Strava highlights dangers of 'social fitness'

An app that turns lonely hours of cycling and running into a virtual racetrack has the potential to help thousands more people enjoy exercise but comes with a safety warning from the NSW Police.

The app, called Strava, uses GPS tracking to provide runners and riders with a range of data on their exercise, including times on a particular route that are uploaded to a leaderboard, where participants are encouraged to improve and compete with others.

Strava's website promotes the app as a ''social fitness'' tool for ''sharing, comparing and competing with each other's personal fitness data via mobile and online apps''.

''Customers do ask about it,'' Tess McConville, a sales assistant at Woolys Wheels cycle shop in Paddington and keen user of Strava, said.

Ms McConville said the app allows you to set personal records for routes, log sections of rides and join leaderboards.

''I have customers who come in and talk about rides they've done and we can compare,'' she said. ''Someone will say 'I've done Manly Dam in 30 minutes'. And I'll say 'No way. I can't get it down to that'. Then we'll follow each other and I'll try to beat him. I follow a couple of the boys at work. It's really cool.''

Tony Arnold, the Information and Collaboration Director of Bicycle NSW, said while the body had no official view on Strava, his personal opinion was that the app was a useful tool if used in the right way.

''It's got some pros and cons,'' Mr Arnold said. ''It can be misused if, say, people are using it to check their fastest route through the city or something like that. If you're climbing a steep hill in the country, you're doing 20 kilometres an hour and you're not putting anyone in danger. But some people try to beat their best time. It becomes dangerous.''

Inspector Phil Brooks from the NSW Police traffic and highway patrol command reminded cyclists, whether using Strava or not, that they must obey road rules, including stopping at red lights and stop signs, and must give hand signals when changing directions.


''When using the road, cyclists need to stick to the road rules and should ride in a predictable and safe manner,'' Inspector Brooks said.

''Racing and time trials should only be undertaken in controlled, safe environments, not on open roads in use by other vehicles.''

An avid mountain biker, Tyler Boatwright of Collaroy Beach - who is training for a cycling trip during the Tour de France later this year - said Strava was a ''great tool that gives you a lot of information''.

''I use it to find out if how I've gone on a particular section, if I've improved my time or whatever,'' he said.

''But it is a bit of a dirty word in mountain bike circles because people are coming out on the trails, tearing around and being a bit reckless. I've heard that sometimes people yell at others to get out of the way because they're on a Strava run.''

Rates and mates

SYDNEY UNIVERSITY cycle club rider Gareth Williams says the Strava app's best quality is as a social networking tool.

''You can use it for performance measurement and it's great to log your stuff - where you've ridden, where your heart rate is at and all that stuff. But, what it really is, is a social networking tool,'' says Williams, 37, who rides mostly in the eastern suburbs, Waterfall in southern Sydney and Sydney Olympic Park.

''The reason people use it is to compare notes … and keep track of how much training your mates are doing versus what you're doing. For me, it's more about the social networking element than logging and recording your own performance.''

Williams says Strava enables him to connect with fellow riders, ''people that you've been racing with or riding with on the same ride, or in a similar bunch, but you've never actually reached out and said hello to them''.

He says criticisms of the system are ''a bit of cyclist-bashing".

Fellow Sydney University club cyclist Rob Scriva uses a Garmin GPS and uploads his riding information to the Strava website.

''It does get competitive,'' he says. ''But no more than it would if you weren't using Strava. You're always trying to beat each other up a hill. Over the past three years, I've seen how much stronger I've become.''