Is Strava killing bike racing?

I’ll be the first to admit that the patient was never particularly robust, but in 2014 there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of racers who line up on the weekend. At one of the best and toughest road races all year, Vlees Huis in Bakersfield, there was an incredibly tiny lineup despite this being one of the best organized, safest, and most challenging races on the calendar.

Plus they fuggin’ had beer. Now, when bike racers won’t show up to a bike race where it’s hotter than Beyonce doing the nasty with Heidi Klum and you get to slake your post-race heat prostration with cold, locally brewed beer, the Dogs have gone crazy.

We will leave aside for a moment the obvious: if Fields had ever heard you weren’t going to race your bike because it was “too hot” or “too cold” or “too rainy” or “too dangerous,” he would have kicked you off the team, repo’d your kit, and made you give back all the beer you had drunk. We will also leave aside for a moment that the “weather” in SoCal is the most wussified, gentle, bike-friendly weather in the continental United States.

Many factors may be at play besides the general cowardice, tenderness, and babyfication of modern SoCal bike racers, but there are only so many absentees you can blame on an angry spouse, the cost of entry fees, the fear of quadriplegia, and the general wussdom of all the riders who said they couldn’t do Vlees Huis because it was “too far to drive.” [Check the mileage sometime when you live in Houston and have signed up for the Fort Davis Stage Race for a bit of perspective on “too far to drive.”]

Flapping of the gums

The other day I got into an argument about whether some guy was the best climber in the South Bay. Back in the day this would have been a relatively easy argument to resolve. The guy who had won more hilly road races, or the guy who was always at the front on the long climbs would be crowned the champ, even more beer would be drunk, and we’d find something else to argue about.

But this time my adversary pulled out a shocking counter-argument: his Strava KOM’s. A guy who’s done a handful of hilly road races and has consistently gotten shelled on the tough climbs — or who hasn’t even showed up — maintained that his sexy Strava performance on segments as short as 200 meters meant that he was somehow a really good climber.

What the hell is going on here?

It used to be that the best riders were the ones who won bike races. Rahsaan Bahati, I thought, was the best bike racer around because he’s won the most races. Charon Smith, Phil Tinstman, Thurlow Rogers, Mark Noble, and guys like them, I thought, were the best old guy bike racers around because they’ve won the most races.

It would never have occurred to me that a person might consider himself excellent in some aspect or other of competitive cycling based on his Strava KOM’s.

But you know what? Lots of riders do.

They choose three or four carefully selected races each year, they do a weekly group ride, and they do the vast bulk of their “head-to-head” competition on Strava. Will someone please tell them that if it’s on Strava and you’re by yourself, it’s not head-to-head? No matter how many times you self-dial, you’re still just doing yourself.

The race of truth

Every bike race is a race of truth because the fastest rider always wins. For many, that’s a downer because there’s only one winner. You can’t go home and tell yourself that you’re at the top of the leader board of 50+ troglodytes with a BMI of 200. Worse, when you lose a bike race you don’t get any trophies or crowns on your iPhone.

Strava perfectly satisfies the urge to achieve what I call DIP — distinction, improvement, praise — it’s an urge that resides in all of us, particularly, it seems, those of us who cycle. Bike races don’t provide much DIP for most participants, even with the dozens of age/gender categories per event. Instead, they provide proof of what we all instinctively know about ourselves but wish wasn’t true: MOP — mediocre, overweight, pudknocker.

In any contest between DIP and MOP, DIP will always win out. Ride your bike and get a trinket every time beats ride your bike and get your spirit shattered every time, especially when the shattering may also include collarbones and carbon fiber.

Don’t be a DIP-shit

This Monday Chris Lotts will put on his Memorial Day Crit in Dominguez Hills. The Barry Wolfe Grand Prix, Death Valley Stage Race, and State ITT Championships will also happen this weekend.

