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Riders using app more focused on own goals than interacting with clubmates, according to paper presented to Royal Georgraphical Society

An academic claims that smartphone apps such as Strava, criticised for encouraging going too quickly on shared-use paths, lead to another kind of antisocial cycling - people on club runs would rather keep tabs on what virtual rivals are up to, rather than interact with the riders they are out with.

In a paper being presented to the Royal Geographical Society's international conference in London today, Dr Paul Barratt from Staffordshire University will outline research that he says shows that riders trying to set quickest times for Strava segments is having a detrimental effect on group rides.

Instead of enjoying riding alongside fellow club members, Dr Barratt says that some are instead concentrating on vying with virtual competitors as they aim to outdo their times set on social networking sites.

"Whilst cycling club social rides have always tended to culminate in a short sprint, members are now jumping off the front of the group many times throughout a ride in order to bag a fast 'segment'," he explains.

He maintains that such apps are also encouraging riders to head out on their own when the weather is good to put in bursts on Strava segments, for example, in the hope of moving up the leaderboard - and adds that it can become addictive.

"No matter your ability, Strava can be a real source of achievement,” explains Dr Barratt.

“Even 'purists' that resist the technology at first can soon become hooked."

But, he cautions, using Strava can also have a negative impact, for instance if riding in poor weather or on one of those days that sees more of a struggle from a fitness point of view.

"There's a lot of bravado surrounding Strava,” he says.

“But the league tables ignore the subjectivity of the road and rider. People don't generally mind a bit of wind assistance - as long as it helps push them up the league table."

It's far from the first time criticism has been levelled at Strava, although it hasn't taken this form before, as far as we know.

Sustrans has said that some cyclists take advantage of traffic-free, shared use paths such as the one running along the former Bristol-Bath railway line to try and set quickest times on Strava segments that are subsequently flagged up to the site as inappropriate.

In the United States, Strava has been the subject of at least two high-profile legal cases involving fatalities.

In June, a judge in California dismissed a lawsuit brought by the family of William 'Kim' Flint, killed when he crashed head-on into a vehicle while apparently trying to reclaim his 'KOM' status on a stretch of road.

They had claimed that Strava encouraged dangerous riding by some of its users.

The following month, San Francisco cyclist Chris Bucchere was sentenced 1,000 hours of community service and three years' probation after admitting committing felony vehicular manslaughter in connection with the death of a 71-year-old pedestrian whom he had hit as he rode through a red traffic signal while trying to better his own time on a Strava segment.

Earlier this year, Strava founder Michael Horvath had insisted that his company's app encouraged responsible riding.

He told the BBC: “"Our people are active. 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.”

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.

34 comments

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CornishSprinter [26 posts] 3 years ago
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On our club runs we all just bomb some segments by all slip streaming , because it's fun, If we happen to gain a few medals, that's just a by-product, sunday runs are the one club-ride of the week were nobody cares about strava accolades..

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cable43 [5 posts] 3 years ago
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I've met more people through strava than the group ride. It's a tool. It' all on how the individual chooses to use it.
It's a pen...write what you will. C'mon adults. Be adults.

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cable43 [5 posts] 3 years ago
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Also, any "academic" should know that correlation does not equal causation.

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Nick T [1036 posts] 3 years ago
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If your the type to memorise where all the Strava segment are then I wouldn't particularly want to ride with you anyway.

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hillboy [11 posts] 3 years ago
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I've seen this theory before
http://www.cyclismas.com/biscuits/dear-strava-its-not-you-its-me/
It seems to be really just the cycling equivalent of people walking down the street together texting someone else instead of talking to each other

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mikeprytherch [223 posts] 3 years ago
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Most of the guys (including me) went through the same routine, started using Strava... went mad for it and attacked every segment, the rides became anti-social, then we all got fed up of bombing every segment and went back to normal riding, perhaps targeting one or two segments for fun.

Now we use Strava to track what we have done and measure improvement from "general" riding, we communicate and take the piss out of each others rides and we can see how other mates are riding (and take the piss out of them) even when we are not able to make the ride, so its made riding and the social side of cycling even better.

