Regardless of your age, you can probably remember when riding a bike meant swinging a leg over it, pedaling away and feeling the exhilaration of self-propelled freedom. That simplicity and joy makes cycling timeless and ageless.
But then we decided to mess with the bike-plus-rider-equals-fun formula and added an electronic shackle to it. We have a magical rectangle in our pocket, or a sci-fi wrist watch that knows where we are, how fast we’re going, and how far we’ve traveled. We can compare that data to friends and strangers in cyberspace, and if we’re really fast, we can even be anointed kings and queens.
What’s not to like? We’re social animals in a social-media era, and melding cycling with that world seems like a combo as perfect as cake and frosting, right?
So why did I throw a mini tantrum recently when I got off my bike and realized my phone had mysteriously shut off early in my ride and didn’t register on Strava? My ride suffered death by Stravacide, and maybe death is a bit harsh, but when you’re done with a bike ride and feel cheated out of it, the feeling is real, even if it’s not reality.
I lost the data that would not only show my friends that I rode my bike that day; that data could have awarded me little virtual trophies if I rode segments faster than I had in the past, and it would have added miles to my monthly and annual odometer so I could congratulate myself on how diligent I was moving toward my mileage goals.
But while I fumed, the 12-year-old (or 8-year-old) in me who used to revel in simply riding a bike would have sadly shaken his head at the sorry-ass mess I became by taking something so simple and pure as the joy of riding a bike and diluting it with electronics, ego, and math.
Or he’d laugh like he looked at himself in a funhouse mirror and stuck out his tongue at the warped image.
After that ride, I made a pact with myself that I won’t let Strava ruin my ride. I will enjoy the ride, savor the experience, and leave it at that.
That’s my call, and not a knock against the app or the folks who created it. I willingly downloaded the app – for free, no less – and I turned it on, and tuned into it. Strava certainly didn’t tell me my ride didn’t count because there were no bits of data to show the Strava universe. That’s on me, but I am not the only one.
I had a friend email me that he was disappointed because his annual mileage on Strava was below his expectations, and he asked my opinion about boosting his goals for the upcoming year to make up for it.
I was understanding, and said it was his decision. We all ride for different reasons and have different motivations. But I also shared the pact I made with myself that I will enjoy every ride for what it is, whether it’s a spin around my local trail, a short trip to the corner store, or an epic ride in the mountains. I won’t let an app overshadow the joy and simplicity of riding my bike, and I won’t let miles or megabytes warp the satisfaction of it.
That doesn’t mean I won’t use Strava anymore, and I still get a semi-secret and semi-embarrassing, giddy thrill when I see those little trophies pop up on my screen. After all, those are fun, too, and anything that adds a few smiles to the miles is okay with me.
But I won’t snivel if the imp in my phone works his dark magic and turns off Strava mid-ride. I’ll call up my 12-year-old self to stick out my tongue and laugh it off like a card in my spokes falling off mid-air when I launch off a plywood jump in a vacant lot.
Strava is like that card. If I stick the landing, who cares about the card? It’s just noise, anyway.