Sunday Times: Strava records achieved by speeding and ignoring red lights

Newspaper tried to beat cyclist's times sticking to 'legal' speed limits - and failed

by Sarah Barth   February 10, 2013  

Bike GPS

The Sunday Times has investigated Strava, the online social network for athletes, where people can compete against one another's GPS timings for selected segments of road, and concluded that the website "is encouraging recklessness on the roads and inflaming tensions between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists."

The newspaper went to some lengths to prove that cyclists were 'breaking speed limits' and potentially jumping red lights to hit record times.

The article read: "Two riders, identified as Tris M and George B, are recorded as averaging 41mph on a short section of the South Circular near Barnes. The only way of displacing them is by again breaking the speed limit.

"The Sunday Times tested three routes in central London, each of them ridden more than 20,000 times by Strava users, to establish whether it was possible to match cyclists’ times without running red lights or breaching the Highway Code.

"In each case, a motorbike, travelling at the 30mph speed limit, clocked slower times than those recorded by the cycling kings and queens, as well as cyclists much further down the leaderboard on each route."

As Bikehub notes, there is no such offence as speeding while on a bicycle.

The site reads: "It's an in-joke in cycling that cyclists can't be booked for speeding (see below) but can be fined for "pedalling furiously."

The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 states:  “It shall not be lawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle on a restricted road at a speed exceeding 30 miles per hour.” (RTRA 81.1) and “A person who drives a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a limit imposed by or under any enactment to which this section applies shall be guilty of an offence.” (RTRA 89.1)

"The speed limits in Royal Parks are also intended for motor vehicles only. According to The Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces (Amendment) etc. Regulations 2010 “vehicle” means a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on a road.

"While, technically, cyclists do not have to adhere to speed limits, in practice it is most sensible and safe to do so. Cyclists who breach the speed limit may not be prosecuted for a speeding offence but, as stated above, can be prosecuted for “cycling furiously” or “wanton and furious driving.”"

The article quotes Ben Lowe from VeloViewer, who makes it clear that he not only informed the Sunday Times that speeding on a bike isn't technically possible, but also told them that the data on Strava is unreliable. His excellent debunking of the Sunday Times piece can be found on the VeloViewer blog.

Strava told the Sunday Times: “We continue to encourage good behaviour within our community and strive for our users to understand the responsibility that they have to follow the law and to use common sense. You are in charge of your own safety and the safety of those around you when you are riding.”

Last year we reported how a family in San Francisco is suing Strava for encouraging an American man - who died trying to beat his speed record - to speed.

William ‘Kim’ Flint, from Oakland, had just lost his Strava ‘King of the Mountains’ title on a local downhill stretch when he crashed into a car nearly two years ago, apparently trying to keep his record.

The media also discovered last week that Lance Armstrong was still racing in the only place available to him following his lifetime ban from the sport - Strava - where he posted seven KOM titles in just one day.

According to the Wall Street Journal (like the Sunday Times published by News International): "Armstrong's Strava page bears in the profile-photograph space the image of a cannon above the words, "Come and Take It."

"His one-line Strava biography: "According to my rivals, peers, and teammates I won the Tour de France 7 times." Since his Oprah appearance, Armstrong has continued updating the page. He couldn't be reached for comment for this story."

But Michael Horvath, chief executive officer of the cycling website Strava, said he had no plans to ban Armstrong, and only hours later it appeared that the disgraced cyclist had removed his own profile.

As Carlton Reid notes on his reading of the Sunday Times piece, it's only surprising it took them so long to notice.

40 user comments

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Completely agree at the retarded 1m etc sprints in traffic which depends mainly on catching a good draft be it uphill or flat. Also lately there's been a mass of almost duplicate and quite small segments as no doubt more and more people begin to use it.

Personally there are a few segments around my area that are through traffic lights and flat. If a light changes for me and I'm going well I think "well there goes my chance". The same on a hill with light or junctions - if something slows me down I try another time.

I like going fast downhill and if I get a "KOM" doing it then so be it, but to take big risks at 50mph for the sake of that KOM is beyond me. Sure it probably encourages more risks if you are trying to beat a long downhill mixed with almost flats etc but it's no doubt safer than doing that in a race rendering whole article redundant.

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koko56's picture

posted by koko56 [322 posts]
10th February 2013 - 20:55

19 Likes

The thing that narcs me slightly is the quote of 20,000 cyclists on the segment. You might not be competing for a segment, but because you ride through it you're logged on it. Probably only 5% of those on that segment were aiming to 'compete' or log something special.

