Don’t be a Stravatard

I wish I could stake a claim on that word, but I can’t. I have no idea who came up with it, but I’ve been seeing it around lately.

The short of it is that Strava’s segments competitions are pretty popular in some places. That popularity coupled with some people’s single-minded drive to compete is causing some problems out there. Other sharing sites are taking note. Garmin Connect introduced running Personal Records earlier in the summer and just added the functionality for cycling at the end of August.

A lot of people will be aware of the San Francisco cyclist who died as he was trying to earn the King of the Mountain (KOM) on a downhill Strava segment. The guy had a lapse in judgement when he decided to blow through an intersection at speed. There’s also this guy, also in San Francisco, who hit and killed an elderly pedestrian while going over 35mph in a 20mph zone, running a red light in the process while his buddy (who had some sense) stopped for the light.

The problem is not exclusive to the road. While I’m not aware of any fatalities as a result from excessive competition for Strava segments, there’s plenty of derision, (2), (3) for mountain bikers who try too hard for Strava segments on public multi-use trails (especially downhills) endangering hikers and equestrians along the way (and possibly damaging the trail to boot). Other mountain bikers are also frustrated with the phenomenon. There are reports of people calling “Strava!” on the trails to get others to move out of their way so they don’t have to slow down for their run at a given segment. “Stravatizing” of trails also seems to be occurring, where riders will sanitize the trail to make it faster. It also appears as though some are even shortcutting switchbacks and finding other ways to cheating, (2), (3).

A lot of people are behaving very poorly in the name of an internet competition. I get why Strava can be cool. I use it from time to time. I have set a few segments. I think I still have one KOM. It’s fun and motivates me to do better. But in NO WAY does pushing for a Strava segment trump other trail users. It’s not worth hurting (or killing) someone. It’s also not worth being an asshole.

It’s been said before, but if you really want to race, then pay an entry fee and sign up for a real race.

Here’s how I propose handling this situation. I propose two sets of recommendations. The first set addresses folks who wish to track their rides.

1. Unless you are on a closed race course, you are at the mercy of other trail traffic. Do not behave like a Neanderthal because other trail users are slowing you down so you can’t beat your PR or earn that KOM. If you do behave poorly, expect consequences. Either other trail users returning the favor, or being tracked down by rangers or police. Please, be nice and courteous, and slow down. We’re all out on the trails trying to enjoy ourselves.

2. Do not set downhill segments. I am guilty of setting one before I knew better. I can see some gray area here on downhill mtb-only trails (in my defense, the one downhill segment I set was on a downhill directional trail), but this is especially poor form on two-way trails. Pushing for Strava segments while doing downhill where there might be uphill traffic is asking for trouble. Please don’t do it. Flag a segment if it is questionable.

3. Do not set segments that cross intersections governed by stop signs or traffic lights. This sort of thing can drive people to do dangerous things. This is especially bad news if combined with a downhill segment. Flag these.

4. Don’t be a tool and cheat. GPS files can be falsified. Don’t do it. If you see an obvious attempt at cheating, flag it.

Now, for folks dealing with Stravatards.

1. Don’t let them get away with it. Be a courteous trail user and let the faster rider by when it’s safe to do so. But don’t succumb to the call “Strava!!!!!” and jump off a cliff or into a patch of poison ivy just because some Stravatard let out his most intimidating war yell.

2. If someone is causing problems because they’re racing on busy public trails, call rangers or police and report the fool with your best description. I know a lot of you have cameras…either a regular digital camera, or on your phone. Use it. This is especially true on trails that have speed limits and those with specific rules about riding courteously and/or yielding to specific user groups. Nobody needs people like that on busy public trails.

3. If someone is Stravatizing (or otherwise modifying without permission) the local trails), report that stuff to rangers and your local trail stewards. I hesitate to suggest undoing all modifications because some of it might just be legit trail maintenance you’re not aware of. But some things, like obvious shortcuts on switchbacks, are probably okay to block off. That sort of thing has been a problem as long as there have been switchbacks; it’s not a new trend. Still report it to stewards and rangers, because permanent solutions are going to be a lot more involved than your few minutes of brush dragging will be able to fix.

It is possible to use tracking and online competition websites (Strava is not the first and it won’t be the last. It’s just the most popular right now) without endangering others or turning into an asshat. It just takes some sourtesy. That segment will be there tomorrow if your attempt today doesn’t go the way you’d hoped. The best time to compete for segments is during a closed-course race, but I realize that the best segments might not show up in any local race. Just be smart about when you try to set a PR or KOM on it.

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