THE STRAVA DILEMMA
CYCLING WEEKLY|June 18, 2020
Now that Strava is charging £4 per month for full access to leaderboards, Hannah Reynolds assesses whether, in terms of motivation and training benefits, it’s money well spent
Hannah Reynolds
Late last month, training platform Strava made some significant changes to its user terms. Some of the features that were previously free are now available only with a paid-for subscription, and most new development will be available only to subscribers. In Strava’s own words to its users, “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.”

There followed an eruption of passionate responses on social media, many attacking Strava’s decision, but also quite a few defending the platform. We’ve been forced to reassess the value of segments, KOMs and kudos to each of us personally. It’s time to cut through the noise and weigh up the benefits of Strava – to training, motivation and general enjoyment of cycling – against the £4 per month subscription fee: simply, is it worth it?

The switch to a paid-for model has roused heartfelt emotions. Ben Dowman, a psychologist and self-confessed Strava addict, gives his perspective: “From the outside, as a user myself, Strava’s communication has been very parentchild. We have had free access to Strava’s functions for a very long time, and now it feels like we are having our favourite toy taken away from us, with no room for discussion or negotiation.”

There is a saying: if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product. Many assumed that the free use of Strava was granted in exchange for our data – a win-win quid pro quo. I put it to Strava’s global marketing director Simon Klima that this is why some users have reacted angrily. “Subscription has always been the heart of Strava, making up the vast majority of our revenue,” he stated. “We did not sell personal information before, and we do not sell it now.”

I’d hoped to explore this further, but Klima was reluctant to go into detail about how user data fits into the app’s business model, beyond repeating the above assurance.

Given the ongoing effects of social distancing on racing and group training, Strava has a stronger grip than ever on the psyche of competitive cyclists. Therefore, some riders perceive Strava’s timing as harshly opportunistic. In contrast, some other cycling brands are offering extra and free services, e.g. The Sufferfest created a new training plan to help cyclists cope better with lockdown, while extending its free trial period. Then again, Strava has been open about the fact it is yet to make a profit despite its huge user base – and its need to do so may have intensified with the global economic disruption and uncertainty.

Whatever the reasons, the sudden changes have left some Strava users feeling unsettled and frustrated. Though Strava is offering a long trial period, it is taking away features that were previously free. Dowman adds: “It will be very interesting to see what happens at the end of the 60-day trial period once users have had a chance to explore all the new benefits and functions. Will it be enough to convince them to pay to continue?”

Part of our lives

Strava has been around since 2009 and has become deeply embedded in cycling culture, becoming a part of our everyday lives and language. Like other forms of social media, it gives us a sense of community and connection with like-minded individuals – not to mention the addictive dopamine drip of kudos clicks, Strava’s equivalent of ‘likes’. It lets us peer into the cycling lives of other people and make comparisons, a double-edged sword that can be motivating but can also provoke envy and resentment. Above all, Strava provides opportunities for competition every time you ride your bike. Behind the scenes, the company has worked very hard to make its platform about more than just leaderboards and KOMs.

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