I don’t race my mountain bike. Sure I’ve participated in a handful of organized races, mostly of the 24-hour relay variety, but I paid my entry fees more for the socializing between laps (read: beer) and swag at the finish line (read: free beer) instead of any competitive desire to win, or even rank for that matter. So when this newfangled social media app called Strava interrupted the mountain biking family I’m tuned into (read: an excuse to drink beer) I couldn’t care less about it. The thought of riding my bike for the sole purpose of monitoring my trail statistics and comparing them to the stats of everybody else in some sort of virtual, communal chest thumping revolted me to the core. So I signed up.
Much has been said about Strava. Some mountain bikers love it. Others hate it. And a few think the website is ruining the very essence of cycling. To them, Strava is shredding the social fabric of the bike community. I happen to agree. As a self-stylized “soul rider,” simply being in nature and enjoying the exercise of riding a bike is what gets my gears cranking. I think Strava cheapens that experience. By uploading your times to the website, you get to compare how fast you cranked it compared to everyone else, even elite mountain bikers. Seeing how you stack up has become a primary motivation for many cyclists, and transforms every ride into a virtual race with no signup fees, no competitors to pass, no cheering spectators with cowbells, no medal ceremonies, and worst of all, no free beer.
Strava has created a new bike lingo, with terminology like KOMs. When I pull up to a trailhead and eavesdrop on lycra-clad alpha males talking about Strava, I feel like a tourist alone in the middle of a Cambodian barbeque wondering if I’m the main course. It wasn’t until very recently that my Strava-starved brain discovered it meant “King of the Mountain,” and that not only are there KOMs for entire rides, but even individual sections of rides! On Strava, classic trails like the Wasatch Crest look like a Civil War battlefield surgeon chopped up our singletrack masterpieces with their own musky machismo.
I’m sure other mountain bikers share my feelings, since it seems nothing in recent bike history has been so divisive, so hated, and yet so loved, quite like Strava. Like all new technology, especially of the social media sort, the introduction of said technology can send shockwaves through a society, changing the way we interact with each other forever. The rise of texting, Facebook, and Twitter mean we don’t actually hear people’s voices anymore. Gone are the days when you took the time to use bodily appendages to dial seven numbers on a keypad and magically talk to somebody far, far away from your current location. Yea, it’s called a phone. Now this fad dubbed Strava has settled into the fabric of mountain biking, and the effects are clearly being observed on the trail, and off.
My resistance to Strava came crashing down like a wood fence in a tornado when Mike D, a good buddy and the most soulful mountain biker I know, dropped the S-bomb while driving to the trailhead one fine day. Yep, he joined Strava. Worse, he admitted that he liked it. I was
perplexed. How could he, of all people, be using this aggro app that is contrary to the very essence of mountain biking for the sake of mountain biking? I had to know why. So I signed up to Strava to find out for myself.
Despite my aversion to new technology, I found Strava to be extremely easy to download and use on my smartphone. Device in hand, I first tested it on my own street. With one push of the red Strava button, the timer went off and I pedaled furiously down my street with the old lady across the way quizzically scowling at me. In 34 seconds I rode from end to end. My ride was .1 miles in length, I burned 6 calories, and Holy-Moly, I got a KOM! That’s right, I’m the king of my street and I dare anyone to take it from me!
My next ride, I took Strava to a very popular trail in Draper’s Corner Canyon to see how I stack up among my pedaling peers. I chose one of my favorite uphill grinds, climbing from the Equestrian Center to the top of Clark’s Trail. Despite only three rides this season under my belt, I gathered all the strength and endurance I could muster and cranked up the trail as fast as I could without stopping. After reaching the top where other riders were hanging out, I tried to pretend I wasn’t switching Strava off lest they judge me as some kind of “Stravasshole.”
Feeling good about my ride, I went home, anxiously uploaded the stats online, and found my rank was… 338 out of 575. Damn. I didn’t even break the top 50%. Deflated, I opened the refrigerator and drank a beer… alone. Mulling over the experience, I decided that Strava sucks. I rode my mountain bike in a race against hundreds of other people, yet I was alone. I relived the ride, but on a computer screen, by myself. I had a tasty post-ride beer, yet drank it with indifferent dogs as my only company.
No. Strava and the digital world of mountain biking is not for me. Next time I feel the competitive spirit and want to pit my skills against my fellow gear heads, I’ll plunk down an entry fee and sign up for an actual race, then enjoy the exercise and camaraderie of cycling with a handful of my best friends.
At least at real bike races, there’s beer waiting at the finish line… and it’s free.