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The crazy things Strava users do

Nick Soldinger
14 Nov 2018

Strava is many cyclists' app of choice. But for a few it’s an obsession, and brings out some pretty wonky behaviour

Did you hear the one about the guy who hurled his bike computer over the top of Box Hill as he neared its summit so it’d get there before he did? No? Well, how about the chap who drove up it in his car while the Strava app on his smartphone recorded his apparently world-beating time?

Or what about the cyclists who regularly upload their rides to digitalEPO.com to ‘juice’ their data before logging their magically improved times?

It seems some people will go to ludicrous lengths to make themselves look like cycling superstars in the parallel universe that is the digital world.

We reckon this phenomenon may well be down to the fact that since Strava first appeared back in 2009, it’s always been so much more than a training and fitness tracking app.

It’s also been popular as a social network and as is the case with other such services (yes, Facebook, we’re looking at you), it’s manipulated by some of its users to make out things are just a wee bit rosier than they often are.

Fake news, in other words, isn’t just restricted to the wacky world of mainstream politics, it’s also very much become part of our everyday personal online interactions.

Of course, skewing your ride information like this is best filed under ‘utterly wacko’, because ultimately, what’s the point?

You're only cheating yourself

If you’re serious about wanting to improve your performance, by tracking your progress and using that data to build your fitness, lying about that improvement to impress girls or bag bragging rights means you’re only cheating yourself.

Not that bragging rights aren’t an important part of Strava’s global appeal. In fact, chasing King of the Mountains (KOM) titles and higher places on segment leaderboards are what keep many riders coming back to what is – intentionally or not – a pretty competitive environment.

And when things get competitive, well, as we all know, things can also get fantastically silly. Mercifully, those loopy enough to cling onto the side of a passing van, say, in a bid to log faster times are in a minority, with most cyclists using Strava to become better cyclists.

That said, there are still plenty of other peccadillos and peculiarities noticeable amongst regular Strava users that we reckon are just a little bit, well, odd.

So check out our list of the most common here, to see if any of these weird activities have wormed their way into your life.

And if they have, well we’d suggest doing something about it quick!

1. Invent invisible enemies

You know how kids have invisible friends? Well, thanks to Strava’s leaderboards, it’s now possible for grown-ups to have invisible enemies!

That’s right, you too can develop an obsessive rivalry with a complete stranger. Marvel as your irrational hatred grows out of all proportion whenever this fellow’s name appears above yours, or pips your KOM by the narrowest of margins.

Before long you may even find yourself howling out this man’s name in the middle of the night, not least if he’s the type to deviously disguise his true identity by using Homer Simpson’s face as his profile pic.

In all likelihood, you’ll never get to meet this man. Never get to test yourself against him in a brutal one-on-one showdown.

Instead, you’ll just have to take comfort from the fact that your neighbourhood nemesis is spurring you on to cycling glory in a way that only a great rivalry can. 

2. Obsess over the weather

Checking out the weather forecast is always a good idea if you’re planning a trip on the bike, but there’s a huge difference between taking note of whether it’s advisable to pack a gilet or not, and logging onto metoffice.gov.uk armed with a calculator and a slide rule.

‘Ooh, what’s this? 70mph tailwinds are expected? Sounds like the ideal conditions to grab the KOM crown on that category 1 climb I’ve had my eye on!’

Of course, knowing which way the wind is blowing on a planned route is always helpful as tailwinds and headwinds can significantly impact your ride, but monitoring winds to specifically win Strava segments? Bonkers.

And while we’re on the subject please avoid the temptation to ride in winds over 40mph, as you’ll be cycling in an officially registered Force 8 gale.

Which is fun, but only up to the point when you get hit by a large chunk of flying tree. 

3. ‘Edit’ ride records

Of course, warming up and warming down properly are an important part of any serious cyclist’s routine, and if you are aiming to get faster, for example, you’ll stand a better chance of nailing your goal and avoiding injury if you do both.

In the minds of some Strava users, however, these slower miles at the start and at the end of a ride are viewed as the equivalent of an embarrassing family member whose existence they refuse to acknowledge.

And so they don’t. Instead they choose to edit their rides by not recording the starting miles or the home run.

In this way, they claim, only their ‘real’ efforts are visible to the public – ie the speedy miles in the middle.

Riders who do this have also been known to describe their riding style as being ‘a bit like Mark Cavendish’s’. No, really. And they’re not being ironic.

4. Pretend to be really fast

Another way some riders manage to appear super swift on Strava is by making sure they only record bits of their rides when they’re mostly going downhill.

Start the clock at the top of a big hill, belt down it at 30mph-plus, ride on the flat for a bit to cover your tracks, then stop the clock before climbing back up again and – hey presto! – your Strava data suddenly makes you look like Marcel Kittel on a good day.

Although anyone clicking on the route profile will soon twig how you did it. The standard excuse that’s then rolled out when riders like this are rumbled is, ‘Yeah, I, er, ran into an old mate and stopped for a chat.

Turned off the old Garmin didn’t, I? Then must have forgotten to turn it back on again.’

Look, if you want to go faster, there’s no problem with that, and if you use Strava as the ace training tool it can be, guess what? You can go faster – even when your front wheel is pointing upwards.

You just need to put in a little more effort.

5. Go for a stalk

Social media is a curious phenomenon with the apparent power to bring out the inner voyeur in most of us and, in some cases, turn seemingly decent people into what’s technically known as ‘a right nosey parker’.