If you’re in SoCal, I hope you’ll make an effort to attend at least one of these races. If you’re in L.A., I really hope you’ll at least make it to the Memorial Day Crit. If you can spare 50 minutes to analyze all your weekly rides on WKO and Strava, you can lug your ass out for a one-hour race at Dominguez.

Guys like Chris promote races year in and year out. It’s a gratifying job for them in that they play an integral role in the sport that they love, and it’s a blast getting to deal with overfull port-a-potties at the end of the day. But it’s a huge amount of work and expense, and when “racers” who live in the area choose to spend their time on Strava digitally satisfying themselves rather than competing in organized events, it eventually kills off the event. The margin on bike races is tiny, to put it mildly.

Maybe as a Stravasturbator you think that’s fine, and I suppose if your idea of being an accomplished racer is 0’s and 1’s endlessly strung together to make an image on a computer that makes you look tougher than Eddy Merckx, that’s okay. I suppose if it’s more fun to wear $500 worth of kit riding $7000 worth of bike to compete against your “friends” on Strava than it is to ride against your mortal enemies in a real bike race, hey, to each his own.

But let’s not confuse sitting at your stupid computer and clicking “kudo” with racing your fuggin’ bike.


76 thoughts on “Is Strava killing bike racing?”

  1. KUDOS on this latest entry. Perfect way to start my early AM travel to USPRO. Think of all the KOM’s to be had in Chattanooga!

  2. There is NOTHING like winning a race.
    Matching wits and leg strength is a test I’m addicted to.
    Strava is an interesting tool…and “winning” a KOM can be satisfying. But a well timed tailwind doesn’t a champion make….

  3. I don’t think many people say to themselves that they won’t do a race because of Strava. That makes no sense. On the other hand, I do think that people use Strava as a tool to compete with themselves and others in a way that was not previously available. And that, in my opinion, leads to more cyclists riding more and training harder, which increases the pool of candidates to race. I know that this is exactly what has happened in the past year: Strava motivated me to go from a very occasional cyclist to putting in 15-20 hours a week, and this year competing in road races, a TT, and a crit, and now racing on the track for the first time in my life. At age 46. None of that would have happened if I had not upped my training, and that would not have happened if I hadn’t been motivated by the ride data I see every day on Strava.

    As regards who is the best climber, I don’t think that winning the Torrance crit or the LA Circuit race adds to one’s claim. Even winning the PV Hill Climb, with an average gradient of 3%, tells little (if you ask me). But winning races like Death Valley Stage Race, Vlees, UCLA/Punchbowl, Boulevard, Everest Challenge, Tour of the Gila, Pontius… Now you’re talking. That said, being a protagonist on group rides and putting the hurt on when the road goes up is also relevant. And so, to me, are Strava results on true climbs. It’s all part of the dialogue.

    And I disagree that the fastest guy always wins the race. You yourself have written to the contrary. Instead, winning a bike race involves many factors, including tactics, fitness, and luck, among others.

    As to whether it makes a better case to be able to quickly ascend the short Mur de Huy at 9.3% or the 29k Col d’Aubisque at 4.2%, I think that is subject to debate. I suggest that they both are relevant. In fact, we may have sub-definitions of “best climber” to allow for these distinctions.

    But now I need to get out of bed and ride to Dawson Saddle, because I have some important races coming up (e.g., track districts and nationals) and I need to train. I’ll be sure to check my ride data after I finish, though, to see where I am compared to when I last did this ride. I hope to even put up some strong Strava results, and I may even check out Niki Terpstra’s segment times to see how he did when the Tour of California rolled through last week. He even managed to win Paris Roubaix this year, in spite of him using Strava.

    1. As to why nobody rode Vlees, I suggest that it was the weather. Last year guys went out to that course in 100-degree heat and it was brutal. Many said they would not return in that heat. So when it was 106 in the days leading up to the race last week, I wasn’t surprised to see that few planned to go. Many people rode that course last month for the district RR champs, but the high 80s is very different from 106 degrees.

