Freewheeling: Why Strava Doesn’t Suck


Yes, sometimes the data gets downloaded before the helmet comes off.

Editor’s Note: Freewheeling is the new column of features editor Jason Sumner. Once a week (usually) he’ll use this space to prattle on about all things cycling, be them interesting, innovative, inane or annoying. If you have a comment or question, or just want to sound off, drop a note in the comments section below.

With all due respect to my colleague Kurt (whose opinion can be found here), I must take exception with his contention that the burgeoning age of Strava is going to spell the end to enjoyable cycling as we know it. It’s not Strava that sucks, it’s some of the people who use (and occasionally abuse) the social bike ride sharing service that suck. And you have to separate the two.

Of course there are people out there who are so addicted to their Strava identity that every ride is a do-or-die race. Sure there are idiots who roar around singletrack trails, yelling “Strava, Strava!” during juvenile quests for a new PR or KoM. And yes, there are those stupid enough to upload data from rides on illegal trails, even though it’s cycling’s version of stealing a car and then driving it past the police station a few times. But in case you haven’t noticed, human beings aren’t always the smartest creatures. Why else would Honey Boo Boo be a household name?

To say that Strava is itself bad because some people behave badly when using it is akin to saying beer is bad because some people drink too much and then wrap their car around a telephone pole. We all know telephones poles will remain forever endangered, but I certainly don’t want to outlaw beer.

Strava is a cheap and easy way to keep track of those rare best-day-ever rides.

Frankly, I like Strava. It provides an entertaining mix of friendly competition among friends, a comprehensive on-line ride diary of one’s cycling adventures, and a means to suss out road routes and singletrack trails in unfamiliar locales. And if you’re the training type, there are lots of ways to track progress, parse power data, and generally keep tabs on whether all those intervals are paying off. It’s a tool, nothing more.

People who take it more seriously than that are likely the same folks who can’t seem to grasp the uphill-rider-has-right-of-way rule, or the ones that bark out peloton position commands during casual weekend group rides. Dicks are dicks. That’ll never change.

But for every “Stravaddict” as my colleague calls them, there are people who’ve been introduced to the service and in turn been inspired to ride more, train more, and explore more. That’s what cycling is all about. Why discourage something that encourages that.

Perhaps some of my casual attitude is the fact that I live in a place (Boulder, Colorado) where the odds of me bagging a meaningful Strava KoM are about as likely as me bagging Kate Upton. Just ain’t gonna happen. Boulder is overrun with fast people (WorldTour pros, wannabe pros, uber fit self-employed “consultants,” unemployed Ironmen, and so on). I am not one of those people.

But even for cyclist’s who don’t live in places where the average lactate threshold is 320 watts (and thus can actually contest KoMs), I honestly believe most users keep the usefulness of Strava in perspective. Sure grabbing a spot on top of a leaderboard is kind of cool. But the majority of cyclists are smart enough to know the difference between the Col du Coffee Shop and Alpe d’Huez.

For most people, the top of any meaningful leaderboard is a pipedream.

When I want to see how I measure up, I rely on the Strava feature that allows one to distill data down to more manageable metrics. Instead of competing against all of Boulder County, I drill down to only people I follow (my friends) or people of my peer group (40-plus, 170 pounds-plus). And even then, I’m usually off the back.

But mostly, what I like about Strava is it gives me (and the rest of the people who use it responsibly) a way to keep track of saddle time. I’m not going to lie, come cycling season, I make a point of trying to gain little fitness and maybe even enter a race of two (mountain, road and ‘cross). For that, Strava is a cheap, convenient, and easy way to monitor how things are progressing. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with a little motivation. Sure I could use a wristwatch, map, pencil, and abacus to figure that all out. But honestly, what’s wrong with embracing a little 21st century technology.

The answer is, nothing. Just don’t be a dick.

Read the counterpoint article “The Angry Singlespeeder: Why Strava Sucks.”

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the / staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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  • some guy says:

    Completely agree! People who are idiots are going to be idiots. The existence of a tool like Strava doesn’t change that.

  • Type twelve says:

    Good write-up. I use Stava for PRs and to chart my progress as a cyclist. Nothing more. Like the author said, there will always be douchebags out there that make anything absurd. Especially concerning anything that is competition based. We can’t blame the ap though…no more than we can blame cycling because of what some do in the name of it.

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