Strava has built the best gamification element of all fitness apps available. The KOM/QOM award, or King/Queen of the Mountain, is awarded to riders who can complete a segment the fastest of all time. It seems quite easy, but it is, in fact, quite challenging as the years keep going by, and riders and bikes keep getting faster.
I've been using Strava since 2017. At the beginning of Strava, I was helping to create most of the segments in my area of Switzerland. Now, most segments are like highways seeing a huge volume of riders per week attempting segments.
In 2020, Stava had 50 Million users and 3 Billion activities uploaded. Source Wikipedia
I'm so passionate about data & Strava I even presented the topic at DockerCon 2018 during my Monitoring & Logging workshop.
How to win Strava KOM's
These tips are aimed at gravel or mountain bikers. as these segments are the easiest to obtain a top 10 position on the leaderboard. I break down how to conquer a KOM into three sections.
- Fast in the slow sections
Analyze current Strava segment KOM/QOM
I always start by looking at some of my favorite segments and start analyzing my leaderboard results with the community. Typically, if I hit a decent position on a segment without 100% effort, I favor this segment and investigate further. I also look at my last couple of rides through the section to see if there are development possibilities.
Next, take a look at the segment itself. Is the segment technical, up or down, or just a straight powerhouse grind in a straight line? I suggest avoiding the straight-line races unless your thighs are the size of tree trunks, as these segments are pure strength and watt races.
Narrow down the segments until you have a list of about five segments which you feel just effort alone can propel you further up the leaderboard. Favorite these segments for the next step.
Compare your Strava segment with the current KOM
Now comes the fun part. We can start looking at the data of the segment. The important data of the segment are:
- Length of the segment
- Grade % incline/decline
- Elevation changes
You can access the segment leaderboard by either opening your ride which contains the segment, and clicking on the segment or opening Dashboard -> My Segments which will open up your favorite segments from the previous section.
Once the segment is open, you should see the leaderboard for this segment. Click on the date of the KOM highlighted above. This will open up more details about the segment but more importantly the "Compare" button. Click on Compare now.
Now, we're cooking! With this view, we compare our segment results with the KOM results. This is extremely helpful when trying to gain speed in the segment.
Right from the start it is important to compare your speed at the start of the segment compared to the KOM. The speed at the start of a segment can already be a big advantage as you can focus on carrying more speed into the start giving you a head start.
As you can see at the start of the Fast and Loose section, I am coming in hot. I already have an 11.8 km/h (7 mph) advantage over the KOM. A strong start has already put me in the lead over the KOM.
Fast in the slow sections
Straight-line speed is great, but the real battles happen in the corners.
My dad would always tell me when racing motorcycles:
"It's easy to go fast in the fast sections but hard to go fast in the slow sections" - my dad
This is something that has always stuck with me. Everyone can go fast in the fast sections, but it takes a lot of practice and repetitions to go fast in the slow sections.
Now, Dani the current KOM holder, and I enter the first corner, and Dani pulls a 1s gap on me. We enter the second corner, and again I lost another second. These small gains add speed and essentially distance which wins the KOM.
The great thing about Mountain Biking or Gravel Biking compared to road bikes is that the line in which you enter a corner or in fact ride a complete segment changes everything. For example, the main worn-out rut which everyone uses to enter a corner may not be the fastest. Try running wider or cutting the corner sharper to see if it improves your speed. I've also run different air pressures in my tires to see if I could get more traction through the corners which some previous segments it helped gain an advantage.
Next, is late braking wins races? When I was racing motorcycles, I was known for being a very late braker and could pass people in the corners, even when my motorcycle was sometimes slower, as I would catch them in the corners. Again, going fast in the slow sections! Try setting a visual marker before the corner and see each time if you can move the marker closer and closer to the corner before hitting the brakes.
Finally, something you see professional downhill mountain bikers or cross-country riders is walking the segment. You can learn a lot about a segment by getting off your bike and looking at the different lines available.
All of the above tips have helped me gain significant positions on the leaderboards and sometimes even grab a KOM occasionally.
Final Strava KOM words
I encourage everyone first and foremost to have fun and stay safe. Since most of us are not getting paid to race Strave segments make sure you keep this in mind. Respect everyone on the trail and don't put others in danger to shave a few seconds off.
Many times I've had to ease up on segments due to hikers or others and forgo the segment for another day. Take these days as a chance to learn different lines and work on your braking.
I wish you all luck and send me feedback on how you get on with your Strava KOM/QOMs!