July
15

Strava vs. GNAR – Why do you ride mountain bikes?

Most of you reading this are probably familiar with the Strava phenomenon and if you’re not, where have you been? Riders everywhere are GPSing their rides and uploading them to the Strava database where they can track all sorts of things like mileage, power and heart rate.

I know that not every rider is like me and some can handle Strava responsibly but I would like to remind everyone that while there may not be an app to record it, your GNAR score still counts.

Oh, and don’t forget who’s got the coveted KOM – King of the Mountain – on their favorite trail.

Again, for those that don’t know the KOM goes to the rider with the fastest time. And yes, this can essentially turn every ride into a race.

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 10.21.16 AMAnd yes, some riders have taken it way too far.

But while I personally don’t use Strava myself for reasons I’ll touch on in a second I don’t hate it. It is kind of like a gun – Strava doesn’t kill fun trail rides, people kill fun trail rides in the name of Strava.

However, I’ve always been bothered by something and that is the fact that no where on Strava does it record the other part of trail riding…the GNAR factor.

GNAR is the name of a ski movie and short for a game created by some skiers in Squaw Valley CA years ago. It stands for Gafney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness and was a way for the locals to grade both the difficulty and fun factor on each line.

In other words, skiing down a run didn’t mean anything. The real question was how much did you challenge yourself and how much fun did you have.

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 10.20.55 AM

On the trail GNAR is best embodied in the old Freerider mentality – I may not be the fastest guy on the trail but I’m going to the hit craziest stuff I can find and have a ball, speed be damned.

Now, this isn’t to say that going fast isn’t fun and challenging, simply that going fast isn’t the same thing as fun and challenging.

I’ve seen and heard riders justify running through a technical rock garden or riding around a fun trail feature in the name of speed but that doesn’t do much for your GNAR score.

I’ll admit that I’m biased and think that mountain biking is more GNAR that Strava. Strava seems to be leaning a bit too much towards the roadie side of things for me…mountain biking is about so much more than simply getting from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.

It also tends to reinforce the common problem of focusing on the outcome instead of the process.

I know because it happened to me.

I had Strava for a few weeks but the first time I came back to my car feeling pretty good about how I rode but got discouraged when I saw my time wasn’t as fast as I would have thought I erased it.

My focus went from the Internal Process to the External Outcome and I lost sight of the real reason I ride – to learn more and have fun.

I know that not every rider is like me and some can handle Strava responsibly but I would like to remind everyone that while there may not be an app to record it, your GNAR score still counts.

So, why do you ride?

I’ve admitted I think mountain biking is more GNAR that Strava but what do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know why you use or don’t use Strava or if you have any unique ways of using to improve your trail riding.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Zane says:

    Hey James,

    Solid post. I personally will use Endomondo from time to time on rides I do often. This’ll give me some kind of ‘by the numbers’ evaluation on a certain trail so I can determine if all the work I’m doing on your programs is helping (it is…considerably, in both the GNAR skill help and just flat out speed), and whether or not I’m improving in certain, measurable things on the bike. For similar reasons I also use a GoPro at times to record the ride and show friends/family afterwards. The GoPro thing, when you’re riding alone, is almost kind of like riding with a buddy because you’ll push yourself a bit more than if you were just cruising on your own. It’s also a fun way to chronicle your bigger rides and see where you’ve ridden (I’ve just moved from Washington state to California so the terrain difference is stark as hell), and the kinds of lines you were taking back then vs. the lines you pull off now. I think both help, but not when you get SO into it that your ride is “not complete” or “lacking” because you aren’t sharing it with the world. Just another situation where some moderation goes a long way.

    Thanks again, man!

    Reply • July 15 at 10:47 am
  2. Terry says:

    James, great writeup! What attracts me about mountain biking is the freedom to ride all kinds of terrain features, depending on ability of course. Speed is just another part of riding, not the biggest for me. I don’t use Strava, and probably never will. Its too much about ego from what I see. Plus I don’t want to advertise where I ride – its already crowded enough.

    GNAR is such a funny and inspiring video. Could have only happened with Shane McConkey, and at Squaw Valley!!!! RIP, Shane.

    Reply • July 15 at 10:49 am
  3. Mark King says:

    I ride for fun. Definitely GNAR.

    Reply • July 15 at 11:16 am
  4. Scott says:

    I do use Strava but not for my everyday training. I tend to use it when we have a group day out somewhere so we can all compare our sectiontimes. I was very happy recently to find I had the 3rd & 8th fastest overall Strava times riding the Dreamtime sections of Coed y Brenin.. I was not chasing a time just having a funday out with the lads but getting a fast Strava time raised my training game the following week.