    2. Alebert Lakes

      Yep, every kid under 25 I know who races is out there for two reasons: urban group rides spawned by the Midnight Ridazz phenomenon and the Strava app. Check out the podium in the Cat4 race at the Torrance Crit: Alvin Escajeda, Jerry Rios and Gabe McMullen. All three are under 22 and all 3 were chasing KOMs on Strava before someone saw their times and encouraged them to race. Strava’s become some kind of farm system.

      For further reading:

      Also, guys like Jonathan McKenzie (something like 10 wins in 2013) and Ronnie Toth came up through urban rides and Strava KOMs.

      1. IIRC & I could be wrong, Ronnie was a competitive triathlete before devoting himself to cycling.

      2. oops, hit ‘post’ too fast. I was going to add:
        Ronnie went from cat5 to cat 1 in 11 months! :-O Some serious talent there…

      3. Nah. There may be some Strava riders who go from digital success to bike racing, but they’re the exception. Most people race bikes because they’re encouraged to do so by real people.

        And if Strava were such a boon to racing, why are the fields shrinking?

      4. Alebert Lakes

        I did a nite ride (Cyclones) with Ronnie before he began he was a Cat5. Yes, he was an elite triathlete in college but he came out to Cyclones because a couple of guys in our area (SGV) saw his Strava KOMs. Ronnie went on to pick up about 17 pages of KOMs before deciding he would race. I’m sure a few guys who saw his segments times encouraged him to race.

        Same with Jonathan McKenzie. Anyway, next time you see these guys at the Pro/Cat 1/2 race ask them if Strava was a gateway drug.

      5. Alebert Lakes

        Excuse the mangled grammar above. Trying to get a quick post in before going for a ride.

        Seth, it may be different outside of the Westside and Southbay. Out here there’s still a strong bias against roadies. A lot of kids who get into cycling tend to avoid our roadie subculture as long as possible. But when these fixie kids, urban riders, commuters decide to compete against their friends on Strava, they realize that all the top times are held by “roadies” or “racers. Initially, they believe they can still be fast without roadie kit; you see them at the rose bowl on $300 fixed gear bikes. Eventually, they get tired of getting dropped and pick up a used road bike or a Fuji from Performance. It isn’t until that point that a “real person” takes the time to bring them into our sport. That’s usually the trajectory, but I only have a sample of about 100. In any case, as you’ve mentioned in the past, we (or USAC) need to find a way to recruit more kids.

        1. I get Strava. But it’s not a predictor of race results, it’s not a substitute for racing, and it keeps a lot of people satisfied with their “performance” who might otherwise race.

          The handful of people who get into racing thanks to Strava is, in my opinion, dwarfed by the number who opt not to race because they get all the DIP they need from Strava, rather than the MOP they’ll get if they race.

          Race numbers are small and getting smaller. 27 or 28 at Barry Wolfe in the 50+ today.

    3. You’re wrong. They may not say “I won’t race because of Strava,” but getting DIP from Strava obviates their need to seek it in races, where they only wind up with MOP. Also, the fastest guy always wins the bike race. His speed, though, is dependent on much more than his “numbers,” which is why Strava is such a silly ersatz for racing.

      Regarding King of the Hill, if you don’t think that winning a P/1/2 crit is hard, go win one. The hardest events to win are the ones with the most competitors. That’s why chess is exponentially harder to win at than bike racing, as is soccer. Crits in the US are the ultimate benchmark of difficulty because more people compete in them than any other type. A hilly RR with 20 participants is easier to win, by definition, than a CBR P/1/2 crit with 120 riders.

      Also, “check my data” is misleading. Strava and WKO aficionados do much more than “check.” They spend hours, yes, hours, poring over every detail and comparing it to others. And don’t kid yourself that Niki Terpstra is a comp. He is the exact opposite of a Stravasturbator! He won Paris-Roubaix! He is exactly the guy who uses data to perfect his assault on countless races throughout the year, not a wind-checking, motorcycle-drafting, non-racing wanker who throws up KOM’s at 5:00 AM and claims that they somehow substantiate his claim to excellence.

