“Just so you know, there’s a Strava segment up here.”
Myself and a couple of buddies were riding. We’d just rolled through an intersection which took us away from town and into the rolling, green hills of Greenville, South Carolina – my hometown. The ribbon of tarmac dipped and curved – generally a beautiful road typical of the outskirts of town.
Like a small breakaway group in a stage race, none of my riding companions picked up the pace in an effort to snag the KOM. Instead we rolled through the segment chatting about nothing in particular. No KOMs were earned that day.
Full disclosure: I’m a member of Strava, as well as a few other online bike log sites. One common thread among all the sites is the basic general information: the day’s mileage, ride time, location, etc. What Strava has done is made the concept of riding, for the most part already a social thing, even more social. You can “follow” professional riders as well as your buddies and leave comments or Kudos about their ride.
With Strava you’re now “riding” with hundreds or maybe “thousands” of people on that stretch of road. Riding may not be the right word – competing is more accurate. Certain sections of your route may have become KOM/QOM segments and everyone who passes through is timed, ranked and categorized for all to see. Depending on your membership level at Strava you can get a more complete breakdown of KOM holders as well as a number that quantifies how hard you suffered during your ride.
Unless there’s a lot of self control the competitive nature of athletes tends to kick in and certain segments are ridden “full gas.” Are we “Strava-ing” ourselves away from enjoying the ride and instead focused on the group mentality of getting the fastest time?
On various popular routes there are numerous Strava sections, including a couple on my hometown’s bike path, the Swamp Rabbit Trail. On the weekends, or when the weather is especially nice, the trail is packed with not only cyclists, but families with kids in tow. On several occasions I’ve seen riders blasting down the trail, dodging families like they were road furniture on a Tour de France stage. The trail does have a 20 mile per hour speed limit, which is enforced by a motorcycle officer with a radar gun. However, as we do in our cars, speed limits are broken or at least bent.
Recently Strava had a lawsuit dismissed by a San Francisco judge brought against them by the family of a man who was killed trying to recapture his KOM on a downhill section. The death of someone is horrible, but Strava couldn’t be blamed for that man’s decision to push the boundaries and the tragic consequences that followed.
This might sound like an anti-Strava rant and we should just be out on our bikes, enjoying the ride and not constantly looking to beat a personal record or reclaim a KOM segment. Quite the opposite. Use Strava, Garmin Connect, Training Peaks, or whatever to track and monitor your rides. These, and several like it, are valuable tools for training. However, don’t let every KOM become a taunt or affront to your fitness. Take a deep breath and ride through the section knowing you were sticking to your training plan or just enjoying the moment on the ride. Of course there’s another option – don’t join any athletic social media sites and just ride. That was good enough for Eddy Merckx.