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Michael Hovarth's comments come as court rules rider who killed pedestrian must stand trial for vehicular manslaughter ...

The founder and CEO of Strava has defended the company against accusations that the social networking and ride-logging app encourages users to take risks and ignore the law. His comments come as a San Francisco cyclist who collided with a pedestrian who later died, with the rider claimed to have gone through red traffic lights as he attempted to set a fast time using Strava, must stand trial on charges of vehicular manslaughter.

In an interview with the BBC, Michael Horvath, a former rowing crew captain at Harvard and economics lecturer at Stanford University who founded Strava in 2009 – although his idea dates back nearly two decades – insists the company encourages cyclists using the app to ride responsibly.

"Our people are active," he explained. "I am sure that there are people in their families who say they are obsessed about cycling.

"But we are not making them more obsessive, what we are creating is a place for them to tell their story. They have these habits anyway and we're giving them the place to present it in a way that's meaningful to them.

"We're certainly not trying to polarise," he went on. "We can communicate, 'Don't be that guy, use good judgment. Remember that there are other people on the trail.' And I think we spread that message."

Some might view Horvath as perhaps being a bit disingenuous, however, given that it is use of Strava on the road rather than on trails that has seen it come under particular scrutiny as riders strive to post the fastest times to become KOM of specific stretches of road, or ‘segments’ as the company terms them.

One high-profile case involves California cyclist William “Kim” Flint, killed in 2010 when he crashed while braking to avoid a car, apparently as he sought to reclaim his KOM position on a descent.

A lawyer for Flint’s family, which is suing Strava, says that the company should bear some responsibility for Flint’s death as a result of it having fostered a "Wild West culture where that is encouraged and rewarded with no warnings about the risks".

Strava itself has since flagged that segment as being hazardous to ride, and users can likewise flag segments as being unsuitable to ride due to hazards including “road construction, stop lights, dangerous intersections, school zones, bridge crossings, and pedestrian-only trails, among others,” according to the company.

Earlier this year, Strava users in London came under the spotlight following a Sunday Times report that some were ignoring red lights and clocking speeds of up to 41mph on the South Circular Road, although there are disputes about the accuracy of the app when it comes to logging speeds over short sections of road.

The newspaper’s report said that the site "is encouraging recklessness on the roads and inflaming tensions between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists," but the article was criticised for failing to acknowledge that smartphones using GPS signals are inaccurate when it comes to logging actual speeds.

There is also the point that in the UK, cyclists cannot be convicted of breaking the speed limit, which only applies to motor vehicles, although they can be prosecuted for “cycling furiously” or “wanton and furious driving.”

Most recently, a court in San Francisco ruled last week that a cyclist who rode through an intersection and collided with a pedestrian who would later die of his injuries, with prosecutors claiming the rider was trying to set a fast time on Strava, should stand trial on charges of vehicular manslaughter.

Chris Bucchere, aged 36, was reported by eyewitnesses to have ridden through two red lights and a stop sign before riding through another red light at the junction of Castro Street and Market Street, where he collided with 71-year-old Sutchi Hui in March last year.

According to a report on Bloomberg.com, Bucchere’s lawyer claimed that a speed of 32mph recorded by Strava as he rode through the intersection was innacurate. However, the exact same speed was independently claimed by prosecutors, who had studied video footage and traffic light data to reach their conclusion.

Two fatalities involving cyclists who may or may not have been attempting to chase Strava KOMs, and that some users may be breaking the law in attempting to set fast times needs to be set against the likelihood that the majority of users are likely to be law-abiding, and Horvath insists that Strava users who run risks in an attempt to become KOM of a specific stretch of road are the exception.

"I spend no time looking where I stand on the leader boards - I look at how I am doing relative to my previous performances," he maintained.

"You realise that there is always going to be somebody faster than you. Surely you weren't thinking you were the fastest cyclist in your neighbourhood.

"So that maturation of the athlete on Strava is something I think that we'll see more clearly."

While Horvath said that he was not able to discuss issues directly related the the Bucchere case, he did say that the company aims to encourage users to ride responsibly.

"We certainly understand that we're operating in a consumer space where the potential for legal matters to arise exists, and it's something that we have to plan for and be prepared for and we certainly are," he added.

Speaking about the background to Strava, he said: "We first had the idea back in 1994. It would have been manual entry instead of uploading global positioning system (GPS) data, it would have been emails going out to friends about what kind of workout you did. It would have failed."

The app, launched four years ago, has proved to be a success despite the controversies that surround it, and Martin Gibbs, director of policy and legal affairs at British Cycling, told the BBC that while there are clear benefits in the data Strava provides, equally there is a duty on cyclists to use it responsibly.

“Some of my colleagues here at British Cycling use Strava and other GPS products and its certainly getting them into the office earlier and more excited,” he said.

“The instinct to go fast and compare your times against personal bests and other riders comes pretty naturally to a lot of people and we've had bike computers and timing devices for years. Strava and similar products are an extension of that desire for performance stats.

“Whether its dangerous depends on the person using it,” he continued.

