I have a really bad imagination, which is why I ride my bike all the time. There’s no better way to limn crazy than by delving into the real world. And few parts of reality are as dark, bizarre, and hysterically weird than Strava.
Here’s the big blog release for 2015, wherein Strava announces a whole new way to earn valuable cups, crowns, and medals. It’s surely not by chance that, unlike the old nonexistent virtual trophy cups, the new ones are empty.
Fortunately I was able to get hold of Annie Vranizan, Strava’s Advocacy and Communications Manager, who explained the whole empty cup concept to me in plain English.
CitSB: So now Straddicts can get a whole new set of crowns, cups, and medals?
AV: Yep. It’s gonna be awesome!
CitSB: What was wrong with the old ones?
AV: Absolutely nothing. And they’ll still be there for you to pore over at 3:00 AM with your favorite box of tissues.
CitSB: So why the new system?
AV: We’ve heard from many Strava athletes that it’s not easy to top a PR set in peak fitness, during a race, or when they were younger. So we’ve heard that concern and given them something new to strive for. “Strava” means “hopeless” in Finnish, after all. These new empty cups are our way of saying, “You’re not getting older. You’re as strong as you always were. You’re never going to die.”
CitSB: Wow. That seems, you know, patently false.
AV: Oh, it is. But these are Straddicts. Their paid memberships depend on keeping the fantasy alive. And we had other problems.
CitSB: Such as?
AV: After several years and thousands of efforts, the KOM’s on most segments have become unsurmountable, even for the fellows with $20k rigs, four-man TT teams, and onboard Doppler radar to perfectly time the wind. Even by only showing up to work occasionally, abandoning all pretense of family time, slimming down to 1%, hiring the super-extra-pro-level of online coaching, putting a physician on retainer to manage the EPO-induced blood clumping during sleep, our premium members were realizing that at the end of the day they simply weren’t going to snatch back a KOM set by some 22-year-old kid.
AV: Well, that’s a problem. Most of our premium addicts have got to get one KOM per month, minimum, or they let their subscription lapse. We even toyed with a moped-assist category, but a customer survey nixed that idea.
CitSB: Straddicts refuse to cheat, huh?
AV: Oh, not at all. But it’s too complicated to cloak an engine’s output so that it mimics the irregularity human-generated wattage.
CitSB: I wasn’t aware that it was all about the virtual trinkets. I mean, you can’t even hang them on the wall. I thought people really valued Strava for tracking routes and logging mileage.
AV: Well, our unpaid users may. But with regard to logging mileage, Scott Dickson, the first American winner of Paris-Brest-Paris, cracked that problem long ago using a type of technology that frankly stands up pretty well even today.
CitSB: What is that?
AV: I think they call it a “pencil and notepad.” I’ve seen it at the Technology Museum here in Silicon Valley, but don’t know of anyone who can actually program it. The other problem is that our premium members can’t do what they’ve always done to earn more virtual trinkets.
CitSB: What’s that?
AV: Create new segments. We ran a GPS analysis of North America and found that, in North County San Diego for example, every roadway, driveway, dirt trail, and parking lot has been broken down into 1-meter Strava segments. There are over 12 billion segments there. And every segment has a leaderboard thousands of riders deep.
CitSB: Surely there are some uncreated segments from, say, the front door of the apartment on the 25th Floor to the breaker box on the 12th?
AV: Possibly. But our analytics show that premium members prize competition with other riders. There will always be a place on Strava for secret segments that only you can ride, but most addicts want the thrill of combat. It’s all about sending and receiving “the letter,” you know?
CitSB: So why don’t they just race? CBR has a great crit coming this Sunday. I think for $35 bucks you can actually race your bike against real people. And it’s cheaper than Strava. And the trinkets are mostly edible.
AV: Racing is too dangerous for Straddicts, and often times a premium member who is really good at his age-weight-gender category on Strava turns out to be a lummoxing sack of shit in a real bike race. And it hurts their feelings when they get dropped.
CitSB: I see. So why don’t they train harder and race more so they don’t get dropped?
AV: Let me give you an example.
AV: Let’s say you could choose between getting your face punched so hard that it rams your front teeth so far up into the gums that they punctured the lower part of your skull and lodge into your brain. Or, you could go a Thai massage and have someone cover your body in oil, rub you down for a few bucks in all the right places, and tell you you look like a movie star. Which would you choose?
CitSB: Well, that’s easy, because I’m a bike racer.
AV: Right? But our premium members aren’t. That’s why they like Strava. As long as they get a virtual empty trinket they’ll keep paying the monthly fee because there’s always a happy ending.
CitSB: Just like the Thai massage?
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