Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kings and Queens Of The Mountains: Head To Head @ Strava

Strava Cycling, a sports app, has an interesting geeky feature which their users butt heads over called king of the mountain (KOM) or queen (as in QOM for gal riders).

It works like this. You head out on your bicycle and record or track the ride with Strava, which rests on your smartphone.

Each sizeable hill that you surmount is set aside by the application and marked or shaded on the elevation map that Strava draws for your ride (you can ogle these maps on your web dashboard after the ride). The app calls them "segments," essentially a segment of the route you have ridden.

You can also create your own segments after the ride with a nifty widget with which you draw a line over your route, differentiating a segment of it. The second image with this post shows the widget.

Now these segments become a little race course. The time you took to ride the hill, the elevation grade, the elevation difference between beginning and end, etc. are recorded. Other Strava users can then compete over those segments for the fastest time, and the winners (temporarily) are the kings or queens of the mountain (their own 15 minutes of fame).

Many of the segments become pretty popular, such as the access road up to Sugarbush in Vermont, which has about 70 riders on the leaderboard. Or the various rides to the gaps in the mountains, like the App Gap climb nearby in Vermont. It's fun, and hypercompetitive, at about the level of a playground. Sort of an example of how sub-elements of these apps take on a life of their own.

Sometimes too much life. When someone competing to regain a KOM was killed, the family apparently sued Strava. These segments are a natural outgrowth of the technology (GPS + mapping + multiple users), but people shouldn't lose their heads over them.

I found out that little hills, even very steep ones, can't be set aside as segments (there must be a hill-length requirement, like a mile). I "attacked" three short bumps with my little mountainbike on one of my routes, but couldn't use them later as segments. Rats. I wanted to be King of The Mountain for at least 15 minutes.