How Accurate is Strava for Mountain Biking?

How accurate is Strava for mountain biking Featured Image

Have you ever wondered just how accurate Strava is when it comes to recording your mountain biking activities?

Well, you’re not alone. Many mountain bikers question the accuracy of Strava and whether it truly reflects their performance on the trails.

Strava’s accuracy varies depending on the device used, with dedicated GPS devices generally being more accurate than phones. Strava is a tool for tracking and comparing rides rather than a precise measurement of performance. It is best used consistently with the same device, and personal performance comparisons are more reliable than comparing with others.

In this article, we’ll delve into the accuracy of Strava for mountain biking and explore the factors that can affect its reliability.

So, if you’re curious about how reliable Strava is for measuring your mountain biking achievements, keep reading to find out more.

Accuracy of Strava for Mountain Biking

Strava is a popular choice for tracking rides and analyzing performance. But how accurate is Strava for mountain biking?

Based on our experience and fellow mountain bikers’ report, here are some things you need to keep in mind regarding Strava’s accuracy:

  • GPS Accuracy: We have been experiencing issues with GPS accuracy while using our phones to track rides on Strava. Phones typically update location information every 2-5 seconds, leading to potential inaccuracies in data. For a more precise tracking experience, we found that bike-specific GPS units like Garmin or Wahoo are better. These devices are designed to accurately measure distance, speed, elevation, and more, making them more reliable than phones.
  • Segment Times: Short segments, especially those under a few minutes, may not be as accurate and can lead to confusing results when comparing times with friends. Some users have reported that their segment times on Strava don’t seem right, with discrepancies between times they know they rode hard and times they rode casually. This could be due to GPS drift or inaccuracy.
  • Overall Accuracy: We found that Strava is accurate around 90% of the time. However, others have raised concerns about the impact of Strava on the sport of mountain biking, with some arguing that the app’s focus on segment-based, result-driven goals can detract from the joy of riding and lead to a “full-blown Strava addiction
  • Elevation Data: Strava has changed the thresholds for elevation gain in an effort to provide more accurate elevation data to users who record activities on the app (1)

While Strava may not be accurate enough for serious racing, it can still be a valuable training tool when consistently used with the same device.

Factors Affecting Strava’s Accuracy

athletic male with smartwatch and bike in nature utc

Strava calculates segment times by drawing virtual start and finish lines on specific segments of a trail or route. When you pass these points, your time is automatically recorded and compared to other riders’ times in the same segment.

This allows you to compete against others and track your progress over time. Similarly, Strava calculates average speeds by dividing the total distance traveled by the total duration of the ride.

Here are some factors that can affect these measurements:

  • Autopause can cause inaccuracies, and segments with sharp turns or poorly designed start/end points can trigger incorrectly, affecting the results.
  • The accuracy of Strava is influenced by factors like sampling rate, battery usage, and location determination methods
  • Weather conditions, satellite visibility, and altitude/elevation measurements can also affect Strava’s accuracy. 
  • Consistency and controlling variables are important when using Strava, and using wheel sensors can improve distance accuracy.

It’s important to note that the leaderboard can be dominated by people with less accurate GPS devices, and start/finish sections near loitering points can result in incorrect times.

Comparing your own performance on Strava can be reliable, but comparing with others should be seen as a fun aspect rather than a definitive measure of ability.

It’s worth noting that some users may exaggerate Strava’s inaccuracy when they believe they’re faster than they actually are, while others may achieve seemingly impossible segment times.

Is There a Way to Get Better Accuracy on Strava?

uses a fitness watch a man on a mountain bike in a utc

Yes, there are several ways to improve accuracy on Strava:

  • Use a GPS bike computer: Bike-specific GPS units, such as those made by Garmin or Wahoo, are designed to accurately track distance, speed, elevation, etc., and are generally more accurate than mobile phones.
  • Increase GPS accuracy on your phone: According to the Strava support website, to achieve fast startup and high-accuracy position estimates, you should provide a clear view of a large portion of the sky and time to tune in to the signals from the satellites. Some phones may also have the option to turn GPS accuracy up to the highest setting, which could potentially improve accuracy.
  • Use a speed sensor: Wahoo speed sensors are cheap and way more accurate than GPS since it works off of the number of wheel rotations. Speed sensors can be paired with Strava to provide more accurate speed and distance data.
  • Manually pause the app: Strava explains that runners can get a more accurate pace by consistently manually pausing the app while mid-run — like at traffic lights.

