I signed up to Strava back on March 4, 2013. Up until that date, I had heard friends talk of Strava, boast of their achievements, regale me with distance/climbing/speed stats. Up until that date, my riding consisted of just that. Riding. I would grab my mountain bike, stick a damp finger in the air and choose a direction, then head off into the unknown. I thought Strava was a waste of time. Unnecessary willy waving. Chalking up points on a virtual leader board. Kudos was an alien word to me, and King of the Mountain was a token medal to pin to your virtual chest.
One topic piqued my curiosity though. Suddenly, I was hearing trail names that I never heard before. Strava was helping people unearth what used to be a holy grail of mountain biking - new trails. Before Strava, you discovered new trails by either knowing the right people, or having a keen eye for seemingly random tyre tracks heading into the undergrowth. Strava changed this. It put these trails on a map! If you had a GPS signal on your smart phone (coincidentally, another new development to me), you could stand anywhere in the wilds of the Surrey Hills and find that mystery trail.
So that was it. I signed up. Oh joy. Oh bliss. Oh….hang on a minute. What’s this Parklife/Rollercoaster/Soup Bowls of Doom/Magic Monkey Finger? They’re all the same trail! And it’s Yoghurt Pots anyway. It turns out, all these seemingly new trails were actually the same old trails, just with new names. Why?! It turns out, these ‘segments’, were just props for those that couldn’t KoM on the original trail, so they rewrote the rules. Pah! Although at least this meant I wasn’t totally out of touch.
But now, I’m on Strava. And I’m getting results. Before Strava, there was no gauge to my riding prowess other than being able to hold onto the back wheel of my oh-so-skilled riding buddy. We’ve all got one. That pal who can freewheel faster, rail berms better, jump higher than you.
After Strava, well, it’s all on the leaderboard. And I was top 25%. Boom! Go me!! And the carrot was there, dangling in my face. If I’m top 25%, and only 3 seconds off top 10, let's go. Let’s push it. So I did. And the results came rolling in. Top 10’s. Cups. A clutch of KoM’s. How good am I!?! And so it went on.
Last year, 2015, I decided that I wasn’t prepared to try and ride any faster downhill. I wasn’t prepared to put my already beaten up body on the line for a few seconds. And I’d recently been roasted on a climb by some fellow Strava athletes. So I switched focus and worked on my climbing fitness.
Boom again! Now I’ve got clutches of uphill and downhill KoM’s. I RULE!!
And finally, the very large penny dropped. Strava has taken over my ride. The pre ride prep not only involves trying to find a pair of shorts and a jersey that a) match and b) don’t stink, it involves activating the app and searching for the elusive GPS signal. Each climb/flat/descent is done at full lung/thigh burn, just in case. Where does a segment start or end? Who knows. Keep mashing the pedals just in case.
And post ride is now upload and check your stats. If you’re still with your ride buddies at the all important post ride pub stop, it’s not just banter about how you nearly came a cropper on that root or how friendly that group of horseriders were, but also how you pipped them/they pipped you by 5 seconds, even though you were wheel to wheel or a GPS error that’s given you a 20 second lead on the KoM stats. Remember, Strava never lies!! I was still enjoying my rides, but the focus had shifted. When I found myself researching a new phone, with its GPS and Glonass capabilities high in my list of requirements, I knew it had all gone too far. Something had to give.
And so it has. This year, I will not be using Strava. I don’t care how far I’ve ridden. I’m not bothered if I achieved my minimum target of 100ft of climbing per mile. It doesn’t matter my average speed is under 10mph. I just want to focus on the ride. I’m going to enjoy rediscovering the flow of a trail. The sensation of carving a corner. The joy of free speed by pumping through the rollers. I’m going to stop at the top of the hill and soak up the view.
Maybe next year, I’ll come back to it, just to see how many more names Summer Lightning has been given. It won’t matter though. It will always be Summer Lightning. And I will once again enjoy riding my bike for the right reasons.
Happy riding, Rog
NB - My Strava account will not be deleted. There are too many KoM’s to give up that easily :)