To Strava or Not to Strava

Posted by on Mar 2, 2013 in Journal


For someone like myself who doesn’t race but still likes to compete, Strava is a pretty cool thing. These days though I’m less certain about that statement than I was just a year ago. The doubt started to creep in when one of my riding buddies came down with KOM fever (King of the Mountains). One moment we’d be just cruising along on a recovery ride and the next Gary would be all elbows and knees trying to shave a few seconds off of a Strava segment. To me it’s one thing to see a rider up ahead and decide to give it the gas, and a whole other to be chasing things that aren’t even there—except of course virtually.

Then last summer while on a Saturday morning spin, I was finally able to catch up to the guy on the bullet bike pictured above. Usually whenever I’d see him he would be on the other side of the road whistling along. The few times we were on the same side of the road he would either pass me so quickly that I didn’t have time to say anything, or he was up ahead and widening the gap between us. On this particular day though I caught him trying to scale one of the longer gradients you can find on Bee Caves Road and I was able to pull even with him. Which gave me an opportunity after I introduced myself to tell him that he was the only one (at that time) who was faster than me over the Pennybacker Bridge. I knew that because his Strava icon is him in his yellow bullet. The picture is small, but big enough to tell it’s him.

Now, I like to call the segment over the bridge the Tranchée d’Arenberg after the brutal cobbled section that is featured in Paris Roubaix every year. It’s kind of fitting because while the bridge is not cobbled it has two huge steel seams which can be a bit unnerving to ride over, it’s always littered with debris, it’s loud, and the lanes on the bridge narrow. Basically just like the trench in northern France, you want to get the hell through it as quickly as possible. Going into the trench is a long, nearly half mile gradient where I’ve topped out at 48mph. Bullet Man* told me that when he set the Strava segment he topped out at 62mph. Clearly no contest. I give him credit for being forthcoming about what kind of bike he’s riding when he’s setting these segments because he beat me by a pretty big margin and I would have really been scratching my head over that one.

So, now when I look at a Strava segment I do so with a critical eye. Not only are people riding in different conditions, but they may be riding different kinds of bikes. You might be chasing someone who’s several decades younger. Or maybe someone who gets paid to ride. Or maybe they’re on a moped, like the guy who set the segment up Ladera Norte a couple of years ago at 17.3mph. And maybe—just maybe, there’s someone out there who doesn’t even own a GPS who’s faster than all of us.

So, I’ve been keeping Strava at arms length. And then today a riding buddy sent me this— Now every KOM is in question. Pretty crazy stuff. I guess soon enough we’ll all be back to wondering who’s really the fastest. I hope Strava makes it through this because while I’m not over the moon with it like I used to be, it’s a pretty good place to keep track of miles and to keep track of what others are doing. Well… sort of.

* I forget his name, but I think it’s Tim. He was fun to talk with and seems like a good guy.