I just started using a GPS for bicycling last week. I have a Garmin Edge 500, which is made primarily for cycling. That’s fine, as most of the workouts I’d like to track by GPS are bike rides. I used to run much more often, but my left knee doesn’t like when I run more than just a few 5Ks a month. When I do run now, it’s usually because I am short on daylight or trying to beat incoming nasty weather. (I readily admit to being a fair weather rider!)

So, when I bought the Edge 500 I really wasn’t concerned that it was bigger than other multi-sport GPS models. But I’ve found that most of my running shorts have a small pocket just below the waistband that seems to be perfect for the Edge 500! Two 5K runs so far and it hasn’t even tried to slip out of that pocket!

Pre-GPS, I was using mapmyride.com for bike rides and what has evolved to be a pretty complex spreadsheet in Google Docs to track all of my workouts; riding, running, spinning on a stationary bike, yoga, and circuit training. With a GPS, I wanted to try out a few other logging sites that are more GPS-centric—Garmin Connect, Ride with GPS, and Strava. After just three rides and two runs, here are some of my observations. All of these notes are based on the free account editions of these sites.

Map My Ride / Map My Run

The MayMy* sites seem to be pretty basic when it comes to viewing and analyzing imported GPS activities. And it annoyingly won’t let me change activity type from bike ride to run; everything from the Edge 500 comes in as a bike ride!

Courses (routes) have multiple levels of privacy: private, public, friends, accessible. Workouts appear to have all those except for accessible.

Routes have neat hill ratings, along the lines of the Category 1-5 ratings you’ll see in events like the Tour de France. (At least they have the hill ratings when viewed under MapMyRide; when I looked at a bike ride workout on MayMyRun, the ratings did not show.)

No workout “player”.

Garmin Connect

Connect has more charts and details. Big step up here compared to MapMy*.

But you can’t view splits on a map!

Activities have only two levels of privacy: private means no one but the owner can see the activity. Public means anyone can.

You can playback workouts; player includes graphs of any two of the data collected by your GPS (distance, speed, cadence, etc). But I’ve found the slowest setting seems to move pretty quickly through a workout. Also, when you hover over a spot in the data graph, there is no indication on the coure map of where that spot is. You have to hover over a spot in the data graph to see that spot’s details (for example, exact elevation). Hover over a spot in the course and the corresponding point in the data graph is not indicated.

Ride with GPS

I like the charts and maps at the free level. Splits (laps) and analysis thereof appear to be available only at the pay level.

The data graph and map play nice together. Hover over a spot in your elevation chart and a dot appears on the map. Hover over a spot on your route and the corresponding point in the data graph is highlighted. The playback speed has more granularity than Garmin Connect’s playback. On Ride with GPS, you can also see a couple neat charts that show you time spent at each speed and the average grade at each speed!

Workouts have two levels of privacy: private and public. Private workouts, however, can be seen by someone not logged in to Ride with GPS if that person has a link to a workout. That’s kind of surprising.

Ride with GPS is mainly a cycling site. For someone like me who only runs occasionally, I’d probably be happy enough with Ride with GPS. Other than the weirdness with what they call “private,” I think I like Ride with GPS more than MapMy* and Connect.

Strava

I’ve used this for just one run. So, keep that in mind as you read these comments.

Seems to work for running and riding.

No player! But the map and data graphs play nicely; better than Connect but not quite as nice as Ride with GPS.

Heart rate analysis appears to be only available to premium (pay) users? I’m not sure about this. I didn’t wear my HRM for my run and I had already erased my ride data from my GPS before I signed up for Strava. I’ll have to write an update when I try Strava with a ride.

You can make a workout private or public. Strava’s private workouts cannot be seen by others even if they have a link to the workout. (I really don’t know where Ride with GPS got their definition of private!)

Strava does have a few neat features at the free level that I didn’t notice in the other three sites. (Again, in my limited use. These features could be in the others, but I just didn’t notice them there.)

Equipment tracking – nice to track how many miles on a pair of running shoes. But can it keep track of when I last had a chain replaced or cleaned? Or a tire replaced? I’ll watch for that when I get around to logging a ride in Strava.

It automatically breaks your run down to mile splits (or I imagine km splits if your profile is set up that way). Automatically! You don’t have to hit the split/lap button on your GPS. Of course, this must be based on GPS distance measurements, which aren’t all too accurate. But probably accurate enough for most people/uses. (From Garmin: “Garmin GPS receivers are accurate to within 15 meters on average.” My plotted run showed me running through people’s yards, through the woods, and over some roofs. In actuality, I kept to sidewalks and roads.) (And oh! I have a bike speed/cadence sensor, so distances recorded by my Edge 500 while I am cycling may be more accurate than by GPS.)

