Freewheeling: Why Strava Doesn’t Suck


Yes, sometimes the data gets downloaded before the helmet comes off.

Editor’s Note: Freewheeling is the new column of features editor Jason Sumner. Once a week (usually) he’ll use this space to prattle on about all things cycling, be them interesting, innovative, inane or annoying. If you have a comment or question, or just want to sound off, drop a note in the comments section below.

With all due respect to my colleague Kurt (whose opinion can be found here), I must take exception with his contention that the burgeoning age of Strava is going to spell the end to enjoyable cycling as we know it. It’s not Strava that sucks, it’s some of the people who use (and occasionally abuse) the social bike ride sharing service that suck. And you have to separate the two.

Of course there are people out there who’ve become so addicted to their Strava identity that every ride is a do-or-die race. Sure there are idiots who roar around singletrack trails, yelling “Strava, Strava!” during juvenile quests for a new PR or KoM. And yes, there are those stupid enough to upload data from rides on illegal trails, even though it’s cycling’s version of stealing a car and then driving it past the police station a few times. But in case you haven’t noticed, human beings aren’t always the smartest creatures. Why else would Honey Boo Boo be a household name?

To say that Strava is itself bad because some people behave badly when using it is akin to saying beer is bad because some people drink too much and then wrap their car around a telephone pole. We all know telephones poles will remain forever endangered, but I certainly don’t want to outlaw beer.

Strava is a cheap and easy way to keep track of those rare best-day-ever rides.

Frankly, I like Strava. It provides an entertaining mix of friendly competition among friends, a comprehensive on-line ride diary of one’s cycling adventures, and a means to suss out road routes and singletrack trails in unfamiliar locales. And if you’re the training type, there are lots of ways to track progress, parse power data, and generally keep tabs on whether all those intervals are paying off. It’s a tool, nothing more.

People who take it more seriously than that are likely the same folks who can’t seem to grasp the uphill-rider-has-right-of-way rule, or the ones that bark out peloton position commands during casual weekend group rides. Dicks are dicks. That’ll never change.

But for every “Stravaddict” as my colleague calls them, there are people who’ve been introduced to the service and in turn been inspired to ride more, train more, and explore more. That’s what cycling is all about. So why discourage something that encourages that.

Perhaps some of my casual attitude is the fact that I live in a place (Boulder, Colorado) where the odds of me bagging a meaningful Strava KoM are about as likely as me bagging Kate Upton. Just ain’t gonna happen. Boulder is overrun with fast people (WorldTour pros, wannabe pros, uber fit self-employed “consultants,” unemployed Ironmen, and so on). I am not one of those people.

But even for cyclist’s who don’t live in places where the average lactate threshold is 320 watts (and thus can contest KoMs), I honestly believe most users keep the usefulness of Strava in perspective. Sure grabbing a spot on top of a leaderboard is kind of cool. But the majority of cyclists are smart enough to know the difference between the Col du Coffee Shop and Alpe d’Huez.

For most people, the top of any meaningful leaderboard is a pipedream.

When I want to see how I measure up, I rely on the Strava feature that allows one to distill data down to more manageable metrics. Instead of competing against all of Boulder County, I drill down to only people I follow (my friends) or people of my peer group (40-plus, 170 pounds-plus). And even then, I’m usually off the back.

But mostly, what I like about Strava is it gives me (and the rest of the people who use it responsibly) a way to keep track of saddle time. I’m not going to lie, come cycling season, I make a point of trying to gain little fitness and maybe even enter a race of two (mountain, road and ‘cross). For that, Strava is a cheap, convenient, and easy way to monitor how things are progressing. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with little motivation. Sure I could use a wristwatch, map, pen, and abacus to figure that all out. But honestly, what’s wrong with embracing a little 21st century technology.

The answer is, nothing. Just don’t be a dick.

Read the counterpoint article “The Angry Singlespeeder: Why Strava Sucks.”

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • Gary says:

    great article, 100% agree….tech is tech and has no personality, dicks are dicks and will abuse/ misues whatever resource is put their way.

  • Kevin Waterbury says:

    It will be interesting(re: concerning) to see/feel the long term affects Strava has on mountain biking’s trail conditions, user conflict, and therefore trail access for bikes.

