The Angry Singlespeeder: Why Strava Sucks

Opinion

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at singlespeeder@consumerreview.com. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

What do you call two people going for a bike ride? A race. What do you call two people with Strava going for a bike ride? A race that never ends.

In concept, Strava seems like a good idea; mapping rides and archiving them for people to reference is a terrific service. It’s especially terrific for out-of-towners who don’t know of any good places to ride and need a quick guide at their fingertips. But in reality, I think Strava sucks because of one main reason — humans can’t be trusted to use it in a socially responsible manner. It fuels the alpha-male ego in all of us, eroding the social fabric that makes riding bikes fun.

Whatever happened to the old days of training where you had a wristwatch and a segment you regularly rode? Some days you’d go out by yourself and hammer it, other days you’d ride with friends and enjoy the social aspect of chasing after the fittest guy, seeing if you could hang.

Nowadays people brag about being 10th out of 200 on a specific climb, as if it’s some kind of huge achievement. Who cares? On Strava, if you’re not first, then you might as well be last. And that’s the problem. The constantly futile quest to be first is ruining the pleasure that used to come with riding a bike.

Strava is a true paradox, as it’s the most anti-social form of social media. Because everyone is so hell bent on personal best times or bagging the cherished KOM, people don’t talk to one another as much during rides. They’re either hammering, or getting ready to hammer. The social interaction doesn’t happen until everyone goes home and starts dicking with their smartphone or computer, giving ‘kudos’ and other cyber high-fives.

In a world without Strava, on any given day you could be first to the top of a climb and say “Yeah, I crushed that mountain. It was a good day.” With Strava keeping record, the results only confirm your overall mediocrity. At least without Strava, you could still claim that you were fastest on that one particularly good day.

Thanks to Strava, recovery rides are also a thing of the past. If you do a recovery ride and happen to have your phone or Garmin working, people will see you were 185 out of 200. Then the rumors start flying. “Oh man, did you see Billy Bob’s time up Monkey Hump? He must have fallen off the wagon!” And what fragile cyclist ego can handle that kind of abuse.

If you want to race, then either find the fastest group ride in your area, or open up your wallet and sign up for a race. Racing by yourself – or worse – racing on a ride that’s not supposed to be a race is just poor form. In the same way smartphones have forever altered the social code of human interaction, Strava has changed the way people ride — for the worse.

I don’t have a Garmin. I don’t even have a smartphone. I have an old piece of shit flip phone and rely on something called maps. You know, the paper kind? The kind with topographical lines and waypoints that tell you where an old mine shaft, service road or 4×4 trail is? Maps that you actually have to study before going out on a ride, so when you’re neck deep in the woods or way out in BFE you still have some idea of where you are. Thanks to the proliferation of Strava, cartography is a dying art.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure of not being on Strava is beating someone who contests every KOM. Most times I let the Strava kooks have their little race to the top. But once in a while I get fed up with the social disruption and get in the mix. Great satisfaction comes from beating a Stravaddict, because even though he holds the KOM, he knows he really doesn’t hold the KOM. Indeed, there are probably hundreds of luddites out there just like me who are not on Strava but who can ride his prized KOM faster.

And because you can never trust humans to behave responsibly, there’s all kinds of Strava-induced idiocy happening that not only ruins the social enjoyment of riding, but also hurts our broader reputation in the community. Take for instance the geniuses who are riding illegal mountain bike trails, then posting their Strava segments for private landowners, land managers and park rangers to see. Not only does this make the entire cycling community look bad, it puts future land access in jeopardy. On legal trails, corners get cut and obstacles removed all in the name of a few hollow, useless “kudos.”

Thanks to the constant quest of chasing KOM segments, humans are always looking for ways to game the system. There are even tips and tricks on how to cheat Strava, like driving your car to a big climb and doing it fresh or ending an actual segment inside your house so nobody can ever take your KOM. Seriously? And I thought running traffic lights, rolling stop signs and illegally weaving between traffic was moronic enough.

Most cyclists are familiar with the story of William “Kim” Flint II, the Berkeley, CA cyclist who was killed in 2010 when he careened into a car while chasing the elusive South Park Drive KOM downhill segment. In typical American fashion, a lawsuit quickly followed, filed by the family of Flint claiming Strava as the liable party. Although many believe the lawsuit to be frivolous, it has not yet been thrown out of court. As much as I think Strava sucks, trying to blame Strava for an individual’s irresponsible behavior sucks even harder.

In a world without Strava, riders are not thinking about the dozens of segments on a ride. If they’re riding easy, they can relax and enjoy nature and all the pleasures that riding a bicycle brings. If they’re riding hard, they’re thinking about the guys next to them and who’s going to be first to the top. They beat and hammer on each other, and at the end of the day, they’re not worried about going home to their computer to see who got what. They already know…until the next ride. And that positively doesn’t suck.

Read the counterpoint article “Freewheeling: Why Strava Doesn’t Suck.”

The Angry Singlespeeder: Why Strava Sucks Gallery
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Stole your strava kom

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Leaderboard filled with speeds above the legal limit

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Viewing rainbows while racing Strava Segments

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Flag a dangerous Strava Segment

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Segment Hunter T-shirt

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Strava Sprint lines on public roads

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Strava made me dope T-shirt

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Strava led me to doping T-shirt

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Strava Sprint Marker

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Planning routes with a map

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • roadiejorge says:

    I like Strava for the convenience it brings to mapping rides and the comparative analysis of my performance versus those of others is interesting but that’s about it. Competitive people will find ways to compete with or without social media as was the case when I started riding 20 years ago. You had hammerheads on group rides then too the only thing was bragging was limited to the people on the ride. As for technology it’s a tool so I use it as such. Why would I want to carry around a map if I can have one on a device which also performs other functions that can be helpful? Sure we could do without it just like we can burn candles instead of using electricity; the problem isn’t technology per se just the usual cast of characters goofing off with it and that’s been a part of every generation.

