Strava shake-up: major changes for paid and free users

by Dave Rome


With over 55 million users, Strava is undoubtedly the leading cycling and running training app. However, with so many of those users making use of the product for free, Strava’s profitability hasn’t exactly been in sync with its popularity.

Strava hopes to turn this around. As of today, the 11-year-old company has made some significant changes to bolster the value of its subscription service. In turn, it has also removed a number of popular features from its free service. This news is likely to stir up plenty of criticism, but do consider that Strava has long given away its core product for free, hardly a longterm business strategy for success.

Subscription changes

Strava is moving a number of previously free features that are “complex and expensive to maintain” over to its subscription platform. Most notably, this includes the coveted segment leaderboard and matched rides.

Segment leaderboards are at Strava’s core. Go for a ride, upload, see how you did against every other Strava user who’s ever ridden that same stretch.

Placement on a segment’s leaderboard will remain free for everyone. But analysing them in detail will now be available to subscribers only. This means that you’ll need to be a paid member in order to access full segment leaderboards, analyse segment efforts, compare your results and analyse your own efforts.

Free users will still be able to see the top 10 all-time efforts for men and women, create new segments, explore and search segments, flag segments, see their own achievements and earn segments, personal records and all the other fun stuff that may help get you up in the morning.

And there’s no change to Live segments, that was, and still is, only available to subscribers.

Thankfully the company has made the whole subscription process easier. Gone are the various feature-specific packs and various price tiers, as well as the Summit branding. There’s just one subscriber option now. The price? Now US$5 a month.

New features

Moving major features behind a paywall is not the only news from Strava, and the company has been rather busy ticking off popular user feature requests.

According to Strava, training-related features are often the most commonly requested amongst its paid subscribers. As a result, paid members will now see that the Summit tab has become the Training tab, and within it is a better view of your overall training progress.

Paying members will now see a handful of new training features to better track their fitness, along with need for recovery.

There are four modules to the new training tab: weekly activities, training log, weekly intensity and monthly fitness. And whereas previously you could only see your ride, runs or swims, now all 32+ sport types will be displayed. And Strava has added filters to more easily find (and sort) your workouts based on time, distance, elevation, sport type and commutes.

Based on your heart rate, perceived exertion or power meter data, the new weekly intensity calculator aims to give you an easy summary of your workload. While the monthly fitness feature assigns a score to your current fitness for comparison against previous months and years.

Paid users will find a handful of new Route editing and building tools for the desktop version of Strava, all designed to replicate the newly updated mobile experience and feature list.

Those using a desktop will find that Strava has added the ability to view surface type in addition to the route’s polyline and elevation chart. As with the mobile app, Strava uses its own data (it knows if people rode a section primarily on gravel bikes or road bikes, for example) to determine what type of surface you’ll encounter. Additionally, there’s now a location search for adding a waypoint and new filters allow you to adjust routes based on elevation and surface type, too.

Strava has greatly improved the desktop version of its route builder. However, the feature is now for paying members only.

Free users of Strava can still view previously saved routes or save other user’s routes for free, however, the creation of new routes, and editing of existing routes will now only be available to paid subscribers.

These new features come closely after of a host of other updates, such as last week’s news that Strava routes can be automatically synced with Garmin devices. Prior to that, Strava put user’s feeds back in the order they always wanted, and provided the ability to easily create looped routes.

Third party apps

In addition to the leaderboard, routing, and other changes, Strava made the decision to cut off the over 40,000 apps that currently use its data. Leaderboards will no longer be available to almost all of these 3rd party apps (the exception is live segments from Garmin, Wahoo, and other head unit makers), at least for users who don’t subscribe to Strava.

Many of these app developers received little or no notice of the change, so if you open up an app today that uses Strava’s API and it’s broken, that would be why.

The change is necessary from a business perspective – Strava just put its leaderboards behind a paywall, so free access via 3rd party apps breaks down that paywall – but it will prove to be highly disruptive to many of its users.

A free trial

These changes come with a small grace period. Every current Strava member has access to 60 days of membership, free, to try out the new routing, determine if they really like full leaderboards, and in the end decide if they want to give Strava $5 per month for continued use.

A letter from the founders

All of this news came along with a letter from Strava’s founders, included below:

“Dear Strava community,

If nothing else, 2020 has been a year of regaining perspective. A silver lining of hard times like these is that they inspire introspection and focus – What matters the most to us? And how do we live up to that?

Our answers to those questions have only gotten clearer in the past few months, and we’re now leading the company with a single purpose: rededicating Strava to our community. We’re obsessing over our athletes – over you – and no one else.

Strava athletes deserve an affordable and constantly improving experience, and we hope you’ve noticed how focused we’ve been this year on delivering that. Our small but mighty team of 180 has released 51 athlete-facing improvements already in 2020, from Apple Watch syncing, to new maps and metrics for snowsports, to a huge update to our Routes features, and a lot more. We’ve also removed some distractions, such as Sponsored Integrations (the closest we’ve ever come to putting ads in the feed). And we returned the option to sort your feed in chronological order. We heard how much that change drove you nuts, and admit it took a really long time to respond.

Dedicating Strava to the community is also a commitment to longevity. We are not yet a profitable company and need to become one in order to serve you better. And we have to go about it the right way – honest, transparent and respectful to our athletes. Our plan puts subscription at the center of Strava.

This means that, starting today, a few of our free features that are especially complex and expensive to maintain, like segment leaderboards, will become subscription features. And from now on, more of our new feature development will be for subscribers – we’ll invest the most in the athletes who have invested in us. We’ve also made subscription more straightforward by removing packs and the brand of Summit. You can now use Strava for free or subscribe, simple.

This focus on subscription ensures that Strava can serve athletes decades from now, and in an up-front way that honors the support of the athletes we serve today. We plan to take what we earn from these changes and reinvest straight back into building more and better features – not devising ways to fill up your feed with ads or sell your personal information. We simply want to make a product so good that you’re happy to pay for it.

We think that $5 a month for Strava is money well spent. But we also know, especially lately, that there are athletes struggling to make ends meet and that the free version of Strava must remain high quality and useful. Rest assured that we will always offer a version of Strava for free, and you belong in this community whether you subscribe or not. We’re betting all our chips on you, either way. We hope you’ll bet on us.

We are beyond grateful for your business and your support, and thrilled to recommit ourselves entirely to you, our fellow athletes.

See you out there,

Mark and Michael”

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