Strava and Cycling: A Story of Cut Corners, Tailwinds and Goats

It appears that you no longer have to actually enter an event to be competitive. All you have to do nowadays is download a little app on your smart fandangled phone with its ultra HD 3D screen (yeah, we’re feeling old today), click the ‘Record Ride’ button, go for a blast, and Bob’s your uncle – you’ve just unknowingly made someone in your local area feel like a hero by failing to beat their record time! Strava sections (or ‘segments’ for those in the know!) have been causing some controversy recently to say the least – so we thought we’d have a look at the issues we’re facing here as cyclists (whether the tyres be skinny or whether the tyres be nobbly).

In the deepest, darkest corner of the Tweeks Web Office (AKA: The Cave) there is a swear jar. We’re not talking about your average swear jar here though mind. This badboy steals your money for the use of two words and two words only. Those dirty words are ‘Strava’ and ‘segment’. Alastair 'Enduro' Evans is expected to announce his bankruptcy by the end of the month – watch this space.

Whilst at least half of Team Tweeks use Strava to map their rides (one nameless member of Team Tweeks even uses it to map his rounds of golf/trips to the bathroom, and we know he's not the only one), we have all learnt for the better to keep our data to ourselves. As much as we love to mock each other, we are all friends here, and we wouldn’t want anything to change that (aww). The way we use Strava here is a bit like being part of Fight Club really – with the first, second and third rules being ‘don’t talk about Strava’. What this means is that when we do succumb to temptation and tap that little orange icon to record a ride, we don’t say anything about it. It’s important that we try to adhere to this rule, as it really gets Luke’s goat when somebody mentions the Thing That Shall Not Be Named (although he does use it for running, apparently …). You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry!

First up, let’s get a few things straight. This isn’t a witch hunt against Strava or its users – we just have some genuine issues that we’d like to discuss. Like we say, many of us are Strava users ourselves. We’d also like to discuss the benefits of Strava – what’s so good about it, and why is it the hot topic of so many riders’ post-velocipedal conversations?

Why is Strava a dirty word exactly?

Strava is set up like a social network – and with the majority of the population now owning some form of smartphone, it’s super-accessible. What this means is that it’s easy to show off your new time or achievement on Facebook as soon as you get in from a ride – mostly to make all your non-riding friends feel guilty about the fact that they spent the evening sat on the sofa watching Embarrassing Bodies (ironically enough). The trouble is that this sort of showboating can get a bit annoying to say the least – even if it doesn’t involve Strava.

Certain unscrupulous individuals on Strava have been known to go as far as to cheat in order to gain a KOM (King of the Mountain) or QOM (Queen of the Mountain) title. Common methods include riding up hills only when you can ensure a good tailwind (which can make a big difference), driving the route in a car (seriously!) or even using third-party software to alter the files that contain your Strava data.

The Tweeks S***** Feed

Whenever we get back to a café after a mountain bike ride, we tend to see a lot of groups of lads clustered around their phones, comparing ride data to see who was fastest. A bit of a cock-fight if you will! Whilst we don’t support actual cock-fighting, there’s really nothing wrong with a bit of friendly competition. What sucks is when that friendly competition starts to seep out into other people’s riding space! We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve heard of people being out on a trail, and someone has come bombing up behind them screaming “STRAAAAVAAAAAAAA” – which is definitely not cool. Just because you’re timing your run doesn’t give you the right to trample over everyone else – and this is one of the main things that’s getting Strava users a bad reputation out on the MTB trail.

Some people also see Strava as sucking the joy out of riding. If all you’re doing is going for the fastest time on every ride you do, then where’s the fun? This could even lead to your riding technique getting worse in some cases, because you’re not actually practicing anything – you’re just bombing around everywhere as fast as possible. So you might not be hitting berms correctly – and your climbing technique might suffer when out on the road – all because you’re trying to PR everything. Being competitive is great, but do you really need to do it on every ride?

Focusing on Strava at all costs is also taking its toll on the road - and nowadays it's not uncommon to see riders making fast descents whilst gazing intently at their bike's stem. Even notorious stem-gazer Chris Froome isn't quite that bad - and always raises his chin when going down a hill!

The other problem with this is that many Stravanauts will start getting sloppy in pursuit of a KOM/QOM title - and this is wreaking havoc on many a mountain bike trail - where corners are being cut and switchbacks eroded by constant Strava traffic. Obviously, this doesn't bode well for the future of our trails - especially when you start getting away from the regularly-maintained stuff at your local centre.

Strava protip

Remember to set the 'Safe Zones' on your profile - as police have issued warnings that thieves have traced ride data back to riders' houses, broken in and then stolen their bikes.

The rules of Strava (according to Team Tweeks)

Strava 'Do's Strava 'Don't's
Use Strava to track your mileage per ride, week, month, etc. Get annoyed if you're not the fastest person on a segment - even if it is your favourite section of the trail!
Use it as a training tool to see how your fitness is improving and how your times are (hopefully!) getting better because of this Constantly talk about Strava as if it is the be all and end all of any ride
Use it as a visual aid for when you get home so you can revisit rides at a later date Put yourself in danger by cutting corners/running red lights just to have a shot at getting the fastest time on a segment. People have died because of this!
Create segments if there is a part of your ride that doesn't already have one and you think it would make a good marker Bully other riders off a trail because they might be affecting your run - they are there to have fun too
Use your head when creating segments - and think twice before posting someone's private trail if it blatantly can't stand the traffic that Strava could bring Create segments for the sake of creating segments

Strava: the verdict

Strava can be a really handy tool for monitoring your own progression as an athlete. Whilst it can be easy to get caught up in the segment war that is probably raging in your local area, we know that you are bigger than that! Our advice is to avoid the BS and simply compete against the one person you will never beat - yourself! As we say, the majority of us here do log our rides with Strava, and enjoy having a look through the data when we get home - especially if we happen to have set a new personal record! Basically, all is well and good as long as it doesn't start to take over your life and become the reason you ride. At the end of the day, you've still got a day job, and if you really want to compete then why not consider entering an actual race - where you know that the conditions are the same for everyone and you're not racing anyone who's been busy motorpacing a moped?

All that we're saying is, as great as Strava can be, isn't it all getting a bit much now? Roadies in cafés are supposed to discuss segments of cake - not segments of Strava - yet this seems to be all we hear nowadays! Why can't we follow the mighty Graeme Obree's approach and cut out the 'S' word all together? If we could be remotely as fast as he is, we'd happily give up - and he doesn't even use a cycle computer because he finds them distracting! Perhaps old school could be the way forward on this one? What do you reckon?