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Confessions of a Strava Addict

After reading some recent online discussions about (here and here), I'm feeling compelled to fess up — I fear becoming a Strava addict myself.

If you're not hip to Strava, it's an online (web and app) service that allows you to record information from your rides. It plots your efforts on maps, displaying where you went and how long it took you to get there. It posts all the data for other Strava members to see, and it's particularly good at breaking popular routes into segments and ranking everyone's times.

In other words, it's a nerd-fest for middle-aged cross-country geeks like me.

What's not to like? Well, most of the criticism I've been reading points out that Strava-crazed riders intent on logging, displaying and boasting about their most recent PR's have a new incentive to, you know, mow down anyone they encounter on the trails.

It's understandable that folks might be getting concerned about an emerging technology platform that makes every trail ride into a potential full-bore time trial. Pre-Strava, it was easy to boast to your friends that you slayed the Sexy Goat trail in 15 minutes — while mentally subtracting the 40 seconds you spent patiently waiting for some birdwatchers to make enough room for you to execute a comfortable pass.

No longer. According to Strava, 15 minutes barely gets you into the top 30 recorded Sexy Goat segment times. Your mark is going to be posted on the Interweb. You need to make that pass ... NOW!

However, it's not like my nerdy geek posse wasn't comparing times before Strava. The technology has raised/lowered the bar a few notches, but hammering trail rides dates back to the first time two mountain bikers discovered they'd ridden the same stretch of singletrack:

Gary Fisher: You're telling me you climbed Sun Trail in 3:30? For reals?

Charlie Kelly: I would have done it in 3 flat but some birdwatchers got in my way.

Will mountain biking survive Strava? Yes, but for what little it's worth here are some suggestions to keep the demon in check.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not gospel from IMBA, just the ramblings of an IMBA spokesdude.

1) The only situation where it's acceptable to ride a trail on the edge of control and ability is on a racecourse.
2) Otherwise, leave a considerable margin for error. Other trail users might do things like follow yielding conventions, pay attention to their surroundings and act in a predicatable fashion. But they might not, so cut them a break.
3) Be really nice. Handle every trail encounter with courtesy, grace and a subtle wink.
4) If you're intent on logging a smoking time, get it done on the climbs. Nobody but you and the Strava crew cares if you're ascending at a blistering 6.7 MPH or a super-lame 6.2 MPH. Nail the climb and you'll get your PR — and the only one you'll hurt is yourself.
5) Conversely, err on the side of caution while descending. A collision at warp speed is the kind of thing that could change trail access in your hometown for years to come.

So am I a Strava addict? Maybe — but acceptance is the first stage of recovery, right? And I got there in just 2 weeks, three days and 4 hours. How did you do?

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New motivation to bend or break the rules

I've always found mountain bikers to be more generally competitive than the "normal" population. Certain riders - you know who you are - seem to find great joy in trying to blow apart any group ride, hammering off the front rather than maintaining a nice casual pace. Hell, I'm as guity as the rest by doing that on occasion - it's not inherently bad and it's part of the sport. But when you add something like STRAVA into the mix, where you're not only competing with your buddies on a ride but with every other STRAVA user who has ever ridden and logged their time, it amps up the competition factor where every ride becomes a race even if you're out solo.

I set up a STRAVA account yesterday and uploaded some of my recent rides. I'm a naturally competitive "recovered racer," and was happy to see that I had placed pretty high on some of our local trails, both up and down. So last night, I was hell bent on trying to beat some of my earlier times. I found myself annoyed at having to yield, when usually I'm more than happy to yield the trail in all circumstances when it is required in an effort to promote proper trail etiquette. This got me thinking that the new competition factor that is created by STRAVA really goes against basic trail etiquette. Those naturally competitive riders, like me, who are otherwise always happy to yield, may be motivated to break those etiquette rules in the name of moving up the "virtual leaderboard" or improving their PR.