    Reply • July 15 at 11:41 am
  5. Antti says:

    I have used Strava for a while now and I find it fun. With my abilities I’ll never be the KOM of anything so I don’t have to ruin my rides by trying to be. It’s just fun to pin it on some short segments and see if I did better than last time. You shouldn’t take it too seriously, that’s what real-life races are for.

    Reply • July 15 at 12:09 pm
  6. Bradley G says:

    Thank you for a great summation of the pros and cons of using STRAVA to map a ride. I am finishing a “30 days of no STRAVA” trial to see if I can bring the fun back into MTB riding.
    I too have noticed the erosion of the GNAR factor on my rides. Areas deserving of a ‘redo’ tend to get skipped in the pursuit of a faster segment time.
    Take the ’30 days of no STRAVA’ challenge and discover how fun MTB riding used to be.

    Reply • July 15 at 12:41 pm
  7. David says:

    Hey James,
    GNAR is from Squaw Valley, not Mammoth. http://unofficialnetworks.com/gnar/ DEFINITELY work watching the movie. Although it may lead to crazy behavior like skiing (or riding) up to random groups to tell them you’re the best skier (rider) on the mountain, in an effort to score GNAR points… Even years later, you can still find people racking up GNAR points by cooking breakfast in the KT-22 lift line before it opens on a powder day. It’s a really entertaining movie, particularly if you’ve ever skied Squaw.

    On a more related note, I’m huge fan on Strava, and a huge fan of taking time to session fun lines. Just depends on what the goal of the ride is. As you often point out, one of the key ways to get faster is to improve your skills. I session to improve my skills and the improvements show up in my Strava times when I hit the race course. One of the motivations behind building Strava was to build a killer online training log. The social aspects are just a bonus if you’re into that. I’m not fast enough to own many KOM’s in my area, but I do have fun racing my buddies uphill on our local climbs and seeing how we compared to years past when were single and fast. 🙂 Although it is impressive to see the KOM times drop when pros show up at the local races!

    Reply • July 15 at 12:52 pm
  8. Julie says:

    I do trailwork. I volunteer with my local mtn bike club. I pay my IMBA dues and my local club dues. I do endurance races in flat pedals, a gravity dropper, with wide bars and a short stem. I love rides where the point is to session jumps and rock gardens and see my skills improve. I sometimes ride in order to accomplish a training goal – a certain number of intervals or a certain heart rate or RPE, for hours or miles or feet of climbing. Sometimes, I just want to be out in nature to enjoy some solitude – skills and training be damned. Sometimes, I love group rides where the point is to enjoy time with friends – maybe even help some progress, or learn from others. Sometimes all of the above is wrapped up into one ride. And guess what? I post my rides on Strava, (only legal trails, mind you).

    Why? Maybe since I work full time at a desk job that’s not in the cycling industry – every ride, no matter how small or slow, is an accomplishment given the amount of time I have, and I like to share it with my friends. I like to see how many feet I’ve climbed or how many miles I’ve ridden, and how others are progressing. We give each other kudos and make silly comments, and give our rides silly titles. It’s fun. One of my Strava friends is an old school BMX rider. He can do a trackstand for like, an hour, balanced on his front wheel, in street clothes. He’s been known to ride one of the rockiest trails in the area, regularly, on a cyclocross bike. One guy I know does these monster “XC weight weenie” rides on a 40 lb. singlespeed fat bike. Do you really thing folks like these are just doing it for the KOM’s? Why take time out of your day making up categories and dividing people into buckets – either you are about Strava or about GNAR. Who cares? The implication is Strava-users are all just stupid cross-country weenies and the rest of us are the REAL mountain bikers! Most people I ride with and know don’t fit in any of these categories, and yet they are all just as real a MTB’er as anyone else. Most of us don’t spend our lives trying to live up to a label. We’re just doing what we do best, because life is too short.

    Reply • July 15 at 1:00 pm
    • Marne says:

      Well said Julie! I agree with you on the fact that we shouldn’t all be lumped and criticized into a categorical rider. I commute to work on a road bike, I XC mountain bike and race with friends and my husband, I do Enduro races, and I race cyclocross. Only one of my bike has a computer on it, so Strava is my way of keeping track of my ride stats and I have used it a time or 2 to find my way around some trail unfamiliar to me. I use if for training to get into shape for the CX season as well. It’s all up to the user not the app. as to how it affects your riding enjoyment. I have a blast each and every time I am on 2 wheels, even if it was the hardest damn climb I have ever done on platform pedals!

