Cyclist or Strava Casualty?

There’s a modern phenomenon among cyclists that, until you understand what is going on, might seem baffling. One minute you are riding along with your companion, chatting away and happily talking nonsense, when suddenly and without apparent warning your friend is up out of the seat, jumping on the pedals, and straining every sinew like a sprinter heading for some imaginary finishing line – sometimes he keeps this up for 200 metres, sometimes he’s eyeballs out for a mile for two.

When it happens on a climb you think, ‘Ok, he likes to push himself on the climbs, that’s not unusual’, when he sprints for a town sign you think, ‘well, Ok, sprinting for town signs is perfectly normal, but a bit of prior warning would have been nice’.

It starts to get confusing when he sprints like Cavendish between two seemingly random points on the road and you think…’has GPS technology taken hold to the point that we are now sprinting for grid references?’

Philippe Gilbert: looks like he's going for a Strava segment? (Photo: Michiel Jelijs - Wikimedia CC)
Philippe Gilbert: looks like he’s going for a Strava segment?
(Photo: Michiel Jelijs – Wikimedia CC)

Well, no…but you’re not far off.

Your friend the random sprinter is clearly going hell for leather for a Strava King of the Mountains (KOM). For those of you who have avoided or resisted the lure of Strava, you might now be thinking…

‘Eh, what?!’

Strava is a website which allows you to download your bike rides from your on-board GPS; the idea being to keep a log of your rides and, if you so choose, while away many a long hour analysing your performance data in the form of charts and graphs. Within Strava there are a ‘segments’ set up by other users – essentially timed stretches of road between two points; often up some local climb or covering a popular sprint.

Whenever you ride between two such timing points your GPS records this, you download the information to Strava, and voila…you pop up on a leader-board for that segment. Whoever is top of the leader-board gets the KOM (or QOM – Queen of the Mountains)…simple.

Depending on your outlook on cycling, and life for that matter, these leader-boards are either a bit of harmless fun – fuel for some good natured banter with your mates – or they are the thing on which you base your status and sense of self worth. For your friend, with his lung bursting climbs and aggressive sprinting for gate posts, it’s possible that Strava has taken over his life.

The ubiquitous Garmin: the route of the problem? (Photo: Mikkelz - Flickr)
The ubiquitous Garmin: the route of the problem?
(Photo: Mikkelz – Flickr)

Once you understand all this it becomes clear what’s going on – you notice that the days when your friend is unusually quiet coincide with him being knocked out of the top ten on some high profile local climb. If he stops answering his phone and won’t reply to your texts,  just check Strava and you’ll probably find that…lo and behold…YOU’ve overtake him on a leader-board (whether you meant to or not)…an affront!

Once he’s leapfrogged you again he’s back to being Mr Sociable.

Lots of us have a bit of fun with Strava and attack the odd climb from time to time, in a vain attempt to climb a leader-board and earn some local kudos, but your friend will have spent hours poring over the maps to the point where he knows EXACTLY where dozens of King of the Mountains timings are. These very specific points on the road are what makes your KOM chasing friend ride in such an odd, stop-start pattern; and when you get home from your ride together and you are brewing a cup of tea and putting your feet up, he has logged in and is already downloading his data to see how he fared.

Whilst a bit of healthy and harmless competition among friends is generally to be encouraged, there is a line…and if it gets too serious it starts to ruin rides. You might find that your Strava obsessed friend plans routes not around the weather, the wind direction, the quiet roads or the good views, but around random GPS co-ordinates sometimes in the strangest of places.

The genuine Strava casualties also start to ride alone, lest any of their cycling companions should ruin their momentum at the wrong moment with a badly timed Bradley Wiggins impression or an ill-advised toilet stop…

…and when there’s no time for a comedy Bradley Wiggins impression, it’s a sure sign that things are getting out of hand.


  1. Awesome. So true. If a QOM is stolen from me i admit my competitiveness comes out. Next time I ride that segment, in the back of my head I’m thinking ‘I MUST claim my QOM back’. Like it’s the end of the earth if I don’t. Haha. I think it’s making me a faster cyclist.


    1. I like your attitude! If you’re challenging for QOM’s you must be doing something right. I have to be honest, things have got very competitive in my part of the world and I’m more likely to be thinking ‘i MUST get back in the top ten (or at least somewhere near)’ 😉


  2. I’m actually really interested to find out more about this! I’m going on that website now, although I don’t do cycling competitively I do like to open runkeeper on my phone and record my long bike rides (40 miles or so). Would you recommend getting a GPS watch or something instead of using an app like runkeeper?


    1. Personally i use a bike mounted GPS system. That way, you can see your data and get plenty of feedback as you ride along. A GPS watch would do the job but would be awkward to read safely on the move. I like to get a feel for the sort of average speed i’m riding, amount of gradient climbed etc. whilst i’m riding.

      Thanks for reading, glad you found it interesting.


      1. It does come down to personal preference…as with anything like this, you really can spend as much as you can imagine. If you want it purely for basic data – speed, ave speed, distance – something very basic and bike specific would do the job for less than £50. Personally, i go for Garmin Edge – i think the Edge 200 is about £80 and this will log all your data and allow you to download and analyse it if that’s your thing. The Edge range has something at most price points from around £80 up to about £400+ (which personally i think is a bit excessive).

        Of course, there are other companies which produce very similar gadgets at similar prices – i just mention Garmin because it’s what i’ve always used.

        Once you spend a bit more you can log things like heart rate, cadence, gradient etc.

        For something very basic you don’t have to go GPS. You can get a simple model which measures speed and distance using a sensor which attaches to your front wheel spokes, and will cost less than £20.


  3. Yeah be careful. I never go over 35 MPH because accidents result in death beyond that speed. But I’m glad your motivated to be a great cyclist. Sounds like you love it.


    1. Thanks very much…some would say that perhaps i love it a little too much!!

      Of course it pays to be careful, but in my view a safe speed depends very much on the conditions; visibility, road surface etc.


      1. Exactly my perspective. Although I dont often go over 35, there are some areas I know well with smooth straight down hills that allows for a safe speedy descent… but you should know your abilities.

        I often hear people talk about the risks you take but I think many dont understand the matters of risk. On an identical course, same conditions with the same bike there risk is still not the same for 2 different people. I often find its the low experienced or amatuer who sees it as risky and too them it maybe but to someone with the experience, the muscle memory, the skills, the reflexes and the focus etc… the risk is not equal.

        Im not saying there is no risk but too often people assume the same situation has the same level of risk to all.


      2. Yep, I’d go along with all of that. We all have our own limits that we learn through experience, and the hit of adrenaline is worth more of a risk to some than others.


  4. I was riding the other day, where I met up with another rider out on the road. He was testing out his new Strava, and asked me if I was on it as well. Being a poor cyclist, and ol’ skool as well, I looked down at my handlebars and thought “no, I’m not on Strava; I’m on Cateye Mity 8!”


    1. Oh dear, what a shame. I guess you either need to round up a crew and get competitive with each other, or simply bask in your status as top dog – ‘earned’ or otherwise 😉


  5. Loved this, it’s pretty much spot on. I use Strava for tracking my runs and I can recognise myself I this blog..


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