The Angry Singlespeeder: Strava versus eBikes

Both have vocal opponents — but which is greater danger to trail access?

E-bike Opinion
A yeti was spotted riding a MORB at Sea Otter.

A yeti was spotted riding a MORB at Sea Otter. No word on whether he got the KoM.

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You may submit questions or comments to Kurt at singlespeeder@consumerreview.com. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

“Uh, excuse me. I’d like to pass please.”

The words came from behind as I was climbing Hurl Hill at the Sea Otter Classic this year. Not that I was riding super slow or anything, so the polite request came as a bit of a surprise, especially considering the dude didn’t even sound like he was breathing hard.

Not being one to block someone else from passing, I pulled over to the side and looked back to see a guy in his early 50s with his saddle way too low, knees practically knocking him in the chest, effortlessly cruising past me uphill at a clip that even Nino Schurter couldn’t maintain for very long. The guy passed and sheepishly apologized, almost as if he was embarrassed about it.

“Thanks, heh heh. Sorry. I guess I’m cheating. I’m not really this quick.”

As a parting gift, the guy’s low hanging baggy shorts prominently showed off his exposed butt crack. All I could do was shake my head and laugh in amusement. Of course the guy was on an electric mountain bike. It was the first time I’d been passed by one on the trail.

Two weeks later, I was back home in Reno, Nevada, out on a solo trail ride. I approached an uphill switchback and saw a cheater line blazed into the earth, shortcutting the corner. Two turns up from that I saw another cheater line. I grumbled aloud about the fact that someone was “Biebering” the trails, and not 30 seconds later a Lycra-clad speed freak came railing downhill towards me.

Most people would be hard pressed to even recognize this bike as an eBike, but it is.

Most people would be hard pressed to even recognize this bike as an eBike, but it is.

The guy couldn’t be bothered to slow down even for a moment, let alone yield to an uphill rider. I held my ground and kept cranking uphill, narrowly clipping bars with other rider as he whizzed by, chasing a coveted Strava KoM segment I guessed. Unlike the passing eBiker, I was not in the least amused by that near collision.

The rise of technology in mountain biking has created a lot of amazing advancements such as composite frames and wheels, high performance suspension, electronic shifting, and hydraulic disc brakes. Without a doubt, mountain bikes are better and more capable than ever before. But technology has also given birth to more controversial innovations such as Strava and what I like to call MORBs (motorized off-road bicycles), of which both have some very vocal detractors. So which one is can cause more problems? Strava or MORBs?

One of my personal biggest gripes with Strava is that it’s had a significant negative impact on the social aspect of mountain biking. Before Strava, if people wanted to compete with one another, they’d either do it in a race or they’d bang bars with each other on a weekly group ride. Whoever was the fastest was the first up or the first down on that particular week. If you wanted to challenge the fastest, you showed up and went mano-e-mano with the reigning champ. It was a healthy, social way to get out those competitive urges.

Strava has turned a lot of would-be casual rides into races against a ghost rider.

Strava has turned a lot of would-be casual rides into races against a ghost rider.

But ever since my friends started using Strava, the social nature of our weeknight rides changed. What used to be a mandatory 20-minute warm-up and social chat before hammering each other became an instant race against some ghost rider, with people disappearing off the front, some never to be seen again for the rest of the ride. The reason?

“Sorry man, I was going for the KoM on that segment.”

But when it comes to MORBs, the social element is different. Although MORBs enable a novice, unfit rider to climb uphill at the same speed as a professional, eBikes can actually promote a more social environment because it levels the playing field, enabling less fit riders to hang with a group longer at an exertion level that still allows conversation. Sure, some riders in the group might not like it that Joe Beer Gut is “faster” than them, but who the hell really cares? Is your ego really that fragile?

And unlike Strava, which sometimes lures people into racing downhill faster than they should, MORBs don’t really make riders any faster on the descent. Depending on the terrain, the much heavier and more cumbersome MORB is actually slower downhill. I’d never choose a MORB over a well-designed trail bike for a long, challenging descent.