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mikeprytherch [223 posts] 3 years ago
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Nick T wrote:

If your the type to memorise where all the Strava segment are then I wouldn't particularly want to ride with you anyway.

Second that  1

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miuzikboy [59 posts] 3 years ago
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No, he's wrong. Our club runs vary and surely no one knows where all the segments are. Certainly doesn't effect us.

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TrekBikesUK [128 posts] 3 years ago
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As mentioned above, Dan Ellmore wrote about this very topic a couple of weeks ago on Cyclismas.

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karlowen [65 posts] 3 years ago
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On our Tuesday and Thursday chaingangs you'd have next to no hope setting a KOM on your own. 10/12 people working can move far faster than one.

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billyman [148 posts] 3 years ago
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and?

maybe I should knock up a paper to show stats on how many students ruin people's nights out by being plastered and high as kites puking up in public areas and general anti social behavior, if they wish to stereotype then maybe we should.

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dave2041 [22 posts] 3 years ago
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mikeprytherch wrote:

Most of the guys (including me) went through the same routine, started using Strava... went mad for it and attacked every segment, the rides became anti-social, then we all got fed up of bombing every segment and went back to normal riding, perhaps targeting one or two segments for fun.

Now we use Strava to track what we have done and measure improvement from "general" riding, we communicate and take the piss out of each others rides and we can see how other mates are riding (and take the piss out of them) even when we are not able to make the ride, so its made riding and the social side of cycling even better.

So what you're saying is you can no longer compete?  10

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Sudor [188 posts] 3 years ago
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Peer review research confirms that academics are using strava to improve profile and media column inches rather than collaborating on more useful research of value to others.

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Mr Jono [102 posts] 3 years ago
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You'd get nothing but abuse if you rode like that on my club run!

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therealsmallboy [169 posts] 3 years ago
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I think this depends on where you ride. In hilly areas KOMs have quite a lot of relevance for training purposes. What I don't really see the point in is the short stretches of flat KOM. No point. Obviously TT segments can prove very useful for specific targetted training.

Also, personally I attack climbing KOMs when I'm out on my own and use them as a training tool that I can compare myself on. When group-riding, it's much more about chain-gang cohesion and training for road race situations. Or chatting bollocks on light spinning rides with mates.

There does seem to be a mis-conception about Strava users that we're all addicted segment-chasing maniacs. The truth is that most of us just use it to track what we'd have been doing anyway. The classic Sunday club-run rider and the committed racing athlete are very different animals. In my experience, the former tend to poo-poo Strava and make out that it doesn't help where as the latter have the opposite opinion, because they actually use it to help them become faster.

Also, the examples above are in America and I think it's fair to say that Americans tend to have more of a competitive must-win attitude to life than us mild-mannered brits. Which would explain the over-committed segment hunting that has caused problems.

All in all, Strava is a positive thing in my opinion and my riding and performances have become more meaningful because of it with results to boot.

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chokofingrz [407 posts] 3 years ago
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Surely the only segments worth caring about are the uphill ones? As I recall, most of the downhill or even flat segments have been deleted or flagged as hazardous in my area. And yet I see all these articles by scientists or politicians constantly complaining about Strava users and their out-of-control speed-merchantry.

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abudhabiChris [691 posts] 3 years ago
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It's normal for people to use their own behaviour or experience to make assumptions about wider patterns. All the above comments are very interesting but are simply anecdotal.

The question is whether the academic has done the same. Started with an assumption based on his experience and come up with figures to prove it.

I;d be very interested to see how he has tested his hypothesis, and also how he has defined the participants. For example if someone in your club has a KOM but is not on the ride.

And how has he determined the awareness of segments, and whether someone is going for a Strava time not just trying to outsprint or outclimb their group. Generally Strava segments are on sections where people compete anyway.

Perhaps he could provide, or the article could be updated, with a link to the paper ?

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bfslxo [144 posts] 3 years ago
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I've met so many people in the town i live in through Strava that we are now forming our own club, yeh at first we all competed against each other now we are changing to getting good rides in during the weekends and blasting around having fun on Tues nights with chain gangs, slip stream segment blasts and hill climbs.
So thanks to Strava I now have a whole bunch of new friends & a role of a new club secretary  7

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nowasps [515 posts] 3 years ago
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Most club rides that I've been on have the "climbers" flying up the serious hills anyway, segment or no segment. The rest get to the top in their own time. Once we're all together again we go on our way. What's the difference?

