Why I wish Strava had never been created

Wooww there – bold statement?


For a lot of people, Strava is a motivational tool, it’s a reason to get out and ride, and to ride faster.

Personally, I think it’s an invasion on cycling as we know it – it turns social rides into races, creates relationships behind screens, and for anyone who wants to improve their racing times, it’s the perfect tool for ineffective training.


Social rides into races

I won’t claim that before there was Strava, weekend rides were beautiful ambles through powder pink country lanes that smelt like fairies had been sweating there for hours – they weren’t non-competitive, and people still went ‘off the front’ to inject pain as and when they felt the desire. This is your average club ride. I’m sure Obree mentions in the ‘Flying Scotsman’ that his first club rides were an exercise in how long it would take for him to get dropped.

Before Strava, people still didn’t use long, endurance group rides to log steady miles in the way that is generally advertised by coaches as the best way. It’s human nature, in competitive individuals, to have a pop at one another, and for most individuals who aren’t training at the high levels of pros, all training is good training so I don’t suggest we all need to keep our heart rates in zone 2.

However, before Strava, people chose when to make their efforts – they smashed it up a hill because it just looked like a good hill, not because they knew they were ranked 20th and wanted to be 10th on a leaderboard sitting inside a database on a computer.

Strava turns a ride with friends into a glorified computer game – you can almost hear the ‘BLEEPPbleep’ similar to PacMans ingestion noises sound off as a rider gets a new place on the leaderboard. Oh, wait – with the Garmin 1000 that allows you to get live data on Garmin Connect (not Strava, but it’s all the same..) segments, you actually CAN hear that bleep.

Riding is competitive, for many people, myself included. However, it’s also so much more from that. It’s getting away from the day to day rigmarole of computers and technology, when it isn’t a hard training ride, it’s looking around at how damn beautiful the world is, not staring at the average speed lest it dare to drop by 0.3mph. It’s spending time actually with friends, not communicating with them on Facebook…

Creates relationships behind screens

Whilst we’re on it – I don’t actually LIKE Facebook.

Whooa – don’t you manage Social Media for a JOB? Yes (alongside Content Marketing, I will add!) – and sometimes I think we’d all be much better off without Facebook.

What’s better – going for a coffee with a friend once a month, and getting an in-depth update on their life and well-being, or seeing them pop up on your screen and hitting ‘like’ once a week?

Strava is basically Facebook for cyclists. Rather than having a few riding buddies, who we see on a regular basis, to enthrall each other with detailed descriptions of recent rides, and ride together, Strava gives us infinite buddies, whom we can engage with for about 3 seconds each whilst we hit ‘Give Kudos’ before moving on to examine the next persons ride called “Hella Windy” or “Legs too tired”…

Which would you rather? 5 real ride buddies, or 50 people who don’t know you at all? I’ll give you the argument that you can have both – but not if you start riding like a computer-bot has got into your legs and brain.

Ineffective training

Legs always tired? Well, that’s probably because you’re riding Tempo ALL THE BLOODY TIME. If you have no goals to actually get any faster, and just want to keep riding at the same speed – that’s fine and dandy – enjoy.

Here’s why using Strava to train doesn’t work for the majority of ‘Average Jo’ club riders:

Training is simple:

Put body under enough stress to cause adaptation > rest – in the rest period the body adapts.

During the rest period, the rider might do an easy ride – with an average speed that to them might seem embarrassing. But if no one sees it, well – doesn’t matter.

Training effectively is hard. Many of us (myself included) – follow something more like the below:

Put body under a bit of stress > put body under a bit of stress > put body under a bit of stress > rest – not enough stress for adaptation

It’s human nature to feel doing MORE is good – especially in people who are, let’s face it, a bit Type A in personality. People like that need to TRY to train effectively – applying enough stress and rest to get faster, and they should keep clear of the below…

Training with Strava can be ineffective:

Put body under enough stress to get an average speed that looks acceptable on Strava >  Repeat > Forget the rest and recovery- because that would mean your average mileage will go down.

This process does not unfold in everyone. I expect beginner cyclists, who are brand new to riding and don’t expect themselves to reach an allotted speed, can gain a lot from seeing their times improve – and they will. Confident cyclists, who have the self belief to accept slow rides for what they are, can also benefit, and lets be honest, they’re better riders than me. Most of us? Best stay away.

The counter argument

You’ll notice (now I point it out) I called this ‘Why I wish Strava had never been created’ – not ‘Why I hate Strava’.

You see, I don’t hate Strava, in the same way I don’t hate Facebook.

Facebook gives us the ability to keep track of friends we would otherwise lose into the abyss as life gets busy and time too precious to maintain 50 meaningful relationships.

Strava is being used to inform transport plans, it can be used to log coffee shops, helpful for other riders – and it’s a huge inspiration for some riders.

For those new to fitness, it gives them motivation and goal, and for those who for any reason don’t want to, or cannot race, it gives them a shot at gunning for first place somewhere.

What I don’t like is seeing a beautiful sport transposed to an online game – the colour reduced on every day riding reality as we race to upload and shut it behind the screen.

I don’t like seeing data take priority over the actual experience –  life is more than a virtual reality and you’ll only get to smell the roses and see the lanes in 3D once. If you can use Strava, and push it to the back of your mind, to concentrate on what matters – great. If not, just stop uploading.

Published by michellearthurs

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

2 thoughts on “Why I wish Strava had never been created

  1. I use strava via a suunto gps watch, which gives me an hours to recovery figure while I do ride hard and try and keep the pace high I found that without the rest periods recovery was difficult. I live in an area of the country where the hills are nasty but the views are wonderful Devon with the sun shining is like no other place on earth.

    I use Strava to record my heartrate and my route and have come along way since my massive heart attack in 2009 which damaged my heart muscle by 16% .

    So I understand about hard exersise without killing yourself, and at 55 can cycle 85km over devon hills in four and a half hours. Strava with the option to filter by age has been a godsend keeping me confident that I was moving in the right direction.

  2. Great post. I see Strava as a good tool, if used in the right way. But it’ll never be FOR ME, and I expect it’s the same for others who have a similar motivation for cycling, which is basically to get fit, enjoy the outdoors, meditate. As soon as I start worrying about looking slow, not being good enough, the spirit of cycling is lost. It was a good point about its equivalence to Facebook, because when I was on Facebook years ago it was the same thing – I became anxious to keep up my online persona. Which is totally against the direction I want to go spiritually. I do not want to be part of a community which measures and judges you based on an ‘online performance’ which may be completely unrelated to reality. But yes if you are a racer and thus your main motivation is being better, Strava can be useful.

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