You can define segments of your riding or running routes and compare your times across these segments. Or see how other Strava users perform on these segments!

Really unique: in your Strava profile, you can define locations that will be hidden on your activity maps. If your activity starts or ends within a selected radius (for example, 500 feet) of the address, then the start or end of the ride will be truncated. Great if you are afraid of people finding you by looking at where all of your runs and rides start or end. (Of course, you could always just get in the habit of starting and stopping your GPS a block from home or at a neighbor’s house.)

Which am I going to keep using?

I haven’t decided yet, especially since I haven’t tried Strava with a bike ride. There are features of each that I like though:

  • MapMy*’s hill ratings and multiple levels of privacy for both rides and runs.
  • Garmin Connect’s ummm, hang on I’m thinking … well, I guess I like that I can change a workout type from Bike Ride to Run.
  • Ride with GPS’s player and graphs.
  • Strava’s automatic splits and segments feature

Right now I’m leaning towards Ride with GPS and Strava. For a little while I’ll probably keep importing my workouts to all four. Yeah that’s right. I like data.

Bonus GPS site!

You can upload workout to the Plus 3 Network. But this site isn’t really a workout tracking and analysis site. Instead, activities you upload here earn points called “kudos,” which in turn get converted by some sponsoring company into dollars for a charitable cause. The idea here is, “you work up a sweat and magically some money goes to a charity.” Really! I kid you not!

All you need to do is log your activities. You don’t even need a GPS, although activities imported from a GPS typically earn double the kudos of a manually-entered activity.

So far this year I’ve earned $14.33 for the American Heart Association, with all but $0.80 of that coming from non-GPS activities. That doesn’t sounds like a lot, but multiply that by many people logging activities and that can really make a difference!

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I’m just about to 1000 miles on the bike this year. I took the bike into the shop for a checkup and nothing needs to be done at this time. There was a little wear on the chain, but not enough to replace it now. I’m to bring the bike back in for another check at 1500 miles. That should be just in time to get it looked over before my century.

With the 1000-mile milestone near, I took a look through my logs to see when I hit or approached that mark in previous years.

Miles
Date
# rides
Avg ride (miles)
995 6/20/11 30 33.1
998 6/26/10 39 25.6
1022 8/01/09 35 29.2
1007 8/13/08 36 27.9
990 7/20/07 41 24.1
1006 9/22/06 43 23.4

Last year, I remember starting the year with the goal of riding more often than in previous years even if my average ride length was shorter, and I accomplished that. The weather was also very cooperative last year.

With my century ride coming up sometime in late July or early August, it is no surprise to see the increase in my average ride distance this year. But the weather has not been as nice thus far as last year and with a couple of bouts of mono in the house, I’m a little behind last year’s ride frequency.

2006 Indoor 0.0 0
Outdoor 50.7 3
Subtotal 50.7 3
2007 Indoor 72.7 5
Outdoor 117.7 5
Subtotal 190.4 10
2008 Indoor 18.1 1
Outdoor 164.5 6
Subtotal 182.6 7
2009 Indoor 62.9 3
Outdoor 179.1 6
Subtotal 242.0 9
2010 Indoor 0.0 0
Outdoor 166.5 7
Subtotal 166.5 7
2011 Indoor 215.3 8
Outdoor 215.8 8
Subtotal 431.1 16

Cycling totals for the year:

Indoor (stationary): 1384 miles, 58 rides, 23.8 miles average ride
Outdoor: 124 miles, 5 rides, 24.8 miles average ride
Overall: 1508 miles, 63 rides, 23.9 miles average ride

Numbers not inspiring enough? The Fat Cyclist is running guest-written posts this week. Tuesday’s post was pretty good. In fact, don’t just go to that one entry, add Fatty’s blog to your list of daily reads.

Still need more? Check out this article from Joe Posnanski from last month.

You know who I’m talking about. Don’t deny it.

Bike summary for the week ending Sunday, 20 February:

121 miles
5 days in the saddle (missed on scheduled day)
All indoors
54 miles, 2:59 longest ride (one whole disc, four episodes, of Lost)

Do you have to do a 54 mile ride? No! But get off your duff and do something!

140 miles, all indoors

6 days

2:27 longest

Until hooking up with nephew Ben on plans for a century, I had a mental barrier of about 90 minutes on the indoor exercise bike.

Today, I crushed that — 44 miles in just under two and a half hours!

That was enough to get through the entire disc from from season 4 of Lost and then some.

Lost

I’ve been working my way through the Lost series, working my way to season 6, which I have yet to see. Last year I was working through Heroes, making it through season 3. When that series was cancelled without wrapping things up, I lost interest in it and final season remains unwatched.

What do you do to help pass the time while riding indoors?