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Fitness apps storm cycling

Published June 7, 2012

Editor's note: The following article appeared in the May 1 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News

CASTRO VALLEY, CA—John Koslosky, owner of the Bay Area’s Castro Valley Cyclery, has virtualized his shop’s weekly club ride.

Instead of gathering, say, on Tuesday evening at 6—a schedule that might not work for half his club—riders choose their own time and route, track their data through GPS, then upload it onto the social fitness website Strava. A board on the shop’s website streams the latest rides and climbing leaders.

This way, Koslosky said his customers always feel engaged and involved in the group.

“It’s showing constant activity. There’s this life to the club. People are actually riding their bikes, not just thinking about it. It’s bringing it back to that simple, pure way it was years ago. For us, it’s great,” said Koslosky whose shop opened in 1982.

Koslosky communicates with his members through the Strava club as well, notifying them of shop events or the occasional organized ride. And he encourages shop foot traffic by giving something away every day for riders who upload their data at a computer terminal set up inside the store, be it an energy gel or a quick bike inspection.

Koslosky has found the flexibility of integrating Strava into his business has built a stronger community around his shop and encouraged more people to ride. His club is now 140 riders strong.

“It’s a big group,” he said. “We’re one of the biggest single-location bike shops on Strava.”

Koslosky’s virtual club ride is surely a sign of the times and an apt reflection of the digital health movement that’s sweeping through running, cycling and other fitness clubs around the world. In the past five years, mobile and web-based applications like Strava, MapMyRide and Endomondo have raised millions of dollars in venture capital funding as GPS-enabled smartphones broke open a new space in social fitness.

And the leaders in the category say the trend has just hit the tip of the iceberg.

MapMyFitness, the group behind the MapMyRide application, has amassed 8.5 million users in the past six years, and 25 million downloads. At one point, the app attracted 1 million users in 47 days. MapMyRide alone has about 2.5 million users.

“Our numbers grew 500 percent over last year—it’s totally nuts. Three hundred thousand Android phones go live every day,” said Robin Thurston, CEO of MapMyFitness.

The company just hired its 65th employee and expects to ramp up to 100 by the end of the year as it turns toward international markets. Right now, about 63 percent of its users are from the U.S., meaning there is significant potential to spread the word in other countries. MapMyFitness has raised more than $6 million in venture capital funding in the past three years, and recently completed a third round of funding to fuel future growth.

“By sheer numbers, we’re the largest, we’re recording the most data and we’re certainly the most connected,” Thurston said of MapMyFitness’ position. MapMyFitness collects revenue through ads posted on its website and mobile application; the $2.99 one-time subscription cost for its premium app; and software it builds for third-party systems, such as CycleOps.

In the next stages, Thurston will build technology that allows IBDs to better leverage MapMyRide, such as offering QC codes that customers can scan to upload route maps directly to their smartphone. Another priority is tapping into the social side of the network by offering easy ways to communicate with customers about local rides and better allowing riders to share routes with friends.

Strava has similar ambitions.

Its competition-crazed users have increased 25-fold each year since it launched in 2009, and Strava is now targeting new markets in the U.K., Australia and France for the next push, said Michael Horvath, a Silicone Valley entrepreneur who co-founded Strava with his college crew teammate Mark Gainey based on an idea they first had in the 1990s. While MapMyRide covers the masses, Strava appeals more to the performance-driven athlete with its “King of the Mountain” designation for top climbers and segment leader boards.

Horvath plans to launch a multi-sport app soon to round out the run and cycling options that already exist and create a POS system so retailers can sell Strava’s $59 annual premium subscription. The majority of Strava’s revenue is subscription-based, with about 10 percent coming from its online shop where it sells Garmin devices and Strava-branded apparel. It will continue to fund operations from the $16 million in venture capital money it raised last year until the company is profitable, Horvath said.

Perhaps the most significant byproduct of the popularity of social fitness isn’t related to revenue, but instead lies in the value of the data collected by the various applications. With millions of people submitting details on equipment used, miles and routes cycled, weight and personal finance statistics, that information can be extrapolated and returned to the industry either to support advocacy efforts or to better inform retailers and manufacturers on their customers.

“This is hundreds of millions of customers,” said MapMyFitness’ Thurston. “The digital health movement is just starting. There’s going to be a network that will actually matter.”

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