On the bigger and more controversial issue of trail access, I also believe that Strava can cause more damage than eBikes. Why? Because people riding MORBs don’t advertise to the entire world that they’re poaching a non-motorized trail. The function of a MORB is not to track and display where someone rode, it’s simply a technological enhancement to allow someone to ride longer distances at a pace they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. The core function of Strava is track where one has ridden. Not only can Strava show the world that someone just poached an illegal trail, but it also shows they are the fastest idiot to poach that illegal trail.

Land managers aren’t using MORBs to get trails closed to mountain bike access, at least not yet. But there have already been incidents where Strava was used to either prove mountain bike trespassing, or show peak rider speed numbers to justify why a trail should be closed to mountain bikes. The latest example was earlier this year in Los Altos, California, where Strava data was used to ban mountain bikers from Byrne Preserve. So when it comes to the topic of trail access, I personally think Strava is more likely ammunition for anti-mountain bike advocates to justify trail closures.

Biebering a trail involves dumbing it down to make it faster.

Biebering a trail involves dumbing it down to make it faster.

And the third aspect has to do with trail damage. I’ve done several rides on a MORB that’s purely pedal assist and I still haven’t been able to make the bike roost like a throttle-twisting dirt bike. Despite what MORB haters say, in my experience, pedal assist MORBs don’t cause any more trail damage than a traditional mountain bike.

If I could only say the same for Strava. Now of course Strava itself isn’t causing trail damage, but because of the inherent competitive nature of the app, it’s encouraging riders to go out to their local trails and Bieber the hell out of them. What is Biebering? It’s taking a trail that used to be challenging and technical and making it lame by shortcutting or removing obstacles, all in the name of going faster to capture that coveted KoM.

Now this column isn’t some push to get MORBs legal on non-motorized trails. I still firmly believe that MORBs should not be permitted on non-motorized trails. At least in the foreseeable future, aligning mountain bikes with MORBs in the United States is advocacy suicide for our sport. However, if mountain biking didn’t have such vocal detractors, I wouldn’t see a problem with pedal assist MORBs on more trails.

But I personally believe Strava has had a significant negative impact on the social nature of mountain biking, its data tracking capability has been used by land managers and mountain bike opponents to close trails, and its competitive segment aspect has altered existing trails. And despite MORBs receiving a lot of hate from mountain bikers, there’s an undeniable positive aspect of them, especially with people who also hate Strava. MORBs are the ultimate KOM killer. Once people start riding MORBs while using Strava, nobody will know which segments were truly human powered. If for whatever reason MORBs don’t end up gaining widespread acceptance, if they can at least kill the competitive segment aspect of Strava and make it irrelevant, in my eyes MORBs will have been a huge success for regaining the social nature of our sport.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • Rich says:

    Kurt, I’ve decided I want to drink beer with you and Vernon Felton…..

  • Ken says:

    Not everyone wants to be a chatty Kathy when they ride, I mostly ride solo and use Strava for exercise , Koms are just intervals. Some dudes want to talk and hangout in the parking lot too ,again , not for me , how bout some respect for those wanting to push the limits on the trail and step out of the way or go ride some place where you can fart around and take pictures of turtles instead of clogging up the trails that many of us want to blast through ! You’re the guy that wants to text in the fast lane all the while deliberately trying to slow down the drivers willing to go faster than the posted speed limit . STRAVA!!!

    • Davey Simon says:

      Well said Kurt.

    • tom says:

      It sounds like you took what he said as ‘all strava users do this’, which he never did. What he said is undeniable that some strava users do it (make cuts in trails, dumb them down, lack respect for other users).

      He never said using GPS or pushing your limits was bad either.

