Photo: Sergio Barboni

Capturing the ride. Photo: Sergio Barboni

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

Where does the value of a mountain bike ride come from? Exactly what is it that gives the time that we spend out in the woods, pushing on pedals, value in our lives?

I’ve written a few articles on the topic, but as I was finishing up a ride recently, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: I hadn’t taken a single photo on my ride, and as a result it somehow felt like I didn’t really get a ride in.

Largely, this feeling was probably due to my burning desire to constantly share my adventures on social media, particularly my Instagram account, or perhaps a burden of feeling required to do so. But I don’t think I’m alone in this desire. As I continue to mindlessly scroll my Facebook feed day after day and year after year (don’t get me started on how much time that’s consumed seemingly without me knowing), I’ve noticed that many people live their lives as if, if they don’t post their most recent life changes or updates to Facebook–whether it be as trivial as a set of pushups in the morning–then, it didn’t officially happen. As if, doing those push ups had no value unless they posted on Facebook so that their two thousand “friends” knew how badass they were for doing said pushups.

Snow pack is pathetic but the riding is still rad! #mtb season just keeps on giving!

A photo posted by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on

Where then does this feeling of value from sharing our lives on social media derive from? It seems to me that it’s from a sense of digital affirmation. We like getting likes. Seeing the positive comments pop up triggers a jolt of feel-good juice in our brains.

Teton Gravity Research recently satirized this phenomenon with the thoroughly-entertaining article, “Bro Questions Self-Worth After Not Getting GoPro Footage,” capturing the absurdity perfectly.

Even if we passively record an activity, like with a GPS unit, and upload it to Strava once we get home, our experience on the mountain bike has still been recorded. Your fellow Strava followers give you Kudos for your ride, you can check out your own loop on the map… and you can feel good about yourself and what you’ve just accomplished.

I love geeking out over my ride maps after the fact. Bonus points: pissing off the Stravaholes because I included all the chairlift rides.

Part of me wants to hate on this type of digital affirmation for doing something that is, most likely, inherently affirming on its own… but I guess I wouldn’t know, because I log my ride every. Single. Time. I always record it in some way shape or form. Even if it’s just typing a line in a spreadsheet the next day, or clicking the “yes I rode here” button on Singletracks, my ride has been recorded, categorized, and analyzed.

That same part of me thinks that I should try an experiment by doing a ride without any photos (that actually happens quite a bit), but also without any Strava, without any GPS, and without even recording it in a spreadsheet afterward.

But then I think to myself, “what exactly is wrong with reflecting on my ride after the fact, and even sharing it with the world on social media?” I’ve found that I love going through my ride data and heatmaps the evening after a long ride, the day after, or weeks and years after that. And as I remember the fun I had out in the woods on my bike, those emotions and warm fuzzies come flooding back all over again.

So could I go out in the woods and have a great ride without recording any sort of memory from it? Sure. Would it still have value? Of course.

But is there something inherently wrong with posting my GPS track to Strava or uploading a photo to Instagram after the fact, as long as I can enjoy the moment even if I forget to capture it? No, and if anything, it helps the joy of the ride to go on and on!

# Comments

  • mongwolf

    Great article Greg. Here’s my take on the social media for what it’s worth. Is SM a bit out of control for many? Well yes. My wife and I have friends who give blow by blow accounts of their day on Facebook … “Now I am making dinner …”. Ugg!!!! It’s to the point that we decided to pretty much disengaged from FB a couple of years ago, but not completely. Social media is great evidence of the human need to be connected with others and reaffirmed. Sadly, so little of this occurs in a meaningful way face to face in our fast pace lives today. Thus, much of it happens on FB/SM, which isn’t a bad thing inherently, but a little self-control is likely wise for most.

    • SlimL

      I like Facebook and Twitter and such to meet up with people from all over. I have made contacts in all manner of places; places I plan to ride. Joined groups. Plus I get all these wonderful news letters. Following their adventures help me to plan my own. Yeah there is a lot of crap out there but you know what. I can scroll pretty fast. And if not for the Internet, I never would have met all of you. Broadening my horizons with new adventures. I am Grateful.

  • mongwolf

    Your practice of recording your rides and reflecting on them are imo healthy and a big part of recreation … and to have such cool tools as heat maps to do that is well … really cool. In recreation management we consider the sociology and psychology of recreation. Much of the benefit of a vacation or any recreational experience is found in the preparation (anticipation) and also in the documentation after a trip (reflection), not just in the experience itself. Anticipation, experience and reflection are all three of great value in recreation, and in fact, in many areas of our lives. These thoughts aren’t even giving consideration to the value of such things as goal setting and achieving goals.

    • Greg Heil

      Anticipation and reflection… never thought of it quite that way before. I dig it!

