Earlier this week a news story broke about the social network and GPS tracking site, Strava. The family of Kim Flint are suing the service for negligence over his death in a cycling accident. If you haven’t come across it before, Strava is a website to which you upload a GPS track of your latest training ride or run. Its USP is the fact that users can create challenges on their rides such as a well known local hill and then everyone who rides or runs that challenge (or segment as they are known on Strava) can compare their time with the other riders. The example below is a ride that I did on Monday and it shows my performance relative to everyone else who has ridden the same segments (they don’t have to follow my route, merely incorporating the segments into their own ride is perfectly valid).
You’ll see that my performance was measured on 6 different segments throughout the ride and I set my personal 2nd fastest ascent times on 4 of those segments so I know I was pushing it a bit. If I look at Laverick, a well known local hill, I can see that my time is 3rd fastest overall and I need to improve by 10 seconds to overhaul the guy in 2nd place, but by a massive 50 seconds to take the King of the Mountains title for this segment (not even slightly realistic!). Therein lies the appeal of Strava, I can compare myself to people in my tri club and to other local cyclists easily and if I pay I can add further levels of analysis by age and weight etc. Already I find that I’ve got to know where the local segments are and am trying much harder on climbs. Within a month of use I am noticeably stronger at ascending.
The problems this presents are 2 fold. Firstly, there’s nothing to stop someone gaming the system in a motorbike or car. It’s usually easy to spot this by looking at the average speed of the total route (not just the segment supposedly ridden) and the segment can then be flagged as suspicious. That’s a minor problem and you can only wonder about the pathetic nature of a soul who can be bothered to do that to take a KOM on Strava (similar mindset to dopers?). Of much more concern, however, is riders creating dangerous or inappropriate segments. This is where the lawsuit mentioned above kicks in, the allegation being that Strava allowed a dangerous segment to reside on its site putting users trying to take the title of for that segment at risk (not to mention other road users). Whether the lawsuit has merit I doubt, but it does highlight the responsibility of users of the site to effectively risk assess the segments they are creating. For example, are there pedestrian crossings or other forms of traffic signalling on the segment; are there tight or blind corners; is the road surface in decent condition? One example from the ride above should suffice: at one point the ride heads down a narrow lane which is part of the Lancashire cycleway and passes some rail sidings (the name of the segment in question). At this point the road is narrow, the surface is fairly loose and it is much loved by dog walkers. The segment finishes at a dead end with a short right turn over a narrow single file bridge. Ridden normally it is a perfectly pleasant couple of hundred metres of traffic free bike path. The record speed for this segment, according to Strava was over 40kmh! I’m not criticising the person that holds that particular record, but it’s a segment without merit and ridden at speed will surely be dangerous for other users of this quiet path. For this reason I flagged the segment on the site as hazardous, thus removing the rankings for it.
Strava is a brilliant website and its burgeoning popularity amongst cyclists and runners is testament to that fact, but it will be up to the community at a local level to be proactive in checking that segments created in a local area are both worthy of merit and relatively safe for all road users. Should segments that consist solely of a descent be allowed at all? Perhaps Strava should introduce some kind of guidance, or even a tick list to check off prior to the creation of a new segment to ensure that some basic safety considerations are adhered to, e.g. no traffic lights, level crossings or pelican crossings can be included within a segment. I note that Strava have already changed their terms of service, but I think it’s down to the community of users on there to make sure that the site thrives. Given that cyclists in the UK have striven very hard to get the #cyclesafe campaign noticed at high levels in Government and among the wider general public, it would truly be a shame if all that good work was undone by cyclists racing to take “titles” on a meaningless strip of tarmac somewhere.