Ah, the 'S' word.
There, I've said it. Most club cyclists will know of Strava the web site that lets you compare your times along particular sections of road, known as segments, against other cyclists. Like most things it has a good and a bad side.
On the bad side it can encourage reckless cycling. One view of Strava is that it's a virtual race, similar to those automata you chase on indoor rowing machines or exercise bikes. There's an ongoing case in the US against a cyclist chasing a fast time on a segment who collided with a group of pedestrians one of whom later died from injuries sustained in the collision. All I can say about this individual is that there are pillocks in all walks of life. I also know of one cyclist who died whilst trying to claim top spot on a segment, known as "King of the Mountains", though this was actually on a descent rather than an uphill climb.
There are also some segments that are potentially quite dangerous, usually descents but also those in urban areas that cross through major junctions or traffic lights. We've some round here and I really can't be bothered with putting any effort in to them at all.
So what of the good side? Well if you are like me: middle aged and not the slimmest of chaps, then Strava can be used as a training tool and as a means of measuring progress or more accurately the possibility of not slowing down quite so quickly :-) Since pretty well every climb on UK roads is covered by at least one segment (you get all sorts of "X climb full" and "X climb short" segments) there's always something local to be able to use as a benchmark. More on this in a while.
After a while you get to know the segments you can do well on and target those. Usually I look at the fastest time and add 50% to get an idea of what I'm capable of, occasionally though I do a lot better than that and manage a top ten placing just a few percentage points away from the KOM. What can throw the league tables out are weather and company. Get an exposed segment on a windy day with a tail wind and you are going to get a good time, it's really hard to determine purely from the times if this has happened. Similarly if a group heads out for a ride then it's quite possible for the whole group to flood the top spots, this happened last night on our club ride: on one segment 7 out of the top 20 times were posted by club members on that ride! On another segment we logged 5 out of the top ten. Not exactly fair to any lone rider who comes along afterwards and tries to match our times.
Then again on a ride at the weekend I was hanging on the tail of two strong riders and cut my personal best on one climb from 9:20 (from April this year) down to 6:34. Other than determination to try and keep up with them it was all my own effort and I received no assistance from them so I was pretty pleased with that.
Using segments as a benchmark is what I find Strava to be most useful for: there are some climbs locally that I know I can do that *little bit* better on. As an example there's a hill close by that for most of last year I would manage to get up in around ten minutes though my best time was 9:15, the fastest time was (and is) 6:30 by a professional cyclist so not far from my 50% rule. An obvious target for this year was to get under nine minutes. A few attempts saw me get close to my best time then out of the blue I got up it in 8:30 and a couple of rides later that was down to 8:03 so obviously getting under 8 minutes is more than possible.
Intelligent use of Strava has certainly helped me get quicker over the last year such that I can now, just about, keep up with the fast group from the club when I certainly couldn't even just a few months ago.
Anyway the next post will be, as they used to say, completely different.