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 than 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-

30 thoughts on “Strava vs. GNAR – Why do you ride mountain bikes?

  1. Herschel Johnson says:

    I’m with you. It’s all about the trail challenge and learning to ride those new challenges. Most people I know focus on distance and time and I always reply those are secondary to the challenge of the trail. I’ve also had bad experiences on the trail with Strava riders, e.g. getting run off the trail. That’s not what riding should be about. Some of my best riding experiences have been meeting new people and sharing experiences. You can’t do that when you’ve got a time to beat.

  2. Paul S says:

    I don’t race (I’m old and slow; have been all since I started MTB’ing when I was 13!). But I have a ton of fun whenever I push myself to go further, faster, and harder on any ride or feature. On all but my “I gotta get out” rides, if I’m not challenging myself – on speed, skill, and/ or endurance – then I don’t feel like I’ve had the best ride I coulda. And personally, the only thing I’m recording is the mileage. The rest is *what* I did, not *how* I did. (But, to each their own!)

  3. Jay Carpenter says:

    STRAVA to me is more about tracking mileage goals than how fast I rode. GNAR is definitely the more challenging aspect of mountain biking!

  4. Mike says:

    I use Strava to track my rides and view all of the metrics. As well as staying in touch with of all my riding buddies and others that I choose to follow. It’s also a good way to look at routes people are riding as well as planning my own routes. I have been inspired to try different routes or find trails I didn’t know about using Strava. . I see at a useful tool and care less about how fast I am on a particular segment.

  5. M. Wayne Tucker says:

    Strava and GNAR can co-exist. I like Strava because I do both road and MTB and when performance is measured, performance improves. But one of the best things about Strava is keeping track of other riders activities on the same trails, giving and receiving kudos and comments. I am 71 but follow my grandkids and friends on the local school MTB team. It is so amazing to see how active and dedicated they are and how fast they improve. Hopefully they take my comments and kudos as encouragement to stay active and love the sport. Strava focus can cause burnout but these kids know how to GNAR.

  6. Chris John Doolittle says:

    I ride in Northern NJ where we have some world-class tech trails. What I’ve seen in the last two years is trail destruction, with Strava-focused riders creating new trials around tech sections, widening the trails, cutting off switch-backs and generally f’ing-up the trails. Not sure what to do about it, but 1000’s volunteers are spending 1000’s of hours designing, building and maintaining great trails only to see them destroyed. .

    • gator says:

      I’ve seen the same at my local trails. It’s not just STRAVA. YouTube has thousands of videos of MTBer emulating motocrossers and local riders try to emulate what they see on YouTube. I have a feeling that land managers will respond by closing more and more MTB trails.

  7. Jarrod says:

    I hate Strava. Since I got my Garmin, I have just switched over to it. I think what I hate is the gamification of riding. I do not ride to compete. I used to but then discovered that racing killed riding for me. Actually, to the point where I stopped riding road and mountain for years. Only recently have I started riding on the road and trails again. The point of riding for me is to actually ride. Sometimes I go fast and push, sometimes I do not. I guess it is a question of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and which one works best for you. Strava depends too much upon extrinsic and I do not ride for that.

  8. REID TEMPLIN says:

    I use Stava for a lot of reasons other than KOM. One big reason is tracking my workout. I like to be able to log miles, time and heart rate. This helps me overall on knowing how much riding I am doing and gauge my current fitness level. It also tracks miles ridden on each of my bikes and even inddividual components if you take the time to set that up. This helped with my maintenece schedule and can see how well something like a tire holds up. I have used it a little bit when trying demo bike or new component on a local trail I know well. I will ride a section and note how the bike feels and then look at Strava after the ride and see how fast it was.. This isn’t an exact science but rather a data point. I rarely focus on the fastest time on any given trail and know that trail conditions also play a large part in how fast you go. It is fun to see a PR pop up at then end of a ride and I don’t get discouraged at the end of a ride if I don’t have PRs. I do ride more for the “Gnar”, but find Strava as a good tool and lognof data.

  9. Mark says:

    Hey James, Strava is a tool. I use it as such. I don’t let it turn me into a “tool.” By far the most useful feature is the ability to add all of my bikes and their components to keep track of their milage for maintenance intervals.

  10. Bob says:

    It’s the Stravassholes that are ruining it. Running people off trails, creating shortcuts, widening trails all in the name of speed trying to be KOM. Used as a tool its fine, but turning the public trail into a race course is a problem. As far as GNAR I ride bikes for fun first and foremost, always looking for GNAR!

  11. Jon says:

    I think Strava use is a great tool to record ride metrics and track progress especially when adding or changing something to bike. For example, just added new suspension linkage and riding DH faster and smoother with better control which leads to more fun since more “flow zone” going on snd to my surprise since adding more travel with revised suspension leverage ratio, putting in better times in techy climbs as well. At the end of the day, it is all recreation and Strava is great tool to see what you rode and any performance changes on ride if riding well.

  12. Brady Campbell says:

    Hey James you are right that Strava can ruin a great ride if you let it. It’s easy to get caught up in the top ten list. We have some great trails here in Tyler, Texas and no doubt challenge each other chasing KOMs. However I have met some great people through the app and enjoy the comments giving positive feedback or just joking around. In my experiences it has been positive in that way. When I’m training for a race it provides a useful history and metrics as well. GNAR is why I started riding and continue to but I also enjoy competing. So Strava has been a fun positive way for me to include community and competition into my riding whether I’m training or not.

