We got inside the 'gothic leisure centre' that is Strava's HQ - and this is what we found

Created by two friends nostalgic for locker room banter, Strava went on to become the biggest exercise app in the world. Tom Davidson traces its bumpy path to the top as it rode out crown-chasing catastrophe and years of loss-making

Strava’s San Francisco HQ is where the company plots its course
Strava’s San Francisco HQ is where the company plots its course
(Image credit: Strava)

Harvard University’s Newell boathouse is a grand but garish building wedged between Boston’s Charles River and a six- lane highway. With its crimson-bricked facade and symmetrical pointy-hat roofs, tall pillars and star above the entrance, it gives off an aura of gothic leisure centre. Inside, it is packed to the rafters with long, wooden hulls: daily equipment of the men’s varsity rowing team. It is also the birthplace of Strava. Yes, that’s right: for all its prominence among cyclists and runners, Strava, the world’s biggest exercise app, began with a pair of rowers. 

Michael Horvath and Mark Gainey met on the crew team in the late 1980s. Both athletic and academically astute, the duo spent hours hanging out around the boathouse, poring over their training and chatting with their team-mates. “The mood was festive and fun,” Horvath, now 57, tells Cycling Weekly, but they knew the days were numbered. Before long, the pair were plucked from the water and thrust into the real world. Horvath became an economics professor; Gainey, an art history student, went into private equity.

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Tom Davidson
Senior News Writer

Tom joined Cycling Weekly as a news and features writer in the summer of 2022, having previously contributed as a freelancer. He is the host of The TT Podcast, which covers both the men's and women's pelotons and has featured a number of prominent British riders. 

An enthusiastic cyclist himself, Tom likes it most when the road goes uphill and actively seeks out double-figure gradients on his rides. 

He's also fluent in French and Spanish and holds a master's degree in International Journalism.