Strava, good or bad? | The Question

Every issue we pose a topical question and get various people to answer it. This time it is…


dirt issue 126 – august 2012

Words and photo by Mike Rose.

For those of you that don’t know what Strava is, it’s basically a system that allows you to plot your movements on bike or on foot via a GPS device and the Strava website. Once you sign up online you can begin to upload all your favourite local trails (DH, XC, to the shops and back…anything) and post a time. As long as your account is ‘open’ for all to see then other people can go out and post a time on ‘your routes’ or you can try other people’s. They call it “social fitness–sharing, comparing and competing with each other’s personal fitness”, Strava go on to say, “Track all your runs and rides, set personal records and beat your friends’ times. Enter virtual competitions, climb the leader boards, create and join clubs.” And I should point out that it is free.

On the one hand this is an amazing training tool and adds an element of competition to any ride, and it has, in a way, revolutionised a section of our sport. On the other it can be dangerous (there is currently a lawsuit in the US after someone died trying to better their time on a road section), can allow top secret trail locations to be known by all, and some people are also starting to cut sections of tracks to post faster times, and…well…does everything have to be a competition? So, Strava, good or bad?


A few weeks after I got into using Strava I discovered that I could create my own segments on my local trails. One evening I went out for a cycle with the only intention being to smash my own best times that I had put down a few weeks previously. A ‘hot lap’ if you like. A personal race. Sprint, recover, sprint, recover, is how the ride went. When I got home I had four new personal records, and four KOM’s. Fast forward a few days and an email pops up in my inbox informing me that two of my KOM’s were stolen (beaten)! The image of someone taking away my hard earned fastest times I had achieved was every bit as bad as being beaten in a race. I actually lost sleep over it. Needless to say I got back on my bike the next day and rode over my head, hitting some sections at full race speed. Looking back it wasn’t too clever as I was on an open trail, which meant anything, or anyone, could have been coming the other way…but I got my records back!

Strava will, if you let it, completely destroy any fun and enjoyment you would otherwise be having while out on a bike ride, turning every ride into a race, making you want to hit blind corners in the hope that the oblivious walker around the corner knows the importance of your ride, and doesn’t mind having to dive out of your way so you can set new records. If used properly however, it can be a great way of getting motivated to get out on your bike and improve on previous rides, adding a new dimension that you were never able to have before.


Strava definitely seems to be the flavour of the month right now. It’s everywhere. I’ve managed to avoid its addictive grasp so far but only because there’s so many things we now do that make us resort to the computer straight afterwards – I didn’t want my mountain biking to go the same way. Think about it – we take photos then upload them afterwards, Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, blog, whatever else. To experience a ride, then plug in and race some unknown people over the faceless internet seems to detract from it all somehow.

Saying that, as a training aid it’s no doubt a powerful tool. I initiated a mellow, fun version called the ‘Backyard Clock’ on the Dirt School website a while ago to allow riders to compare some times on certain trails to determine how they’re going, how they’ve improved and how they compare. That was meant to be loose, hand timed and a fun training aid. The difference with Strava is that it can measure every part of your ride, to tenths of a second. Although the idea of racing using a GPS does make me a laugh a little. After all, they’re not that accurate all of the time, especially under tree cover. In fact, I only use GPS as back–up timing with the Scottish squad because the results, compared back to back, aren’t that comparable.

I’ve got good friends who love Strava and if it makes them ride more often and ride hard then I’m all for it, especially on the road where it’s way easier to compare routes more accurately. Although you might not see me uploading anytime soon, I say go for it – just stop publishing all the local built trails that have stayed so quiet for so long! Is there no hiding anymore?

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