      Also also also, many people claim Strava is a tool, but I’m not convinced. The tool is usually elsewhere.

      1. Alebert Lakes

        Not sure I agree with you about Crits, Seth. As you know that type of racing is almost uniquely American. It also involves a very limited skills set. One could make the argument that just as Strava is not a good indicator of rider prowess neither are crits. When was the last time you saw a guy with Charon Smith’s build racing in Europe, at any level. Even the pro CX guys dont have his physicality. And there are tons of swoll guys in the SoCal racing scene (you wrote a piece about one named Meeker). To borrow someone’s basketball analogy, strong crit riders are like the guys who can make 100 straight free throws, blindfolded. Pretty awesome talent but not something that will get you in the NBA.

        1. Not true.

          Crits are a completely legitimate bike race, i.e. they have officials, they are timed or defined by distance, and the first person across the line wins.

          The definition of “hard to win” is not dependent on the difficulty of the course (see RAAM), but rather the number of participants (see chess). The more people who do it, the harder it is to win.

          Ergo, the hardest races to win, and to win consistently, are crits. Thus Bahati, Holloway, Charon, and the racers like them are the best racers in this country.

          Free throws are not a basketball game. Crits are bike racing. Winning them may not get you onto the Pro Tour, but in this country they are the hardest races to win because they are the most competitive. I didn’t say they were the hardest races …

  4. I HATE all digital devices PARTICULARLY those that might go on my bicycle. If these things motivate you, well OK, but what will you do when the numbers start plateauing or, god forbid, go “backwards”?

    Ever just go for a ride without any devices, phones, goals, need-to-kick-someone’s-ass, etc? Just ride…try it….Race without malice….try it….Motorists giving you lip? Don’t reply, stay calm and quiet…try it….

    I suppose I’ll get flamed for this but such is life.

    1. Haters gotta hate. So spew your venom and disdain for anyone unlike you. I choose a different way.

      I like racing. I have enjoyed winning. I agree that winning Boulevard and Corral Hollow and Paris Lorraine and other races was more gratifying than taking KOMs.

      But is Strava killing anything? Where’s the harm? Amassing strong results on Strava hasn’t hurt Tinstman or Konsmo or NShirley or DeMarchi or any of the pros that use Strava (e.g., TPhinney). They seem to be doing quite well.

      If it isn’t for you, great. I like data. It allows me to use information to maximize my fitness. If you don’t want to look at that data, don’t. But why the hatred?

      1. Have you won any races since becoming a Strava devotee?

        Sure, Strava is killing bike racing because it provides the DIP we all crave: distinction, improvement, and praise, whereas bike races hand out mostly nothing but MOP.

        Remember how you got shelled at Punchbowl? How you hung on for a weak finish at San Dimas? Not nearly as nice a feeling as getting a trophy or a kudo.

        The riders you cite are successful bike racers who use Strava. They aren’t successful Strava users who don’t race, and that’s my point. As more and more people get DIP from Strava, it takes away the motivation to race because racing almost invariably results in MOP.

        DIP v. MOP, and DIP usually wins.

        I don’t hate Strava and I’m thrilled that so many people use it to track their riding. It has gotten many people into higher levels of cycling and encouraged a very positive form of competition — internal and external. But it has also taken the wind out of the sails of racing, at least judging from race turnout.

        Use Strava if you like it, and more power to you. The ride, after all, is inside you. But don’t cite to Strava as evidence of any particular person’s ability as a bike racer. The guys who win races are the fastest in a group on a given day in given conditions. Strava can never replicate that.

        1. Everyone pass Go, everyone collect $200, group hug! And if we email Billy Stone, he will send us all a juice box!

  5. Hey Seth, Isn’t this the “guns don’t kill people” argument? Ie: “Strava doesn’t kill bike racing, Stravassholes kill bike racing”… ..Okay, I thought that was funny.
    Also, isn’t “Best” subjective? Is it possible that the “Best” Cat 4 is “Better” than the “Best” Cat 3? And do you factor in their history of charitable deeds? What about subtracting for transgressions?

