Friday Debate: Strava - Bike Magic

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Friday Debate: Strava

Ali Todd is a one of the local Monmouth riding crew and likes to swing his leg over a bike of any kind – XC,AM,DH – the tags make no difference to him. Having helped out on bike testing and tea making duties over at Dirt Magazine for some time now, he also knows what makes a good bike and what makes a heap. 

Ali’s going to be lending his views and opinions on products, bikes and all-manner of bike-related topics as he joins us over the coming months at BM.

Ali Todd in downhill mode. But he’s into all sorts of riding, as long as he can time it, map it and log it of course. Photo © Alex Stewart

For starters, Ali’s been weighing up the pros and cons of logging rides using Strava. Everyone has an opinion on the technological ‘leap’ that Apps have brought even our simple two-wheeled world, but Ali’s laying down the facts and leaving this one open for debate…


Words: Ali Todd

When I first started riding, many years ago, I used to grab a small black stopwatch, ride to the red trail at the Forest of Dean and do timed laps. It was great, and the reward of seeing the minutes fall was a good incentive – and one I might re-instate, after the excesses of a Christmas where I’ve neglected the all-mountain bike and spent a bit too much time on uplifts and big, bouncy bikes. The thirty-minute-lap goal was always in the back of my mind then – to the extent that when I had an hour spare, the spectre of the timer watching over me was enough to get me on the bike, doing “just one lap”. It never ended that way though.

My stopwatch has fallen by the wayside more recently, much to my regret. Technology seems to have gone one up on my trusty old stopwatch though, with “GPS sports trackers”, namely Strava, on smart phones not only replacing the timing function, but adding a mapped route of where you’ve been, individual timed sections, goals, history… And possibly most importantly, a “GPS-based virtual racing system”. The list seems endless – and full of good things, right?

Strava is available on IPhone and Android…but won’t a good old wristwatch do the same job..?

Here’s the debate then:

While the good bits already seem evident, there are some notable negatives – hence the title. These apps seem to be love-it-or-hate-it things, which open a metaphorical can of creepy crawlies whenever the debate rises. Here’s the deal: I’ll lay out the facts and some opinions and you lot make your own minds up. Even better, stick your oar into this particularly interesting container of yeast-based spread and elongated soft-bodied invertebrate animals in the comment section below.


If you want to time yourself on Strava, you can get not only lap times, but individually timed sections. As good as this is, it throws up a few problems – firstly, there are known issues with GPS trackers, namely inaccuracy due to inconsistent marker points – especially important on the downhill sections, where differences of five or six seconds are huge. If you want timing over longer sections then the reliability gets better – but why choose Strava over a stopwatch if this is your goal?

Another issue regularly brought up is the fun vs. timing debate – do you have more fun just riding a track, finding your flow, doing the climbs at manageable pace and ripping up the descents, or do you want to be out of breath the whole way round? Obviously no-one is forcing you to use Strava, stopwatch or other, but that doesn’t stop people from disliking it.

Life is racing…now with added graphs. Bragging rights or your ultimate reality-check.


This is where things heat up. All of us have got a competitive edge, but some seemingly more than others – riding some of the official local trails, you see cut corners and cheeky lines where people are just searching for that extra ten seconds. Even worse, you’re completely unaware what the other riders are on – that “amazing” time may well be some bloke on a motocross bike, laughing at you lot trying to keep up!

Not-so-secret trails…

Here’s where the biggest issue lies. Your beloved secret trail, years in the making, has been put up on Strava by some inconsiderate rider. Within a month, it’s blown-out, rutted, the jumps have lost the edges, the hard lines knocked out. Does happiness prevail? Maybe not. Technically this isn’t the fault of the app, just the thoughtless people who follow it without second thought, but it’s still a big thing.

Forest of Dean Blue route – mapping’s fine on official routes but just don’t go trying it on anything secret…please!


The essential question here is “do you really want to be in touch with the world all the time, even on your bike?” I know I ride to escape – perhaps a bit too often – but the idea of dragging an iPhone (with work emails, texts and calls coming in) around the woods ruins something for me. Add to that the chance of falling on your beloved hub of communication, getting it wet and generally throwing it around, and you’ve got a very expensive crash.


So there are what I consider to be the key points. Whether you’ve not tried it at all or whether you plan your rides around “Strava-friendly segments”, we want to know what you think. Is it an obsession? A tool for motivation and training? Is it a good idea? Does it make sense only for the road bike community and their focus on split times, or is it a great tool for mountain bikes too? Jump on in.


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