I only check my times against climbs, though if I get a podium it makes me interested to see what the segment was. It's a good site to just log a ride though.

Interesting to see Liestrong took his profile down. Actually I don't care if he keeps it up, but I can understand he doesn't need the scrutiny right now.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1143 posts]
10th February 2013 - 22:09

17 Likes

Gkam84 wrote:
Its slowing being killed off by people like the above commenter. (iamelectron)

There were around 10 segments around my local routes not long ago, but people keep flagging them for no reason, they are on decent roads and with no speed limits or dangerous sections....

If idiots keep flagging segments, with no way to have them unflagged, its killing the whole idea of Strava off.

But I do think anything in cites should be taken off.

So you're saying that doing 28 mph through a narrow village street that has a max speed of 20 mph is fine? And you're calling me an idiot? It was flagged because it was dangerous.

posted by iamelectron [108 posts]
10th February 2013 - 22:20

16 Likes

In what way is it dangerous? Is it not the idiots riding it which are the dangerous aspect?

posted by andyp [898 posts]
10th February 2013 - 22:26

23 Likes

andyp wrote:
In what way is it dangerous? Is it not the idiots riding it which are the dangerous aspect?

Of course it is! In this case you've got mini Cavs competing for the fastest time on a road that has cars parked on either side and space for one car to either go up, or down the street and a traffic calming measure at either end, a primary school and a blind corner. It takes one person (a child?) or car door to open...it's dangerous.

posted by iamelectron [108 posts]
10th February 2013 - 22:33

16 Likes

So, the riders, rather than the segment. People need to stop being dicks, rather than segment needs flagging.

posted by andyp [898 posts]
10th February 2013 - 22:49

15 Likes

So iamelectron, I suppose you also agree that electric cars are dangerous to pedestrians?

posted by mbrads72 [121 posts]
10th February 2013 - 23:00

14 Likes

iamelectron - seems legit concern. Sounds really busy, but then is it busy all the time?

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ValentinKokorin

London2Paris24: 450km, 24 hours, 5th-6th July 2014

I will miss TdF in Yorskhire!!! Please donate! Big Grin

koko56's picture

posted by koko56 [322 posts]
10th February 2013 - 23:26

19 Likes

Apparently I was travelling at 389.6km/h on a Regent's Park Segment this morning, and still failed to get the KOM.

Strange.

Sir Velo

Raleigh's picture

posted by Raleigh [1730 posts]
10th February 2013 - 23:38

17 Likes

The ST needs to make it up it's mind (not illegal for riders to "speed" either but you knew that eh NI)

posted by northstar [1106 posts]
10th February 2013 - 23:43

18 Likes

Horse shit like this makes my bloody boil, every day with or without Strava people try to beat other people in their group, their previous best times recorded in the old fashion way with a watch, this is not new, even now my mates goad me into going faster because up and down hill, for some its an essentially part riding, because some people don't like it tough, I don't these people averaging 10mph do I, I wish all the do-gooders would F**k off and let riders ride how they have ridden for years... before we had stuff like GPS.

posted by mikeprytherch [219 posts]
10th February 2013 - 23:43

14 Likes

iamelectron wrote:

So you're saying that doing 28 mph through a narrow village street that has a max speed of 20 mph is fine? And you're calling me an idiot? It was flagged because it was dangerous.

I am not saying that its fine, but its not up to you to try and control every rider that might want to ride like that.

If there was a way to unflag segments, I wouldn't have a problem with people flagging them, but as soon as it gets flagged, thats it shut down for everyone. Even the one's who did stick to the "speed limits" which as you well know, DO NOT apply to cyclists

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8859 posts]
11th February 2013 - 0:11

15 Likes

What a load of old balls.
Only div s chase KOMs on downhill sections and likewise those with any traffic furniture on them.
Those people are just plain idiots whether riding a bike, driving a car or walking down the street.
Same old typecasting of cyclists - bore off.

posted by pmr [169 posts]
11th February 2013 - 0:20

17 Likes

mikeprytherch wrote:
Horse shit like this makes my bloody boil, every day with or without Strava people try to beat other people in their group, their previous best times recorded in the old fashion way with a watch, this is not new, even now my mates goad me into going faster because up and down hill, for some its an essentially part riding, because some people don't like it tough, I don't these people averaging 10mph do I, I wish all the do-gooders would F**k off and let riders ride how they have ridden for years... before we had stuff like GPS.