    I’m conflicted because I’m a Cat 2.5…

  6. the take away: Strava is to real racing as masturbation is to sex… “Stravasturbator”

    I’d add, Strava is a raft onto which the shipwrecked racer clambers and paddles to the safety of his myopic, insular little world.

    I’d trade 500 of my KOMs for one of G$’s road race victories!

    Lastly, I could use some advice. What should I do about the hair growing on my Garmin?

    1. Some folks get it, some don’t. Of course there’s more to it than race results. The guys driving it at the front on the local hammerfest, leading instead of following … that’s just as big a part of it as racing. What’s clear is people who substitute Strava for “I’m an accomplished bike racer” are strumming the one-eyed banjo wayyyyy to often.

  7. it could be the reason why Bakersfield didn’t have a lot to SD riders is because we’re on fire that weekend….

    1. Anyone who would choose to save their family and home over a bike race is a fraud.

  8. I use strava it’s a lot of fun but it doesn’t translate to actuall bike racing. Best example I can give is that I have crossed the line first in a hilly road race before. Don’t ask me how cause I blacked out. Went home and stravad the the fuggin thing and didn’t get one Kom. I was like did I actually win cause strava is telling me I suck. #mixedmessages

    1. Yep. Certain unnamed wankers who have never crossed the line first claim that Strava is a good substitute for winning. #theyrefullashit

      1. I know you say that your blog is fiction, Seth, but your half truths and false characterizations of what people say are still unimpressive.

        I never said that racing is inferior to Strava results. I actually said the opposite. I DID say that Strava is a tool (given that it allows you to test yourself in a repeatable way), and I don’t know why you guys are so angry. That said, I’m not here to try to change you or any of your lynch mob. I’m just going to keep riding my bike, striving to put out more watts for longer than I did before. And if I do I will have a better chance to win races. Of course, if I use my bullets at the wrong time (as I have at times this year), I won’t win, regardless. But I will keep learning. And improving.

        Did I get dropped when I was sick at UCLA? Yep. Have I won a race this year, after 14 years off? No. Not a race that means anything. But I’m gonna keep trying. You guys can keep on hating. And misquoting and mischaracterizing to suit your arguments.

  9. Erik MacDonald

    Strava is to racing as Internet porn is to actual in the flesh sex. Same dynamic. It’s a good traing tool but no substitute for the real thing.

  10. What’s Strava?


    14 years ………… ? Holy Cow Batman!

    My hopes and wishes are for you to hang in there with every legal aid that makes you faster …… even that ‘Strava’ thing …..

    Pretend you are very young and just starting out and be motivated by each bit of data that shows improvement ……..

    Make yourself feel good by remembering ‘Life is a journey not a destination.’ Emerson

    Screw those people that say ‘Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.’ Lombardi stole it from Sanders anyway …………

    Get more rest. Stand up straight!

    And quit complaining.

  11. 48 racers out here at the Death Valley Road Stage Race this weekend.
    Including some pretty serious dudes and dudettes. Strava that!!
    There is something about being out in the terrain, looking up at how much farther there is to go, and trying to stay on the wheel of the racer in front of you for just…one…more…second…that Strava seems to miss out on.

  12. I can’t speak to racing, since I don’t race. And as a relatively new rider turning 50 this year, I don’t expect to. I can say that for me and for many in our recreational riding group, Strava does enhance the riding experience and makes us want to improve.

    1. I’m not anti-Strava. I’m just pointing out that Strava is not equivalent to, or even a predictor of, results in a real bike race.

  13. I’ve never raced. I don’t know that I ever will. I don’t know that Strava has much to do with that either way. I enjoy poking through the data I get from it in a map-nerd kind of way, but I couldn’t really say that I use it as a “tool” for “training.”

    It is nice to get those little trophies now and again. If I’m out on a ride and I feel up for it, I might push a little harder on a segment. But I know better than to think that just because I’m above someone on a leaderboard that means I’m faster than them.

