Several online posts have argued that cycling has become the new golf. With the advent of technology and social networking, cycling has not only become an activity that brings stories among fellow riders but has become a spectacle worth sharing to a wider audience. Which now brings me to the app known as Strava.
For those who aren’t familiar, Strava is a fitness app for runners and cyclists that want to document their routes recording your speed, elevation of the route taken and other pertinent information for the athlete. What makes strava special is that unlike those traditional speedometers is that it has a social function as you can share your ride details on your social networking account (Facebook). While this seems to be a very “globalized” way of cycling, I personally believe that the app represents a far more complicated reality for this “poor man’s sport”. In this entry, I attempt to map out the pitfalls of the growing globalization of cycling by looking at Strava, the Commodification of the sport and the Rise of the (pseudo) professional
IF IT ISN’T IN STRAVA, THE RIDE DIDN’T HAPPEN
Initially, when I started the using the app in early 2014, I had this notion that the app was helpful for two things-making sure that I wasn’t lost or I’d be encountering a series of climbs in my route (thanks to its GPS capabilities to map out terrain) and I get to document my calorie count after each ride (so I know if I was burning calories more than consuming). However, when I started doing long distance trips, I became even more conscious of other things, such as speed, elevation and even rankings…
Though I am sure that everyone who uses the app have become more conscious about where they ride and how much riding they do,the emergence of online groups that feature riders showing their recent achievements, many would question the validity of these rides because no strava record was posted-as if the strava record mattered more than the actual ride.
Much worse, with the social network feature where records are compared with other riders, the highly coveted “king/queen of the mountain” in certain segments have become points of contention among other bikers…from accusations of using a vehicle while switching strava on in certain segments/ routes to get top honors or questioning riders capacity to travel at certain speeds over elevated terrain.
UNIFORMITY AND COMPLIANCE AS COMMODIFICATION
The problem with globalization is that while it has made the world much smaller, many activities which had no monetary value (such as adventure, camaraderie and daring) in the past have become commodities for the sake of uniformity and compliance. In the case of cycling, the need to aquire that group jersey made of expensive, top of the line fabrics, or the latest and lightest set of components or latest records in events have become commonplace…leaving the ordinary cyclist worrying more about how to fit in instead of searching for the next epic route for exploration.
The Rise of the (Pseudo) Professional
With the technological and material consequences of globalization in cycling comes a new kind of rider-the one who believes that the path to superiority is through self-glorification of pain due to speed, distance recorded in Strava with the use of bikes weighing like a feather…You see them in bikeshops, in favorite eating spots, congregating-celebrating their success of outclassing others because of their (supposed) strength of will and competitive spirit. While, some may say, it is part of the sport, I believe that though competition is something healthy for everyone’s improvement, competition also has also a tendency to divide-to set hierarchies among groups of people-which tend to generate practices motivated by inequality.
In sum, I believe that while cycling has become more materially and technologically advanced, the core meaning of adventure, daring and camaraderie should never be lost. More importantly, taking these trips on two wheels must make the rider realize that while the mind is imaginative and craves of exploration, he/she still remains at the mercy of the beauty (and brutality) of nature and no amount of Strava stats, gear or accomplishments can ever change that… if I wanted to go for an adventure, I’d ride a bike, taking my time, being more conscious of what my sense perceive, staying connected with people and places- if I want to go fast to my destination as my father would say “you might as well take a bus or my car” and live without these beautiful stories to inspire others to pursue their adventures .