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zanf [897 posts] 3 years ago
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mikeprytherch wrote:
Nick T wrote:

If your the type to memorise where all the Strava segment are then I wouldn't particularly want to ride with you anyway.

Second that  1

Looks like you're both that type!  3

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jimmers [11 posts] 3 years ago
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I am KOM on two Strava segments I use regularly. The segments represent two fixed routes I use for Zone 2 training. I've got KOM because I am the only one to have ridden them.

Strava is really useful to compare Zone 2 constant efforts as a benchmark comparison. So Strava can be used to measure how fast I am going slow.

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pedalpowerDC [353 posts] 3 years ago
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Hmmm, I attack the crap of group rides, repeatedly, because that's what you do on fast group rides (try to rip the legs off of everyone else), and it isn't because of Srava. I don't call them "club runs" because there is no running involved.

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SuperG [117 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm with....

therealsmallboy

'The truth is that most of us just use it to track what we'd have been doing anyway'

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Ginsterdrz [88 posts] 3 years ago
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Never used it. No intention to ever do so. Totally irrelevent as I could drive along with my Garmin on my dash or go to the 'Strava EPO' website to cheat times like many do!

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shay cycles [373 posts] 3 years ago
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Strava is an interesting extra but those treating it as a serious aid to training are wrong. I log my commute on it and I know that all my best segment times are based on weather conditions, especially wind and what I was doing in the previous few days.

If you are serious as an athlete it isn't Strava that you need but some form of power meter and HRM - oh and the necessary knowledge or a coach to help you interpret the data. You could always use the same systems as the Sky team. Or of course you could still use old fashioned techniques to do stuff like VO2 measurements using turbo trainers etc.

Just say in'

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therealsmallboy [169 posts] 3 years ago
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But if you record the weather conditions and compare data from rides in similar conditions you know how and where you're improving.

In addition, if you start to find patterns in how you perform under certain temperature/ wind/ rain conditions you can use it to plan how to approach races and TTs.

I do and it works for me.

Just sayin'  4

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gmrza [20 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm not sure that I agree entirely with the report. Most Strava KOMs have reached the point where it requires a tailwind to move up the leaderboard, or even the effort of a large group with a tailwind. One recent example was a segment, about 20km long, which we rode as a group, and because we worked together to produce a very high speed all of us benefited.

Strava also provides a vehicle for us to comment about the ride afterwards, and also to track each other's individual rides during the week. If anything I would say it creates greater cohesion in the groups I ride with, because of the virtual contact it creates between weekend rides, and the online banter after a ride. - There is always the aspect of sprinting for segments, but that is done in good humour, and often working together as a group to make a good time.

Ultimately - don't take it too seriously!

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toetruck [16 posts] 3 years ago
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I personally don't understand why anyone is arguing this point... am I missing something?  39

Quote: "Instead of enjoying riding alongside fellow club members, Dr Barratt says that SOME are instead concentrating on vying with virtual competitors..."

Well, yes they are, so although we may use Strava in various ways, the point being made is inarguable.

In response to a comment above, I'm pretty sure that academics and students are two very different animals. A bit like comparing a gentleman’s bicycling club to the local hell’s angels chapter! I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of academics 'ruin everyone’s evening' by shouting and puking  3

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jarredscycling [456 posts] 3 years ago
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cable43 wrote:

I've met more people through strava than the group ride. It's a tool. It' all on how the individual chooses to use it.
It's a pen...write what you will. C'mon adults. Be adults.

Misuse should be blamed on users not the item being used

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stefv [212 posts] 3 years ago
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I have a KOM on a Boris Bike in London. The GPS was out so my path across Waterloo bridge was apparently over the Thames. Yes, I was sad enough to make the segment and claim KOM. It's the only KOM I've been able to hold on to since Strava got popular.

It would be cool if Strava could add data about group/solo rides as I think most KOMs now are wind-assisted chain gangs (that's my excuse anyway!)  3

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