    If Strava has shown me anything it’s that there are guys just around here both half my age and twice my age who could wipe the floor with me pedaling with one leg, and that will probably continue to be the case so I won’t get too hung up about it.

  14. Hey Seth,

    Regarding your comment about shrinking race participation, this subject comes up often at the coffee shop or on rides and the concerns that are always echoed center around risk and safety vs. reward with safety winning the debate time and time again. Unfortunately, the smartest, most talented racers are the ones coming to their senses leaving the field to be populated with(but not exclusively) generally lesser skilled racers. I know of at least fifteen top-flight racers who bowed out for these reasons specifically. Their presence made the peloton safer because they raced with their heads, not their egos. The writing is on the wall. Also, gone are the days when if you put a wheel wrong you heard about it from one or more of the patriarchs of the peloton. The “spare the rod” approach has encouraged a new generation of “spoiled brat racers” whose ego’s are painting painfully inaccurate pictures of imagined grand exploits across the inside of their foreheads. To hear them verbalize leaves one wondering when de-evolution started.
    Back to racing: common knowledge and statistics indicate that less than 3% of the peloton has a shot at the podium. Well, 2.5% if you factor in Charon. Cat 35+ aside, all aboard for the 60-up sprint! Boxing, before The Great Muhammad Ali, consisted of two “pugilists” pretty much straightforward pounding each other until one fell down. A “competition of attrition”. Muhammad Ali changed all that with strategy and Tactics, yes capital “T”. With all the books written and cycling blogs available, one would think(maybe that’s the problem) that the racing cycling population would pick up some of the knowledge that’s readily available and move their sport beyond the pre-Muhammad Ali phase. But most “dogs don’t hunt”, and so we get whut we got; lots of crashes and the best racers opting out of a trip to the ER and another costly stack of medical bills, or worse. Hence, a dwindling peloton.

    Additional Reading: USA Cycling shares some of the blame for not taking advantage of easily implementable changes to make the peloton and racer development not only safer but smarter. I know because I’ve had lengthy conversations with persons in charge in CO and a local race promoter(who saw the issue, the need, and was all for it) regarding the institutional hazards. USA Cycling balked, afraid it seems that a simple change would upset the tilt of the earth. Sad. We all know now they are more concerned with annual dues and doping unwitting juniors than improving the safety and skill of the public peloton without whose dues they would not exist. It’s sad that the best who have much to offer are opting out, having given up on the horses that won’t drink.

    1. I don’t know any masters racers who have quit because of the danger factor. Once you get into 35+, and certainly 45+, the races are very safe. I haven’t seen one single 45+ crash all year.

      The really bad crashes are the P/1/2 races. I’ve heard stories of amazing aggression, and believe it.

      1. Yes, because responsibilities like mortgage payments and The Rath of Angry Wives keep them in check. 45+ can get a little whingy though (Overheard at the BGP): “NO PASSING IN THE CORNERS!!! – Huh? Isn’t this a RACE??? – Grumble-grumble-grumble… I’ve heard that stiff knees can effect frontal lobe elasticity…

        Ivan Dominguez will tell you horror stories of sprinting with racers whose balls haven’t dropped yet. – that’s strange, I thought testosterone came from…hmm…maybe it’s the Ritalin…

  15. I love an article and discussion that makes you think. I am one of those people who doesn’t race but I use Strava. I got into cycling at 53, that was 6 years ago. A detour into Triathlon for 3 years didn’t help the already weak bike handling skills, though I did learn to ride a TT bike. This is the main reason I don’t race, my bike handling doesn’t match my strength. I would be a danger to others. I do however train hard.

    There is a Tuesday night crit here in Vancouver BC, that has been going on for decades. Lately, you hear about a crash almost every week. I don’t need that. I would love to do a a Road Race (asthma issues preclude that right now) without too many turns. I use the GranFondos as a race in a way.