Exactly, let the naysayers naysay.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ValentinKokorin

London2Paris24: 450km, 24 hours, 5th-6th July 2014

I will miss TdF in Yorskhire!!! Please donate! Big Grin

koko56's picture

posted by koko56 [322 posts]
11th February 2013 - 0:43

14 Likes

I like Strava. I live in the Texas and have lots of mates in the UK still and it's a great way of seeing what we are doing, how training's going etc. I think flagging segments could kill it though; I've definitely seen some flagged that I would in no way consider dangerous.

And not sure of its real relevance to this story, but the cannon with 'Come & Take It' that LA used for his profile picture is the Gonzales Flag; it's a common sign of Texas pride here. It's a good story of when the Mexicans tried to take one of their cannons back and were defeated by the Texas rebels. Could easily be taken out of context in this case if you didn't know your Texas history...

posted by pwake [294 posts]
11th February 2013 - 1:11

14 Likes

There are some insane speeds on some of the segments I do in and around Sydney Australia. I used to live in Switzerland and Strava made a lot more sense to me in the mountains than it does here. People have become a little obsessed with the whole KOM thing. As for fake times I have to laugh at some of the more obvious blunders where people forget to switch off the Garmin before they pack it into the car.

I like Strava and enjoy using it as a fitness tool. Use it sensibly and it's very valuable.

mike_ibcyclist's picture

posted by mike_ibcyclist [36 posts]
11th February 2013 - 1:57

18 Likes

Interesting stuff I think the Sunday Times point was that Strava is directly responsible by encouraging this behaviour just like having cars that do a top speed over 30 mph directly encourages drivers to break speed limits. Or having pubs and supermarkets encourages drink driving. Nothing to do with individual decision and free will Wink

Rigobear's picture

posted by Rigobear [72 posts]
11th February 2013 - 7:02

18 Likes

The link sends me to a list of news headlines - have they pulled the story, is it because I haven't paid, or do they hate mobile phones?

posted by a.jumper [701 posts]
11th February 2013 - 9:14

14 Likes

JonMack wrote:
The hint's in the name, KOM. No mountain = no point.

That rules out pretty much all of the UK segments then. And Netherlands. And Belgium.

Don't be ridiculous. The issue is with dangerous segments - just because a segment is flat (or downhill) doesnt make it dangerous. Last I checked, I still needed to make an effort riding my bike on the flat and on most downhills, and therefore I can improve my times by being fitter, which is exactly what Strava is aiming at. |Not everyone trains solely for climbing.

As has been pointed out above, lots of people behaved like idiots on the road long before Strava came along. I doubt whether the number has been increased significantly, but the answer is not to ban Strava segments, it's to tackle the actual dangerous behaviour.

posted by step-hent [683 posts]
11th February 2013 - 10:43

14 Likes

I'm sorry, but that statement is a load of old balls! Not all of us live in cities. There are loads of perfectly safe downhill sections around my way - good roads, visibility etc and with no schools and very little traffic.

I only use Strava these days to compete against myself, there are so many dubious stats on leader-boards to take it seriously.

posted by sorebones [110 posts]
11th February 2013 - 10:43

15 Likes

I've put together an article explaining why the headline fuelling "41mph" statistic is actually a not quite so shocking 31mph once you remove those riders with GPS errors: http://veloviewer.com/blog/41mph-the-evidence-against-the-sunday-times-a...
When interviewed last Thursday I pointed out to them how unreliable these speeds can be on Strava (he actually asked how the top speed could be over 100mph on the segment they mention) but chose to ignore the advice. (Although at least they didn't use the 100mph+ speed for their headline!) I also pointed out to him at that time that it wasn't illegal to go faster than the speed limit on the bike to which he said he would get the legal people to look into it.
Also worth noting that The Sunday Times itself was a contributing factor for those of us wanting to turn the roads into racetracks: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/ireland/article1111334.ece
@VeloViewer/Ben Lowe

dynoben's picture

posted by dynoben [3 posts]
11th February 2013 - 10:53

15 Likes

They'd already made up their mind as to what they wanted to write. Nothing you said could really change that. In essence there is no story here.

Sadly for cyclists, this fuels even greater contempt from the 'ill-informed' motorists who read this.