In the real world you’d never dream of scoping out personal information about people’s fitness levels unless perhaps you were a pro coach or a research professor at a respected sports-science facility.

Thanks to Strava, though, anyone can now rifle about in anyone else’s data – and they frequently do. And for what reason? Well, remember the competitive stuff we mentioned?

Yep, Strava stalking is all about the appeal of instant comparability, about how your data racks up against others’ – especially if your digits are better than theirs.

People burn hours scrolling around on their phones or laptops looking for people they’re  better than, rather than getting in some saddle time or turning the pedals on the turbo trainer.

And the most commonly heard excuse for this genuinely odd behaviour? ‘I’m just being inquisitive.’ Hmm… we wonder how inquisitive they’d be if they found a stranger’s Biro-scrawled training log on a bus? Not very would be our guess. 

6. Record every single ride

For some Strava users it’s all about appearing fast (see point four), while for others length really does matter. Strava’s ability to measure how many miles you’ve clocked up over a given week is best used to gauge how your endurance levels are improving under training conditions – and a very good tool it is, too.

For some, though, accumulating miles is more an exercise in willy waving, and yet another excuse to get one over their cycling rivals. We’ve all seen the guy who, having lost his KOM to his neighbourhood nemesis, starts showing off digits that prove he still bested his invisible enemy in terms of miles ridden in a given week.

When some of those miles have been harvested during short hops to the local offy to pick up six cans of cooking lager and a wrap of rolling tobacco, however, we’re not sure they can really be counted as part of a ‘fitness regime’. 

7. Disrupt group rides

It’s not unheard of for some riders to mount a KOM challenge while out on a group ride – without telling anyone. Thus turning what is intended to be a Sunday morning jaunt into something altogether more irksome.

The calculating individuals in question will make sure they’re on the back of the ride when the group hits the start of a segment they’re targeting, enjoying all the benefits that drafting affords in the process.

They then pick their way up to the front – enjoying their fellow riders’ slipstreams all the way – before pulling away from the group right at the top to nab the (highly assisted) honours.

Even if they don’t make KOM, this kind of cyclist will still often point to that segment on Strava and tell anyone daft enough to listen, ‘Yeah, the guys I ride with are good, but as you can see I’m by far the strongest.’ Just silly. 

8. Ride around in circles

Do you know your neighbourhood better than your local postie? Are you intimate with every pothole and tarmac crack in the streets immediately surrounding your home? Then chances are you’re a Strava Circler.

When some cyclists are coming back from a ride and Strava’s tells them they’ve completed, say, 58.8 miles they then make like a 747 from Magaluf as it waits for clearance to land at Heathrow.

Round and round (and round) they’ll go rather than do the rational thing which is to go home and grab a shower. Round and round, desperately willing those numbers up past 59 and on to 60 because, well, you know, it’s a round number isn’t it?

And a 60 just looks so much more impressive than 59, right? Nope. Not really. 

9. Turn into an angry loner

For Strava’s true believers there’s nothing so fulfilling as grabbing a KOM.

Seeing their name on top of the leaderboard, receiving kudos in the form of a dozen thumbs-up from approving stalkers – sorry – users, and getting an email confirmation from Strava Central itself can give the newly crowned King a sensation of orgasmic elation. Erm, at least so we’ve been told.

But, alas, there’s a down side to all this in the form of another email from the large fromages at Strava. One that reads ‘Uh-oh! Colin Toole (or whoever) just stole your KOM!’

For some it’s all too much to bear. What happens next goes like this: anger, despair, bit more anger, then irrational denial.

They lock themselves away from the world to study the stats. They stop talking to loved ones, neglect their personal hygiene, and begin muttering to themselves about numbers as they try to figure out just how their invisible enemy did it.

No way could their hard-won title have been beaten legitimately, the voices in their head will whisper. Their invisible enemy must have used an unrestricted e-bike. 

Or, maybe some of that EPO stuff Lance Armstrong used to squirt into his legs. They’ll then fire up Strava’s online reporting tool and flag up their invisible enemy’s ride as dodgy.

‘After all,’ they’ll tell you with wide, unblinking eyes, ‘this isn’t about me any more. This… this is about protecting the very integrity of Strava itself!’ OK, scary guy, whatever you say.

10. Go into meltdown

For some, the phrase ‘If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen’ isn’t just a throwaway idiom, it’s one of the greatest philosophical truths ever uttered, a code which will somehow lead to a more fulfilling life.

Of course, when the very technology that lies at the heart of their belief system goes wrong, followers of this code experience something akin to an existential crisis.

Losing the satellite signal, battery failure or reaching the end of a ride only to discover that the app froze 40 miles back, have all been known to cause highly unedifying tech-rage incidents.

Incidents that see otherwise perfectly rational men (and let’s be honest, it’s usually men) shrieking, swearing and hitting their Garmins or iPhones like they’re that ape at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Come on chaps, get a grip! It’s an inanimate object. You can call it all the blue names beneath the heavens and it won’t be offended, much less ‘up it’s @$#ing game’.

And bashing the bejesus out of it is hardly likely to help you either. Should you ever find yourself in the middle of such a tech-rage incident, we suggest you breath deeply and repeat the mantra, ‘If it’s not on Strava, it doesn’t really matter.’

After all, you still got to have a blast on your bike – even if the data’s not there to prove it. And that, at the end of the day, is surely all that really counts.

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