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?’
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…
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.
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.