Warning: This post is long, ruminative, and about something that you might not care about.
For several years now I have — like a great many other cyclists — been using a GPS unit to track my rides. In this case, it’s a basic Garmin unit that tracks all of the usual data and is configured to automatically upload finished trips to the Garmin Connect website. And about a year ago, I started also uploading by GPS traces to Strava.
I’ve found, however, that using Strava has made the relationship with my GPS unit — and with tracking my rides — increasingly sour. I’ve written about the GPS effect before; now I want to talk about why I’ve recently ditched Strava, don’t bother much with Garmin Connect, and ended up with Ride With GPS (RWGPS) instead.
So what pissed me off about Strava? Just about everything, it turns out. I’m not a racer and I don’t train, per se. But Strava seems to be all about training and competition. The competition for KOMs (or QOMs) for climbing segments and a leaderboard for any kind of segment at all just seems downright silly to me. And then there’s the fact that everyone is using it, and saying so. If you know me — and some of you do — you know that I’m not much of a follower of the crowd.
And why not just use Garmin Connect, since it’s already hooked up to the device and so forth? It’s true that GC stores and analyzes GPS tracks in an adequate manner, but there’s quite a few things it doesn’t do, and a few little things that I find persistently annoying (like automatically naming every single ride “Untitled” instead of using the date or allowing me to specify some kind of text + date algorithm). GC works fine as a backup, but that’s it.
So why pick RWGPS instead? In general terms, it lets me do all of the things that I want to do in one place. I can map rides, generate maps and cue sheets, log trips, and use the resulting data privately and publicly with ease and efficiency.
Routes. One of my favorite past-times is poring over maps. While I still use paper maps sometimes, I find it particularly useful to create and fiddle with the routes of potential rides, both to determine what the overall distance and elevation change might be for a given combination of roads, but also to have something to discuss with my fellow riders.
Cuesheets. Once I’ve created a route, I can generate a cuesheet, with or without maps attached, and tweak the format (to a certain degree) to make it optimally useful. I don’t often use cuesheets when riding alone, but it’s useful when riding with the Church and their ilk.
Trips. Like any other GPS web application, RWGPS logs trips, either based on an uploaded GPS track, an existing route, or a newly created route. The fact that I don’t need a GPS at all to log a trip — just the route and the elapsed time — is a big advantage. I don’t always want to bother using the GPS (and sometimes, I forget to charge the battery).
Sure, I get more and better data using the GPS, but if it turns out that I’m not that interested in the density of the data and the minutia of just how fast I went during certain portions of the ride — and I’m usually not — then I really don’t need any more than this. It’s just the sort of thing that might drive me to not replace the GPS unit when it fails (and will, probably sooner than later). I could use a regular, lightweight cyclocomputer (even though I’d have to calibrate the damned thing), or I could use a stopwatch to capture the moving or overall time, and the start and finish times to determine the overall time.
In fact, the only thing really missing when I map the route by hand and put in the overall time, moving time, and stopped time is the top speed for the entire route, and the average and max speeds for a given selected segment. So, if I wanted to see how slowly I climb, I’m out of luck. But I rarely want to know that.
Blogging. RWGPS also features better embedding for cloud-hosted WordPress accounts — which don’t play nice at all with the sort of iframe embedded that most everything else uses (and it uses it too, but it also provides static map and elevation profile images that one can easily embed just like any other image.
OPR. RWGPS — because it doesn’t require an already-ridden route for a GPX upload — also makes it a lot easier to use other people’s routes (OPR). Other people have sometimes come up with some great routes. And, for things like randonneuring (which I swear I’m going to try one of these days), the route is fixed by the club and approved by RUSA, so it’s pretty damned important to know what is where.
Fleet maintenance. RWGPS has other nice features that both Garmin and Strava don’t pay much attention to. While both of the latter allow you to define which bike you’ve ridden at a particular time, RWGPS also allows you to both track past and current maintenance actions but also schedule maintenance for a given date — or, more importantly for when a certain number of miles of have elapsed. I haven’t made much use of this feature yet, but given the ever-expanding size of my fleet, it might not be a bad idea.
But, isn’t Strava just prettier and nicer and all that? Yes, it sure is pretty — while both GC and RWGPS are just different kinds of kinda ugly.
But in the process of using all three of these services, I’ve come the conclusion that — functionality aside — Strava is just a little too slick and pretty for what I want my go-to GPS application to be. Sure, RWGPS is often overly busy and very pedestrian in it’s design, but it’s very functional. In some views (Activity Center, especially) I can see more data at once than I could ever see in Strava.
And here’s another thing: I really don’t want to be enticed into spending much time dealing with my GPS traces. I don’t want to be enticed into looking at my own, looking at other peoples, or whatever. And I certainly don’t want to do any social networking over the whole thing. Strava is one of those nice looking places where you want to spend time. RWGPS is like my shop: it’s not particularly attractive, but it’s got most things I need to get things done so that I do what I need to before and after I ride. I no more want to hang out in my GPS aggregator than I want to hang out in my shop: they’re both places that I go to get things done, so that I can go do other things.
Sorta like the bathroom.