  • Naftali says:

    I signed up for Strava Premium just so I could view the times for my Age Group. At 57, I won’t be beating any young hot shots, but I can see how I compare to my peers. It’s all good fun.

  • Stuart says:

    I love an app that pumps up my Ego. Why wouldn’t I?

  • tall guy says:

    I carry my cell phone with me (turned off) and otherwise no other technology at all on my bike. Why would I? I go on my bike to get away from all that stuff. When I have some miles in my legs, I try to hang with the group ride, often unsuccessfully. Keep things in perspective, folks.

  • some guy says:

    I think you meant to say, “some people who use Strava suck”, not “Strava sucks”. It actually works quite well, and is a fantastic tool for training or simply discovering places. The fact that some people abuse a tool is not a reflection on the tool itself. We don’t say “screwdrivers suck!” when people try to use them as a hammer.

  • Robert Yula says:

    Hi Gang,
    Yes, that article was definitely biased. Strava has its purpose. If used well, it can motivate. If I am working late, and want to ride after work, there is no group ride available. I go on strava, and do a couple of segments. Knowing my strava is recording those climbs makes me go faster. Without it, I’ll go lollygagging up the hill at a lesser pace. I don’t typically put the strava on during group rides, because it seems to be more of an individual thing. But, I also have seen some strava results for a local group ride which they do here every week. and, though the results are on strava, I’m sure the riders were hammerinng it out amongst each other well enough during the ride. So, to the writer of that antagonistic story, I think he needs to take a more rational, all around viewpoint.

  • Duser Cyclist says:

    Strava is still awesome and I love it. You just have to keep it all in perspective and for heaven’s sake be safe out there! Knowing people cheat on Strava sometimes knowingly other times unknowingly allows for an er of doubt that should make everyone feel better. At the end of the day did your own time get better? Really that is all that matters.

  • Grumpy ol' Rider says:

    Okay, what sucks is this story. I don’t race anymore, I ride for fun. Five or six of us get together and ride. We may do the, “Hey, I’ll race ya to the Baptist church / convenience store / tenth telephone pole,” but those are short and fun. STAVA, wannabe racers, and all can all blow tire. I’m unsubscribing from these useless newsletters and reviews, and will concentrate on maximum miles with maximum enjoyment.
    Don’t bother replying, I ain’t never gonna read em.

  • Erica B-W says:

    I have the free version of Strava… Over the past few weeks, Strava now “hounds” me each time to sign up for a Premium free trial (credit card info required) with a huge banner box that will not disappear. I cannot view my activities because of this f*cking Premium trial offer box that has no method to shut off. I think I will stick with Garmin Connect which involves zero hassle to sign up for the pay feature.

  • Kelly Pettit says:

    I signed up for Strava not really knowing much about it. I agree with the article that it really doesn’t reflect anything excpet KOM’s. Doesn’t take in wind, winter bike, LSD rides, interval training etc. I don’t need it. I actually enjoy Dailymile.com where I can record all my workouts and share stories with other cyclists I choose to befriend and we encourage each other no matter our age, level or amount of rides.

  • onerun says:

    Kurt, you just need to start hanging around some nicer people. Nothing wrong with Strava. Be comfortable and secure in yourself and your abilities without worrying what others are doing or saying. This is not Facebook….it’s cycling.

  • Russ Sauntry says:

    loved the article, thought provoking and clearly with some signifiacnt tongue in cheek moments. True to form the ‘serious’ turn up and go mad. I love it, you achieved your aim, as Mae West once said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

    Kudos to you sir

  • Steep Powder says:

    Is there anything you do like? I’ve read a few of your articles and find nothing but complaining. Know what sucks? The Angry Singlespeeder.

  • JP Lister says:

    I’m a quinquagenarian MTBer who thoroughly enjoys taking Strava KOMs from the local roadies. So what.

    Due to my work schedule, I’m forced to ride solo roughly 95% of the time. Being able to “compete” with others on Strava is a great way for me to remain motivated enough to go out and work harder and be fitter. The trickle down of that is that it also keeps me thinking of nutrition relative to fitness. That’s not a good thing for someone in their fifties? Get real dude.

    I also like the fact that being focused on sprinting Strava segments turns any road ride that i choose into a good interval workout, which better mirrors the typical MTB ride that I have where I live in upstate SC.

    If you don’t like Strava the solution is simple – don’t use it. But loathing it for the reasons the article-writer provides sounds a bit short-sighted and presumptuous to me. Since the day my dad first pushed me into the road on my circa ’65 Schwinn Stingray, sans training wheels, I’ve been riding these things like I stole ‘em!

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Steep Powder,

    I am in full agreement with your sentiments. I totally think I suck, but I don’t like writing about myself, I’d much rather write about sucky things like Strava. Believe it or not, I do like things, but writing about what I like is boring. I write with so much more passion, vigor and…well…anger when I write about something I don’t like. Especially when I don’t like something other people like. Then they get pissed off enough to say I suck, which I love. So thank you!

    ASS

  • twain says:

    “Thanks to Strava, recovery rides are also a thing of the past. ” LOL
    I’m a pretty chatty cyclist as a rule. Last week, on “ride to work day”, a fellow cyclist and i were at a stop light. He was chatting about all the new riders on the road and obviously wanted to continue the convo. Normally, I would. But I was trying to go from 3rd to first on that segment. See ya stranger! I half thought of waiting for the guy after “the segment” to apologize.

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