Essay: On Strava’s Asterisk
(2015) Ah yes, Strava. It seemed all so easy from the start. Create a segment, ride a bike through the segment, and hope to come out on top. It’s an easy plan altogether. Until the possibility I saw today. Route 29 in New Jersey is a well-known time trial course. Between Stockton and Frenchtown lies newly resurfaced road with a generous shoulder. Until a few years ago, any rider who respected the shape of his or her bike abandoned this route. The patchwork jarred the hardiest rider. Sometimes one would have to look back to see which part gave up and jumped ship. Forget group rides. The leader would spend entire miles with both hands off the bars in vain attempts to point out pitfalls or craters. Even the trusty time trial league had left town.
With the resurfacing came the return of riders who used this route to up a ride’s average pace. The time trial league returned. The shoulders were even cleared! The joy of flying down a roadway returned. With the time trial world championship in Richmond on the same day, it would be no surprise to see riders in those crooked bars. Vomit on the sleeves would be a little too much though.
So imagine my surprise when one of Route 29’s perils occurred in tandem with a questionable sighting. With the wide-open road comes vehicular bravery in the form of overtaking. Cars passing other vehicles give a quick wonderment if the oncoming cyclist is even being considered or seen. It’s not a weakness to suggestively move to the guardrail just in case.
Shortly after this event, I saw the reason for the overtaking: a pickup truck with its four-way flashers on. This is standard considering the proximity of farms. After all New Jersey is the Garden State. However, as the pickup truck passed I saw, tucked up to the bumper, tailgate removed, a rider hammering northbound. Was this pickup truck motorpacing, or was it pickup truck derny?
Since I had the remainder of my ride to think on this, and being someone who has still not found his way over to Strava, this made me wonder the validity of his attempt (assuming he would post this ride). Even if he didn’t do it for Strava, I’m sure someone out there has used a derny to pace a segment.
In one instance, this questions the authenticity of a relatively ungoverned KOM/ QOM. Does this make the individual effort void? What if this rider was in a group? There are obvious advantages to riding in a group, but what happens if that group just happens to pass through a segment? Strava’s glitch could be putting some of the segments out of reach for riders who motivate themselves at an individual level one little red line at a time.
On the other hand, isn’t this progression? As some riders would counter, if it were not written in the rulebook, it’s not breaking any rules. It should also be noted just how wide-open this road is to identify safety concerns. Those riders would say they are utilizing every advantage to take the segment. If riders can red line behind a derny, he/she earned that segment. And before anyone says dernys haven’t been used in road riding, they would be incorrect.
In the European sense Strava’s segment would remain. Even if one strapped the bike to the carrack and “forgot” to remove the GPS, the effort wouldn’t be questioned. In the American sense it seems to be a matter of time before every effort comes with an asterisk. “So-and-so is KOM of the Route 29 segment, but he was behind a pickup truck.” “So-and-so is QOM of some other segment, but she sat on the fifteenth wheel in a team attempt to catapult her atop the leaderboard.” “So-and-so hand-slung his teammate up to an accelerating UPS truck, where said teammate grabbed the rear handle and held on to KOM at an average speed of 65 miles per hour.” Asterisks will be everywhere soon, I’m sure.