“Clearly we all have a responsibility to obey the law and ride safely. We repeatedly hear from our members that they want an improved culture of mutual respect on the roads and on trails and we'll only get that if people ride properly.

“We're involved in campaigning for better provision for cycling, and policymakers will be more willing to work with us if we also recognise we have responsibilities.

“So we'll be keeping an eye on how these apps evolve and listening to our members to see if there are issues developing.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

54 comments

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djpalmer32 [90 posts] 4 years ago
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Surely if these people are going to criticize/sue Strava then the same can be said of MapMayTracks, Endomondo and Garmin Connect all of which work in a similar manner.

It's all down to the riders if they're going to ride irresponsibly.

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teamrocket13 [72 posts] 4 years ago
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Could not agree with you more

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mick intherain [14 posts] 4 years ago
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I could always be described as "cycling furiously" never gonna break any speed limits though!

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pedalpowerDC [364 posts] 4 years ago
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I am the fastest cyclist in my neighborhood, though!

Although, with the one KOM that I lost (not in my neighborhood), I got pestered by emails for three days in a row that I'd lost the KOM. I know that one of the complaints about the service is that it goaded users into charging back out onto the road to reclaim their KOM.

I've also got to say that it seems rather inappropriate to have segments on shared-use paths that are often dominated by walkers, joggers, children in strollers, and dogs on leashes. It's not that the segments can't be ridden safely, but I don't trust idiots to not crash into a child on a bike with training wheels while they are trying to get a segment.

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BigDummy [314 posts] 4 years ago
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Strava has no "but for" causal relationship with any of these accidents.

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Ducci [95 posts] 4 years ago
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Random thought. So, do car manufacturers get sued for providing vehicles that are capable of speeds far in excess of the permitted maximum? No, individual drivers are prosecuted for the speeding offence. If riders choose to run red lights etc that's their lookout.

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notfastenough [3728 posts] 4 years ago
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Personal responsibility. That's all. I know that I'll go under 2 minutes if I get a green light on a segment near me, and I go thundering along every time (wide road, it's safe), but if I get the red light at the junction 2/3rds of the way along, that's blown it. Sorry, that's life, and anyone dumb enough to ignore it is going to find out the hard way.

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Dog72 [106 posts] 4 years ago
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notfastenough wrote:

Personal responsibility. That's all. I know that I'll go under 2 minutes if I get a green light on a segment near me, and I go thundering along every time (wide road, it's safe), but if I get the red light at the junction 2/3rds of the way along, that's blown it. Sorry, that's life, and anyone dumb enough to ignore it is going to find out the hard way.

In a Nutshell
Nail on Head

Strava is Fun and can make the ride into work a lesson in pain & the limits of the weak. You don't need an app to endure/enjoy riding a bike hard but I've found it to be an effective training tool that can further ability and drive you on. It also turns riding into a computer game.

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ubercurmudgeon [169 posts] 4 years ago
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I think the BBC have got the photo of Strava co-founder Michael Horvath mixed up. Here is the one they used...

//news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/66292000/png/_66292437_sstrva2.png)

...and here is the correct one...

//i650.photobucket.com/albums/uu221/dunc_89/Sideshow-Bob.gif)

I've never actually met the man, but if the reputation of his service is correct, that has got to be him.

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Leviathan [2840 posts] 4 years ago
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Yep, all my best times are on 'lucky' runs where I hit all green lights. If I ran reds to get a good time my luck would quickly run out.

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mikeprytherch [223 posts] 4 years ago
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You can always turn the emails off, so again its your choice if you want to be told you lost the KOM, the world of its always somebody else's fault and not mine makes me sick, if you choose to ride like a twat then you deserve everything that happens to you.

I ride with mates, most of us do and at some point we will trying to beat them in some way shape or form, is that their fault or mine, at what point do we draw the line.

Get of Strava's back, if you think its "making" you do bad things, don't use it, simple.

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dave atkinson [6329 posts] 4 years ago
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turning off the emails was the very first thing i did. it's not that hard  1

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Dog72 [106 posts] 4 years ago
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Strava ate my homework

Strava forced US Postal to dope like Keith Richards

Strava Shot JFK

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Mr_eL_Bee [68 posts] 4 years ago
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I am slightly bemused by the whole concept of:
"Someone else MADE me ride like a complete Spacktard"

No - idiot - they didn't. You did that all by yourself!

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mrmo [2096 posts] 4 years ago
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Quote:

I've also got to say that it seems rather inappropriate to have segments on shared-use paths that are often dominated by walkers, joggers, children in strollers, and dogs on leashes. It's not that the segments can't be ridden safely, but I don't trust idiots to not crash into a child on a bike with training wheels while they are trying to get a segment.

just flag the segment as unsafe.

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The Rumpo Kid [589 posts] 4 years ago
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"Whether its (sic) dangerous depends on the person using it." Isn't that what the NRA say?

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Dave Ody [20 posts] 4 years ago
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Can't remember when Strava told me to jump a red light!

It's a great training tool in my opinion. we all check leader boards... but as long as my riding and fitness gets better, i don't care about KOMs.

