Mar 1, 2011

Strava's KOM challenge

At the beginning of the year, Strava announced a KOM challenge sponsored by StudioVelo. For those who don’t know about Strava: you can upload your ride from your Garmin or one of several iPhone/Droid apps and it will log your miles, feet of ascent and also compare how well you did on segments ridden by others over time. It’s a great way to compete with cyclists whom you may have never even met in real life. And until the beginning of this year, that’s pretty much all it was – competition for rankings on various segments (mostly climbs/descents). Some segments are classics, like Old LaHonda and Mt. Hamilton. Others are just plain obscure. I mean who thought of creating a segment out of a two-block stretch on 17th street at 14 percent grade? That segment being on my way home from Golden Gate Bridge, I happen to hold the record, and I hope Chris Phipps isn’t reading this, or at least not paying close attention. But I digress.

So yes, the KOM challenge is something completely different because it really doesn’t matter where you ride, or how fast your ride. All that matters is how many feet of climb you gain. I think it’s an absolutely brilliant idea, not only for the sake of promoting Strava, but for biking in general. You don’t have to be the fastest and the strongest to win. All you have to be is dedicated, willing and consistent. Those three components will inevitably elevate you in the rankings. After all, not all of us with love for this sport are naturally gifted cyclists.

Despite the three elements above, it is very difficult to compete for the top spots in the individual competition, as they appear to be occupied by people who either don’t have jobs or whose job it is to ride their bike. Like, Ryan Sherlock  – the Irish Hill Climbing Champion and pro racer. However, as a club, getting the coveted W is quite another matter altogether, especially if you have the numbers. This entire year, Mission Cycling has been in either first or second position for the year and in first place for most of February. Rumors (spread by me and heard on Strava’s KOM blog) of beer being the reward for first place definitely motivated more Mission members to join the Strava competition, but the folks at had something similar in mind.

The last week of February was a dragged out battle of vertical feet between MTBR and Mission, with numbers in seven digits and over 60 competitors on each team. The lead kept changing from day to day, sometimes more than once per day, as bikers would upload their Garmin data to Strava. Ultimately, MTBR got the win with Mission Cycling coming in second place.

Having sounded the alarm and motivated people to compete in this challenge, I couldn’t help but to feel like I have a personal stake in the result (perhaps I do, but there’s more, so stay with me here) and each time the lead would shift, putting Mission Cycling in second place, I felt a little bit defeated, but what’s even more disturbing, is that I began thinking of the MTBR guys as “the enemy” we had to defeat. Reading their forum thread about the competition also didn’t help the matter.

As soon as I caught myself having this adversarial thought, I had to stop and put myself in the corner for a little bit. As I ruminated on the idea, it became even more glaringly apparent at how absurd it was. They aren’t the enemy; they are just a bunch of cool guys who like to ride their mountain bikes as much as we like to ride our bikes (whatever they may be). They are no different from us, and they are getting the same benefit out of this competition as we are – health, wellbeing and quality time on the bike.

All of a sudden, the competition became something different in my eyes. It was no longer us versus them, it was us versus us. How are we motivated to ride by this challenge? How many friends are we willing to drag out with us? How much more will we ride as a result? Regardless of whether we finished in first or second place, the miles were ridden, the feet were climbed, the fitness was gained and camaraderie shared. That’s a win in my book, regardless of which club’s name occupies the first line in the standings.

There are 10 more months of this competition, and I’ll try to do my best to keep Mission Cycling’s eye on the prize as the months roll on. This month, we climbed 1.2+ million feet with 69 members contributing to the total. We have 159 members in our Strava group as of the date of this blog, so clearly many have not joined the competition. I’m going to propose that for March, we set our goal on 2 million feet. It will be very difficult to do with 69 people, but if we get more Mission Cycling members to join the competition and to ride their bikes as much as possible and as often as possible, I think it is very achievable.


  1. Having put in a number of feet to this competition, I was bummed that we (Mission Cycling) lost to However, it dawned on me that we were not competing against another local cycling group; we were competing against a widespread group of mountain bikers across the internet who were all members of That is a decided advantage for Mtbr.

  2. I have been reading your posts regularly. I need to say that you are doing a fantastic job. Please keep up the great work.