Strava - Friend of Foe?


I once cycled up the Hebrides of Scotland with a friend. Nine days of epic cycling and good times. The scenery grew more beautiful as we went and the beer intake reached a peak at our final destination of Inverness. As a side note the original plan was to cycle back from Inverness to Glasgow but we ended up staying in Inverness for three days basically partying. We were 25 years old. It made sense.

Anyway, I took a few photos on the trip and reminisce often with my cycling partner but to this day it bothers me that the ride is not logged on Strava since it was before the ubiquity of the app. It bothers me that I can't relive the climbing or delve into the stats of what is to this very day my most epic cycling trip.

But is Strava a force for good in the cycling community?

First of all I think it is a great piece of technology and it never seizes to amaze me just how much computing power we carry in our pockets these days. I bet that I don't even scratch the surface of all the features that Strava could provide but I certainly log all of my rides on it.

I don't participate in races mostly because I don't have the time nor the inclination to remove large chunks of my skin but that doesn't mean that I am not competitive.

This is where Strava comes into its own and manages to be much more than just a distance logger. I am referring to the KOM feature which is somewhat misleadingly named since these can also be won on downhill sections.

For those cyclists who don't use the app, this feature allows you to compete and compare your efforts against any other cyclist who as also cycled that particular segment. A segment for the uninitiated is just a stretch of road that any user can select to compare times on. You can pretty much guarantee that any hill, be it a lump or a mountain, is a segment begging to be attacked. After a while you build an intuition of what is a segment and what is not (or if you have a fancy Garmin then it will automatically alert you).

In the local area you tend to see the same names cropping up in the top ten of segments and getting the top spot is much coveted. And remember no one has ever got there with a headwind so don't be afraid to use a handy tailwind to help you.

This competitive element of Strava has certainly made most of my cycling more enjoyable. Except when I get that dreaded notification that I have lost the top spot to another cyclist. When this happens I tend to look outside and to the tree tops hoping to see a violent wind that no doubt propelled them to victory.

But could you make an argument that all of this data is actually detrimental to our enjoyment of cycling?

What did I enjoy about cycling when I was younger? It was the freedom. It was the exploring. It was finding new places. Put a Garmin on the handlebars and suddenly I lose the ability to enjoy just exploring or aimless riding. I remember a couple of months ago I was doing some hill intervals and I saw the most incredible rainbow stretching from the sea and right across the city. I knew that I should stop and take a picture but that would mean stopping. I didn't dare stop and so the image is only stored in my memory.

In mitigation, I would say that as a time poor cyclist it is imperative that I make the most of every mile I pedal and this places limits on time to just pootle for the sake of it.

I think I would enjoy such pootling around though and my body might even thank me for it. I plan to put the Garmin in the back pocket on a ride soon and head out the door with no particular plan. The real litmus test will come when I see another cyclist ahead of me and my natural and profound competitive nature comes to the surface. I will have to exercise zen like control of will power.


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