    I think that there is some realization here in the cycling community that there are many new riders coming into the sport via Fondos or charity rides but they won’t feel comfortable racing, and certainly not crits. One club here started offering Sportives as a way to teach and encourage young riders. I hope to try one of those this year.

    I love Strava more as a motivational tool. It encourages me to be consistent in my training so I can stay in the Top 10 of Strava segments (except for climbing 🙁 in the 55-64 group and occasionally grab one from the youngsters in their 30s.

    Finally, Marianne Vos uses Strava, so it’s easy for people to follow and appreciate her talent. At the Tour of Britain, she took most of the QOMs in England, and quite a few KOMs. Imagine you are the local studette, rightfully proud of your QOMs,, and you get an email saying you lost it to Marianne Vos and therefore never getting it back.

    Sports evolve just like anything else. I was a serious runner for many years, we never took anything with us on our runs, not even water, you would just take a sip at some fountain, today it’s a smorgasbord they are weighted down with.

    Roadie culture also needs to change, it has WAY too much attitude and can be downright rude and unwelcome at times. This is usually from the wannabes, the real stars don’t have to play that game. If you know of riders in your club that don’t race, instead of calling them wusses, how do you get them to come out and try.?

    A Canadian story. Anika Todd of BC, was a runner, her then boyfriend encouraged her to try a bike, she came 2nd that same year in the Canadian Nationals TT, top 10 in the RR, and in less than 2 years, races for TIBCO.

    1. No disagreement that Strava is fun and useful for its users.

      I also think that getting into bike racing for the first time at a late age is fraught with dangers, and I’d never recommend it.

      It’s true that racing culture changes, but what’s happening is that the culture isn’t changing so much as people are not racing. The shitty attitude exists without even racing, it’s as if the purchase of the equipment allows you to be superior.

      That’s okay, too. To each her own.

      Yes, Anika is amazing.

    2. “I don’t race because I’m not a good bike-handler, and I would be a danger to others”.

      Humility is a great blessing, and all too rare.

      I don’t even “like” to ride my favorite group ride anymore, because the newbies are dangerous and defensive-to-the-death about their riding “skills”, which are non-existent, of course. Or they wouldn’t be knee-jerk swerving around flat manhole covers that ten people ahead of them have just ridden smoothly right over with absolutely no problem, and then sucking other riders into potholes without the slightest warning.

      “Don’t tell ME what to do” is a tough ethos to get around.

      The “underlying objection” to Strava that I see in this fine discussion is that all the emphasis is on elapsed time, and speed.

      Speed is the last and least-needed cycling skill, not the be-all/end-all.

      I’ve always been thankful for those good Cat II’s who took me and other beginner racers through a school of cycling. But then, it was obvious to me that these guys knew a whole lot more about riding bicycles than I did. Attitude test…

  16. Hi!
    Awesome post! I personally think Strava KOM’s or trophies, and such aren’t really aimed at the professional racers. It’s more for the ones that don’t compete in many, or any races.
    They’re made as a slight motivational prize for you to keep cycling. I personally love them. I don’t consider my KOM’s (I have a few, not too many) as a title anywhere else other than strava. I know there’s no way in hell I could beat some of the climbers out there. For the KOM’s it takes multiple tries, and great weather. During a race, you only got one try, and you don’t pick the time either.

    There will always be people who being complete amateurs, will consider themselves better than the best because of some stupid thing they once did, or got on film or whatever.

    Take basketball for example, I’ve heard so many people say they could outplay the legends just because they play streetball and that makes you better or something. While this may be true on certain aspects, it does not mean in proper competition conditions they would outplay/outrun/outrace the REAL pros.

    But I guess that’s just my opinion.
    Ride safe!

