Millions of cyclists, billions of kilometres: Unpacking a year of Strava data

What were the world's cyclists up to in 2021? Strava has the answers.

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A year’s a long time in a person’s life – all those early morning alarms for bunch rides, all those long weekend spins. And when you tally up all those activities, and then multiply that by millions of cyclists, you get a whole lot of data. 

That’s what Strava’s ‘Year in Sport’ report brings to the table, compiling a year’s worth of data from all public activities conducted between October 1 and September 30. After all that data’s been crunched, Strava releases this pretty report annually in December.

It’s a consistently fascinating glimpse at the world’s activity trends – informed this year by 1.8 billion uploads from more than 95 million Strava users – complete with insights into things like the impacts of COVID lockdowns and extreme weather events. 

Interesting? Yep! Let’s dive in.

What’s news this year? 

If you’ve tried to buy a bike in 2021, you’ll be aware that there’s a cycling boom happening. In turn, that has led to manufacturing delays, inventory gaps, and long lead times. 

Strava’s data helps contextualise that boom – more people becoming Strava users, and more activities being logged by that growing user base. In the last year, Strava has added more than 20 million users (from 73 million in 2020 up to 95 million in 2021) – with the entire cohort logging a colossal 1.8 billion activities (up from 1.1 billion last year) and dishing out 9.6 billion kudos (kudoses? Kudi? You get my point.)

Strava’s activity uploads – and user base – are rising sharply. Would ya just look at that trajectory! Image: Strava.

Now, Strava is not a bike-specific platform – so a bunch of those total activities are running, walking, skiing, and so on. But if you pare it back just to our little niche, we’re still looking at a massive number of cyclists cycling their merry way through many cycling activities.

In fact, the cycling segment grew 1.2x over last year, which itself represented a spike over the year before due to the COVID-activated bike boom.  

The cycling world

In 2021, the (Strava) world’s cyclists rode 16 billion kilometres (10 billion miles) – to the sun and back 53 times, if that’s helpful context. Plenty of those kilometres were uphill, too: to the tune of 146.3 billion metres (480.2 billion feet) of vertical gain.  

The global riding population is going further, too. Globally, the average ride distance in 2021 was 26.3 km (vs. 25.42 km in 2020), with an average ride duration of 1.17:59 (vs. 1.15:00 in 2020). That means that we are collectively 0.1 km/h slower year-on-year, but I’ll happily wear some of the responsibility for dragging that global average down.  

Although the Year in Sport report is by necessity extremely high level, there is a small amount of interesting local data which allows comparison between the riding habits of different countries. 

The typical cycling activity in the UK, for example, clocks in at a brisk and breezy hour in length, over 17 minutes shorter than the global average. Your statistically average US cyclist, meanwhile, is riding 1.07:19 per activity. 

Image: Yousef Espanioly, Unsplash.

Whatever the weather?

On an even more localised scale is the insight that Strava can give into the impact of extreme weather events. Take, for instance, mid-February’s winter storm and power outages in Texas – an event that saw a 57% reduction in outdoor activities. On the opposite side of the world (and thermometer) was the late June heatwave in Moscow, which reduced outdoor activities by 13%. 

In some (but not all) extreme weather events, there is a corresponding spike in indoor activities. The heavy January snowfalls in Madrid as a result of Storm Filomena saw a 69% reduction in outdoor activities, but a 55% increase in indoor activities. Similar deal in Nagano, Japan, when flooding caused a 61% drop of outdoor activities, and a 56% increase indoors. 

On which note: 2020 was the banner year for indoor cycling, but in 2021 the segment is still growing faster than outdoor cycling – there was a 1.4x increase in the “indoor and VR ride” segment, compared to 1.2x for “outdoor ride”.

Image: Coen van den Broek, Unsplash

More to come…? 

Strava’s data isn’t a perfect representation of the entire world of cycling, because there are countless millions of people riding bikes in the developing world, or more interested in the experience than the analytics, or tracking things on other platforms. We know, for instance, that Google Maps was bombarded with a whopping 69% increase in searches for cycling routes in the first half of 2020, which continued into 2021 – data that Strava’s trends follow the basic shape of, but less precipitously (because the Google Maps-using cyclist is not likely as engaged as the Strava-using cyclist).

That said, Strava’s is about as complete a dataset as exists outside Google, giving a rich vein of insights into the activities of athletes in every country around the globe which can be used to inform infrastructure, improve routes, and increase engagement. 

When I first covered the Year in Sport Report in 2019, that turned out to be a springboard to interesting content, like our exclusive look at the top 20 fastest road bikes in the world (according to Strava’s data).

Good news: if you’re keen on more of the same again, stay tuned – we’ve got some fun data collaboration things in the works for next year …

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