    I live in Santa Monica, CA where population density inherently creates a hotbed of fast climbers and fast descenders. I have already seen popular descents in my area become dumber and dumber over the past year, because those in KOM contention are manicuring the trail to shave seconds off their time, even if it means they only hold the KOM for a couple days until the truly faster rider has chance to ride the newly ‘designed’ trail.

    Trail conflict between users has also been on the rise in my area, as ‘contenders’ blast around blind corners at 25mph with reckless abandon, having no idea what or who may be around the next corner. This will lead to more reported incidents, which at some point will lead to trail closures.

    I have a feeling the competition portion of Strava will at some point garner “fun while it lasted” status, and that might not be such a bad thing for the riding community in general.

  • James says:

    I met one of the investors in Strava last year on a ride. I said, in passing, cool tool but amazing how many people have an issue with it. He smugly replied that any serious rider loved it and was incredulous that there were detractors (said, of course, from his $15K bike). That alone turned me off to the whole scene.

  • RT says:

    In MA they’re already seeing land managers use Strava as a tool to track illegal and irresponsible trail use. The MA DCR (Dept of Conservation and Rec.) are in the know and the anti-mtb folks like to monitor Strava and then pass along abuses to the DCR.

    Unfortunately we’ll always have fools and we’ll always have illegal trails and irresponsible trail use. Strava amplifies that these trails exist AND encourages behavior that Land Managers (who ALLOW us to access their land) don’t like to see, or hear about, let alone have evidence other stakeholders can wave in their face when asking for reduced MT Bike access.

    Do your advocates and trail builders a favor by being responsible, and if you’re not, have the common sense not to advertise it to the world.

  • tkul says:

    Agree with everything, and would like to add that KOMs can have an error related with GPS (more on mobile phones). Found this on one segment, and after finishing first and my buddy that didn’t passed on Strava was with 3 sec less than me.

    Checked on performance page, and he managed to travel less some meters than my Strava log.
    Investigating this found that the phone he was using has a big GPS error, that can go has much as 500m.
    We all know about GPS error, but 500m?? LOL!

    Koms (and I do have some) are worth what they worth.
    I still find Strava has a special tool, that is fun to check when recovering… or some days after (a bit like: pictures…)

  • Roger says:

    So what happens when you get attacked by a deer?

  • KOM eraser says:

    Strava enables pussies to be dicks.

  • dana says:

    It’s a conflict within a conflict. Multiple trail users not getting along, mtbr’s not getting along with each other, escalated by Strava, and now a tool, Strava, for non mtbr’s to use against them. Have fun out there !

  • Larry says:

    I use Strava regulary. Before downloading the app I was a lot slower and rarely rode. The first time I rode a segment I saw friends and locals who I knew on the leaderboard, and vowed to go faster next time. I started riding more and more often, and I have improved a great deal. It’s an amazing training tool and motivator.

  • Gshock says:

    I use Strava and I love it. I use it for personal goals and self satisfaction without taking it or myself too seriously. My performance has improved dramatically since I started tracking myself not to mention better physical and mental health. It can also be fun to challenge your friends and it has become somewhat of a facebook for me, since it allows me to communicate with old and new friends that like to ride. I could careless if anti-strava users judge me for using it. STRAVA IS COOL : )

  • Brad Herder says:

    Strava’s motivational and fun! I just completed their challenge to ride 32 hours in 2 weeks… would have never done so much early season training otherwise. I love it!

  • wwt says:

    Why “experts” feel the need to pontificate what to do. If you want to use Strava, cool. If you want to wear a spandex thong onsie, so what. I entered my first XC race on an LT Heckler, was sneered at by XCish roadies for not having the right bike for the race, but still finished better than they did. (I get “try not to skid and don’t braid” because that affects everyone), but for what you want to ride, wear, or use to have a good time, that’s your call… not what the mtbr authors epouse. Non-conformity is a key element to Mountain Biking. Leave conformity judging and group think to the roadies in the pelaton. Here in the woods we do what we want.

  • Julius says:

    The funny thing about this picture is the guy downloading Strava with his jersey and helmet on inside the house. Cracks me up, why not shower first??

  • desr says:

    If you are on the OCD continuum then Strava and any other highly engaging product…, food,sex….etc will always be a potential obsession…..the good news about Strava is that it doesnt make you DUI, obese, or catch an STD respectively…..ironically the only time I have crashed badly I wasnt on Strava…my ADD had kicked in …….

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