Yesterday the sad story was making the rounds of the Internet about a cyclist in California who died last year in an accident while descending a steep road. He attempted to avoid a car and flipped off his bike while trying to win back a KOM on the popular sports network Strava. What made the story go viral now is the fact that his parents are suing the site for negligence. Some have wondered if this will be the end of Strava. All I know, is that it reminded me once again that we’ve all got to be careful out there.
I’m a Strava junkie. I admit it. I enjoy that site that allows you to see what your friends are doing out on their rides. I’ve learned some new routes and met some new friends. It has also pumped a bit of life back into some routes that I had grown sort of burned out riding.
It was another aspect of Strava that is involved in the accident mentioned above. That is the competition side of the site. When you ride, all types of data about your trip is recorded to the site. This includes speed, course and time. You can create “segments” of road that you can use to measure your fitness as you ride it again and again. Of course, other Strava users can see those segments made public. This leads to competition. When you win the competition for that segment, you get awarded with an “achievement”.
For instance, there is a segment called the Chick Springs TT. If you read this blog, you have seen several posts about it. It is a stretch of road that someone used to create a segment. I happened upon it and saw that the time in which other riders had covered the distance. I then set out to get a better time.
So, I can fully understand what led this 41-year old cyclist in California to go out and try to “win” back his achievement — in this case what Strava calls a KOM. However, because I understand how competitive nature can lead me to make irrational decisions, I place some rules — or at least guiding principles — on my Strava use.
The Yellow Line Rule
This is pretty basic. If you have to cross the yellow line to get the KOM, then it ain’t a KOM worth going for. Now, I’ll admit that there are stretches of road where I will cross the yellow line. For instance, there are a couple of stretches on the Furman side of Paris Mountain where you can see yards ahead on a winding road — the same thing happens on roads like Highway 178 in Pickens. I will “straighten” the road a bit when there is no car approaching. However, the vast majority of curves do not allow this line-of-sight.
The Know the Road Rule
If you are going to be going for a segment, you need to know the road. This doesn’t mean just the terrain of the road, it includes the side roads, traffic patterns and even the time of day. There are certain roads that I may ride and compete for a segment on at one time of day that I wouldn’t do at another time of day. There are sections where even during light traffic I have my eyes locked on a side road where I know traffic can come.
A KOM is a King of the MOUNTAIN
I don’t own any downhill KOM achievements on Strava. It isn’t that I haven’t tried to get a good time descending (I did that before I even knew of Strava), but in my mind descents are second rate. Yes, you could say it takes a lot of courage to descend quickly. You could also say it is foolhardy to descend quickly — especially on an unclosed course.
Climbing is another matter. Climbing takes courage of a different sort. It takes power, technique and suffering. These are the segments that really deserve the KOM label.
The other thing is that inherently, they are safer. Yes, here as well people have a temptation to break the Yellow Line Rule. However, the need for quick reaction times and danger from road conditions are lessened. Then again, maybe this is why I don’t like descents!
Know When to Let It Go Rule
Finally, you have to know when to let it go. This is all for fun. Having some fun knocking your buddy off the leader board is fine. Getting consumed with it to the point of making dangerous decisions is not.
Sometimes, it is a good idea to just say, “Good show, buddy. Enjoy the top of the turtle pile.” You can always move on to a new segment.
In defense of Strava…
What about Strava leading to risky behavior? Well, I think what it may do is expose risky behavior. Tracking best times on the local hill or racing for the county line is nothing new in the cycling world. It is just now those segments can be measured for anyone to see.
Risky behavior is also nothing new in the cycling community. I think it is safe to say that the people who engage in risky behavior were doing so well before they downloaded the Strava app to their iPhone. There are also plenty of “responsible” Strava users who know when to say when. Come to think of it, the rules I listed above don’t just apply to Strava. They’re common sense whether you use the service or not.