Is Strava killing bike racing?
May 24, 2014 § 69 Comments
I’ll be the first to admit that the patient was never particularly robust, but in 2014 there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of racers who line up on the weekend. At one of the best and toughest road races all year, Vlees Huis in Bakersfield, there was an incredibly tiny lineup despite this being one of the best organized, safest, and most challenging races on the calendar.
Plus they fuggin’ had beer. Now, when bike racers won’t show up to a bike race where it’s hotter than Beyonce doing the nasty with Heidi Klum and you get to slake your post-race heat prostration with cold, locally brewed beer, the Dogs have gone crazy.
We will leave aside for a moment the obvious: if Fields had ever heard you weren’t going to race your bike because it was “too hot” or “too cold” or “too rainy” or “too dangerous,” he would have kicked you off the team, repo’d your kit, and made you give back all the beer you had drunk. We will also leave aside for a moment that the “weather” in SoCal is the most wussified, gentle, bike-friendly weather in the continental United States.
Many factors may be at play besides the general cowardice, tenderness, and babyfication of modern SoCal bike racers, but there are only so many absentees you can blame on an angry spouse, the cost of entry fees, the fear of quadriplegia, and the general wussdom of all the riders who said they couldn’t do Vlees Huis because it was “too far to drive.” [Check the mileage sometime when you live in Houston and have signed up for the Fort Davis Stage Race for a bit of perspective on "too far to drive."]
Flapping of the gums
The other day I got into an argument about whether some guy was the best climber in the South Bay. Back in the day this would have been a relatively easy argument to resolve. The guy who had won more hilly road races, or the guy who was always at the front on the long climbs would be crowned the champ, even more beer would be drunk, and we’d find something else to argue about.
But this time my adversary pulled out a shocking counter-argument: his Strava KOM’s. A guy who’s done a handful of hilly road races and has consistently gotten shelled on the tough climbs — or who hasn’t even showed up — maintained that his sexy Strava performance on segments as short as 200 meters meant that he was somehow a really good climber.
What the hell is going on here?
It used to be that the best riders were the ones who won bike races. Rahsaan Bahati, I thought, was the best bike racer around because he’s won the most races. Charon Smith, Phil Tinstman, Thurlow Rogers, Mark Noble, and guys like them, I thought, were the best old guy bike racers around because they’ve won the most races.
It would never have occurred to me that a person might consider himself excellent in some aspect or other of competitive cycling based on his Strava KOM’s.
But you know what? Lots of riders do.
They choose three or four carefully selected races each year, they do a weekly group ride, and they do the vast bulk of their “head-to-head” competition on Strava. Will someone please tell them that if it’s on Strava and you’re by yourself, it’s not head-to-head? No matter how many times you self-dial, you’re still just doing yourself.
The race of truth
Every bike race is a race of truth because the fastest rider always wins. For many, that’s a downer because there’s only one winner. You can’t go home and tell yourself that you’re at the top of the leader board of 50+ troglodytes with a BMI of 200. Worse, when you lose a bike race you don’t get any trophies or crowns on your iPhone.
Strava perfectly satisfies the urge to achieve what I call DIP — distinction, improvement, praise — it’s an urge that resides in all of us, particularly, it seems, those of us who cycle. Bike races don’t provide much DIP for most participants, even with the dozens of age/gender categories per event. Instead, they provide proof of what we all instinctively know about ourselves but wish wasn’t true: MOP — mediocre, overweight, pudknocker.
In any contest between DIP and MOP, DIP will always win out. Ride your bike and get a trinket every time beats ride your bike and get your spirit shattered every time, especially when the shattering may also include collarbones and carbon fiber.
Don’t be a DIP-shit
This Monday Chris Lotts will put on his Memorial Day Crit in Dominguez Hills. The Barry Wolfe Grand Prix, Death Valley Stage Race, and State ITT Championships will also happen this weekend.
If you’re in SoCal, I hope you’ll make an effort to attend at least one of these races. If you’re in L.A., I really hope you’ll at least make it to the Memorial Day Crit. If you can spare 50 minutes to analyze all your weekly rides on WKO and Strava, you can lug your ass out for a one-hour race at Dominguez.
Guys like Chris promote races year in and year out. It’s a gratifying job for them in that they play an integral role in the sport that they love, and it’s a blast getting to deal with overfull port-a-potties at the end of the day. But it’s a huge amount of work and expense, and when “racers” who live in the area choose to spend their time on Strava digitally satisfying themselves rather than competing in organized events, it eventually kills off the event. The margin on bike races is tiny, to put it mildly.
Maybe as a Stravasturbator you think that’s fine, and I suppose if your idea of being an accomplished racer is 0’s and 1’s endlessly strung together to make an image on a computer that makes you look tougher than Eddy Merckx, that’s okay. I suppose if it’s more fun to wear $500 worth of kit riding $7000 worth of bike to compete against your “friends” on Strava than it is to ride against your mortal enemies in a real bike race, hey, to each his own.
But let’s not confuse sitting at your stupid computer and clicking “kudo” with racing your fuggin’ bike.