Every time I think interest in Strava is waning, it surges up again like an outbreak of measles in a community of vaccination sceptics. As I write this article, my social media is currently a parade of Festive 500s and end-of-year stats. I scroll through my feed and see miles in the hundreds, feet of climbing in the thousands, and my self-esteem in single digits.
Yet while mathematicians may be able to describe the universe in numbers, to me they can only convey so much about a ride. We don’t live in The Matrix, and I’d like to see some measurements that illustrate the richer side of mountain biking. If Strava could consider how to introduce a way of recording when you’ve done any of the following, I might well rethink my jaundiced opinion of it.
1. Saying Hi
You may well be a lonely curmudgeon who shirks adult responsibilities in order to read nonsense on mountain bike websites. But what if I told you that even you have the potential to be an agent of joy in life, an ambassador for your sport, a renewer of unwritten social contracts, and the architect of your own happiness, all rolled into one? And all it takes is two letters, one syllable, and a bit of eye contact? You can go more formal if you want, with a “hello”, a “morning/afternoon” (if you have the presence of mind to distinguish them) or even a “what ho”, but positively acknowledging your fellow countryside users is a good thing, and should be recognised.
2. Lending Someone A Pump And Tools
I’m not one for rules (or The Rules) but if you see someone stranded at the side of the trail, you should always, always ask if they’re OK. The nature of mountain biking means that if your equipment lets you down in a remote location (or even the wrong side of a big hill) the best source of useful assistance will probably be another mountain biker. And there’s a very good chance that one day, you’ll be the luckless lemon with the unfixable puncture or the broken derailleur hanger, and a similarly generous passer-by will save you a long walk, or worse.
3. Clearing A Trail Blockage
Whether it’s a suspicious log on a blind corner, a fallen tree, or a catastrophic landslip, taking a few minutes out of your ride to address an obstruction, at the expense of your average speed stats, is a public service that needs to be recognised. So kick a branch off the trail and save someone a mangled derailleur. Stack some logs up against that tree which fell across the badger track. Or note a grid reference so you can call in a tactical airstrike from your local council’s rights of way team. The joy of an uninterrupted flowing section of trail is worth a couple of minutes of your time, any day of the week.
4. Picking Up Some Litter
I’m pretty certain that rubbish has contributed to the demise of more riding spots than any number of health and safety concerns or flattened dog walkers. There’s nothing more annoying than a beautiful countryside landscape dotted with man-made detritus, reminding you that humans are basically a virus with shoes. Of course riders who drop litter are the worst sort of person, but short of lurking in the bushes and meting out a sound thrashing to anyone you see discarding a gel wrapper, the best thing you can do is pick it up yourself. It’ll have more positive impact on the world than screaming into the void of social media, and it’s the perfect use of those stretchy outer pockets on your backpack. And if you’re wondering why you should clean up after some thoughtless little scrote, well, we’re humans, and altruistic behaviour is not only the foundation of our society, it’s vital to our success as a species. Just sayin’.
5. Riding A Climb With Someone Slower
Instead of trying to get a top 500 on that boring bit of fire road, rein it in a bit and chum someone along. How many strained relationships, bruised egos and festering resentments could be avoided if we just throttled it back slightly and had a chat? How many potential leaderboard places or Kudoses (Kudi?) will you get for beating the least experienced or most hungover person on the ride? Plus you’ll be fresher for the downhills, which are, in case you need reminding, the fun bit.
6. Finding A Really Good Café
A great mountain biking café is the result of a rare intersection of good food, generous opening times, a finger-saving heating system and an accommodating attitude to the besmirching of decor. I’d be much more interested in Strava if it pointed out the locations of cafes that did wide format cheese on toast, like the Glyncorrwyg visitor centre. Or places that had two separate menus – one for savoury and one for cake – like the late lamented Stella’s, a former highlight of any trip to the Quantocks. Such places are rare jewels, and deserve to be celebrated.
7. Stopping For A Photo
I was pleased when Strava added a photo functionality, thinking that their website was about to burst into a glorious parade of colour. But uptake, at least for the folk I follow, seems to have been minimal. I’m not saying you need to take photos of a ride for it to have happened, but I quite like looking at other people’s for all sorts of reasons – spy shots of trail conditions, for example. Photos are also also a nice reminder of your own rides, and it’s a pleasure to look back at dusty summer rides you did in the miry depths of winter (or your nuclear fallout shelter, after Donald tweets the wrong thing at Vladimir). So a bit more incentive on this front wouldn’t go amiss.
8. Cleaning A Technical Bit
Speed aside, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as picking your way through a tricky bit of trail with no dabs. There’s even an entire branch of our sport based around it. But even if you aren’t Ryan Leech or Danny Macaskill, keeping your feet up though a techy climb is often a highlight of a ride. Cleaning a particularly evil bit of trail – your Jacob’s Ladders and the like – can be an achievement that is whispered of in hushed tones wherever riders gather, for years to come. Surely having one show up on your ride log isn’t too much to ask.
9. Riding Through A Puddle Instead Of Widening The Trail
There’s a strong urge, when confronted with a murky lake of uncertain depth, to pick our way around the edge like a cat negotiating a room full of toddlers. We’ve all done it, in the utterly forlorn hope that we’ll get home without having to dry our shoes out or wash the bike. But the dry line usually wears out much quicker than the actual trail, and trashing an extra foot of countryside because we want to avoid a bit that’s already trashed is, in the colourful idiom of our American siblings, a dick move.
With the increase in connected technology, wearable gadgets and cross-platform data sharing, surely the technology is out there to reward Strava users with more than a little picture of a cup or a patronising “Woo, you’re 3/5 on this obscure segment”. Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions below too, and let’s make Strava interesting again…