Above: Scott Pilgrim vs the World, where computer games merge with reality.
I knew we were in trouble when he turned up to the training ride in a skinsuit, aero booties and with the vents on his helmet taped up. The wind direction had been deemed favourable, temperature and air density agreeable. It was time to go break some Strava records.
If you’re so far unacquainted with Strava, then it’s an on-line repository for all those GPS files and stats accumulated by these new-fangled cycling computers. Every variable is measured and uploaded and converted into a binary facsimile of how any ride – from commute to leisurely jaunt in the countryside – might appear if it were conceived by the makers of The Matrix. A dizzying stream of binary type reconstructing the open road as a line on a map and the curves of a graph.
And as a Garmin GPS device (other brands are available) is now strapped to every second handlebar or stem, it was inevitable all that collated data would be put to good use. And when I say ‘good’ I mean transformed into some sort of petty form of competition and one-upmanship. It’s social media for cyclists, the kind of social media that allows you to spy on your friends and check out how they’ve been riding, how far, how fast, and whether it’s any further and faster than you.
Now I love a good bit of casual on-line social media stalking as much as anyone else, but if you’ve had the misfortune to hang out with any young people recently, you’d probably have noticed these online obsessions spilling into ‘real life’. The ‘Youth’ seem hung up on Facebook photo snapping – the endless need to document an event or gathering in order to instantly upload the proof of their fabulous lives. ‘Look at me and my many friends in this cool place we are having fun in! And it really is fun! Honest! Shame you can’t be here (or at least, not so much that we actually bothered to invite you)!’ It is becoming a thin line as to whether social gatherings are actually taking place in reality, or simply for the benefit of a virtual online community of acquaintances.
And so it is with the ‘Strava Ride’ – undertaken for the primary reason of uploading the GPS data afterwards and scoring points over online rivals. Strava ‘segments’ are memorised, with the virtual start lines tackled with singular focus – darting out from the group’s slipstream to set a new personal best on some anonymous section of road – and then sitting up when the invisible finish line is crossed. It’s like racing for the Town Sign Club Run sprint after someone has gone around and pulled them all out of the ground.
Even worse is getting sucked into clicking on the option within Strava to ‘Follow’ your friends’ riding activities. An email will then pop into your inbox with annoying frequency informing you of all the great riding you’ve been missing out on. It is imperative that you avoid following any students or members of the unemployed (this rule can also be viewed as a generally valuable life lesson) – it will only compound the misery of watching beautiful sunny days arrive and disappear through your office window.
My one KoM (King of the Mountain – get with the lingo!) to date is on Brooklands Mountain, which isn’t a mountain at all. It’s barely even a hill. Currently my record is ahead by a mere two second margin, but even as I type, our friend in the skinsuit is checking his barometer and wind gauge and reapplying the tape to the vents on his helmet… I fear it’s not going to stand for long.