Strava can be bad for you, says Royal Geographical Society.

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This week, Dr Paul Barratt will present a paper on “Racing Strangers: The rise of the quantitative self application and the changing (virtual) landscapes and practices of cycling” to the highly respected Royal Geographical Society in London. In it, he suggests that applications that pit rider against rider away from racing aren’t doing any good for the traditional Sunday club run or even the riders’ self-esteem as riders launch out of social riding packs in order to ‘bag a segment’. On the plus side, it does accept that Strava and pals are making riders ride more (if more aggressively and with less skill…)

The NGS’s press release says:

Mobile apps – such as Strava – are making cyclists ride faster, further and more frequently, but also more antisocially, according to research presented at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) international conference in London. Cyclists are being spurred on by virtual league tables and are competing with online strangers at the expense of their peers, Dr Paul Barratt of Staffordshire University told the conference.

Cycling clubs are having their weekend social rides disrupted by members sprinting for ‘segments’ – designated portions of a route, on which riders compete for time – rather than cycling as part of a close group.

Dr Barratt says: “Whilst cycling club social rides have always tended to culminate in a short sprint, members are now jumping off the front of the group many times throughout a ride in order to bag a fast ‘segment’.”

Solo rides are becoming increasingly popular, with cyclists heading out on their own in favourable weather conditions to perform short, high-intensity efforts in the hope of a higher place in online league tables.

Cyclists become easily addicted to mobile apps and tend to rely unconsciously upon the feedback that they provide. “No matter your ability, Strava can be a real source of achievement. Even ‘purists’ that resist the technology at first can soon become hooked,” Dr Barratt says.

However, as well as being motivational, cycling apps can also be a source of negative feedback, particularly if the weather and fitness is not in their favour and their cycling ability appears to be worsening.

“There’s a lot of bravado surrounding Strava. But the league tables ignore the subjectivity of the road and rider. People don’t generally mind a bit of wind assistance – as long as it helps push them up the league table.”

Dr Paul Barratt’s presentation (Racing Strangers: The rise of the quantitative self application and the changing (virtual) landscapes and practices of cycling) is taking place on Wednesday Aug 28 at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) annual international conference in London, being held between August 27 – 30. It’s the largest gathering of academic geographers in Europe, with more than 300 sessions, attracting more than 1,500 delegates from 50 countries. Full details on the RGS-IBG annual International Conference 2013 can be found at

Comments (5)

    Agree and I’m guilty as charged… But on the positive side I have met new riding buddies through Strava on my local trails, and I’ve explored new tracks that I wouldn’t have known about via the Segment Explorer.

    I ride on and off-road with Paul and I’m looking forward to reading his paper. I’ve got as far as downloading and logging onto Strava on my phone but haven’t used it…yet.

    I train mainly on my own because there is no one else lives near me or works the same hours, therefore it’s used as an incentive to keep going out, and rather than an idle pootle, it gets a good thrashing. Best years race results, so it’s obviously working.

    benji, do you find that “racing” against others on Strava is more motivational than simply trying to improve on your own personal bests?

    the bit we all forget is Stava can be up to 20% wrong with different devices, apps and gps coverage – the lad with banger mobile app v the state of the app garmin – the race can be futile! Great tool as a log of what you’ve done…

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