How To Track Your Mountain Bike Rides

So you have started mountain biking and you are enjoying the time on the trail and spending time outdoors. Maybe you have even already reached the point where you have completed some beginner trails without falling and your technical skills are improving but you’re still not content.

The main thing that you are likely wanting to do at this point is to keep improving. You want to know which areas on the trail are tripping you up, which you’re excelling on, and where your technique needs to improve.

While it is true that there are a number of different ways that you can improve, one of the things that you have to first do is to identify the areas that are slowing you down. The best way to do this it to first start tracking your rides.

Generally speaking, this means keeping a detailed record of your trip around any given track. In the past, you may have been left with a simple stopwatch as your only tool. Nowadays, however, we have much more advanced ways of tracking.

There are a number of new things on the market that you can use to keep track of all kinds of things on your rides. In particular, two of the more modern techniques that you can find fairly easily are gps systems and action cameras.

Both of these have their pros and cons, and it is important to consider these things when you are trying to decide which one of these might be the right one for you. The reason for this is because it is important to remember that everyone’s tracking needs are different.

Finding the right tracking system is not about buying the fanciest and most expensive equipment, it’s about finding the equipment that suits your needs. The point of tracking your rides is to become a better rider. A rider should take the appropriate time and explore as many options as possible before making a decision.

GPS Tracking Systems

GPS tracking systems use satellite technology to follow your course along the route. These can provide quite detailed information, but always include your time and usually feature a graphic line that traces your route around the track.

Many others have a feature that tracks your speed, even allowing you to see what your speed was at a any specific point. GPS tracking systems are particularly valuable because of this reason. If you are able to see which route brought you along the track the fastest, which part of the track you were slowest, and your average speed for each run, you have a lot of the information you need to improve you skills.

There are many GPS tracking systems which vary considerably by features, the data they produce, and the quality of their graphics. One of the most common is the Strava. The Strava app brings the smartphone app craze to mountain biking. There’s no need to get external hardware here, simply download the app your phone and you are good to go.

Strava includes many other really nice features that make it desirable for many mountain bikers. One of these is that it has the ability to sync with heart rate monitors and other devices. Additionally, it has a crystal clear and very intuitive display.

The Strava app has gotten some pretty solid reviews from some of the avid mountain bikers. However, there is one disadvantage to this app that you should be aware of. Strava, like every GPS system, isn’t always accurate. While there are things you can do to increase the accuracy of it, you should note that many of these rules also apply to other GPS systems.

The reason for this is because GPS systems receive information from a satellite, and anything that blocks the satellite’s signal can cause problems. This can create issues for mountain bikers since many tracks run through dense forested areas that can cause your GPS fits.

Additionally, some courses can descend into a steep valleys and alongside high mountains, so there are factors can always disrupt your Strava’s signal. The GPS unit your Strava is connected to is also critical. Make sure to buy a quality GPS if you want to get the most out of your Strava.

If having in-depth information is important to you, you should consider splurging on a GPS system with more features and a better signal. If time and speed are your only concern, a basic GPS is probably ideal for you.

A Few Tips

One of the things that you should always do is to keep your GPS in a good place. If you simply put it in your pocket while you are riding, then you are not going to get very good results. There are many different mounts and bars available that allow you to attach your phone directly onto your bike. This will help keep your phone stable while you ride and improve your GPS’ signal.

The second thing that you should do is to make sure that you have a good battery. If you enjoy particularly long mountain bike courses this could be critical. A GPS that dies halfway through the trail won’t do you any good.

Battery life can vary a lot by GPS system, but if you are a person that frequently forgets to charge things this might be an important feature for you. Additionally, you should consider whether you like to go on remote trails with no charging station nearby.

A third thing that you should consider is if connecting with another device important to you. Many of the Modern GPS units feature ANT+ compatibility. These can connect to your phone, heart rate monitor, smart watch, and all your other devices at the same time. If you own a bunch of other tracking devices, then you should consider getting a GPS with ANT+ included.

It is true that you could probably download a simple tracking system onto your smartphone, and this is likely the cheaper route. However, you’d be missing out on a lot of the powerful features of a GPS device. Furthermore, non-GPS devices don’t have the mapping and routing capabilities of a GPS system.

Fourthly, it is important that you choose a GPS with suitable specifications. The size of your device’s screen is more important than it sounds. If you would like to analyze your progress in the middle of a ride you might find it a nuisance to continuously zoom in to view the desired graphics clearly.

However, it’s not wise to just grab the GPS device with the largest screen. The larger the screen is, the larger the device will be. You might find it cumbersome to haul around a huge device around with you while you ride.

Additionally, a larger device may mean a weaker battery. Therefore it is important that you find the ideal balance between screen size, portability, and battery life. If you fail to consider all of these factors, you may end up regretting your purchase.

The hardiness of the phone should also be considered. Mountain biking is a demanding, physical sport that often takes place in harsh, outdoor environments. Your GPS device should be able to withstand the rain, mud, and everything else that the trail throws at it. It’s not useful if it stops working the first time it falls off while you’re riding.

Using Your GPS Tracking System

Many of the best GPS systems are fully compatible with smartphone apps including Strava and MapMyRide. Getting some other apps like these are the best way that you can get the most out of your tracking by giving you the most details possible about your ride.

As mentioned, how you are able to attach the device to your bike is an important factor to consider. You will want to make sure you can attached your device safely and securely to your bike. You will also want to make sure that you can attach the device in a convenient, easily accessible location.

