STRAVA SAGA Ride-tracking app under fire for facilitating reckless mountain biking
A cycling app which lets users track and time their bike rides is coming under fire for facilitating dangerous riding.
“It’s a huge issue,” said Freewheel Cycle’s Wendy Hall, who is also on the executive of the Jasper Park Cycling Association. “For some users it’s turned every single descent in the park into a race.”
Strava uses GPS-enabled bike computers or smartphones to allow cyclists (and runners) to track their rides. Once they upload their data, users can designate segments of trails or roads and then track their progress. Users can then compare segment rankings; the fastest riders of a particular segment are crowned as KOM (King of the Mountain) or QOM.
Sounds cool, right? It is. The problem, Hall says, is that common trail etiquette is being disregarded in favour of posting a fast time.
“When you race, you’re not looking at anything else,” she said. “I get it, it’s super fun to race, but it’s dangerous.”
A recent accident involving a cyclist and a group of horse riders have prompted the Jasper Trail Alliance to improve sight lines and create speed buffers (berms and turns) on the popular trail known as Water Tower. The Local couldn’t ascertain if the cyclist was logging a Strava ride, but the JTA has appealed to cyclists through its Facebook page.
“If you’re dialled into Strava please heed: these trails are not closed downhill trails, you have to pay attention and not completely forget about trail etiquette just to satisfy for personnel best,” the post read.
Parks Canada is aware of the conflicts that the tool can cause if not used appropriately. However, while the agency can preach trail safety, it’s best if the whole community can start talking about it, said Rogier Gruys, Product Development Specialist.
“We design a trail system for a certain use,” Gruys said. “[But] bikes and the way people use bikes change. We have to be familiar with the changes. The most important thing we can do is start a conversation about it.”
Manu Loir-mongazon has been part of the Strava conversation—even if it does get heated at times (bike computers versus smart phones: discuss!). Strava, he said, has improved his riding, but he knows the app isn’t without controversial elements.
“You can follow other riders, keep track of your personal bests and pretty much keep track of your whole season,” he said. “I see it for me as a way to get out there and give me some ideas to go for different rides, but it can be dangerous.”
When Loir-mongazon looks at the leaderboards on local Strava segments, he admits it motivates him to pedal a bit faster. However, he’s more interested in testing himself against other locals on the uphill sections, rather than risk an accident going for gold on the downhills.
“When people want to go faster they don’t think about other users,” he said. “People forget about the rules when it comes to getting a good time.”
There are other issues besides trail safety, of course. Strava has been suspected as the reason behind more than a few new short-cuts, something Parks Canada wants to avoid. Furthermore, Moir-mongazon says Strava is an easy way for land managers to see if people are going off trail, which could jeopardize hard-fought-for Wildland Routes if Parks Canada decides to really clamp down. He compares sharing your illegal trail adventures to tagging yourself in a compromising selfie.
“It’s a bit like Instagram: are you going to use it to bring people together or just to post pictures of yourself drunk?”
For Hall, who created a Strava segment connecting her house to her shop (she’s currently the QOM, btw), as with all fun yet disruptive technology, the local community is going to have to figure out how to adapt.
“Strava is fairly new,” she said. “It has issues. It’s a matter of figuring out how to get through this moment in time.”