  17. Didn’t you guys/gals know that Strava is just another NSA data-mining app? Now they know not only how much your suck, but what day and time you suck. Toss in your Instagram pics and now they know how ugly you are too. You’re ugly AND you suck. Ouch. Maybe it’s all designed as a lesson in humility…

    Sorry Seth, the fruit was just hangin’ too low…

  18. This is a nice theory, but if Strava went belly up tomorrow I don’t see the race rosters getting more full. Bike racing has a lot of churn, but I have a hard time seeing people leaving racing in preference for chasing Strava KOMs. I think more likely they are drawn away by Gran Fondos. If you want to talk about DIP, it is over there. You have all sorts of ego stroking and everyone comes away feeling pretty good.

    I’m cool with the spartan nature of bike racing. Maybe Strava has contributed to people’s expectation to feel good about hard efforts, because I’ll be damn sure you won’t get it at a race. Many a fit cyclist has gotten his self image recalibrated at a bike race. That people might go for something softer and more affirming isn’t too surprising but I think Strava is bringing more people in than it is taking away.

    In other words, Strava didn’t create the problem… they are just capitalizing on it.

  19. I use Strava and look at the results. I do the occasional time trial because. I have no hope of getting KOM unless I make up a silly section. I think the 0.1 sections are just dumb. But it does give me a measure of where my fitness is heading.

    That being keyboarded, I use Strava mostly for the potential data collection tool it can become for cyclist road usage. If a road near you is up for bike lanes you can find some count of ridership. (I know there are a lot of problems with the data you can see starting with representative sample..) But most locals have NO data on bike usage. None. This way you can talk to your transportation people and show them usage. Some real data.

    I Strava my trips to the grocery store with the trailer on my bike just for that reason. I have gone out an made long commute sections of road routes just to have data to say people do ride 6 miles from this location to that location and we need bike facilities. Strava is working on a way to sell data to cities and counties showing the bike usage. That can only help get better facilities.

  20. Hi Seth. Fellow Seth here, who just started Strava. I’ve been racing and cycilng since 1985 when I was a wee lad, and let me tell you junior fields were HUGE back then. Things were different. We mainly “estimated” distances for our rides, but if you really wanted to get fancy you’d get your Dad to take you out in the family truckster and measure the ride with the good old car odometer. Better yet, have him motor-pace you and then get the distance.

    For me, I guess things have come full circle as I just eschewed carbon for a steel cyclocross bike, but most importantly, I finally realized that racing does not equate to happiness for me. Too many friends have gotten really f*cked up in crashes; include me in that one. Entry fees are horrible, and maybe this is just my personal opinion but I think doping is way more widespread among masters racers, my category now. Honestly, gravel grinders are huge around here and they aren’t sanctioned. USA Cycling is a lot to blame for the decline.

    Strava just seems kind of low-key and fun. I can compete with myself and also with a guy named “Abominable Snowman.” I find that kind of hilarious.

    Long live bike racing–I would not be the person I am today without it. But I think most cyclists are pretty intimated by the sport anymore. Maybe I’m just old and cranky.

    Thanks for a great blog.

    1. I agree. It’s not the sport it used to be. There’s way too much technology and drug use is rampant; witness the geezers, male and female, just popped for juicing to get ready for that HUUUUUGE race in Corsicana (home of the world’s heaviest fruitcake).

      USA Cycling must shoulder the blame, as must all of the “racing” clubs that don’t encourage racing and that devote zero resources to development as opposed to endless hours of dithering over whether the ugly kit should be overlaid with ugly purple or ugly green or ugly orange.

      What can you say about a sport where even the licensed racers don’t want to race? Entries dropped 30% this year in Southern California, and they aren’t coming back. Strava is a symptom, not a cause. It has its uses and, much like sex between consenting adults, if it feels good, do it.

      Bike racing is too expensive, too risky, and too fringe for most parents to let their investments do it with much seriousness, which is the other side of the coin: Kids are an investment and you have to be crazy to risk them for a mid-pack finish in a fringe sport.

      And … the NIMBYs are so filled with hate towards bikes on the road these days that fewer and fewer kids grow up riding anywhere. No sport survives without a big pool to draw from, and when you take away kids on bikes, you take away the entire foundation.

      Strava on, pal. I’m not far behind you.

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