Strava is a fitness tracking app mountain bikers can use on their smartphones. It connects with their bike’s computer, allowing riders to track and record their activity and then create visuals of their progress. But it may be changing how people recreate.
“I’m specifically interested in how Strava may shift the focus away from the ecological resource and towards the more quantifiable fitness and performance metrics of the experience," said Noah Creany, a PhD student at Utah State University who studies recreation ecology.
Creany's goal is to help managers understand how Strava use fits into the larger-scale of landscape use in recreation areas around Orange County, California.
In 2018, Creany surveyed 1000 visitors and GPS tracked over 250 mountain bikers with their consent. Of the people he surveyed, he found that Strava use seemed to change their behavior.
“There’s a feature in the Strava app that allows users to race other users for fastest times," Creany said. "Mountain bikers were traveling faster on these segments of trails. And this is also supported by some other literature that suggests the app influences their decision-making and behavior.”
Because Strava publishes all of the data collected online, Creany thinks that the app could be used by managers to create outreach programs in areas impacted by Strava users. He also hopes his work will encourage outdoor enthusiasts to consider the role of tech in their recreation.
“We need to be mindful of how smartphones affect our thinking and behavior," Creany said. "I would encourage everyone to be skeptical of the gear we take with us when we recreate and reflect on whether it’s benefiting the experience or whether it’s becoming the focus of the experience. It may be diminishing the restorative benefits we get from experiences in natural areas.”