Strava and Competition

I came across MTB4her.com’s article asking where the Women Strava users were.  The article suggested that there were significantly fewer women using Strava to record their MTB rides compared to men. The writer concluded that Strava

‘is just another way that women riders can help make their presence known and being involved in the mountain bike community by showing that we ride just as well as the men, showing that we are a strong force within the mountain bike community.  For many different reasons, women riders should embrace the modern technology and convenience of using Strava.  Whether you like the social aspects of meeting other riders or use it for training or goals you wish to reach or just keep track of fitness, female mountain bikers can really use Strava to their advantage and help create a larger presence online and on the trails.’ [Michelle Lambert]

I’d been pondering this as well. And considering that I live in one of the best areas in the UK for both MTB’ing and road cycling, I wonder why out of the 1217 logs of the Froggatt TNT segment, 76 of them are women. I think that much of it is to do with the way that it’s sold, either by word of mouth or through advertising.

Michelle emphasised the collaborative aspects of Strava and how it can be used to ‘follow and communicate with any other rider on there, so as a result you can meet mountain bikers of similar abilities and riding interests.’ However, if you look at the home page, more often than not there are pictures of men, often in a group.

Strava Screen Shot

Strava Screen Shot

I don’t think that I’ve seen an image of women in a group featured yet. So, what does this mean? Well, I think it’s representative of the fact that many people do treat Strava as a source of competition. Here’s an anecdote which supports this: I went out for a ride recently and managed to beat a male friends time up a segment. He found out and then proceeded to go and retake the time, quite possibly because he was cycling past, but I also think there was some underlying competition there. He couldn’t let a mere rookie girl have a better time up a hill than him! And to be fair, I’m no where near as fit as he is, so it was probably a fluke.

If women don’t particularly like competition (which I’m not sure that I agree with), even though Strava can be used to support each other by giving “kudos” and to simply track your own progress; the whole emphasis on taking QOMs, logging fastest times and the celebratory tweeting/facebooking of such achievements can be intimidating and serve to marginalise segments of the population. Obviously, these are all activities that you don’t have to engage with, but as the dominant approach and ‘face’ of Strava, it hides the other side of the site.

I have to say, I often question why I use Strava. I don’t particularly like competition and have a less than wonderful self-esteem. I also hang out with super fit friends who go off and do things like the dragons back and the Fellsman. It used to be that cycling was my sport and I was happier sharing and logging segments through social media. Now that my friends also use it and are taking up cycling, I’m a bit more ambivalent. I see it as something to beat and the whole competitive nature really rings true. However, how much of that is simply my psyche wanting to push vs the overt competitiveness that is engendered through the structure I’m not sure.

On the other hand, Strava is awesome for seeing how fit I’ve managed to become. I’m constantly struggling to balance cycling (be it mountain biking or road cycling) and climbing. In order to improve in either I have to dial back in the other. Strava is great to see that incrementally I am improving, both in technique and legs. That is a personal pleasure to see, and one that doesn’t have to be compared with anyone else.

As for ensuring women have more presence – that I totally agree with. To me, it seems that cycling is one of the last bastions of misogyny. The fact that it isn’t really acknowledged within the governing bodies of the sport is also a problem and case in point is the recent petition to get a dual event going for the Tour de France (see articles here and here). Some of the justifications for not having one are arcane as well, which is ironic really as the suffrage movement and women’s cycling movement coalesced during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. There has clearly been a lot of recent air time for women’s professional road cycling, but in mountain biking this still remains marginalised. If Strava can improve this in a supportive way, then I’m all for it.

Anyway, Mtb4her’s post has got me thinking, and I’ll come back to this issue at some point, I’m sure.

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2 thoughts on “Strava and Competition

  1. Pingback: Drowning in Desire | Cyclist – Use Strava

  2. Great post!!! I see a lot of gender gaps in cycling (sports, types, products, gear), but this is no surprise really because it’s just a reflection of larger society. But I get inspired all the time because there’s other women cyclists out there writing and trying to change it!

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