      Reply • August 8 at 10:13 am
    • RennyG says:

      I love the fact that James brings up subjects that people get soooo passionate about sharing their thoughts and perspectives. Keep it up Please James! I get a cardio workout just reading comments on this blog!

      Reply • August 10 at 5:49 pm
  9. Labolito says:

    Thanks James for great work on mtb training and mtb awareness!

    I think we agree that if you’re doing something for the sake of speed it will effect the quality of the outcome at some end. For me, riding the trails is about rythm and trying to get into the flow – and keep it. I also ride with the intention of getting lost for a while.

    Ride in mind!

    Best,
    Lars

    Reply • July 15 at 3:06 pm
  10. Bede says:

    I use Strava as an easy way to keep track of training rides & see progress. I don’t use it when out with Mates just riding for fun. It is an interesting tool, but can be de-motivating when you are apparently not making any progress despite knowing you are fitter & stronger!

    What it did do was pinpoint where my poor management of nutrition during rides was killing my speed.

    Reply • July 15 at 3:24 pm
  11. Christian Dangelo says:

    Hey there James,

    I got onto your site from an Aussie MTB mag article recently about, -what else?-flat pedal riding. Great to read your stuff in general, mate!

    As for Strava, boy, leave it to the Roadies, I say!! I have been a road rider all my life until I by chance discovered life gettin’ dirty out in the woods a couple of years ago at the age of 48 and a big appeal about the whole MTB scene is how much more of it relates to the experience, both in the riding and in the type of people I meet.

    Our modern working life is already far to obsessed with time and performing, the last thing I want is to feel I have to do that out in the back country when I’m trying to find some relaxation and respite from all of that.

    Strava is a great racer’s tool and it could be fun for road riding as a personal challenge once in a while, but I’ll stick to just shredding about the trails, I think. Anyway, riding technical trails already offers much in the way of challenging oneself and a buzz when you pin it, of its own.

    Gosh! What next? Riding MTB on SPD’s because they can possibly offer a performance advantage?!

    Cheers, Christian.

    Reply • July 15 at 5:52 pm
  12. Jet says:

    Great, Great, Great post James, you have summed up my views on strava perfectly.

    In my experience strava was really cool in the beginning. It was a great feedback tool and was a way of sharing the riding experience with mates.

    But it eventually brought out a lot of bitchiness in the group I was riding with and just killed the fun on the rides with certain riders. We use to joke that strava needed ‘awesome’ points as a way of balancing challenge vs speed.

    I still use it as a feedback tool and my kids got a real buzz of knowing they had broken the 10km distance barrier thanks to strava. Setting my strava rides to private is the best option for me.

    Reply • July 15 at 6:30 pm
  13. Lars says:

    I fall on both sides of this. I have a preference to STRAVA mainly as it has majorly enhanced my skill and fitness. It has pushed me to ride much more than I used to and during the times I know I can Shred with out running someone off the trail I push hard through many of our local Gnarly Trails. Maybe because I looked to increase my times by finding better ways to pick through the trail by skill sets. Gaping farther to clear rock gardens, cornering better to carry better exit speed, pumping and flowing sections better to be more efficient and never cutting corners, never dismounting to run a section ( one should be penalized for dismounting) . Anyways I definitely feel STRAVA has made a huge difference in my riding. More capable of GNAR today than prior to STRAVA though I do wish you could some how measure the GNAR factor. Used responsibly conflict on trails can be avoided too.

    Reply • July 15 at 10:22 pm
  14. Jeremey says:

    I find Strava a powerful tool to improve my riding. Strava can help you keep track of your progress and keep you focused on improving a skill each ride to try and improve your times. You certainly do not need Strava for this but it helps me. I also enjoy looking at my times after a ride and it motivates me to ride better and look for fast clean lines through technical sections. Strava has helped me improve my riding for sure. It has also improved my overall enjoyment of riding. Gamification of stuff is great. Strava being like a gun is very accurate. It seems I love shooting stuff 😉

    Reply • July 16 at 6:43 am
  15. sean in san diego says:

    i pick a line based on flow, feel and fun. (not ultimate speed) I use strava as a unit of measure. I measure me against myself to know if my stills and fitness are improving. it is fun to see what my friends are doing but it does not drive me. improvement eventually requires a unit of measure.