  • John Fisch

    Congratulations — you have applied the greatest dilemma in quantum mechanics to mountain biking! How does the act of observation inherently change the event itself? Can we observe without affecting the event? Can we compensate for the effects our observations have and keep the event pure, as though it was not being observed?

    After a few years of obsessive riding, I realized I had seen many wondrous things but had no documentation by which to remember them. So I then never went anywhere without a camera. But then I realized stopping to take pictures was affecting the purity of my ride, and the pendulum has now largely swung back. Even worrying about remembering to start/stop my strava feed can affect a ride.

    I have a few “perfect rides” in my background, where everything was flowing perfectly and I was one with the bike and trail; those rides are all ones in which I thought about nothing except the ride. But there are still times when recording is important as well. It’s just a matter of knowing when to take which approach–and to accept the results whether or not they end up being as expected.

    • Aaron Chamberlain

      John are you referring to Schrödinger’s cat?

      I actually think that taking pictures during my ride can – although not always – increase my enjoyment of the ride. When I first got into mountain biking, my friends and I would stop and take lots of pictures. We’d goof off, try to ride stupid lines, or make it through a ridiculous creek crossing. As we all progressed and got more serious, for a lack of a better term, we started riding more miles and taking less pictures. This was cool for a while because we could cover so many miles in a ride.

      But after a few years of that, I got tired of every ride feeling like a race. Load up the car, race to the trailhead driving 80 MPH the whole way. Hop on the bikes and hammer out 20-40 miles with as few stops as possible. Load up the car, race to a lunch spot, wolf down some food, then race back to town. It got old. Riding had lost some of its fun.

      To combat this, I first started wearing baggies on rides. It seems like a trivial change, but changing my riding “outfit” served as a constant reminder to chill the fuck out. Don’t take it too seriously. Dabbed on a climb? Try the line again. When I started working for Singletracks, I started carrying my camera with me more regularly. Now I take photos because it’s enjoyable to me. I have tons of photos that don’t get used for articles or reviews. They’re for me. These changes have caused me to slow down, and I’m enjoying the ride more.

      As far as Strava goes, I use it mostly for record keeping as many have mentioned. I have chilled out on the GPS/Strava front too though. In the past, I wanted to make sure I started my ride precisely as I was getting rolling and stop it as soon as I finished. Now, it’s much more passive. I start my GPS as I’m getting dressed and it often goes in a pocket or my bag until the ride is over. The drawback is I regularly forget to end my rides and I have to go back and trim the drive home out of the GPS trace.

    • John Fisch

      The whole picture thing is a lot more fun when riding with a group. I find myself less inclined to stop for pics when riding solo.

    • Greg Heil

      This is a really interesting take, Aaron. Instead of seeing photos as something that makes the rides MORE serious and focused (which seems to be the slant of most of the comments over on Facebook), you think taking photos makes the ride LESS serious and more relaxed.

      I guess maybe it all depends what you compare it to?

    • Greg Heil

      Ha, thanks John! You may be giving me a bit more credit than I’m due, though 🙂

    • mongwolf

      Hey John, I’m impressed … … way to go bringing quantum mechanics into the thread. =) More seriously, I think you hit the nail on the head with your last couple of sentences. Some rides I go just to enjoy the ride. Other rides I go to enjoy both the ride and taking pictures. If we are intentional and not double-minded, then I think we are much happier. But I almost always do have a camera on me on a ride, just in case something really cool presents itself. I almost always try to document a ride with photos if it is a new trail not listed in the Singletracks database.

  • bikerboy13

    This could be really useful if trying to collect data to support mountain bikers.. you could collect a lot of info off social media and Strava.. I like to track my rides on my Garmin GPS watch and I enjoy the feeling of getting likes for my rides on Garmin..

  • Jenny Herbold

    This is great. I’ve found myself choosing to avoid practicing certain technical parts of trails just to get the whole Strava segment documented… then I catch myself in hindsight, and sometimes shake my head.

    I recently did a two day bikepacking trip down part of the Arizona Trail and did *not* Strava it. I also only took a handful of photos. The purpose of the day was to simply enjoy the ride and get to the destination whenever I got there. In retrospect, I enjoyed the time spent disconnected from technology much more than many of the times I’ve hammered through rides or stopped a thousand times hidden behind a phone or camera, missing views or moments I would otherwise appreciate more in plain sight. I felt free. No pressure. No one waiting to see what I was doing. It was more personal. I could keep parts of it for myself.

    • Greg Heil

      “I could keep parts of it for myself.”

      I like that!!

  • Caren Villaroman

    If you’re not gramming you’re not riding! Lol! Sometimes when i feel lazy (which happens a lot in winter ) Just the thought that I may get good pictures out of my ride push me to be out there and riding! And of course I always end up enjoying my ride and happily gramming my pictures! When we were in Phils world “rib cage” part ,we rode that three times each time I wanna stop and take pictures but the trail is so much fun that you just can’t stop!! Documented or not mtb is valuably fun.

