I’ve recently become addicted to Strava, a website and app to log, analyse, and compare bike rides. The concept is simple, record rides using GPS and build up a history of your performance, in a manner very similar to products such as RunKeeper and Endomondo. However, Strava then throws in an extra element of competition – putting parts of your ride; particularly the hill climbs, into leader boards and ranking you against other fellow riders, whether you know them or not. Strava does this by analysing your route, breaking it into segments and seeing if those segments match existing ones in its database, for instance in the Bristol area there are segments for Cheddar Gorge, Park Street, Burrington Combe and so on, then analysing the time it took you to complete a segment.

This is an excellent concept, brilliantly realised, that perfectly taps into the psychology of cycling athletes. Every time a cyclist goes out on a ride, they are committing to suffering in pain, particularly if they take on the challenge of riding up hills, which is essentially signing a pact with the devil for a few hours of torture. The reward? Sometimes I do wonder, but I think its a general sense of achievement having tested your body to its limits, and overcome the challenge you set yourself. This is part of the general addictiveness of the past time. Strava have tapped into this self abuse and offered up a reward for anyone willing to suffer – a place on the segment leaderboard. It even gives out rewards such KOM (King of the mountains, a title usually reserved for competitors of the Tour de France), 3rd best time, 2nd best time and so on. The quest to win more of these rewards, or just better your own times, spurs you on to cycle more and harder, and to keep logging into the website to see who’s beaten your time. These rewards remind me of winning badges and mayor status on Foursquare, but have much more validity behind them (you actually have to work for them). A great example of using psychology to enhance user experience.

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