Stop — Is Social Media Ruining Your Bike Ride?

Syd Schulz

CTS Athlete, Pro Mountain Biker, Writer

You’re pawing through your Instagram feed on a fall day at work, watching the rain pound down outside, and grumbling to yourself every time you see a picture of someone out there riding dry dirt. How is it that literally EVERYONE but you is in Moab? Don’t these people have jobs? And look at this photo of Jerry hitting a huge drop. You tilt your phone around to see if the drop is actually as big as it looks, maybe it’s an optical illusion. Has Jerry really improved that much? You wouldn’t hit that, and you used to outride him with your hands tied behind your back. Maybe it’s photoshopped. Or maybe he didn’t land it. Come to think of it, it looks like he’s going to come up a bit short. Zoom in on the landing. Yeah, there’s no way he made that. You click on Jerry’s profile to see if his next photo is from a hospital bed. Nope. Crap. Looks like he pulled it off. You better up your game.

Later in the day you get out for a ride on the road. You only have an hour but it’s better than nothing, right? You’ll put some efforts in, get a bit of a workout, maybe try to get the KOM on the road climb back to your house. But the wind is in your face both directions — how is that even possible?!? — so there goes your chance at the KOM. It’s cold and you can’t stop thinking about all your friends hanging out in the desert without you. You get home and upload your ride to Strava. Sure enough, no KOM. In fact, you didn’t even get a third personal best. Man, you really suck. And now, it’s been five minutes and no one’s even given you a kudo. Not one damn measly kudo. That’s what you get when you upload rides that are only an hour long. Even the elevation gain looks lame. And you only burned 300 calories? That can’t be right.

But you took a sweet picture of your bike at the top of the climb, and the snowy mountains look good in the background. You upload it to Instagram and bang out a quick caption: “Got a great workout in today! Feeling strong and pumped to race my bike! #bikesareawesome #everythingisawesome” And you sit back and watch the likes roll in.

STOP. TIME OUT. If any of the above sounds familiar, social media might be ruining your bike ride. And you’re not alone. Facebook and Instagram leave even the happiest people comparing their lives to others, and cyclists are no exception. Our sport is great for keeping us in the present during the ride (the consequences of daydreams often involving face to rock contact), but when we get back home we want to post that perfect picture from that perfect mountain vista, or that perfect strip of tree-lined pavement winding off into the distance. We want to see our namse on top of the Strava leaderboard, and we want likes or kudos or favorites or whatever-the-kids-are-calling-it-these-days.

As a professional athlete, part of my job is portraying how awesome our sport is via my social media channels. And that’s awesome, because 90% of the time I am stoked on bikes, and I have 16,000 people on Instagram to share that with. But sometimes I wonder — are my photos really inspiring people to get out and ride their bikes? I hope so, but sometimes I worry that I may be having the opposite effect. How often does all that “hey-look-at-me-riding-in-this-awesome-place” come off a little bit more like “hey-look-at-me-with-my-awesome-life-that-is-cooler-than-yours.” I try to be as conscious of this as possible with both social media and my blog, because while I love my life and all the cool riding opportunities I get — reality is, it’s hardly perfect. Or at least not Instagram perfect.

Here’s the thing. Real life, no matter how good of a life it is, is messy and un-curated. In real life, most rides don’t have beautiful mountain vistas, and even if they do, your epic selfie is probably going to be ruined by a tree that you didn’t notice earlier sticking out of your head like some sort of bizarre leafy antenna. In real life, the wind really can be in your face both directions, don’t ask me how, but it can. And in real life sometimes you go to a race and you just plain suck. And on those days, man, is it miserable to log on to Instagram or Facebook or Strava or wherever and see how awesome and beautiful and photogenic everyone else’s lives are.

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I know this because while I’ve been the person who makes you jealous with my cool adventures on Instagram, I’ve also been the person zooming in on other people’s photos and wondering if that section is actually as technical as it looks, because, damn, I could never ride that. When I’ve been injured, I’ve tortured myself by scrolling through my feed and seeing all my friends’ and competitors’ riding pictures. I’ve also judged people savagely and unfairly based on their Instagram profiles and sometimes I get grumpy when my photos don’t get at least 500 likes. And perhaps worst of all, after an awful ride, I’ve pulled out my phone and posted a beautiful photo with a caption like “great ride today, feeling so good on the bike! Everything about my life is amazing!” (Not actually. My captions are usually way better than that, in case you’re considering following me.)

Like I said earlier, I try to be real online, but sometimes being real takes a toll. Being real makes you vulnerable, and being vulnerable all the time is a lot to ask of a person — especially when you’re talking about being vulnerable to an extra 16,000 people, most of whom are supportive, but some of whom have previously gone out of their way to send you messages telling you your face is crooked and your riding sucks. So when things are hard or ugly or messy, people lie, or at least make things look better than they are. Because it’s easier, or maybe just because sometimes posting about a bad ride feels a little bit like giving in to negative emotions. So we put the positive spin on it, and we go with our lives, and sometimes we don’t even realize the illusion we are creating.

