What do you call two people going for a bike ride? A race. What do you call two people with Strava going for a bike ride? A race that never ends.
In concept, Strava seems like a good idea; mapping rides and archiving them for people to reference is a terrific service. It’s especially terrific for out-of-towners who don’t know of any good places to ride and need a quick guide at their fingertips. But in reality, I think Strava sucks because of one main reason — humans can’t be trusted to use it in a socially responsible manner. It fuels the alpha-male ego in all of us, eroding the social fabric that makes riding bikes fun.
Whatever happened to the old days of training where you had a wristwatch and a segment you regularly rode? Some days you’d go out by yourself and hammer it, other days you’d ride with friends and enjoy the social aspect of chasing after the fittest guy, seeing if you could hang.
Nowadays people brag about being 10th out of 200 on a specific climb, as if it’s some kind of huge achievement. Who cares? On Strava, if you’re not first, then you might as well be last. And that’s the problem. The constantly futile quest to be first is ruining the pleasure that used to come with riding a bike.
Strava is a true paradox, as it’s the most anti-social form of social media. Because everyone is so hell bent on personal best times or bagging the cherished KOM, people don’t talk to one another as much during rides. They’re either hammering, or getting ready to hammer. The social interaction doesn’t happen until everyone goes home and starts dicking with their smartphone or computer, giving ‘kudos’ and other cyber high-fives.
In a world without Strava, on any given day you could be first to the top of a climb and say “Yeah, I crushed that mountain. It was a good day.” With Strava keeping record, the results only confirm your overall mediocrity. At least without Strava, you could still claim that you were fastest on that one particularly good day.
Thanks to Strava, recovery rides are also a thing of the past. If you do a recovery ride and happen to have your phone or Garmin working, people will see you were 185 out of 200. Then the rumors start flying. “Oh man, did you see Billy Bob’s time up Monkey Hump? He must have fallen off the wagon!” And what fragile cyclist ego can handle that kind of abuse.
If you want to race, then either find the fastest group ride in your area, or open up your wallet and sign up for a race. Racing by yourself – or worse – racing on a ride that’s not supposed to be a race is just poor form. In the same way smartphones have forever altered the social code of human interaction, Strava has changed the way people ride — for the worse.
I don’t have a Garmin. I don’t even have a smartphone. I have an old piece of shit flip phone and rely on something called maps. You know, the paper kind? The kind with topographical lines and waypoints that tell you where an old mine shaft, service road or 4×4 trail is? Maps that you actually have to study before going out on a ride, so when you’re neck deep in the woods or way out in BFE you still have some idea of where you are. Thanks to the proliferation of Strava, cartography is a dying art.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure of not being on Strava is beating someone who contests every KOM. Most times I let the Strava kooks have their little race to the top. But once in a while I get fed up with the social disruption and get in the mix. Great satisfaction comes from beating a Stravaddict, because even though he holds the KOM, he knows he really doesn’t hold the KOM. Indeed, there are probably hundreds of luddites out there just like me who are not on Strava but who can ride his prized KOM faster.
And because you can never trust humans to behave responsibly, there’s all kinds of Strava-induced idiocy happening that not only ruins the social enjoyment of riding, but also hurts our broader reputation in the community. Take for instance the geniuses who are riding illegal mountain bike trails, then posting their Strava segments for private landowners, land managers and park rangers to see. Not only does this make the entire cycling community look bad, it puts future land access in jeopardy. On legal trails, corners get cut and obstacles removed all in the name of a few hollow, useless “kudos.”
Thanks to the constant quest of chasing KOM segments, humans are always looking for ways to game the system. There are even tips and tricks on how to cheat Strava, like driving your car to a big climb and doing it fresh or ending an actual segment inside your house so nobody can ever take your KOM. Seriously? And I thought running traffic lights, rolling stop signs and illegally weaving between traffic was moronic enough.
Most cyclists are familiar with the story of William “Kim” Flint II, the Berkeley, CA cyclist who was killed in 2010 when he careened into a car while chasing the elusive South Park Drive KOM downhill segment. In typical American fashion, a lawsuit quickly followed, filed by the family of Flint claiming Strava as the liable party. Although many believe the lawsuit to be frivolous, it has not yet been thrown out of court. As much as I think Strava sucks, trying to blame Strava for an individual’s irresponsible behavior sucks even harder.
In a world without Strava, riders are not thinking about the dozens of segments on a ride. If they’re riding easy, they can relax and enjoy nature and all the pleasures that riding a bicycle brings. If they’re riding hard, they’re thinking about the guys next to them and who’s going to be first to the top. They beat and hammer on each other, and at the end of the day, they’re not worried about going home to their computer to see who got what. They already know…until the next ride. And that positively doesn’t suck.
Read the counterpoint article “Freewheeling: Why Strava Doesn’t Suck.”