Strava has taken the world by storm. Critics say that it turns the sport into a computer game, whilst many cyclists enjoy the thrill of competition.
What is Strava?
In many ways, Strava is like a social network for cyclists. Cyclists have an online profile, which enables them to compete for the best time on any route – from their morning commute to a tough mountain ride.
The whole world is divided up into 'segments' which are virtual race tracks. If you're using Strava, the app logs your time every time you cycle through one of these segments. It allows you to track your progress and see how you compare to the other cyclists in your area.
The app uses GPS mapping to host a competition of egos, where riders compete to be crowned 'King of the Mountain'. The term is borrowed from Tour De France and this prestigious title is fought for ferociously, making the app highly addictive.
Why Cyclists Love Strava
Competition is inherent in any sport and you could say Strava simply formalises many cyclist's desire to compete. The app allows you to compete with anyone in the world, transforming cycling into a truly global competition of pedal power.
Many cyclists love the sense of achievement that Strava gives them. Whether this means getting into the top ten for a segment, or simply tracking our own personal progress, the app encourages you to better yourself.
Norman Triplett, a psychologist at Indiana University proved back in the late nineteenth century that an element of competition makes cyclists faster than those who ride alone. It's simply in our nature to compete and as a result, using Strava is likely to boost your speed and really push you to do better.
Claims that Strava is 'Unsupervised Street Racing'
Critics of the app claim that it promotes reckless cycling and has transformed the sport into an overly competitive computer game. The app becomes problematic if the online scoreboard becomes more important for cyclists than the act of cycling itself. In some cases, riders are taking risks they otherwise wouldn't in pursuit of a virtual goal.
The risks are only too clear when you look at the case of Kim Flint, a Californian rider who was trying to win a downhill 'King of the Mountain'. In 2010, the cyclist crashed into a car whilst attempting to get the best time, and later died in hospital.
In order to beat the existing time, he was cycling way over the speed limit, making the ride very dangerous. Despite this, his family tried to sue Strava and failed. The court ruled that every cyclist is responsible for their own safety. Even so, the app does encourage reckless behaviour, which is big concern for many people.
Those who object to the app, claim that it is not a 'game' if you are cycling on roads shared with cars. One of the most vocal critics is the inventor of DigitalEPO, an app which artificially boosts your Strava performance. The site claims to be against what it refers to as "obnoxious street-racing websites".
However, like many things, Strava is something which can be used sensibly and enjoyed, but if taken too far, can be dangerous. The question of whether or not, Strava is actually responsible for dangerous behaviour is still disputed.
How Has the App Changed Cycling?
Strava is huge – with millions of members worldwide, the app has changed the way many people cycle. Cycling with Strava in your pocket, means that you are permanently racing.
This not only affects the commuter or weekend rider, but cycling clubs too. Many of these clubs have embraced the app as a way to compete, not only amongst themselves, but against rival cycling clubs.
However, it's not like cyclists didn't compete before Strava. Whereas they may have previously raced each other to a distant landmark, they now compete online.
It's not just that the way cyclists race that has changed – the app has changed the way many of us think about a ride. Whether this means slowing down before a segment so that you can attack the race with more power, or simply waiting for better weather conditions before cycling – many cyclists are changing the way the ride to improve their Strava time.
Has Strava Changed Why we Ride?
Many Strava-sceptics are worried that the app will change the nature of cycling. Instead of cycling for the joy of it, many will get out onto their bikes with the intention of beating a time on Strava. You could say that this doesn't matter and that anything which encourages people to cycle can only be a good thing, but others argue that the 'soul' of cycling could be lost.
By constantly measuring your ability and competing against others, will the individual pleasure of cycling disappear? What was a relaxing journey through towns, cities or open countryside can become a series of races divided by invisible lines.
Despite Strava's critics, the app is hugely popular and motivates many to get out on their bikes and improve their performance. Do you use Strava? If so, how has it changed the way you cycle?