    • GuyOnMTB says:

      “how bout some respect for those wanting to push the limits on the trail”

      I respect your need and want to have some speed and competition to your use of an internet based application for your mountain biking hobby. As it is my own hobby and going fast is fun, real fun! I look up to those who can show me how they did it faster in this and that area of the trail.

      However, I can not, will not and just don’t respect people that feel they need the fastest times over a “multi-use trail”. Multi-use trails are for everyone to “enjoy”, and for everyone to enjoy those types of trails bicyclist can’t be going up or down them at speeds dangerous to unsuspected, surprise, group meat-ups. We mountain bikers have trails that are rarely used by foot traffic or are designated for bikes or that warn foot traffic that there ‘will’ be bikes moving fast. These are accepted places of dangerous speeds and is generally accepted by the surrounding public hikers and equestrians.

      When your times over multi-use trails are important over peoples safety, you demonstrate a clear disregard for your fellow countrymen, or the people that have you as a guest. And demonstrate only ‘self-importance’, without realizing you might be potentially hurting your ability to “enjoy” that area in the future, unless the self importance perceives trail poaching as necessary to inflate ego.

      When there are only a few trails left around metropolitan areas to achieve KoM, the trails will be so cluttered with users, achieving that KoM will be next to impossible and the ego that created that fixation with have ruined what could have just been an awesome ride.

    • Smithhammer says:

      You do realize you can go fast and “push the limits” without being a Stravasshole, right?

    • Jimmy says:

      Yea you tell em Ken. cant post top ten so you hate strava. we get it.

  • George Hayduke says:

    If e-bikes hurt access for mountain bikers, it will be mountain bikers fault.

    - E-bikers will use non-motorized trails. Mountain bikers are already telling them they’re the devil, so no expectations to live up to.
    - Hikers and equestrians won’t know the difference between mountain bikers and e-bikers, and complaints from them don’t change.
    - Mountain bikers, with their panties in a bunch, will report every e-biker they can.
    - Land managers will then ban ebiker and mountain biker together, because that’s how it works.

    So basically, mountain bikers will ban themselves in a fit of stupidity.

  • Peper says:

    Strava is only shows a ranking change once in a blue moon on your “home trails”. It’s just not possible or safe to ride at your fastest ALL the time.

    ****I don’t mind your E-BIKE but don’t ask me to move over! Wait till it’s safe to pass and then go by or turn and go on a different trail. That’s e-bike etiquette.

  • broadsword says:

    just another piece of sensationalist crap from the ass… whats worse… destroying a trail with non-respectful riding, getting a trail closed by being dumb enough to publicise your use of it on strava or purposefully trying to invoke a reaction with articles like this?

    we’re human… for all its good and all its bad… cycling is so mainstream now that there’s idiots in every minute sub-section of it… we’re all entitled to our views but actively trying to incite frustrates me

    i dont like ebikes… but not everyone who rides them is a thick ignorant tosser… i like strava… but not everyone who uses it is a thick ignorant tosser… i like cross country… but not everyone who rides it is a thick ignorant tosser… i like all mountain… but not everyone who rides it is a thick ignorant tosser…. i love my single speed… but everyone who rides them arent thick ignorant tossers!

  • p brig says:

    Off road mopeds are motorized vehicles and illegal anywhere I ride. I would show one the same love I show illegal ATVers.

  • Chris Sullivan says:

    I just came back from my first 1.75-hour bike ride on my e-tricycle. I ride paved paths and roads. I obey all the rules. I want to live until the end of the ride. I have had MS for 18 years. I have no opinion about non-road bikes, trails, etc. But remember if it weren’t for e-bikes some of us would have to stay home.

  • Juan says:

    I have already become accustomed to riding alone (anyone hear heard of the book, Bowling Alone?). I can get Strava, in a way. If I was younger I would probably be down with it on occasion. Still, good points made. But ebikes piss me off more. On seperate trails, ok. How about human powered trails (a la Bootleg canyon–remember those signs?) for human power only? Is that too much to ask. Maybe I’m just not used to it yet. Now back to watching everyone staring at their phones.