  13. gator says:

    I ride for fun, but part of the fun is improving my skill and my fitness. As a way to improve and use my skills, I often set my goal for the ride to be as smooth and graceful as possible. On those rides, I do not care how fast or slow I go. Strava has allowed me to discover an interesting, counter-intuitive phenomenon. I ride faster on days when my goal is smoothness than I ride on days where speed is the goal.
    So now I time myself for smoothness. I’m more in control, safer, and have more fun and I don’t kill myself by riding at maximum exertion.

  14. Isaiah M says:

    I’m not very competitive Strava wise meaning I dont care if I finished the ride slower than 75% of the people who have ridden it. I push myself to go as fast as possible because I like going fast, but I take time to enjoy the trail features as well. I’ll even stop to take pictures or enjoy a view. Its enough for me to just feel like I had a good ride, I dont need Strava to tell me. Thats just me personally but I know people who aim for the KOMs and will skip over segments to get a fast rating.

  15. Mike says:

    I stumbled upon Strava shortly after it first became available. I don’t think I truly understood it at the time, as I quickly got bored with it. But not long afterwards, it became all the rage, and it seemed that everyone was doing it. By that time I had already moved on. I don’t ride for the sake of pushing myself, and I don’t necessarily ride for the GNAR factor. I ride for many reasons, and I happen to push myself in the process. But I’ll be 60 soon, and the style of my riding has evolved. From listening to Dan John, I learned to weigh the risk vs the reward. It simply became unwise for me to ride like I used to. My strength and my reaction times aren’t what they used to be, and a good fall has the potential of being devastating and life-changing at my age. I’ve had a few few crashes and injuries that could have easily been much worse than what they were. So, I don’t ride like I used to, and I don’t go where most people go. It’s just not worth it to me. My rides tend to be a combination of mixed terrain that includes pavement, dirt roads, and trails. I’m exploring. I’m seeing where my bike can take me, rather than finding places to take my bike. I’m no longer romping and pushing all of my limits. I’m seeing where the path will take me.

  16. Hap Proctor says:

    I use Strava to track my mileage (though their GPS tracking takes a healthy tithe on each ride). I also like to see the activities of friend; ones nearby and those living in other states and countries. I consider myself a “scenic mountain biker” and have no KOM’s, even in my age group, but it is interesting to see how quick some folks ride segments.

  17. Nick T says:

    I have seen so many short cuts on trails in the name of speed it is depressing. The worst thing is it can mess up your own fun going down a trail as you are presented with random line options purely made in the name of speed. I like going fast, I think most of us do. Though if you do it by removing trail features what is the point! Love live the GNAR!

  18. Mike says:

    GNAR and Strava are not related in my mind. I use Strava to help me log in 5 days a week. An$ make sure I’m getting the elevation in. To me GNAR is more associated with elevation gain. If you are climbing 1000 feet per 5 miles like we do in North Georgia you also get 2.5 miles of GNAR on the DH. So I like to track number of rides, time on the bike and elevation.

  19. Landon says:

    I’ve made great riding friends thanks to Strava. After a ride when I’ve chatted up a person on the trail I’ll see who else rode the same segments on that day and can often find the person and start following them. A couple of times it’s turned into meeting up for a ride together!

  20. Mike says:

    100% correct (as usual)
    I certainly find that Strava like many statical approaches, sucks the fun out of like. Imagine your sex life on Strava – how shitty would that be.
    It has its place but not as an everyday thing. Mtv

  21. Vinay says:

    I don’t use strava. I do however time my laps with my stopwatch. Not even to compare my lap times against everything I’ve done in the past or anything. Just that the start beep and the knowledge that a clock is running motivates me to push a little harder. Not necessary to avoid certain lines or anything, just to push harder and not back off. Depends on the section obviously. If the challenge of a section is to even make it or I want to session it just to be a little smoother, there is clock running. Also, often my goal is not to necessarily be fast but instead to put in least pedal strokes yet rely on pumping and looking ahead.

    I’m not into competition at all actually, so it is not just against strava. I just don’t care much to compare myself against others when apparently a good bit depends on equipment. A coach once told me “If you perform the best you can and lose the race, you still did amazingly. However, if you mess up and win the race, you still messed up”. Which from then on made me wonder, what’s the point of comparing yourself to others? Better set your own goals and reflect on that.

  22. Stephen Atherton says:

    He who has the most fun wins!
    Some days that us doing big jumps , sometimes it’s race pace, sometimes it’s smelling the roses.
    Use devices what they are meant for, tracking, keeping history.

  23. Robert Rose says:

    I ditched Strava a while back when they took it upon themselves to notify me that they were now “WOKE”. Apparently they have a very different outlook on life than me. I ride to escape that bullshit.

  24. Mark Tressel says:

    I like using strava whenever I ride mtb trails. I think it’s important not to go chasing kom’s though and usually don’t do it. The only time I attempt a kom is when it fits with my training plan. Like matching a climb trail section with a 3-8min VO2 interval. It’s neat seeing the power to speed relationship. Sometimes I see I am as fart or faster at a section at lower power. Sometimes you loose efficiently when you push too hard and I think it’s good to get a feel for that.

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