Sometimes I feel like my relationship with Strava resembles something out of a trashy reality TV show. On the one hand, I absolutely love it to pieces and can't seem to do without it. Yet at the same time I hate it with all of my being.
Strava has rapidly earned a tremendous following, and for lots of good reasons. For one, the ability to record segment performances over time provides riders worldwide with effective motivation to push themselves harder and longer than most might otherwise be capable of on their own – sort of like their own personal Marc Madiot screaming out the side of the team car. As a result, fewer people are logging endless 'junk miles' and they're making better use of increasingly precious training time.
Premium subscribers get some powerful training tools, too, so that they can fine-tune their efforts even more precisely and better analyze their workouts for more efficient progress.
Heading somewhere new with your bike? Chances are good that local cyclists have already populated the area with heaps of good segments so that you don't have to wander blindly into the wilderness. In this way you're almost guaranteed a decent quality ride every time you head out the door, even if all you have is a couple of hours between business meetings in a far-off land.
Even for more casual cyclists, Strava serves as a fantastic daily log of your rides so that none of them fade into the ether of our ever-more-crowded memory banks. Remember that amazing new road you pedaled on while you were on vacation? It may have been a couple of years since you were there but thanks to your handy digital assistant, it'll be easy to retrace your steps when you head back – plus you'll be able to compare your times.
As someone in the unique position of having to keep track of several bikes simultaneously, I also love the ability to associate rides with a specific bike or piece of gear so that I know exactly where, when, and how long each test sample was ridden – not to mention the weather conditions at the time. For the more meticulously minded, you can also use that feature to measure total accumulated hours and miles so as to keep up with prescribed maintenance intervals.
That all being said, I curse the day that Strava was released unto the world. It's an unruly and undisciplined beast, a monster whose creator is wholly unable to control, evil incarnate. Like any good tool, Strava is fantastic when wielded with skill and with the proper intentions but it can also do plenty of damage otherwise.
Public roads and trails are not closed courses, for example, and yet some Strava aficionados nevertheless insist on treating them as such. There's the commonly repeated joke about the rogue cyclist barreling through crowded streets screaming 'STRAVA!!!!' and while I've never witnessed such a thing, stereotypes are still rooted in truth to some degree.
I won't righteously claim to faithfully adhering to posted speed limits at all times. But those figures are there for a reason nonetheless and the lure of a Strava PR or KOM can sometimes override our better judgment. If a favorite downhill segment is also littered with traffic and pedestrians – or road debris from a recent storm – it's probably prudent to try bagging that KOM on another day.
Such reckless behavior applied off-road can yield more than just trail conflicts with other users, too. There are several local downhill sections that I've been happily riding for years – some days faster than others, no doubt. Recently I've been noticing a lot more clipped corners and bandit lines and I can't help but wonder if they're the result of someone looking to extract just that last little bit from their segment times.
Once upon a time the point was to have as much fun on the trail at hand as possible. Now, for many, it's just a matter of getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible without letting the GPS catch you cheating. Every ride is a race.
Finally, there's the seemingly lost art of the social group ride – those gatherings of road cyclists looking to eat up the miles in the pleasant company of others, to share the burden of fighting the wind, to cover more distance than they would have on their own. It wasn't long ago that the idea of those rides was to return with the same number of people that started. For too many, Strava has forever changed that dynamic. After all, why hang with the group when you can use their momentum to slingshot you into the next upcoming segment, right?
Bless you, Strava, for all the good you've brought into the world. Hordes of us worldwide thank you. But damn you, Strava, for also providing even more impetus for the uncouth and forever muddying the distinction between riding and racing.
There is a time and place for Strava – but it isn't all the time and everywhere.