    Reply • July 16 at 9:31 am
  16. I’ve actually replaced my on-bike computer with Strava because I like to have the auto-recorded ride database. Occasionally I’ll ride something hard to see how well I can do compared to other local riders, but for the most part, I’m using it to simply replace my excel spreadsheet and monitor my progression against myself (I have set up a couple of private segments for my training rides). I agree with James that it can very quickly become a way to destroy your training and, more importantly, fun.

    Reply • July 17 at 9:24 am
  17. Rick says:

    Hi James,
    I don’t use any fancy software, just a log book with date, time distance, HR and calories. I live in Arizona and ride trail 5 days/nights a week. I must admit I have been taking each ride as a small race. The other day I made myself stop and look around at the awesome scenery I was riding through. I do want to continually improve but not at the cost of ruining my favorite activity. Great topic !

    Reply • July 17 at 10:58 am
  18. RennyG says:

    I grew up riding ALOT, as it was how I got around as a kid. Then I got a car and the bike collected dust for about 10 years. Once I started back riding it was as a roadie – over twenty years ago and I fell into the trap of century riding – century riding in under 6 hours – riding 3000 miles in one season. Then I switched to mountain biking and had the same attitude of how many miles in a day in the woods, upgrade the bike even though your skills are not that great. Now I have finally found myself at a place where I ride to ride well, ride things that make me uncomfortable, ride for FUN!! I am more passionate about riding now than I have ever been. Computers and tracking my rides be damned, I am just psyched that at 54 I can do this, continue to improve and allow myself to see a new way of enjoying something that is a lifetime passion. And I thank you James, because it all started with an article I read about flat pedals on your website. And I love your workouts and I am seeing what a difference they are making in my riding. Flat Pedals and Hardtail Riding – Life is Good! Thank you James for your great articles, and insights!

    Reply • July 19 at 8:55 am
  19. John Ryan says:

    GNAR every time James !!! There is a feature in strava which shows everyone’s ride on a map which can be useful for tracking down hard to find fun trails. They are supposed to be secret, but starva riders just can’t help themselves.

    Reply • August 8 at 5:40 am
  20. Felix says:

    I’m definitely on the GNAR side of of thing….if I want to race, I register to a race! And sometimes, my riding buddy is using Strava and annonce me that we are KOM for a segment….cool! But hey, I was just riding to have as much fun as I could, trying to corner like Peaty and ride the coolest lines as possible! And my riding has dramatically improve recently, not because I’m using (racing) Strava, but because I followed my coach instruction on proper training! Thanks James 🙂

    Reply • August 8 at 6:22 am
  21. Ray says:

    HI james,

    Great article. I use Strava for the Maps. I can either download the gpx from someone else or after I have ridden a new trail system download that gpx map. I then use another program called view ranger to load that map so that I can follow the tracks so I don’t get lost. I think it is a great tool for that. I also like to keep track of my mileage for a season. I know there are other programs out there that can do this, and for free, but I like Strava’s interface. Keep up the good work and viva la Flat Pedals!

    Reply • August 8 at 6:27 am
  22. neil B says:

    Hey James
    thing with Strava is it’s far from accurate in my experience, for speed, distance or elevation. Apparently this is because it loses the GPS signal in tree cover or amongst cliffs.
    So, useful for recording where you’ve been (approximately) and that’s why I use it. But, of course, it’s impossible to not look at top speed etc! Even if it is sometimes way off. I’ve done 40mph on level singletrack? I don’t think so.
    Just got to keep your head in the right place I guess 😉
    keep up the good work James
    thanks, neil

    Reply • August 8 at 7:00 am
  23. Susan McClenon says:

    I really enjoy Strava! I just use the free app on my phone, I like that it keeps track of my rides, I can view a map of where I’ve been, see where my friends are riding, time myself on challenging uphills, compare my times with fellow female riders that I look up to, the list goes on .. it’s very entertaining! I do have to reel myself in at times when I feel an obsession coming on, that just takes a little self control. Thanks for your articles!

    Reply • August 8 at 7:59 am
  24. Lalena says:

    Yup! I Strava.

    I used to scoff strava users, but one of my strava using friends convinced me to try it.

    I’m addicted to strava.

    I love putting red lines on my map. I especially like seeing what trails my friends are riding and I’m often inspired to try new routes because of it. I like seeing how much km’s I’m putting on my bike to give me a good indication of what I probably should be servicing. I also find it helps me to understand my body and when I need to rest. For example, when I start noticing my average HR is dropping while climbing Fromme (local mountain), but I’m much slower comparative to previous times… Then I know I should have a rest day.

    I also feel like a World Cup Champion when I QOM… Haha! But it’s also nice to see when you have PR’s.

