We’ve all seen a cyclist dashing headlong through a red light at the cross roads. Questions is: Were they late for work, or are they a Strava addict?
Strava is a social network website for cyclists and runners. I was introduced to its testosterone fuelled, competitive pages at the end of last year. A couple of friends started to brag about their latest Strava times over a beer, which being a competitive type of person sparked my interest. (Because I knew I could be faster!)
The site allows users to upload their rides from GPS products or mobile devices. The data for the ride is stored in the riders profile beside a Google map of the route. Key information such as distance, time and altitude gained, is displayed and can be reviewed by other friends or “followers”. It is possible to keep track of your training progress through the year with nicely presented graphs displaying your weekly and monthly totals and set yourself training goals.
Obviously the fact that your friends can see this data is incentive enough to take the long route home after work. However, at the heart of Strava is the creation of ‘segments’. Users can create segments, by saving a specific section of their ride, be it 200 yards or 50 miles. By making this public to the entire Strava community, EVERY other member then has the ability to view and record their own time for the segment. I was a late comer to the Strava party and the globe already seems to be completely gridlocked with segments. On a recent business trip to rural Brittany I was able to plan an entire route of segments to ride after work and test myself against the locals.
If you are fortunate enough to record a fastest time for a segment this is recorded on your profile as a KOM. King of the Mountains! Should somebody then beat your time you will receive a friendly email from Strava encouraging you to try and regain your crown. Obviously the most prestigious KOM’s to hold are for arduous hill climbs or technical descents, but there are segments between the traffic lights outside the local Tesco.
There are no limitations so segments can flow across junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights. So 3 minutes into a segment, a glorious tail wind on your back and your legs feeling fresh will you slow down when the lights ahead start to change?
In the US a rider was recently killed by an oncoming car while on a mountain descent. He was on the wrong side of the road, cutting a corner by taking the racing line. It was later discovered that he had recently lost his fastest time on Strava for the descent and was presumably out to get it back – at all costs. His family are trying to sue Strava for his death, which I see as ridiculous. Undoubtedly the website encourages a healthy competitive attitude between its members, but each individual is responsible for their own actions. Having said that, some segments are inherently dangerous. There is a cycle path near my house, around a mile in length along which somebody has created a segment. The path crosses 2 roads and due to a high hedge visibility at the junctions is almost zero. Since I ride the segment regularly on my way home I know that to achieve the KOM time it would be necessary to cross both of these junctions flat out, allowing the rider no chance to check for vehicles.
Personally I think Strava is a fantastic tool. It breaks up boring commutes to work, adds a competitive edge to solo rides when your mates are away and builds on the community feel that cycling generally engenders anyway. However, it is effectively encouraging racing on our public roads and byways. When creating segments or attempting a new PB it is each riders responsibility to ensure we don’t put ourselves or others at risk.