Many GPS devices, including the Strava app, have planning features. These features allow you to plan your route, give the mileage, and the speed that you will need to go at in order to meet your desired time. This is a great way to take advantage of your GPS systems beautiful graphic display.

One of the best features of the modern GPS systems is their social capability. While it is true that you might think of mountain biking as one of your ways to escape from those social apps and things, sharing your MTB experiences on the trail is actually a great way to meet friends and learn about the sport.

Many of the GPS devices and smartphone apps have features that let you share your routes, pictures, and personal bests with other cyclists. You can simply upload the media and share it. Sharing and comparing your tracking times with others is also a great way to push yourself and to get tips.

If a person is achieving better times than you are and yet you know that they are a beginner too, then you can see what they are doing differently than you are. Look at their bike, their gear, ask them about their training tips, etc. Sharing features can differ considerably by device. If sharing is important to you, consider a GPS device with Robust sharing features.

Action Cameras

Action cameras are another great way to track your rides. Thought these might not give as much information as a GPS system, by going with this route you can actually see yourself going down the trail and can easier pinpoint what you need to work on.

Action cameras have taken tracking to a new level. Foundational companies like GoPro were the first to take the industry by storm, but many new companies have also come out with sleek, feature-loaded designs sure to make mountain bikers drool.

With an action camera you can quite literally analyze your technique in the first person. You will also have video of how you handled certain terrain and encountered obstacles you encountered during your ride.

The action camera industry is rapidly changing with new technologies being introduced yearly. Previously, riders only had a few options, but now they have a number of choices before them. Sometimes finding the action camera suitable for your tracking purposes is difficult. There are certain factors you should always consider when choosing an action camera for your mountain bike.

A Few Tips

Firstly, action cameras vary a lot by video definition. Having clearer video obviously means you can perform a more detailed analysis of your ride. However, having ultra-clear video usually isn’t necessary for tracking purposes. Ultra-clear video might be of import if sharing and posting your rides is a part of your mountain biking experience though.

The dynamic range of the action camera is actually far more important. Dynamic range is essentially a camera’s ability to capture the broadest possible detail in a scene, between its brightest and darkest tones.

A mountain bike course can wind through a variety of micro-environments that vary by elevation, lighting, and angle. Not all cameras have the capacity to capture quality video in such a rapidly changing environment.

Imagine beginning a race on top of a hill draped in sunlight and then descending into a dense, dark forest. Many cameras would have hard time with this adjustment which in turn would impact the quality of the video. For mountain bikers, finding a camera with a great dynamic range is critical to getting quality video consistently.

Additionally, durability and mount ability are critical. Mountain biking is a fast-paced sport that takes place in harsh conditions. In other words, it is important that your action camera is durable. You want your camera to at least be able to survive a fall from your bike unto a hard surface.

This means the camera must have the requisite hardware and it must be lightweight and portable. Furthermore, the camera should be capable of taking clear, uninterrupted video during a rough, fast-paced ride around a mountain bike track. If the video is shaky and blurry it won’t be of much value from a tracking perspective.

Using Your Action Camera

Getting an action camera is a great way to track your rides, but this is not the only way to put action camera videos to good use. If you want an easy way to learn trails and pick up tips, an easy way is to watch other people’s action camera videos.

People approach courses differently and employ different strategies. Watching another person’s action camera video gives you a first-hand look at how another rider tackles a tough course. Also, you can get a glimpse at their technique and gear.

Why Tracking Your Ride Is Important

Learning how to effectively track your rides is an important part of becoming a great mountain biker. As a beginner, you first learn about selecting the correct mountain bike for you, how to handle the bike through a course, and some of the basic techniques of mountain biking.

Eventually, after a rider is able to complete basic courses with ease, they begin to focus on improving their time, and this is where tracking comes in to play. Tracking allows you to not only keep track of your times, but it more or less provides a record of every ride around the course.

Even basic tracking devices will provide information on time, routing, and speed. A rider needs to know this information if they’re ever going to improve their time and become a better mountain biker. Many of the more advanced tracking devices, such as GPS devices, can provide highly detailed analytics on various aspects of a ride.

This technology allows the rider to hone on a highly specific area of his performance and improve it accordingly. The more data a rider has, the better able they are to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses. Not all bikers have the same tracking needs though.

For some mountain bikers a simple phone app will do, others really need a more advanced GPS system, while still others will be best suited by an action camera. Buying the right tracking equipment does not mean buying the most advanced and expensive technology, it means buying the technology that’s right for you.

You need to reflect on your needs and how much you’re willing to spend and go from there. Like with everything else, never forget that at the end of the day mountain biking is about fun and pushing yourself. Don’t lose sight of this while searching for tracking equipment.

Additionally, tracking is a great way to tap into mountain biking’s amazing social potential. Share your tracking history with friends and compare times. Additionally, many tracking devices allow you to share photos and videos of your ride on social media. These are wonderful features that allow to meet new friends and find ways to improve.

Mountain biking is considered an adventure sport for a reason, it involves new experiences and is best done with excitement and enthusiasm. Introducing tracking to your training repertoire is a great way to enhance your mountain biking experience.

Mike Rausa

I'm a 42 year old married father of 3 that fell in love with mountain biking late in life. Mountain biking quickly became my go to fitness activity. I created this blog to help beginners to advanced riders with tips and strategies to improve your riding experience. More About Me...

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