Strava changed cycling. Data is no longer the domain of coaches; bragging no longer confined to the coffee shop; and racing is on every day, not just Sundays. I don’t want to discourage anyone from using it, because it’s useful and fun – great for tracking improvement and finding new rides – but If you’re anything like me, your ‘achievements’ might leave you feeling a bit cold. They’re easily superseded, and your wounds are salted by those tormenting, passive aggressive ‘uh-oh’ emails. Like the theatre of success that is all social media, Strava can leave us feeling empty at best, and failures at worst. So… Log out, turn off, clip in, and go for some achievements you can’t track with a GPS.
1. Ride it when it’s tough
I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve earned most of my QOMs on lovely, sunny days, on mint trail, in a bunch with A-grade men, and probably also a tail wind. What I should really feel a sense of achievement for are the days when I get out in the rain, or in 40-degree heat, or alone into a diabolical headwind, and slog it out, and go as fast as I can on that day. It’s easy to ride fast when conditions are in our favour, so let’s take a moment for all those average rides we do in the tough.
2. Be great company
Ever ridden with someone who sprints off ahead of you on every climb, then turns around and waits patiently, smugly at the top? Ever ridden with someone who half-wheels you, no matter how fast you’re going? Am I right in saying that these guys aren’t your favourite riding companions? What an achievement it would be to be like those people I most love to ride with: those great conversationalists who fall into a relaxed, happy rhythm beside you; people who can challenge as much as they encourage you and who let the ride unfold as it will.
3. Show your skills
By far the coolest thing you can do on a bike is handle it well – safely, with finesse, style. Roll up to a set of lights and pull out the perfect track stand. Sit up in a bunch and whip off your gilet. Mono over a rock. Get sideways in a berm. And off the bike, too. Fix a flat in three minutes, bleed your own disc brakes, tune your gears – If I had to choose between a guy who could jump the gutter and a guy who could ride the third kilometre of a four kilometre hill faster than 32 other Strava users, I know which I’d rather have sex with.
4. Achieve discipline
Not going for segments actually takes a lot of discipline, but those who train, and train consistently, are those that let all that cyber-competition wash over them and focus on the drudgery, the repetition, the heart rate and power zones, and forget the rest. They do it on tired legs, with a greater goal in mind. They realise that nobody can race every day, every ride. They understand a recovery day. They play the long game and the slow game, because they race on race days…
5. Face fear and race for real
And why not see what you achieve when you can’t execute a stealth strike in favourable conditions. See what you achieve when your mental toughness is tested more than your legs. Taste the gut-wrenching knowledge that you’re failing because, on that day, in those conditions, someone else actually is better than you, and you can’t come back tomorrow and prove them wrong. Then get changed in the front seat of your car and stay for a sausage and a chat.
Racing combines so many elements that winning KOMs isolates: tactics, endurance, technical skills, managing fatigue and nutrition are a few. It seems to me that Strava is popular because it allows us to be competitive without forcing us to take that incredibly nerve-wracking step to the start line. It opens up the possibility of winning without ever facing the ignominy of losing. One of the most satisfying commitments you can make in any sport is to accept and face failure. Try racing bar-to-bar with a real-life opponent and see how that feels. That’s right. It’s harder, and damn it feels better.
Cycling is a risky sport. Every ride you finish, and finish safely, is a triumph. Increase your chances of doing so by focusing on the trail or the road ahead, the people around you, the environment and conditions. Have a good time, check out the beautiful view, smell the fresh air, have a chat.
Bring it back to the senses and try riding in the moment. Riding is one of the few escapes from a connected life, we do it because we love the social interaction, the scenery, the places it takes us, and the coffee at the end.
You’re alive. Lucky you.