Strava sometimes splits the cycling community. Most people love it, a few hate it. Some are addicted. Strava is like body fat. Essential and great in small doses but ineffective in too great a measure if you’re out on the roads smashing every segment day after day.
Strava is a tool and thus, like the hammer, is useful when in the hands of somebody who knows what they’re doing and who is fully aware of the other tools at their disposal. Only got a hammer? You will destroy something. Segment hunting every day makes for a tired body. Master the technology and be not its slave. Use Strava to find new routes, plot your rest days and monitor your own workouts. Forget about leaderboards and KOMs. Until that is, the dreaded email arrives in your inbox. Uh Oh. So cruel.
So how do you use Strava, if at all? Are you a Strava slave, denier or abstainer? Do you recognise yourself or club mates amongst the Strava characters below?
Your every ride is logged, even your five minute pootle to the shops. Well it would have been a pootle if you hadn’t gone all out on the ‘Shops LOLz’ segment. PB too. Not bad, you think, ignoring the fact it’s a 0.1 mile downhill segment.
Your rides are shaped by the machine. You avidly check weather forecasts not for rain but for wind. Most cyclists see a windy forecast and sigh. Not you. This is the day for a ride. Your route will be determined by which record you’re chasing that has a favourable tailwind. You’ll ride in the middle of the night if the wind is howling a gale.
You’re not a segment hunter, oh no, you’re above all that. You have a dozen regular routes and you shall not deviate from your roads for new segments. Not when you have so many segments to chase on your regular routes.
Unlike the Strava slave, you’re more than happy to go out of your way to find a segment, especially if the top 10 beckons. Hell, you spent three hours yesterday stitching together a route optimised for the segments you’re chasing combined with adequate recovery roads.
You’re a regular rain man, you can recite segment names complete with the times and names of your virtual enemies. You’ve memorised the street signs and lampposts that signify segment starts and ends. You are Neo, your world a matrix of segments. You must be the (number) one. When you look at roads you see red lines and the leaderboard times of all those ahead of you.
Your post ride map looks like the drawing of a one-year-old child, all squiggles and illogical turns. Intervals, you tell yourself, fooling nobody. Rest is a downhill segment. This is a healthy way to ride, I’m just pumping out high intensity rides, you think. Every day.
My real world, self-made Strava trophies
Virtual badges motivate you. The amount and type of your riding is dictated by random Strava challenges. Hell yes, you’ll climb 20,000 ft in your lunch break if it means a virtual trophy.
Café stops are dominated by talk of progress, of planned rides, of the ridiculous weather you’ve endured in pursuit of the digital trophy. Nobody mentions how much they’re not enjoying the experience, forced to ride in order to chase an arbitrary goal. Motivation you tell yourself.
You ignore the complaints of your wife about the actual trophy cabinet you’ve lovingly cobbled together in the shed, a real world replica of your virtual shrine. Now you just need the time to carve the real life versions of your virtual trophies. Oh, what’s that? A new badge if I cycle underwater for three hours every day for a month? Finally, a chance to wear that Rapha wetsuit.
Mr spreadsheet and statistics
Pah, Strava. You were logging rides in a paper diary back when carbon was known only as something Jabba the Hutt used to freeze Hans Solo. You can chart your times back to before the internet was invented, and yes, it goes without saying that you’re the king of your local mountain. On paper anyway.
Despite the advent of Strava, little has changed but the accuracy of your numbers. You upload rides religiously and study the same numbers as before. The only leaderboard you’re interested in is My Results. Strava is simply your online diary of rides, the electronic yardstick against which to measure your progress. And maybe the odd trophy.
Oh, Strava? Yeah, I just use it to log my rides. Leaderboards? Nah, not interested, you lie when people talk course records. The fact is you’re a secret Strava addict but nobody must ever know. You’re embarrassed, as if you’re somehow ruining the true tradition of cycling by wanting to improve, to be the fastest. The majority of your rides are private until that is you break a course record. You’re a regular record-breaking virtuoso. I haven’t even been training, you lie when others comment on your ride. Yeah, sure.
All your rides are private, visible only to you. Why would you give your rivals access to data that would give them a competitive advantage? That’s why you use Strava, to follow your rivals, to see just how hard they are training. Did they train on Christmas day? Ha, one nil.
You don’t know what size underwear your girlfriend wears but you know the heart rate zones of your ten closest rivals. You shake your head and smile when you see their pitiful junk miles or cry when they top a leaderboard. You must log more miles, climb more metres and ride faster than everyone. Every day. Unfortunately all that time on Strava means you’ve neglected your own training somewhat. Bugger.
Kudos. You’re looking for virtual friendship, attention, anyone, please, I’m just like you, I cycle everywhere too. Really fast, honest, please look, please praise me. You hand out kudos willy nilly, so much so you’ve amassed 1,500 followers, the exact same number of people you’re following. New friends are just a kudos away. Not that you’re alone. Everyone wants kudos. Human’s crave recognition. One of the paradoxes of motivation is that there’s no self actualisation without praise from our peers. And hey, you know, it’s just so darned nice.
Europe’s Strava rides
Yeah, I use it only to hate myself, you say, for Strava is destroying the sport you love. Your group rides have become Strava slogfests, people racing off the front to own a segment, the cyclist equivalent of cocking a leg and pissing up a tree. It’s like, so dangerous, all this charging about. You ride to enjoy the wind in your hair and you don’t want to ride by numbers. Oh no, you’re no machine. Where’s the romance in it all? But yeah, I’m on there, you admit begrudgingly, I look at it occasionally, perhaps. If only you had caught that wheel eh?
You ride at your own pace and follow the road whichever way it goes. The ride is unimportant until that is, you get home and share your ride with the world. I just rode 15 miles, you beam. This is why you rode. To tell somebody. Anybody. Not that your friends ever seem to notice. Truth is they blocked your fitness posts a long time ago. Pity, they’ll never know you commuted the same old five miles to work. Again.
You have more flagged rides than Lance Armstrong. You are the king of any mountain you wish. Course records quiver with your every upload. Motor paced behind the car my girlfriend was driving? Nah not me mate, you must be confused.
Yeah, we hired a double-decker bus last week, what of it? Fancied a bit of open top touring in the Alps so we did. Those KOMs? Coincidence. Digital EPO? Never heard of it. Why would I cheat? Really why? That’s a question only you can answer because we have no idea either.
What’s Strava? Seriously. I just ride my bike. GPS? Great Potato Salad? KOM? King of Munchies? Segment? As in Terry’s chocolate orange, right? Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some riding to attend to.
What about you?
I enjoy Strava for all of the above. There’s nothing like looking at your dashboard and seeing the miles of others to inspire you and get you out on the bike. Or looking back at old activities astonished sometimes at the miles you’ve ridden. No matter how you use Strava, whatever encourages us to ride can only be a good thing.
How about you, love Strava? Avoid it? Or perhaps, it’s just a meh?
Images courtesy of Strava and unknown