  • Whistlepig

    I guess I’m a Luddite ape because I rarely take pictures and never use Strava or GPS.

    I assume that pretty much nobody gives a rip about where and how I’m riding, but me. I’ll rarely take a picture during the ride just to show my family what I’m up to. I just like to simply toodle around the woods and mountains on my bike and feel little need to share much of it with anyone. As long as I’m having fun on the ride, that’s all that matters.

    In general, I don’t share much about myself online anyway. No Facebook or other social media beyond a couple MTB forums.

    Maybe I’m just too old to care about what other people think of me. Maybe I’m just an ass. That’s a good possibility too; in which case sharing as little as possible may be best for all involved.

  • iliketexmex

    I have always liked riding bikes but more recently have become an “avid” mountain biker (notice I did not say skilled, fast or talented). I am glad people take and post pictures because I love seeing trails people ride. Getting into the SM aspect of the sport has motivated me to check out new places and see beautiful spots I would have never otherwise gone. Stopping to take a picture gives me a reminder that it is more than a workout, it is a blessing to be someplace beautiful, someplace that people volunteered their time to help make accessible and fun. The photos rarely capture how cool a place is, but serve to remind me how cool it was to be there. Maybe someone else will want to check out that place for themselves.

    • Greg Heil

      Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing man!

  • highrocker1298

    That was a great, thought-provoking article.
    I gopro and GPS every ride. The gopro is for my daughter who enjoys my crash reels and the GPS is for the geek in me. Strava-ing leaves me cold. It’s just cool to know what trails you’ve ridden and which trails to target next.
    I echo the the more eloquent writers who talk of reminiscence, anticipation, and possessing a piece of the ride. Although my vids lack any production, re-playing a ride brings back a bit of the feeling of the trail such that I find myself boosting off my office chair when a booter comes up and put the moto foot down when the screen looks to drift sideways.
    More articles like this please!

  • Scott Cotter

    I love to record my rides and share them on Strava so my friends and I can talk about them when we’re not together. It’s a great way to stay inspired and to help with ride planning. I see someone I follow riding something in New Mexico, say, it inspires me to get there and try it.

    I also like to stop and take photos. It helps because I am sometimes fairly driven when riding and have a tendency to push instead of enjoying the ride. Traditionally anyway. This makes it hard to really take in the incredible beauty or absorb a quiet moment of two with nature. But when I have a camera with me and am not shooting for a project, this is actually a great time to stop, have a look around and listen to what nature is telling me. It’s also a way for me to hear what’s inside my own head, which is often getting drowned out with all the chaos and chatter of day to day life.

    It gives me a chance to see the simple beauty of a tread pattern in new snow or to relive the moment I came across a freshly born baby deer on the trail at 4:30 in the morning. I snapped a single picture with my phone as she wobbled up on her legs and teetered into the woods with her mom. Looking at that photo and sharing it with other mountain biking nerds now confirms to all of us something spectacular … that we see amazing things and get to experience wonderful, life-affirming moments when out on the bike. That picture is a steady reminder that we all have opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise.

    Memories fade, brains get cloudy with time, and places/rides eventually start to run together. A photo now and then gives you the ability to map out your own adventure and own a small sliver of it for the rest of your life. And if you’re unlucky enough to lose someone close to you without photos of your shared experiences, you’ll be sorry you never stopped to snap a shot or two.

    • Greg Heil

      “Looking at that photo and sharing it with other mountain biking nerds now confirms to all of us something spectacular … that we see amazing things and get to experience wonderful, life-affirming moments when out on the bike. That picture is a steady reminder that we all have opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

      Love this!! Thanks for the insights, Scott!

  • Slee_Stack

    I document maybe 2% of my rides. Even then, that means snapping up to half a dozen photos or so.

    Other than that, i do look at my average moving speed and total distance on my bike ‘computer’ but don’t actually record anything anywhere. I guess I’m not goal oriented.

    I log into Facebook about once every three months. I do frequent forums (like this one) on a more regular basis. At one point I really disliked the idea of recording and sharing everything, but I’ve since mellowed.

    For me, its all about the intent behind the recording. If its to be used to share/teach or otherwise promote the ebauty of MTB’g, I’m all for it.

    If its simply for status or bragging purposes, go shove it as you clearly must have self perception issues. Unfortunately, so many people are into the one-up game or trying to portray that they are living some crazy wonderful life (while also hiding 95%+ of their ‘documentation’). Glamour shots only!

    For me personally, I like to document something to serve as a cue for me sometime in the future. Oh, I remember that ride, there was this, this, and this.

    Otherwise, I don’t want to live my life in a viewfinder or spreadsheet. Its too easy to fall down the rabbit hole and miss the point of the activity in the first place.

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