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dave atkinson [6329 posts] 4 years ago
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The Rumpo Kid wrote:

"Whether its (sic) dangerous depends on the person using it." Isn't that what the NRA say?

strava aren't selling a product whose primary (and only) use is to kill other people. have some perspective.

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The Rumpo Kid [589 posts] 4 years ago
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No, but they are selling a product which encourages racing on public highways. Not everyone will use it irresponsibly, but some will, endangering themselves and others.

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seabass89 [212 posts] 4 years ago
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I agree that it's not Strava's fault.

Though I have to say that the KOM's are, if not just a bit, silly. Because in reality, what do you gain from seeing other peoples times up a hill? It certainly doesen't help me, I usually ride the pace I want and if I improve on my own time I am jolly happy, but I couldn't really care less for who leads a segment. I equally have little interest in letting others know that I had 208 in HR up a hill I am 450th out of 550, and so on  10

If anything they should only let you see your friends time up a segment, in my humble opinon.

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Lungsofa74yearold [293 posts] 4 years ago
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Whilst the individual concerned appears to have been riding in a dangerous and reckless fashion, I bet he gets much tougher sentence than any number of car drivers who routinely kill or seriously injure cyclists. There will be none of that 18 months suspended stuff - it will be lock him up throw away the key - got to send a zero tolerance message to these Lycra clad menaces to society you know. Just watch...

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mikeprytherch [223 posts] 4 years ago
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The Rumpo Kid wrote:

No, but they are selling a product which encourages racing on public highways. Not everyone will use it irresponsibly, but some will, endangering themselves and others.

And car makers encourage speeding by making cars that can exceed the speed limits, KFC encourage people to be Fat by making fried food, Homebase encourage kids to get hurt whilst sledging because they sell them (my kid got hurt !).

Almost everything we do can be used in an irresponsible way, you can't and shouldn't give up of things like Strava because of a few idiots, there is so much good that comes out of it, its the people who decide themselves to abuse it that are at fault not Strava.

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WolfieSmith [1382 posts] 4 years ago
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No Strava doesn't cause you to ride dangerously - but it does encourage competition on sometimes busy roads which is dangerous.

I race and I train hard but I'm not daft enought to tackle records set by people I don't know and who are half my age. I was out a couple of weeks ago and some bloke came baiting past trying to beat the record on a stretch of road. He virtually collapsed over the line and we found out coming by him that he was only on a 15 mile ride. Lonely, sad and futile behaviour. That's not what cycling's about.

Want competition? Support your local club and race on the road or track rather than racing over the web and giving your details to Strava to send on to marketing firms.

This Strava bloke is making a fortune from people risking their lives to feel better about themselves. I hope Strava's a fad like air ionizers and bidets. Remember them?

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Strathlubnaig [114 posts] 4 years ago
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Strava makes no money from me, not sure how they do make $ really. KOMs are fine, but I dont see the point in folk creating segments in towns and cities with traffic lights and stuff, bit silly really. The personal challenge is what attracts most people I think, see if you are improving at all etc.

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cannondalekid [9 posts] 4 years ago
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It comes down to responsibly. Strava isn't making anyone use their app. It's choice and accountability. Use wisely.

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The Rumpo Kid [589 posts] 4 years ago
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mikeprytherch wrote:
The Rumpo Kid wrote:

No, but they are selling a product which encourages racing on public highways. Not everyone will use it irresponsibly, but some will, endangering themselves and others.

And car makers encourage speeding by making cars that can exceed the speed limits, ...

But they do not give a title to the person achieving the highest speed. Would you not agree it would be irresponsible of them if they did?

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the_mikey [163 posts] 4 years ago
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Strava as a training app is good, but as a feature that gets in the way of a ride then it's not so good, although I suspect many of us use GPS devices to monitor speed/heart rate/record ride details without it causing any unnecessary sprinting for imaginary awards. The ability to compare your ride with another person is the issue here, and some people are more 'competitive' than others, it's perhaps a flaw in human psyche that makes us like that, which is also why strava is so popular, it allows us to indulge in competition without even meeting your competitors.

But even without strava, people will compete against the clock or their previous effort, Garmin GPS devices offer exactly this feature.

There's nothing wrong with trying to achieve a good average speed along a road where your speed with respect to other road users is trivial, however in many situations people have to make sure that their heads aren't getting in the way of riding carefully and safely.

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matthewn5 [1069 posts] 4 years ago
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I think if Strava had any sense, they'd block any records set within metro areas. Get out on the road, fine, but in areas full of people, crossings, lights, it's mad that people are out there trying to get KOMs and PBs.

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Krd51 [30 posts] 4 years ago
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What a bunch of sado's if you want to race why not do it properly and not in a virtual world. Sad bunch of wan@ers!!!!

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badback [302 posts] 4 years ago
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It's sad that that there is so much 'blame and claim' and not enough personal responsibility in today's society.

There will always be sad muppets who blast down the local pan flat shared use path Strava or no Strava (I hate the term cycle path 'cos that makes them sound like cyclists have exclusive use). If there was no Strava they would just come up with something else to justify riding like a cretin.

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