germany both recorded slightly higher numbers of female commuters, as did Spain (3.6% more females than males), Japan (10.7%) and Denmark (a whopping 24.4%).

A wealth of data

In total, in 2019, riders on Strava have travelled 9.01 billion kilometres (5.6 billion miles) – further than the distance from the Sun to Pluto – and climbed 90 billion metres (296.7 billion feet), which is loads of Olympic-sized swimming pools laid end-to-end.

Of that total, 507 million kilometres (315.1 million miles) have been tagged as commutes – although presumably, plenty of other commutes go untagged, as it’s not a default – with a median distance of 8.37 km (5.2 miles). Commuters can pat themselves on the back for having offset 140,329 tons of CO2 – and probably arriving at work happier and a little healthier in the process.

Of the whole cohort of cycling activities, the average distance per ride was 26 km (16.2 miles) and an average elevation gain of 200m (659 feet), with an activity duration of 1 hour, 18 minutes and 48 seconds.

What’s missing

Strava’s strength lies in its scale. When it comes to its ‘Year in Sport’, it has enough data to draw on to provide a statistically significant snapshot of cycling in a moment in time – whether that’s the two hungover hours later that people rode on New Year’s Day, or the 77% drop-off in rides caused when the polar vortex that swept through the US in January and February hit the west coast.

But there are naturally some things that Strava’s year-end report doesn’t capture – like the way the sun shone through the fog on that golden winter’s morning, or the feeling of fluttering elation you felt on that one descent, or the friendships that became a little deeper through a shared experience.

For those more personal measures of a year in cycling, you’ll just have to rely on your own memories.

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