The Unwritten Rules of STRAVA and KOM HUNTING

strava cycling

I have done a lot of work on this site the past few days. Now it is time to have some fun and talk about something I really get excited about. STRAVA! I have been using Strava since the first ride I ever did on my first road bike.

I would estimate that 99.99% of all the kilometers I have ever ridden on a bicycle is on Strava. The exception being a few short commutes when I was to lazy to wait for GPS signal on my cycling computer. So now that we have established that I am a Strava JUNKIE, let us get into what this post is actually about: KOM hunting.

KOM’s and QOM’s are a huge part of what makes Strava great. KOM stands for ‘King of the Mountain’ and QOM for ‘Queen of the Mountain’. In professional cycling terms they mark the top of a climb in a race. The first person to reach the top is crowned the King or Queen of the mountain. In Strava terms however, they refer to any section of road or trail created by Strava members where athletes can compare their times. It is in my opinion the best feature that Strava has to offer. It is what sets it apart from any other fitness tracking app.

For the purposes of this articles, I will refer to these sections of road or trail where the KOM’s appear, as ‘segments’. This is what they are known as on Strava. Also, when I mention KOM’s you can assume that I am also talking about QOM’s.

strava kom hunting

There are a few things you should know before going ‘KOM HUNTING’. Some of these things are common knowledge, others just common sense. Some are also open of discussion. My word is not law and I did not invent Strava, nor do I work for them.

STRAVA AND KOM HUNTING:

You are probably asking yourself what the big fuss is about. What could be so controversial about cyclists competing for the fastest time on a section of road, probably in the middle of nowhere and never ridden before by anybody who has ever been paid to ride a bike! Well, welcome to Strava. You will not believe the politics that goes into this. Let us begin:

Can I draft a car when going for a Strava segment?

The short answer is NO, no you can not. Drafting a car or a motorbike for that matter, will give you a HUGE unfair advantage against other cyclist who are also competing for the KOM on that segment. Often riders will go out and do a “motor-pacing” session. This is when a cyclist rides behind a motorbike or a vehicle for as long and hard as they can. They do this because it mimics race day conditions, when you are trying to follow the wheel of another rider. It also helps you work harder on the bike than if you were out riding by yourself. If a cyclist does do a motor-pacing session and uploads it to Strava then the ride deserves to be “flagged”. To “flag” a ride means to report it for GPS abnormalities. The ride will not be removed from Strava, but the rider’s times will not appear on the segment leaderboards.

Where this gets a little tricky is when a rider is not motor-pacing, but still manages to get a draft off the back of a motor vehicle. Let us say for example you are out riding; you are having a great ride and you intend to keep your heart rate in Zone 2 for the entire duration of the ride. The next minute a slow moving truck comes past. What would you do? I know what I would do… I would hop in the truck’s slipstream and “sit there” for as long as I can. In this scenario, should the ride still be flagged? Personally I would not make a ride like this visible on the segment leaderboards, because I am not interested in the public scrutiny I will get from the local legends who are also into KOM hunting for a living. However, I have never “flagged” someone for catching the slip of a vehicle for a few minutes while riding, nor would I.

cyclist drafting car

Important: Drafting a vehicle can be extremely dangerous. If you do it, I recommend doing so on an open road and riding as far to the left or right of the vehicle as possible, so that if it decided to brake you can safely move out of the way by going to its side. Always keep your head up and do not ride too close to it. The driver might be completely oblivious to the fact that you are there. Even if the driver does see you, the slightest change in speed could send you flying into the back of the vehicle. So in short I actually do not recommend drafting a random car or motorbike on the road. If you want to do a motor-pacing session, instead let a friend, partner or parent drive the vehicle you are drafting off.

Can I take a Strava KOM by drafting another rider?

Yes you absolutely can. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with drafting another rider or riders. As long as whoever you are drafting is also on a bicycle and not on an E-Bike. In fact, many of the most prestigious Strava segments in the world have records that were set by drafting other riders in a race. For example, it is almost impossible to break any of the segments done during the Tour de France bicycle race. It is easy to understand why if you take into account that the riders who race the Tour are the best cyclist in the world, while on top of that they are riding in a peloton that reaches speeds of over 70km/h on a flat stretch of road. I do not think anyone is going to flag a KOM held by Chris Froome, just because his Team Sky team mates gave him a lead out on the climb before he attacked and ripped the legs off Quintana. My point is that if Froome can keep his KOM in this situation, then so can you.

cyclist drafting

Can I take a Strava KOM with a tail-wind?

Yes you can. There is no rule against taking a Strava KOM with the help of a tail-wind. I have found that if you live in an area where the wind blows a lot, almost every popular Strava KOM is done with wind assistance. A tail-wind makes such a big difference that it becomes near impossible to break these wind-assisted KOM records without one! That is why I have always said that the only KOM’s that REALLY matter are the ones on the incredibly steep and long climbs. Drafting and a tail-wind does not matter much if the climb is very steep.

Be careful about taking too many segments with a tail-wind! If you scoop up all of the local segment records in your area with wind assistance, word is likely to get around. I know a few riders in my area who only go KOM hunting when the palm trees are lying on their side. There are now cycling weather apps, that sync to Strava and will allow you to see exactly how hard and from where the wind was blowing EXACTLY when a person achieved a KOM. Pretty crazy, right? Using the wind to your advantage is not against the rules, but it is frowned upon. So it really is up to you if you want to take a KOM in that way!

Should I throw my bicycle computer to get a Strava KOM?

Ok, I am just joking with this one. A mate of mine once told me that he knows a guy who was hunting a KOM on a climb and when he realized he was not going to get it, he threw his Garmin 20 meters to the top of the climb to improve his time. I am not sure how much truth there is to this, but it would not even surprise me one bit if it was true. You get some really interesting characters out there! I could never imagine throwing my bike computer and risk it shattering into pieces only to take a KOM on Strava.

Strava KOM rules
“Ok mate, you wait at the top of the climb. I’ll chuck the Garmin when I can see you and you can catch it, alright?”

Strava KOM Hunting is GREAT. Do not ruin it.

The first way to not ruin Strava, is to not be a Strava douche. Do not target one individual specifically on Strava and purposefully try and take every single one of his or her KOM’s. If you are in a position where you can take every one of a persons KOM records, then it means you are already a far better cyclist than that person is and you have nothing to prove. Instead, take one or two of his or her KOM’s and then move on to someone else. Secondly, do not do anything stupid to try and break a Strava KOM. For example, do not run stop streets or red traffic lights. It is a great feeling when you break a record on Strava, but it is not that great that you should be willing to die for it. There are plenty of safe segments you can go for. Leave the ones that require you to go full KAMIKAZE. That is just my quick PSA. It is your life and I can not tell you what to do.

WordPress is not letting me share a Strava ‘Widget’ on my blog for some reason. So if you want to check out my profile on Strava, you can click here. If you have a Strava KOM you are very proud of, be sure to post it in the comments below. I will check it out and show you some love in the form of a Strava ‘kudos’. Other than that, have fun and ride hard!

6 thoughts on “The Unwritten Rules of STRAVA and KOM HUNTING

  1. As for drafting vehicles, I recon if you’re out there pushing hard and a vehicle just happens to come by and you catch a draft from it, that’s okay. This is a part of cycling these days with the amount of traffic on some routes.

    Having a mate drive in front of you to pace you to a KOM is definitely not okay, hahaha! 😉

    1. I completely agree! It is sort of like what you see from professional cyclist in races; if you can catch a slip off a passing team vehicle or a media motorbike for a few seconds it is all good and the UCI will let it slide, but you can not expect to draft your way to victory.

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