  • Joe Paluch says:

    Kurt,
    Strava has allowed me to expand my circle of riding friends by 10x to 20x. Before Strava it was the same 2-3 guys. By using Strava I was able to find others that ride similar trails as me an grow my network of riding friends. It also allows me to fun and scope out new riding trails and routes. Now as your concerns about trail use and closing down trails due to speed I have to say that is unique to your locations. California is state that run by people bent on Gov’t control and is not tolerant of proper trail use. Arizona on the other hand welcomes mountain bike use and realizes that it is good to share trials. No park rangers with speed radar here. No here park rangers organize night rides for Mtn bikers are welcome their input on trails. Strava is a great way to show how much use (ie value) these trails have to community.

  • Tom says:

    Bang on, Kurt.

    Again.

  • Justin says:

    Great article. Strava is destroying mtn biking and for sure part of the reason trails in S Ca get neutered and skidiot destroyed. E-bikes are fine anyplace you can ride a motorcycle.

  • fasterjason@yahoo.co says:

    I totaly agree. I put in 200+ hours a year building and maintaining trail. I don’t call them cheater lines, I call them strava cuts, and they are the bane of my existence. There is plenty of work for me to do and blocking short cuts keeps me from doing it.

    On the other hand, E-bikes would allow me to cover a lot of ground pulling a trailer full of tools or packing a chainsaw after a storm. I would not worry about detailed tree-down reports because I could cover several trails with a lot less effort.

    E-bikes are here to stay and I hope strava goes away.

  • 1trekGA says:

    An e-bike can reportedly climb at 20 mph. On a bi-directional trail, that is a dangerous, even deadly scenario. I may finish my old-age MTB days on an e-bike, but feel a speed governor may be justified for these situations. Particularly for climbing. (10 mph?)

  • ben beeno says:

    Strava hasn’t changed my group rides. We go up slow, sometimes fast, we chat, we stop, sometimes we bring beer. We go down fast, because going fast is fun. We upload our rides. That’s it. Recording them on Strava hasn’t changed how we ride. It doesn’t make all users into assholes.

  • Frednic says:

    E-bikes are just going to create more trail users. Here in San Diego on a weekend our trails already remind me of our roadways at rush hour.

  • Jude says:

    Excellent!

    Strava, although useful and utilized by myself has the potential for much more damage to the trail and to our cycling community than solely any eBike. Strava’s main good point is keeping track of mileage for not only health but even better for actual equipment usage for servicing or replacement.

    Thanks for your perspective Kurt!

  • cruz5280 says:

    As always, great points that I mostly agree with. My 2 cents:
    Strava- it’s a great way to track activity and improvements through the season. It’s a TOOL that people use differently. If we can agree that not everybody will become more reckless and take more risks to improve their times, than it should be acknowledged that a tool like Strava doesn’t, by default, make everyone more reckless. People that use the data from Strava to take more risks are the problem, not the app. For clarification, I don’t use Strava consistently b/c I prefer, at times, to be unconnected to the world and don’t carry my phone.

    - eBikes….a great mode of transportation for people to explore terrain where motorized vehicles are allowed. I’m not a fan of sharing non-motorized trails with motorized vehicles. There is a great case to be made for people with physical limitations as others have listed above (MS, etc) being able to enjoy trails as they had in the past. Unfortunately there is no way to limit use to those people. I’ll leave that decision to people smarter than myself.

  • kc says:

    strava-good… e-bike-good, world hunger-bad

  • Herm Kresser says:

    What if Strava just eliminated any negative incline KOM’s? They probably have the technology to do that.Last time I checked,KOM was given the coveted climbers jersey!

  • Ben says:

    Strava is stoopid, but so is world hunger, smoking, and substance abuse.

    It’d be lovely if people cared more about others than themselves.

    First world problems.

  • Ben says:

    Oh, and Ken is a jackass ;)

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