So, my opinion is that yes, a jerk will always be a jerk (ala the cranky lycra-clad guys - and women - on the 20 lb XC bikes who have always refused to yield in the name of "training"), the new motivation STRAVA intentionally creates by allowing the user to compare his or her own times against everybody at all times can itself encourage the otherwise "nice" rider to bend or break the etiquette rules. And that goes against efforts to show all users that mountain bikers are responsible trail users. We have an uphill battle to keep trails from being closed to us anyway - how many times has a HOHA recounted to trail managers the times that a mountain biker mowed them down? And how many trail managers accept these isolated instances as reasons to close trails to mountain bikes? It's not rare. We don't need another motivator for some riders to create user conflict.

After I got home, I deleted all my data and closed my account. The last thing our local trails need is yet another overzealous competition-driven nutcase causing problems for other users - and for the overall best interests of the riding community.

Reasons I hate Strava

I'm not a Strava user, but I've been using a Garmin for years. I hate Strava because:

Within 1 minute of signing up for my free Strava account, I found that all the illegal trails in my area have been logged on Strava- sometimes hundreds of times.

The complete lack of common sense this shows is mind boggling. The "leaderboards" list name, photo, date, and time down to the minute that people are riding illegal trails. Seriously, what kind of moron proudly puts illegal activities on the internet with their name on them? Well, apparently, tens of thousands of them in the form of Strava. Further, land managers are using the Strava information to find riding patterns to target enforcement actions on riders, discover new trails, and close existing trails. For example, you can clearly see that Tuesday nights are a popular time to ride illegal singletrack in my area (because of several group rides that have been going out for years on Tuesday nights).

Further, people are using Strava to discover new illegal trails to ride. Neighborhood "social" trails that have been in use for decades without user conflict (because it has previously just a few locals riding in their backyard) are now seeing outsiders who are shredding trails because they discovered them on Strava.

Another reason I hate Strava is for road riding. Strava information can be used against you if you've ever rolled a stop sign or stop light (regardless of the circumstances). A rider in the Bay Area hit a pedestrian. All his Strava records were immediately dug up and are being used against him in court and appearing in the newspapers. If you've ever broken any vehicle code laws on the bike, and put it on Strava, you've created a permanent public record showing you are a "habitual law breaker." If you ever are wrongfully injured in a bicycle accident, any good scumbag lawyer is going to do an internet search on you and look at your Strava records. Try getting justice when you've created a public record of "reckless behavior"- which is exactly how a scumbag attorney is going to present it to a jury.

A good friend (and really fast rider), was nearly taken out by another rider trying to set a DH record on Strava. He was passed on an XC trail in a corner by a rider in full DH gear trying to set a record on a particular downhill Strava "section." FYI, the Strava rider had to push his DH rig to get there while 99% of other riders rode a few miles on their XC bikes to get there. Seriously? Yeah seriously, this is happening every single day.

This is not a debate about riding illegal trails. IMBA obviously needs to have a firm stance about illegal trail riding. This is a rant and warning about putting illegal activities on the internet. Strava may have some cool benefits for training and community. It is also killing the work IMBA and other mountain bike organizations have done to legitimize ourselves.

In my opinion, Strava is 90% ego masturbation, by people who get aroused by seeing their name on the internet. You want to go fast? Go race. There is a huge difference in seeing your name on a virtual leaderboard, and actually competing with other people in your category/age group on the same course in the same conditions, on the same day, under the same rules.

It's 2012 people, try to use just a little common sense with internet usage. Anything you post on the internet is public record- forever. Anytime you hit "send" or "post" you've lost control of the information due to internet usage agreements. Even if you delete your accounts or change the settings, your control of internet information is still lost. (There are backup servers all over the world that keep historical internet information).

Do not put illegal trails on Strava!

Do not put illegal activities on the internet!

Do not show yourself rolling stop signs, and breaking vehicle code laws on the internet!

Do not ride like a moron because you want an ego boost by seeing your name on the internet!

Sandor Lengyel
Marin County and Lake Tahoe, CA
sdlengyel [at] yahoo [dot] com

(I'll follow my own rules here and attach my name to what I post on the internet).