Pickled Hedgehog: “Some numbers don’t lie.”

by 11

Alex is an addict. And, like all addicts, he can give up any time he wants…

komStrava really is quite the thing.

Some are slaves to it, many more loathe its digital tyre print, but few hold an ambivalent position. Road riders pretend it’s a training aid and not a vanity prop. Mountain bikers pump digital testosterone by cutting corners and inflating times. And almost anyone who confuses cycling with a belief system has a view about it – mostly on the extreme edges of the argument. There’s not much love for the middle ground. Here’s mine.

I like – and maybe a verb a little stronger than that – Strava in the times it records my little greatness. I hate it when uncalculated risks fail to light up my tiny gold ‘Personal Record’, or impede my propulsion up a ladder with an unattainable top step.

It’s ironically amusing that the concept of ‘Digital EPO’ stalks every leaderboard, while the whole concept of chasing the Strava dragon in electronic veins is an addiction habitual drug addicts would recognise. Me? I can give it up any time I like. Not tomorrow, but next week. Or the week after that. It’d be a blessing to live without the pain of the KOM loss ping, or wondering how all your pals are riding so many more miles than you.

But this is not what’s going to send me cold turkey. That story starts two years ago, when my last visit to the superb loaf-like geography of the Quantocks Hills delivered big on sunshine, great views and endless climbing, but left me rather lacking in confidence, downhill speed and excuses. Result: much agonisingly rubbish descending, mid-pack and holding up the proper riders: ‘Cheers Al, just been through a whole set of brake pads back here…’ they joked at the bottom.

Funny, I wasn’t laughing that much. The ‘organic Strava’ of riding with your mates is a more visceral experience when compared to mitigating a crap digital performance on some feeble pretext made up long after the event. No such worries on my return to the same trails recently though – with my box-fresh, on-trend, 27.5-inch full sus and feeling full of post-skills course confidence.

I spent the ride hanging onto the dusty tyre trails of those normally long disappeared (I should have been faster still but in my defense the conditions were perfect). Still, there were times when I was doing that thing of looking at a sketchy line and just committing to it, rather than my normal approach of hitting the brakes and dying a little death inside.

There were incidents. Saving a front end slide with a foot out; bouncing off a wall about a second before the multitude of rocks I’d disturbed hammered into the same; landing a big, scary drop with closed eyes and squirming tyres. But it’d be worth it, because – ignoring eagerly waiting family members – on stepping through my front door, it was time for the dirty download.

Even a post-ride beer doesn’t quite hit the high spot when compared to the digital validation of an increase in velocity. And in a few places, it was right there in the numbers. It’s hard to know what swells the chest more – being 10% quicker than two years previously, or faster than 70% of people you are unlikely ever to meet.

This is no way changes the hard fact you’re still noticeably slower than 1% of the Strava cohort. It does not take an app to bring this painful truth home when you ride with some of that 1% all the time. While dealing with that, consider this; much, if not most, of this strived-for Strava improvement is nothing more than piloting a faster bike, which will essentially travel at just below light speed all on its own if you leave the brakes alone, anyway.

Even with all of this, one segment ridden on both Quantocks rides held my attention. The little gem of Weacombe: starting steep, straight and fast through rutted braking bumps before twisting into perfect flowing singletrack chasing the river down the fall line. ‘God’, I thought as I barreled down the hill, ‘I’m good here’ – well in sight of those who are seen at the top and bottom of the trail but rarely in between, pushing it a bit through the corners and letting the bugger run in between. Oh I’ve got some flow on now, of that there can be no doubt.

Enough waffle. Numbers say more than words. August 2013: a rather pedestrian 1:42. May 2015: a spectacularly rapid 1:41.

I may not have been laughing earlier but I am now. This isn’t about Strava, it’s about my delusion being a beautiful thing that deserves better than to be tainted by numbers. It’s counting the many things that are important, not totaling the one that is not. Strava is a symptom of this disease, not the cause.

The very best thing about that ride was breathing heavily at the top of the last climb in the midst of a massive piss-take with all the people I want to share my weekends with. Seconds later I was mostly falling down a rocky descent and being reminded that standing on the pedals is somewhat different to being propped up by meaningless numbers.

So yeah, I’m giving up Strava. Logging off forever. Disabling the notifications. Abandoning the challenges. Deleting my account. I don’t need it, and it certainly doesn’t need me. My days of being ring-fenced by a digital boundary are definitely over. Tomorrow it’s gone. Or the day after. Certainly by next week.

Like I say, I can give it up any time I like.

Read more from Pickled Hedgehog here.

Comments (11)

  1. I’ve had one or two rides which I’ve enjoyed in the moment but later been disappointed about because Strava told me I wasn’t as fast as I thought I was. That’s a little sad and it makes me wonder why I bother. But then there’s the other rides where I break into the top 5% or so on my favourite trails and it makes me feel like I’m getting better. I don’t think I’m rad enough for enduro or fit enough for XC racing so imaginary internet “racing” will have to do for now.

  2. It’s fun for logging stuff. I don’t get too upset about being 161 of 254 or whatever as I am not a cycling god and have no intention of being one. If there’s no coffee stop on a ride it’s not a good one as far as I’m concerned.

  3. I spent six months off it but I prefer to be back on it. I think it sharpens up your riding. If that’s what you want/need, it’s a good thing. If you’re happy to ride any which way you want, then I’d drop it. Often wonder what the creators think of the DH element it drives, as that’s not what it was created for.

  4. I definitely need to wean myself off it. It’s just so damn addictive and they keep making just a bit better. I used to log all my rides on endomondo but it feels so far behind in terms of functionality.

    My other shallow secret are beating people on road bikes while hauling my 30b mountain bike with fat tyres back from the pub 🙂 Doesn’t happen that often…

  5. I find some of the times o it highly dubious. I know of 1 lady who has a faster time than the fastest guy I know. Whilst she is a good rider there is no way she is as quick as heis. But Strava claims she is

  6. Sorry but Strava doesn’t interest me at all, but then I’m 66 recovering from cancer treatment and as far as I’m concerned I’m just lucky to be out riding at all. I enjoy riding, that’s it, that’s all I need.

  7. Absolutely nothing wrong with that! Best of luck with your recovery. Starva definitely gives and takes away the enjoyment of a ride. I guess it’s up to everyone to decide which side of that line they are on.

  8. its just for kicks, its a laugh I could stop anytime…can I take a screenshot of my trophy cabinet…

  9. Love it. Doesn’t impact my rides or memory of them but just extends the fun a little afterwards.

  10. I like Strava for logging routes ridden & mileage.
    It’s nice when you get a good time on a section, but I’m more about longer steadier rides than trying to attack KOMs.
    Not bothered about them tbh. There are always going to be faster riders than you.

  11. Don’t you just hate it when you get back from a ride, take out the phone to upload and discover it is still sitting there on 10 seconds, auto paused.
    Now I will never know.

Leave a Reply