Friday, July 26, 2013

Code of the Semi-Serious Cyclist: Part 9 (Strava)

The SSC doesn’t have a Strava. Doesn’t need one. Doesn’t want one.

Strava, which means “screen junkie” in Norwegian, is all the rage in serious cycling circles these days. The program, of course, works with a GPS device such as a Garmin or smartphone, to provide mapping, tracking, and statistics of a person’s rides. When passing by certain popular ride areas or “segments,” Strava users can compare their times against other Strava-ists. The best time for each segment wins the “King/Queen of the Mountain” or KOM/QOM designation. Strava users can also post comments on others’ performances.

Sounds harmless enough, sure. Maybe even useful or fun, some might argue—a way to connect with a broader virtual cycling community. But in the wrong hands, Strava-ing (that’s the verb) tends to lead to some seriously sad bike-riding behavior. Stravaficianados can be spotted on the roads from miles away; rarely do their eyes leave the handlebar stem--which is where the smartphone or GPS is usually mounted. That’s the problem with Strava. It is apparently addictive, and heavy users become focused only on their screens, racing against virtual competitors, trying to beat other Stravons’ times—all the while oblivious to other cyclists and the actual world beyond the handlebars.

In the worst cases of Strava-ing, riders flaunt the rules of the road and common sense—blowing through red lights and ignoring fellow wheelers. One infamous case in the US involves the death of a cyclist who was using Strava at the time of his accident. His family sued the company that makes the device, essentially arguing that Strava made him ride recklessly. (They lost.). Strava has become such a scourge of the modern road that a new term has arisen in the cycling world: "Stravasshole." That is, a person Strava-ing at the expense of common courtesy on the roads.

Now, Strava isn’t inherently evil. Some of my best friends use Strava. It can be used responsibly, moderately, reasonably. It just isn’t, usually.

As for the Semi-Serious Cyclist, he is not tempted in the least by Strava. He doesn’t even have a smartphone or GPS. He doesn’t use mapmyride. As far as he is concerned, these gizmos and gadgets will only complicatemyride. 

The SSC prefers to keep cycling low-tech. If the SSC wants to know where he is or where he is going, he consults the folded up pieces of paper (carefully snipped from an ordnance survey map) in his pocket or he calculates his location with his trusty sextant, stored in his handlebar bag. The only “segments” he cares about are in the Tootsie Roll in his back pocket.

In fact, it was with great hesitation that the SSC, only a few years back, deigned to attach a small cycling computer to his handlebars. That was a major concession to modernity, though he’s not sure the little doohickey has enhanced the bike riding experience in any way. When the computer stopped working a few weeks ago, he didn’t miss it at all and has no plans to replace it.

The Uber-Serious Roadies can keep their Strava. Meanwhile, the SSC will grab a java. Or some baklava. Or pedal through lava. Wearing a balaclava. Just, please, no Strava.


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