DaveO
@SouthernOwl

DaveO

posted by Dave Ody [18 posts]
11th February 2013 - 11:13

14 Likes

I tried using Strava, but I gave up on it pretty quickly. For 2 basic reasons:

1) a bike GPS just isn't accurate enough to reliably record you across a short distance, especially when Strava only uses recorded GPS positions and doesn't interpolate to the start and finish of the actual segment. the segment in question (just 290m long) is a perfect example, as ben so excellently explains in his piece, but even on a long climb i know people who've ridden together and had times more than 10 seconds different.

2) anything that allows a large user base to create their own data invariably fills up with rubbish. Strava's not well moderated or peer reviewed, nor is it currently clever enough to weed out multiple segments on the same climb. so it gets increasingly difficult to get meaningful data back.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7385 posts]
11th February 2013 - 11:38

21 Likes

dynoben wrote:
I've put together an article explaining why the headline fuelling "41mph" statistic is actually a not quite so shocking 31mph once you remove those riders with GPS errors: http://veloviewer.com/blog/41mph-the-evidence-against-the-sunday-times-a...
When interviewed last Thursday I pointed out to them how unreliable these speeds can be on Strava (he actually asked how the top speed could be over 100mph on the segment they mention) but chose to ignore the advice. (Although at least they didn't use the 100mph+ speed for their headline!) I also pointed out to him at that time that it wasn't illegal to go faster than the speed limit on the bike to which he said he would get the legal people to look into it.

Thanks Ben, I've added a link to your piece into the main article too

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7385 posts]
11th February 2013 - 11:45

13 Likes

Dave: thanks for linking to my article. You can always view your Strava data on my site which gives you far more options for analysis and comparisons between your own segment and ride data rather than just against other people along with better maps and pretty pictures (like this: http://veloviewer.com/segment/780395/athlete/306128 )! Here's my data http://veloviewer.com/athlete/306128 along with a list of all segments I've covered http://veloviewer.com/athlete/306128/segments to give you more of an idea about what it does.
The calculated relative power field is the most useful for me and is what I built the site for in the first place: which climbs should I be able to push myself harder on.

dynoben's picture

posted by dynoben [3 posts]
11th February 2013 - 12:04

17 Likes

Has nobody else thought of the possibility that the writer of this article fancied himself as a bit of a sprint merchant and whilst blowing out of his arse, checked his results only to see he was miles down the leaderboard and then decided in a hissy fit that it wasn't down to him being too slow, but that everyone else was cheating/jumping reds etc.

Just a thought...

posted by farrell [1457 posts]
11th February 2013 - 14:14

12 Likes

My issue with Strava is that my commute to work can vary between just over 5 miles to just under 7, despite taking the same route. Endomondo seems to be more consistent.

posted by farrell [1457 posts]
11th February 2013 - 14:16

11 Likes

iamelectron wrote:

So you're saying that doing 28 mph through a narrow village street that has a max speed of 20 mph is fine? And you're calling me an idiot? It was flagged because it was dangerous.

If there are obstacles it could be dangerous even at the speed limit.

However I would argue that it doesn't make sense to apply speed limits wholesale to cyclists where visibility or space is not an issue. The campaign for 20mph limits in cities quite rightly points to survivability stats in the event of a collision at 20mph v 30mph. The fact that cyclist + bike is about one tenth of the mass of even a small car + driver changes this calculation non-trivially.

[fixed tags]

posted by HKCambridge [140 posts]
11th February 2013 - 16:08

14 Likes

pmr wrote:
What a load of old balls.
Only div s chase KOMs on downhill sections

Thanks, guess I'm a div then. I agree with you in principal however for long, technical descents, a Strava segment is very useful especially if you want to improve your descending (Believe me I need to). So I'm currently working a segment (that I didn't put up) which I privately chopped up into smaller parts to see where I need to improve. I won't get near the KOM as it was set in a UCI pro-conti race and because the fastest part passes very close to a house so I always back off (I hope you approve). Just an example.

Sq

Squiggle's picture

posted by Squiggle [414 posts]
13th February 2013 - 21:37

11 Likes

Gkam84 wrote:
Its slowing being killed off by people like the above commenter. (iamelectron)

There were around 10 segments around my local routes not long ago, but people keep flagging them for no reason, they are on decent roads and with no speed limits or dangerous sections....

If idiots keep flagging segments, with no way to have them unflagged, its killing the whole idea of Strava off.

But I do think anything in cites should be taken off.

A small problem with Strava I think is that the flagging procedure is a wee bit confusing. I accidentally flagged a perfectly legit segment when I thought I was flagging a suspect ride.

Sq

Squiggle's picture

posted by Squiggle [414 posts]
13th February 2013 - 21:43

10 Likes