Devices Compatibility with Strava

Based on our experiments, Strava integration with Garmin watches has generally been smooth, as long as segments aren’t shortcutted.

The Garmin Fenix watches, including the Fenix 7 series, are known for their reliable GPS tracking on MTB trails deep in the forest.

Garmin Fenix Series
Garmin Fenix 7 Series (Source: Garmin)

However, many MTB riders trust the Fenix watches on Strava for tracking segment times.

We recommend comparing the watch’s measurements with trail data from platforms like Trailforks.

Maintaining the same line on an MTB trail for comparison can be challenging. Variables like tire pressure, suspension settings, rider weight, and kit weight can affect a bike computer’s accuracy on MTB rides.

Using Power Meters with Strava

According to a post on the Strava Community Hub, the Strava mobile app does not currently support direct connections to power meters or cadence sensors.

However, you can still use power meters with Strava by connecting them to a head unit or cycling computer and then syncing the data to Strava.

Once you’ve connected your power meter to a compatible device and synced your ride data to Strava, you can view a variety of power-related metrics on the app, including average power, normalized power, and power curve.

Strava’s Estimated Power Inaccuracy

female cyclist on her mountain bike utc

When I recently visited Austin, I decided to leave my power meter pedals at home and use a regular set on the rental bike instead.

As an experienced rider with a power meter, I know what numbers I can achieve and how different power levels feel. However, Strava’s estimated power data for my ride was way off the mark.

According to their calculations, I supposedly averaged 327 watts over a three-hour ride, which is wildly inaccurate.

In reality, I would estimate it to be around 165 watts. Even my PR on a segment was exaggerated, with Strava claiming I achieved 432 watts for over 15 minutes.

The reason for such discrepancies is that Strava doesn’t account for factors like aerodynamics, road conditions, wind, drafting, and countless other variables that affect power output.

While the estimates can be somewhat close on certain climbs, they are not reliable for training purposes.

If you’re serious about training with power, invest in a power meter rather than relying on Strava’s estimates.

Ride for fun, not for Leaderboard!

Mountain biking is all about the pure joy of riding for fun. It’s about exploring trails, feeling the exhilarating rush of adrenaline, and immersing ourselves in the beauty of the great outdoors.

In today’s digital age, the focus seems to have shifted towards virtual trophies and chasing segment-based goals, like becoming the King or Queen of the Mountain (KOM/QOM).

However, we mustn’t forget that mountain biking is not just about numbers and statistics; it’s about the incredible experience, the deep connection with nature, and the electrifying thrill of the ride.

Let’s prioritize the sheer enjoyment of riding, relishing the trails, and creating unforgettable memories rather than becoming consumed by the pursuit of virtual recognition.

Ready to conquer the trail? Check out our 18 practical mountain biking tips so you can ride like a boss.

Frequently Asked Questions

Strava may record different elevations from your cycling computer due to variations in GPS accuracy and data processing algorithms. 

It can be frustrating when your GPS device records different data than your friend’s, even if you both did the same activity.

This is because GPS data is influenced by factors like recording interval, signal strength, and GPS hardware. To improve your GPS connection, reach out to the device manufacturer for updated information.

Unfortunately, Strava cannot fill in missing data when GPS fails to record. They have also made changes to improve elevation accuracy for users without a barometric altimeter.

Contact Strava for more details on their elevation correction methods.

The accuracy of calories burned on Strava can vary depending on several factors such as the power output, heart rate, type of activity, the user’s weight, and the device used for tracking. According to Dr. Howard Hurst, a senior lecturer in sport, exercise, and nutrition sciences at the University of Central Lancashire, Strava has a margin of error somewhere between 25 and 50%. This suggests that Strava’s calorie calculations may not be very accurate.

Yes, Strava does count when you stop. Strava tracks your activity by using GPS data, so it will record your time, distance, and other metrics even when you pause or stop during your workout. However, it’s important to note that the time you spend paused will not be factored into your average pace.

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