Thursday, March 14, 2013

Strava = Strava-rific or Strava-erible?

I want to talk about Strava, a topic about which we, collectively, will probably not agree.  The title to this blog post, that is something on which we can all agree - it is really bad.  But, it is true that some people think that Strava is wonderful, terrific, the reason to ride a bike, or whatever, while others think just the opposite and that it is terrible, awful, horrible and no good; that it steals joy and makes misery out of every ride. 

For those of you who don't know, Strava is a website with a companion app that records your runs or rides.  The data can be uploaded to the site directly from a smartphone app or with a multitude of other bike/run computers like a Garmin device.  From that data, Strava gives you an entry for the run or ride, including a map of the route, elapsed time, elevations, speed, HR if available and watts if your device provides it.  But, much more importantly for the sake of all that is good and horrible about it, it also then looks at your ride and pulls out "segments" and not only compares your results on that same segment, but compares your segment time against every other Strava upload for the same segment.  In other words, if you have a hill you climb near your house that you ride up 40 times in a summer, Strava will (either automatically or if you set the parameters yourself) record this "segment" and you can see your fastest or slowest or most consistent period of times up the hill.  Over time, you can compare year by year or month by month, so see what impacts your times overall.  But, and this is where the great/totally-not-great part comes in, you can also see how you compare against all the other Strava records of everyone who has also ridden up that hill.  Then, you can not only check your speed against your buddies, but other racers or competitors or, well, anyone.

I guess in places like Boulder, Colorado, that not only means comparing your time with the guys who show up on your porch Saturday mornings for a ride, but also a number of national level and international level pros. Which brings up the last characteristic relevant to this discussion.  The program not only provides you the data, it ranks your performances, it gives you online trophies/badges for creating your top places and KOM or QOM (King or Queen of the Mountain) for the fastest of all Strava records.

The question is; is that a good or bad thing?

To me, it's like everything else in life - it's how you treat it.  Here are some other views, which I will fairly or unfairly represent.

Pro-Strava - The people who love Strava tend to be competitive and, more likely than not, tend to think that a ride didn't really happen unless there is data to back it up.  They like crunching numbers, examining data, building programs around them, etc.  These folks tend to have new technology and upgrade this element of their gear all the time.  They also like the experience of objectively ranking their multiple performances, not only against themselves, but against you.  They also often call these folks triathletes. 

Anti-Strava - The people who hate Strava tend to be the opposite of the pro-Strava folks.  They ride for a variety of reasons, but they get don't have to have a number attached to any of it.  They may or may not have a cyclocomputer, but if they do, they tend to be simple.  They may know how many miles they rode, but use things like "perceived" effort to measure their efforts, rather than a specific number.  And, these folks aren't just the laid-back types.  There are old-school pros who train by "feel" rather than numbers, so it isn't just the stoners with vintage bikes that take this approach.

With or without data, the problem with Strava isn't so much the individual approach to it, but the approach of the individual in a group, because it changes behavior.  In my riding group, we have what we call "Strava poaching", in which you use the group effort to maximize your own Strava records.  In other words, as you approach a known segment, you drop to the back of the group or even just off the back, you cross the "start" line of the segment and then catch back onto the group, help the group to whatever degree needed or necessary and then as the "finish" line approaches, you dash up to the front or even off the front to make sure your total time on the segment is the fastest. Using the group you are going faster than you would be able to individually, but then you get individual credit for it. 

And while that might seem anti-social (dickish, in the parlance of my group), the question then becomes, what is the point of "winning" a Strava segment?  If that's okay (and just be clear, there are no rules whatsoever about that), then how about setting your record on a day with a huge tailwind, or one step further, how about drafting behind a car or moto?  And then, just for fun, how about hanging onto that car just for a bit.  Or even being in that car or driving the motorcycle.  Okay, clearly we can (I assume) agree that riding your motorcycle or driving your car would invalidate your KOM, but then that begs one more question - who gives a rat's pattoottie?

And that is ultimately where I personally come down on Strava - who gives a rat's pattoottie?  Does it matter that people are faster than me, or that someone may have used a group ride or a big tailwind day to beat my record?  It doesn't matter to me at all.  I know that there will always be folks on the road that are faster than me and those that are slower than me (okay, at least faster).  I know that some folks will take advantage of any self-regulated system and others will be punctilious in their conformity to the mores they believe exist within the group. 

What I do like about the system is that I can now look back at my 2010 times versus 2011, 2012 and, as we move along, 2013.  I can see what years I got into a facsimile of being "in shape" or got my weight down or whatever.  I enjoy it when I see someone I know that is below me on a particular segment, but I don't care too much, and I also don't get too head up about anyone being ahead of me.  If going fast is your gig, then that really is a product of "getting out of it what you put into it."  So if you go faster, you probably deserve it by training more, being leaner, etc.  And if going faster isn't your gig, then probably better to ignore Strava all together. 

Some years I ride with no cyclocomputer/HR monitor or any way of measuring mileage or speed.  Other years I have one on my handlebars.  But never once have I thought that the reason for the ride was contained in those number.  Or the joy, or the experience, or the pain, or the solo thoughts or the camaraderie, or anything else too important.  Bottom line on Strava - take or leave it, but don't spend too much time loving it or hating it.  It's just not worth either. 

Oh, and also, don't be a dick about it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm concerned about the knuckle heads bombing down the trail on the weekend, running over hikers to get their KOMs. We will lose trail access if the trend continues.