photo: Jeff Barber

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. 

# Comments

  • Brian Gerow

    Thanks for the great read, Roger! If only we knew now what we knew then…

    I too had a partial breakup with Strava a while back, following a silly argument with my ego. We’re still not speaking, though they email occasionally.

  • Exodux

    I still do Strava but I never used it to go for KOM’s and such. Sure, I held several Kom’s at one point(still have a few) but that was not my purpose. I use it for ride data and to track where I’ve been.

  • Roger Phillips

    Thanks Brian. It’s a strange relationship with Strava. I’m trying to keep it casual rather than dysfunctional, but with varied success.

  • Trailboss69

    Yup, just yesterday turned on Strava rode for two hours (including breaks, I have my 13 year old son and some new riders to the trail with us) and Strava must have turned off or never started correctly. Luckily, I also run Trailforks in the background and it recorded our 1 hour and 43 minute ride time and 7.2 miles. Oh well just gotta keep sending it!

  • wareagle4130

    Here’s a prime example of how I let Strava sap some of the fun out of riding… I would sometimes want to “session” something like a fun berm or jump, or try a redo on a hard section that I didn’t clean, but then this little voice in my ear (or pocket) would say “but that will mess up your Strava data”!!!
    Luckily I only let that affect me a few times before I realized how idiotic it was. Now I’ll stop and session as much as I like and try to ignore the nagging Strava-phobia. One of my local trails has a sweet steep down with a fun berm at the bottom with a ride around, so I’ve gotten to where I’ll hit the berm, then take the ride-around back and hit the berm again. Heck, maybe I’ll make the berm double dip it’s own Strava segment 🙂

  • rmap01

    I am always entertained by these discussions. To me, Strava is a great tool that somehow gets blamed for how we feel about ourselves. Strava is great for what it is… it provides objective data that enables one to compare his/her performance against others but, most importantly (at least to me), it allows you to see if you are improving against your prior performances. For those of us that seek to improve the objectivity of Strava is highly desirable and a big motivator. Yet many people have a tendency to blame Strava because of the onus they place on themselves with respect to how others will perceive the data. (I have done it myself.). But this is not a Strava issue per se. For many, it really comes down to our own insecurities about how others will perceive our performance on any given ride after the data is posted.

    I kinda liken Strava to a scale. We measure our weight for different purposes. If you have set a weight goal how can you tell if you are hitting it without weighing yourself? Sometimes we’re happy with the results, sometimes not. But (most) people don’t blame the scale if they are not trending toward their goal because they realize it is just a measurement tool. The difference with Strava is that it’s like setting your scale preferences so that your friends can see your weight each time. That’s the Strava effect (which is pretty much the same as most social media). If you are troubled/stressed by the performance of a ride change your settings to private and you won’t have to worry about what others think since they won’t even see it. And if you want to take an easy spin, session a section of trail, take a break, etc then do it! Don’t be a slave to the tool.

  • tbro21

    Why is it that the only people that complain about Strava are the folks using their phones to record rides? Buy a GPS computer, mount it to your bars… you’ll appreciate the data while you’re riding and I’ve never had a single ride mysteriously stop recording on a GPS computer.

  • jgmtb

    Funny coincidence, yesterday I tried new (inexpensive) Garmin watch on what turned out to be a ride which turned out to be one of my biggest ever rides on an mtb, but unbeknownst to me, apparently it stopped recording 1/3 of the way through. I got the “oh shit, did this ride not count” feeling right away, but my completely zapped legs and lingering smile reminded me that it certainly did!

  • debunnell

    I stopped using Strava a few months ago. It was ruining my life! Ok, it wasn’t that bad. But I was constantly disappointed in myself. Now I just go out and ride. And I just enjoy it. I don’t know how far or fast I went. It’s great!

  • Jeff Barber

    @tbro21, I’ve definitely forgotten to start my GPS on a ride and been equally frustrated. Yeah, that’s on me but it still bums me out, even though it shouldn’t. I never blame the GPS, I blame the idiot behind the bars.