    I think as long as you’re not a dick when you ride, strava is a great tool, a nice motivator and it’s fun. I turn it on even when I know I’m doing mellow rides with friends… And I’ve never ridden like an a-hole because of it. If I’m riding a trail fast and approach someone, I yield right of way and let the other person know I’m there whether I have strava running or not.

    I still feel that I obtain epic proportions of GNAR… Because Strava hasn’t changed “how” I ride. I still hoot, holler, boost off rocks on the edge of the trail, and giggle like I’m 8 years old when I throw in a silly jamin salmon when I catch some air.

    Reply • August 8 at 8:37 am
  25. Hal Overman says:

    Every ride I use Strava, whether road riding or Mountain Biking. I do like getting KOMs but I am by no means a “Strava Whore” and just live for the KOMs. My favorite things so far about Strava is I love it most for its social aspect. I consider it the FaceBook of cycling.

    It has put me in touch with local riders that are above my own skill level whom I normally would not have ever known. Now that I know them, I am able to ride with them and LEARN from the best. I can start groups and have discussions. I have also used it to get in touch with the locals when going out of town.

    I think in the end you are correct – it comes down to the attitude of the rider and their use and purpose with Strava.

    Reply • August 8 at 8:37 am
  26. Matt says:

    Hey james
    Yes I do use strava but only because I like to gauge myself against better riders and see how fast they do the same trail I don’t look at strava in the same context as a race say where ur pushing limits and giving 100% sure I do push limits on trail rides and give it my all but I don’t necessarily have the same competitive edge as I do when racing, for example on trail rides or at the bike park I jus use strava to see where I stand be it good or bad I don’t then set out to improve my time but I may try improve how I corner, hit rock gardens, jumps etc ….. You could say that’s a result of using strava but realy aren’t we all just tryin to better our skills on the bike?

    Ps always enjoy reading your thoughts on different aspects of mountsin biking keep it up

    Matt

    Reply • August 8 at 10:03 am
  27. Zach says:

    When I first started mountain biking I used Strava because a friend was using it as well. It mainly got me frustrated and I realized I wasn’t having fun anymore. I started trail riding because I was bored with road riding and I slowly realized that I was trying to turn mtb into the same thing. Now I ride for strictly fun or GNAR! If I ride a section that got me stoked I stop, go back and ride it again. You can’t track that on strava. It has it’s place but it depends on why you’re riding. I’ve also seen people taking short cuts on tight single tracks and the only reason is for time shaving on strava. It’s disrespectful on so many levels especially to guys that volunteer time to maintain awesome trails for us to have fun on. If you can use it and not take it to seriously great but for me I enjoy the part of the sport that got me to try it in the first place. FUN!

    Reply • August 8 at 10:47 am
  28. Warren says:

    I started using Strava. But it was a waste. Every line I rode, I completely killed it and my time kicked everyone’s. Even when I stopped and did sections twice. I got so sick of opening Stava just to see that yes, indeed, I was still way better than everyone, that I stopped using it.

    Reply • August 8 at 11:20 am
  29. jerome says:

    I hate when Stravashole and flow-lovers tame down a trail, cut switchback or build chicken line for the sake of Speed and Flow.
    Speed and Flow are in you not in the trail, it’s your personal quest to find it. Strava is just worth comparing your progress with yourself. Others may ride different lines, different conditions.
    If you want a real test , sign up for a race!!!
    Keep the Gnar in MTB.

    Reply • August 8 at 12:16 pm
  30. Tobin says:

    Cool post! I got on Strava after being requested by local national parks to give ride data for survey for new trail development and haven’t looked back!! My local is pretty tech and you just can’t be a roadie and smash out a fast time, so it’s driven me to sites like yours to get new skills and ideas to get more flow (aka GNAR) to ride clean and fast through tough sections ultimately giving good Strava times. For me faster is funner! Not to say that we don’t have rides where we chat and cruise, it’s all in a balance. I still think anything that drives you to push your limits can’t be all bad.

    Reply • August 8 at 5:03 pm
  31. Russell says:

    Great post, I am a big Strava user but I don’t let it effect my ride on the trail and become a Stravahole, (only on the road). But it does feel great when you get done riding and you see a PR or KOM.

    Reply • August 8 at 5:42 pm
  32. Lane says:

    I STRAVA but only to track what rides I’ve done and how long they are, what the vertical distance is. I don’t give a damn about my speed or PRs or anything like that. I ride for fun, GNAR, nothing more.

    Reply • August 8 at 6:39 pm

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