So next time you get in a funk seeing all your friends doing cooler things than you on Instagram or because you’re ranked 10,000,000th on a Strava segment, remember this — social media is not real life. It is a projection, a highlight reel, and a great tool for connecting with your friends, new and old. But it’s also a lie, and it’s certainly not worth ruining your bike ride. Life is never as perfect as it looks on Instagram. Not for anyone. Not for the pros. And definitely not for Jerry.

Read More From Syd Here:

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Comments 22

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  4. What gets me is the people logging hundreds of miles a week, supposedly effortlessly while I’m struggling to do what I do.
    Then when I try to do more, because I feel like I must not be putting forth enough of an effort, I get sick from over training.
    The worst is one guy in particular I follow who brags about how great he is. How powerful his legs are, how he rode hundreds of miles at a 20 mph pace and feels great.
    I liked Strava at first when it was telling me how I was improving now, it just seems like everyone else is so much faster and better.

  5. The next step in freeing yourself to enjoy every ride is to at least once in a while leave your Garmin, or whatever power meter/speedometer you use, at home. I have to admit, I do Strava, but my attitude used to be “Why bother, you know if you’re killing it…and nobody else really cares.” I’m slowly moving back to that, by leaving my tech toys at home once in a while.

  6. Pingback: I Haven’t Ridden My Bike in a Month | Syd Schulz

  7. MOG!! yes SYD!! thank you for bringing this up- i stopped stava-ing and have so much more fun riding now, also- i get down on myself when i see folks i know who claim not to ride technical shit totally rippin it on instagram. i end up watch mtb videos instead of riding… this translates to social media for knitters too- ravelry THE social media site for fiber folks- production goes down cause yer looking at what everyone else is doing instead of creating. downloading free patterns instead of knitting-its an addiction- time to get off the device and ride and knit-for reals!!

  8. It’s easy to get wrapped up in how good everyone else’s life looks on social media. Human nature is competitive and it’s a great reminder that others lives aren’t always what they seem. Plus, a reminder to refocus on the joy of riding and one’s own life in general.

  9. This was hilarious Syd. ****in’ Jerry! Thanks for the lolz today, and for the humorous take on a very real phenomenon MOST of us know too well. 🙂

  10. I don’t know anyone consumed by social media, the only evidence is speculation that some exist but how would you tell?
    I’m happy to use Strava to gauge my fitness, strive for goals, attain goals,see what others do (is that ride for me?), and share pictures – pictures that remind me of the experience. If i take care in framing and composition it’s because I want to. The old-fashioned club meet at 8AM on Saturday for X-loop ride is just too limiting.

  11. Not on Facebook, Not on Strava. Working, Family or Riding with friends…with no concerns or competition against people I don’t know.

  12. This article is soooo true!!! Love it!! I have a lot of friends that live to find the perfect Strava post & pic. I Find myself thinking about it too, sometimes even when I’m out riding! Great Article! Great Advice!

  13. Are there really people like the person described in your article? Gnawed by envy, consumed by a need to compete and defeat? The activities of my friends on Strava (who live in other countries for the most part) motivate me to get out and ride. I’m not chasing KOM’s – instead I’m setting goals to improve my individual performance on a given segment. I don’t know the guys (and gals) half my age on top of the leaderboards and it does not matter. The weather is perfect, the leaves are changing, the hills are beautiful and I’m on my bike untroubled by what someone else somewhere else might be doing. There are days when I get caught by a shower or my ride otherwise sucks, but it’s not life defining, it’s just a bike ride. No, social media is not anywhere near ruining my ride.

    1. Jacques, yes there ARE people out there as Syd describes! I wouldn’t necessarily use the descriptors of “gnawed” and “consumed” but I am competitive and I do like to see how I stack up against others, even if I will never be even close to a KOM or a top 10. Syd is spot on with her description of people’s use/misuse of social media (although I found it somewhat ironic that in the midst of her diatribe against social media, she slips in the fact that she has 16,000 followers…twice).

      1. Oh Mark, if you think I’m above the irony of using this kind of post to try to get more followers, you’ve seriously underestimated the extent of my social media problem 😝😝

        On a serious note though, the number of followers is somewhat relevant because I know when I first started used social media as an athlete I thought there was some magic number you would hit where you would stop caring so much about likes and whatnot. If anything, it’s been the opposite, and more followers seems to equal more neuroses and more difficulty “being real” (and I’m not alone in feeling this!)

        1. Speaking of irony…after saying I’d never get a top 10, I posted a #3 spot on a Strava segment on my ride today (obviously an obscure segment). I’m going to quit my day job and try to get sponsored! Wait a minute…WTF – only 5 “likes”? Total BS!!

    2. Oh, there are definitely riders like this, though there is certainly an element of caricature in the article. I nearly deleted my Strava account earlier this year because it was just a source of anxiety. I saw my friends who were riding when I couldn’t and riding farther than I had time for. I saw how slow I’ve gotten in the last few years. Living in my small town, all the KOM/QOM boards are filled with people who I know, so the competition isn’t “me against myself” anymore, but against a real person I might see at the bike shop. All of it conspired to make me want to stop riding entirely rather than inspire me to get out and ride. It took a concerted effort to realign my priorities and expectations.

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