    @rmap01 (and others): I think you’re misunderstanding the entire point. Roger (and others including myself who have written similar stories) are being critical of ourselves, not Strava (or our devices). So in that sense, I think we are all in agreement. It’s not the fault of the tool, it’s something inside of us, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that.

    I can’t speak for Roger, but I imagine he continues to use Strava, just like I wear my Garmin watch every day and use the app to track my heart rate, weight, VO2 max, distance, etc. If you read carefully you’ll see we’re not blaming tech, or even suggesting that it be thrown out. These pieces are merely observing how fragile our own egos can be, and how misplaced our priorities can become.

  • TK34

    I liken Strava (or other apps) to alcohol, religion, and politics – should be enjoyed in moderation;-) Yes, sometimes we want to hammer it, record the data, pound our chest a little. But what I got from the article (and totally agree), is to balance that with occasionally slowing down – smell the dirt, look at that scenery, try that tough obstacle a few times. Just breath a little.

  • Michael Stasica

    As i will likely continue to be the ‘fat lad in back’ until i complete a LOT more riding, I have zero use for *OMs information. But tracking rides electronically now just replaces running a highlighter over a map of Back roads and trails, much more effective than a Highlighter on my Laptop screen. HAHA.

  • m.krupp

    First Roger, I admire the self awareness about what was going on inside you and the bigger perspective. Second I bet you don’t fail to turn on your Strava for some time now. You will be much more diligent.

    I don’t want to be critical of Strava but as of now you can’t convince me to use it. I had a Garmin I used a few years ago for runs and hiking and it was great for tracking times and even better for tracking routes as mentioned by another commenter.

    I ride bike to get away from stuff. I try to ignore my phone and would leave it but take it as a last ditch safety out should I have issues while riding solo. I would use Strava if I were to get into racing because it would be useful tool.

    The issue is tech owns most of nowadays and I am included in it and hate it. Maybe we should look to unplug more and be in the moment. Kind of like enjoying the concert in front of you and not watching it through your phone so you have some great vid to send out or post.

  • Roger Phillips

    I appreciate the thoughtful comments. To provide some boring background, I can’t remember owning a mountain bike over the last 25 years that didn’t have some kind of bike computer on it, but now I rely on my Garmin watch and/or cell phone and Strava. I am not against technology and gathering ride data. But when that data takes on a life of its own, it can affect our (my) attitude, which I try to tamp down and live in the moment on my rides and appreciate the experience, not ride for the stats. Usually I succeed, but sometimes I don’t.
    Thanks for reading.

  • troutwest66

    I use Strava mostly for running or walking. I do like seeing how active I’ve been, how many miles I covered, my progress on my runs and mile pace. Occasionally it’s cool to see how I compared to others on some climbs on my bike. Do I really suck or hey, not too bad! When I ride where I hunt I use my OnX Hunt app just for scouting purposes and to not let out any secret spots. Riding for me is all for fun and exercise. I get curious how far I rode and elevation gain to make me feel better about how bad a climb kicks my butt! 🙂

  • killer climb

    I have to say it can be quite addicting to track everything and im as guilty as the rest. After reading the article the last rides have been without it and I can see the benefit of not always using it. I still like to track my fitness but just being on the bike for a ride and not a tracking mission has been a eye opener. I rest when I want, play when I want. In the beginning of my riding it was a great tool to see my improvement physically but now that Im at a level that doesn’t change much for the time being its really unnecessary to have to think about tracking. I started riding for the fun and track only the length of time the ride was. Low and behold the rides are longer and more playful and more enjoyable. I’ll track my rides from time to time only to see the distance and calories burned as of tracking my ride, if you wanna see where you stand with me you’ll just have to come ride with me.

  • Clayjthom

    What I like best about Strava is when I forget to turn it off on the drive home and it tells me I set a new world record.

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