One for the road…

I love cycling, and I love social technology, so something that brings the two of these passions together for me is instantly going to grab my attention. A few months ago I was introduced to – for technological reasons, it’s taken me a while to get into it, but I can now say with certainty that it’s changed my life disastrously for the better!


Let me be clear about this from the outset – I’m a very mediocre cyclist. I love cycling, but I’m not particularly fast at it, or indeed very able when the hills get high. For many competitive cyclists their aim is to see how fast they can get over the hill – my aim is simply to make it over the hill without having to get off and push! I try my best, and love every minute of it, but I don’t think Sir Chris or Sir Bradley have anything to worry about from me!

A long time ago, I used to be in a cycling club. Now, virtually all of my cycling is done as a commute to and from work in Glasgow city centre. Quite a number of people cycle the same route, or indeed parts of the route I take, and you can’t help but wonder how many others cycle it at different times from you. This naturally gets you thinking about how long it takes them, and I suppose how you compare?

Enter Strava is a social network for sporting activities. Armed with a gps device (or your smartphone) you simply record the details of your ride or run and upload it to their site. It then shows you the details you’d expect – route on a map, time taken, average speed, maximum speed, altitude climbed etc. If you run or cycle and carry a smartphone in your pocket, you’ve now got to wonder why you use any other means of tracking your activity. With the advent of bluetooth 4.0, you can now effortlessly connect cadence, power and heart rate sensors to your smartphone too, so getting detailed stats of your activity is pretty simple.

Here’s the clever techie bit though – is a community of people uploading information about their activities. You can see how you fair in relation to others covering the same ground as you. Users have defined ‘segments’ of routes that they (and you) travel on, so you can easily compare how you did on various sections of your ride in relation to other people that ride or run the same route. For the competitive, there are even league tables for each section, so you can be your very own local ‘King of the Mountain’ (KOM) compared with the other cyclists that have ridden the same route as you.

It’s social too – you can follow other people on the site to get updates on their adventures, or if you’re into the competition then you can track your nearest rivals whenever they post an improvement. Despite riding to work over the winter, I’ve only started using the site last week, but if you’re interested in seeing my progress you can find me here.

Sounds good, eh? So why did I describe it as changing my life disastrously for the better? Well, looking at the league tables for most of the segments that I ride, I place between 100th and 198th – the KOM needn’t worry there then. Tragically for me though, on some of the segments I seem to do a lot better – 9th in one, and 6th in the other – which got me thinking – could I claw back a few seconds on my nearest competitors…?

Game on. 

Image credit: m.aquila.

Footnote: if this can be done for cycling or running, imagine what this could do for other avenues of life too?  I know a lot of educators read this – imagine a social network for curricular progress and achievements?


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6 thoughts on “One for the road…”

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      judging by how many of our fellow cyclists that I see jumping red lights or speeding, it wouldn’t surprise me if some were chasing Strava segments. I suspect those very same people would still be jumping red lights and speeding with or without strava though. For me, safety on the road is paramount – hence looking like a Christmas tree all year round. I’m fortunate that about 1/3 of my commute route is along cycle paths or tow paths, as it’s great to be able to cycle away from cars. It’s also good to be able to analyse your ride after the fact, with a wee bit of healthy (or unhealthy!) competition thrown in.

      As for the fate of Lance Armstrong – we’re at the risk of singling him out as the only EPO taker in cycling. It strikes me that cycling (just like any other sport) still has it’s cheats – although, perhaps not on such a large scale as him! This is miles away from us mere mortals though.

  1. Andrew – what an intriguing proposition!
    I have just been looking at ipsative assessment (comparing yourself with yourself over time) which is associated with ‘personal best’ in gaming (and athletic) terms.
    But the notion of comparing yourself with others (including others outwith your personal group of friends or classmates) is intriguing. Unfortunately we could only do this in education by having a set of standardised tests – and that is probably not a good direction of travel for us (pardon the pun).
    What was your own ideas around applications in education?

    1. Hi Walter,

      answering that could be a whole series of blog posts! I think I’m attracted to the concept that students could articulate online when they begin something (working towards ‘x’ E or O), and then announce that they had achieved it – pointing towards whatever evidence they had produced to prove it (this wouldn’t necessitate standardised tests, the E&O matrix would suffice as a frame of reference).

      The benefit of wider socialisation would address one of the areas that institutionalised education has failed to address since the appearance of the web – the web greatly diminished the importance of ‘location’ and ‘time’. We are still stuck with an outmoded ideal that our peer group are in the same location as us, and indeed working at the same time as us – clearly in 2013 that notion is redundant.

    1. It’s always about fun! 🙂 I’m also interested in performance over time though. How does one ride compare to another, and am I getting fitter the more I do the same route? Can I achieve the same consistency over the ride when doing 3 or 4 times a week? Are there segments of the ride that I could work harder at later in the week to curb the drop off in performance?

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