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Strava Doodles

 Obviously Strava is the worst thing to happen to mountain biking. This one app has convinced an entire generation of riders that speed is the only metric they should use to judge success. Strava does not measure style, creativity, jumps, wheelies or anything cool. The app teaches riders that, if you are faced with one line that is fun or challenging, and another line that is just faster, always choose the fast line. It does have one redeeming feature though, you can use it as a human Etch a Sketch.

I messed around with Strava for a year and it took me a while to get into doodling. I would have a 40 minute ride at lunch time each day. This gave me about 5 minutes to find a location with a a 5 minute ride back, and 30 minutes to create something. That's the same time limit Bob Ross would use!

I'll try to break down some tips I learned so you can try to do something creative with the otherwise stupid Strava app. First off...

Location,  a nice big parking lot is a great place to start. Find a place that isn't very busy, and is mostly clear of cars. Orient your drawing so that the top points to the north, since the app always formats your ride this way. In a parking lot you can use the painted lines like graph paper. To keep my drawing symmetrical I would count the number of parking spots from the center to the edge of the drawing on one side and then match it with an equal number on the other. Parking lots are great for writing words and doing bigger stuff, but it's also fun to use natural features in your drawing. I'd incorporate the rounded edge of a parking lot or the perfect O of a traffic circle.

Here's a little park with a mostly round circle
Here's how the drawing looks, following that circle

Subjects, I realized pretty quickly that I'm not a very talented artist. My first drawing was a heart, and I spent several tries just learning some basic shapes. Then I wanted to draw a simple object. In high school I learned how to draw a decent magic mushroom. So I decided my challenge  should be to  draw the perfect mushroom on Strava. This lead to many, many mushroom pictures.

Once you start your drawing, you can't lift the pen, and it's difficult to retrace a line. You need to consider this when you are picking a subject.  For instance, think of how bad a smiley face would look if it was a continuous line.

Whatever you decide to draw, it has to have a start and a finish, so it takes some practice, or planning to determine the best path. I found out my mushrooms had to have one place where I retraced my line. I made this the shortest line I could find, it's pretty clear which line is double thick. Once I developed my path, I could draw each mushroom in the same order, but the shape and dimensions always changed

Trying to achieve precision accuracy using GPS guidance will help you understand why Tomahawk cruise missiles sometimes hit hospitals instead of enemy targets. Precision is not easy, and Strava can be very glitchy. You can pick a specific location, draw a line coming out from it, and then return to the same exact spot within an inch, and watch the line on your drawing not even come close to matching up. You can follow a straight, painted line on the pavement and watch your drawing line veer far off at a random angle. 
    At first I focused really hard on doing my riding with precision. I used exact landmarks and did my drawing exactly as I knew it should be. Then I would stop and look at what Strava had recorded and it would look like crap. I learned that I had to actively monitor what the app was recording and adjust my direction as I went along. Modify your movements to what the red line  is drawing even when you know that it's not correct. This especially important when you are bringing lines together.
    It might sound like you could just look at your phone and do the drawing without ever looking up. Unfortunately, even this doesn't cure the glitches. The problem is that, if you go really slow, it glitches, and if you go too fast, it also glitches. You'll start to realize how far the line drifts after you stop. Or you'll start to move again and realize the line is lagging. I came to accept it as part of the challenge and realized that even my best piece would never be perfect. 

Straight lines
Strava has a function that allows you to pause a ride, then when you hit resume it makes a straight line from the point where you paused it to the point you resumed. It's a cool function. I tried using it for a 3D effect. I also started using it when I was writing words. I could use perfectly straight lines to connect each letter and it looked cleaner than my straightish lines I drew myself.

Writing words
A parking lot with painted spaces is really helpful when writing words. It allows you to make each letter the same size by counting the number of spaces you want to use. I chose what I could write based on how hard the letters would be to draw. Eventually I worked my way to block letters, but I started with single line letters that started and ended at a bottom line. So think about a capital letter E. Your bottom line will kind of blend into the main underline the whole word is using. Then beyond that you've got the straight vertical line with the horizontal branches. It's pretty easy to retrace a straightline, especially if you are following painted parking lines, so a capital E is easy. Not so for a lower case e. If you are at the bottom, you'd need to ride a 3/4 circle then a straight line across to connect the letter. Then you need to backtrack all the way to where you started while staying as close as you can to the original path. S's are always hard because of this. Also don't make your S backwards.


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