In case you haven’t heard of it, Strava is a website/mobile app that allows you to share information about your mountain bike rides using GPS data collected during the ride. The social network is built around the idea of tracking your fitness progress and challenging friends (and even strangers) which makes the whole thing pretty addictive for a lot of riders. And despite launching just a couple years ago, it’s already having real effects on the sport of mountain biking.
Perhaps the biggest positive effect Strava is having on mountain biking and endurance sports in general is making fitness fun. Adding a competitive element to every workout, even if it’s just trying to set a new personal record, makes everyone stronger. It would be interesting to see how ride times trend for Strava members over the course of their membership… my guess is they improve trail times much faster than for those who don’t use it.
Here in Atlanta there’s a pretty good group of folks who use Strava but in outdoor hotspots like Denver, Strava use has truly exploded. In fact, we heard from multiple people (including staffers at IMBA) that it’s not unusual for riders in Colorado to fail to yield the trail while shouting “Strava!” to let you know they’re trying to set a new PR on a particular trail section. With Strava, every ride becomes a race with the resulting ego clashes and occasional conflicts.
Some riders have taken things even farther, risking personal injury to themselves and others. In 2010 a rider died after losing control while trying to set a new speed record for a descent in Tilden Park in Orinda, CA because someone had recently posted a faster time. His family sued Strava, saying the man was “obsessed” with Strava which could easily describe a lot of folks.
Back in 2005 we tested out a similar concept here on Singletracks called “Virtual Bike Racing” (you can still see the page here). As you can see from the disclaimer, we understood that some riders might ride out of control in pursuit of a virtual title.
Secret Trails Exposed
Admittedly, some of us ride off-road in places we aren’t supposed to ride. Whether it’s a trail that’s officially closed to bikes or a gray trail that is on the down-low, Strava sees all and by default makes the ride public to all. I haven’t heard any reports of land managers using Strava to identify trail poachers but it’s certainly a possibility.
There are a few trails in the Atlanta area that everyone knows as “the secret trails” and it’s sorta like Fight Club where the first rule is you do not talk about the secret trails. One of the local secret trail builders is famous for asking riders he doesn’t know, “Are we on the internet?” But even if no one posts these trails to a website like Singletracks, you can bet the trails are mapped and cataloged on Strava–it’s basically automatic every time you use your phone or GPS.
Now, it is possible to mark a ride as private but hardly anyone does this since it defeats the biggest draw of the app which is to challenge other riders. With Strava, secret trails will never stay that way for long.
Strava has become a valuable tool for scouting competitors before races and creating strategies based on past performance. It’s also a great tool for previewing race courses and getting segment-level detail showing how you compare to others which is helpful in post-race analysis.
Strava also makes it easy to “follow” other riders, particularly pros who have signed up for the service. For the pros, mountain bike racing is ultra-competitive and it would seem that giving away too much information about training routines, routes, etc. might give rivals a leg up. Based on the few pro riders I follow, it seems many of them limit which rides they post which seems like a solid strategy.
Of course it’s not just Strava that’s impacting the sport of mountain biking–internet and mobile technology is everywhere and it’s changing our entire world. What’s the next big thing? I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out…
Your turn: If you use Strava, has it changed the way you ride? What other technologies are impacting mountain biking today?