Thursday, June 27, 2013

KOM Fatigue

Have the Strava users out there, which are probably most of you, noticed the proliferation of segments lately? You can't ride around the block these days without three screens of segments appended to your ride results. A case in point from near work: a one mile section of Naticook Rd has no fewer than eight Strava segments defined on it. Both directions, whole thing, just steep bits, from or to a side street, it's crazy.

Everybody can be a winner on Strava. Make your driveway a segment, and you can be almost guaranteed nobody else will contest it. This isn't only happening on paved surfaces. The MTB gang has a penchant for creating as many segments per trail as possible. I'm pretty sure the mathematical expression for correct number of Stava segments per trail is N+1, where N is the current number of segments.

The Strava user community going crazy with segments is really no different than the Fed printing money. After a while, they both have no value.

Another thing I notice is how horrible phone apps are with GPS functions. I've lost several KOMs lately to riders going 50mph uphill at 1500 Watts estimated power. Yeah, they were really on a bicycle under their own power. It's just that phone apps seem to drop out all the time, and sometimes the way they connect the dots, it interpolates ridiculous speed where there might be a segment. I'll leave it to riders with obviously flaky track files to delete their own rides rather than flag them. They'll just look like idiots with 50mph uphill KOMs.  I don't care.  Treat KOMs lightly folks, as even good GPSs can be way off sometimes.

I've pretty much reached the point where I don't care what the leaderboard BS says below a posted ride. It all looks the same for no matter how hard or how easy I rode or anybody else rode. There's bound to be some KOMs in each ride, but they are "junk" KOMs. I do have a small number of local hills I like to track my fitness on, and Strava is a nice way to remember my bests. I wonder though, in a 15 mile radius from work, how many segments exist now. I bet it is in the thousands.

How does Strava combat this segment inflation? I think their user community will burn out on leaderboards if they don't find some clever way to allow the user community to self regulate what has value and what doesn't, what should be public and what should be your own personal segments. When I ride somewhere, I don't care about 95% of the content that Strava stirs up for me.

Will I abandon Strava? Probably not anytime soon. Maybe I'll even ante up and become a premium member, since Strava is cutting off third party apps at the end of the month. Yeah, they are going to severely restrict API access to their data base. I won't be able to mine other rider's GPS tracks from Strava anymore.  We'll see if some of the really cool third party apps out there become a premium member feature in the future, since they will cease to function on July 1. I wonder if Stava provided open access to see what they could mine from the user community, what the user community thought was cool. Kind of dirty if they did, but perhaps a shrewd business move.

There are two things I've come to like about Strava. First, it is kind of like Facebook, a social gathering place for athletes. You can see exactly what your friends are doing, how hard their are going, who they are riding with, etc. I wish the Activity Feed was a little more streamlined and customizable.  More support for photos would be nice too. The other reason I'll continue to use Strava is it is one place where I can store and easily retrieve workout data. I was saving all my GPS logs in Garmin Training Center. While I can retrieve a GPX track file from it, it is very hard to find, and displaying of route is useless. I still bulk upload many workouts to Training Center before clearing GPS memory periodically to make sure I have local, personal copy of them in case Strava goes bye-bye. This is important to me, as I may have done a ride, on or off road, a few years ago that I want to do again. I haven't devised a better way to catalog GPX track files yet.

When cycle computers first became popular, there was some counter-culture that shunned metrics. Purist in the community didn't like the fact some riders fretted over average speed and manipulated the  ride to make sure the average didn't suffer. Well, Strava with GPS technology pushes that to another whole level. Group riding dynamics have changed even more dramatically. Now there are leaderboards, imaginary races within the ride, that stir things up. I think the only way to break the Strava curse is to not instrument your ride.


Chris said...

I really only care if the KOM or PR is junk if it skews my own results. If I know I had a bad day on the bike and was slow, but get a PR (or don't get one on a good day) because some bit of space junk bumped the GPS satellite then I tend to be annoyed. If I get an accidental KOM on some local testpiece for the same reason I think its kind of funny and am inclined to let it stand as one of the quirks of participating in Strava.

Hill Junkie said...

There have been a few times I went after specific KOMs, knew I killed it, only to have Strava not even acknowledge I rode the segment because my GPS was off a few feet at the start or finish. Some segments get defined by riders with iPhone, so baseline is off, which means if your GPS is perfect, you will never hit that segment. iPhone tracks should be blocked from defining segments.

Mr. Quindazzi said...

Not sure how to halt proliferation, but they could start with getting rid of any segments on bike paths, and any segments with downhill grades. They'd have to figure out the criteria so climbs or flats with dips are still okay, but no bomber descents.
After they did that, they could disallow any upload that had any speeds above say 35mph (probably could lower that to 30 really) which would cut out a lot of the car uploads.

Bill said...

Which 3rd party apps were you using to mine Strava data anyway? Often thought of cool stuff that I'd like to get out of the Strava database but never done any research on it...

Hill Junkie said...

Bill - I've used this one a lot: Cosmo says he'll replace it with something soon. Not sure what, if he's denied the same access. Can paying premium members download anybodies GPX track? If so, probably another reason they blocked Cosmo.