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When commuting is competitive and fun

Niall BakerCommuting is competitive and tactical. Seasoned commuters have perfected their strategies, knowing the exact spot on the platform where they can board the train with the minimum risk of getting elbowed in the ribs, safe in the knowledge selecting this carriage will mean they have the shortest walk to leave the station at the other end. Others who drive know that setting off five minutes earlier will mean they beat the school run and save themselves an hour crawling through traffic at a snail’s pace.

I like to cycle as much as I can to avoid this type of commuting and in particular the unwelcome intimate side, where pressed into a small train carriage you’re faced with two choices: either look forward and get someone else’s Metro taking up the space you had planned for your own reading or turn the other way and get someone’s armpit in your face.

I have however found that cycle commuting has become more competitive. This is mainly due to the increased uptake of a new app called Strava. Using the GPS on your smartphone (or if you’re really keen and have a Garmin device) it tracks the time and distance on all your cycles, recording them online and comparing them against other cyclists. The app is also available for those who run.

Users have created ‘segments’ on pretty much all roads in London and on many other streets around the world, with suitably witty names such as ‘Tour de Richmond Park’ and ‘Col du Chelsea Bridge’. Each person with the app has their time recorded on the segment with results instantly posted online so you can check your performance against others and your own personal best. If you’re really good you can claim the ‘King or Queen of the Mountain’ title, pretty impressive on many routes in London where 2,000+ riders have recorded times.

Strava also has many geeky analytical features where you analyse your speed, power and elevation over the whole journey and check how many calories you’ve burned. On top of that it acts as a social network where you can follow your friends and compete against them, as well as post your performances to through Facebook or Twitter.

I have no doubt that this is a piece of technology that will encourage people to get out and get active, whether it’s running or cycling to work or exercising at the weekends. I’m interested to see how this online community grows and whether the wealth of data amassed will be able to tell us anything about trends in commuting behaviour. I love how it brings another element of competition to commuting, but one that’s healthy and enjoyable.

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