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An Open Letter to Strava

Dear Strava, 

I hope you’re doing well. I’m writing this letter to tell you how much I enjoy your social media/fitness tracking platform, which has been a constant companion on my bike rides and runs for the last several years. I’m old enough to remember riding my bike before you were created and let me just say those rides were empty wastes of effort. Sure, I was burning calories and enjoying myself, in theory, but was I really? How could I be if there was no digital record of those calories and enjoyment? Looking back, I wonder why I even bothered. 

Strava, you do a lot of things right. You turned a perfectly healthy endeavor (cycling) into an obsessive way to compete with my friends. You gave me concrete metrics that quantified a silly bike ride in the middle of the work day. With your GPS tracking and map feature, you’ve given me yet another opportunity to draw a penis. I can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done for me personally and society as a whole. I like to imagine millions of immature cyclists riding penis shaped routes around their favorite neighborhoods. If that’s not a step towards world peace, I don’t know what is. So, thank you, Strava.  

But might I take a moment to offer a bit of constructive criticism? Because, Strava, you’ve ruined my life.

Before you came around to break down every one of my pedal strokes, the only other cyclists I could compare myself to were my friends on our group rides. I typically ride with a bunch of other middle-aged fathers who are well past their prime like me, so I thought I was pretty good at riding bikes. But ever since downloading your app, which is so freaking global in its scope (95 million active users, good for you!), I’m being compared to all sorts of people who are not middle-aged fathers past their prime. All of the sudden, my effort up a notoriously brutal hill on the edge of my hometown is being compared to the effort of a user named JohnnySpandex who knocks out the climb in roughly half the time it takes me to get to the top? What the hell?  

I thought I was fast, Strava, but apparently, I’m moving at the pace of a sloth compared to a lot of cyclists out there. Downloading the app should come with a warning label, similar to the packaging on cigarettes, explaining how Strava is not only addictive, but will ruin your sense of worth as an athlete. Logging a ride on Strava is like standing at a urinal next to John Holmes. I simply don’t measure up. 

And why don’t I measure up, Strava? Because JohnnySpandex rides his bike all the freaking time. Because JohnnySpandex works two days a week and doesn’t have a wife who gives him the stink-eye when she catches him trying to sneak his bike out of the garage instead of raking the leaves. Because JohnnySpandex is a semi-pro who races 20 weekends out of the year. Of course, I can’t compete with JohnnySpandex; our lives are completely different. We shouldn’t even be in the same category. 

So, here’s what I’m suggesting, Strava: a radical handicapping system that automatically adjusts the time and effort of a cyclist or runner based on their lifestyle. Currently, you put athletes in separate categories based on weight and age, which is a nod in the right direction, but let’s take it a step further because my weight and age honestly doesn’t impact my cycling prowess as much as, say, how many hours I spend in the office. Or the fact that I own a home and have to spend most of my time cleaning gutters and perusing the aisles of Home Depot. 

The handicapping system would basically work the way tax deductions work. If you’re married, you get one percent of your total time on a ride reduced. If it takes you an hour to ride a 12-mile loop, the handicapping system adjusts your time to 59 minutes and change. If you’re married and your partner doesn’t ride bikes and strongly suggests you spend your time doing other things, take one percent off your total ride time. Another one percent if you own a home. If you have a kid, you get another one percent of your time on the ride reduced. Multiple kids? Your deductions increase exponentially. And if your kids play team sports, just add the deduction you see fit because, God knows, you spend most of your time watching Junior play sports. If you have a job, like an actual job where you go to a physical place, you get one percent of your total ride time reduced. If your boss is a dick who pays attention to how long you take for lunch, take another percent off your time. 

If you’re divorced and split custody, those child deductions are erased because you get every other week to yourself. But single parents with full time jobs and full custody get 20 percent of their ride time taken off the top, so chances are, they’ll be King or Queen of the Hill on every segment they ride, and I’m ok with that because it’s a miracle that a single parent who works has the time to ride a bike anyway and they should get a digital crown for their effort. 

The deductions seem trivial, but they add up. Put it all together and it might have taken me 32 minutes to climb that brutal hill outside of town, but after the handicapping system makes its lifestyle adjustments, my time is 27 minutes, because I’m carrying the weight of fatherhood, gainful employment, marriage, and homeownership with me on every ride. That’s my handicap, and it evens the playing field so all these 25-year-old semi-pro cyclists who have nothing pulling them away from the bike don’t run away with all of the King of the Hills in my town. 

In summation, thanks for all you do. Implement the Mid-Life Boost Handicapping system now. 

Yours truly, 

Graham Averill 

Cover photo: courtesy of the author

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