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Stravases

[image description]: a white, angular vase with flowers placed in it, sitting on a table in a bike shed.

Strava is an app designed primarily for cyclists. One of its main features is allowing its users to compare one-another's fastest times, with titles such as "King of the Mountains" (itself a status awarded to the fastest uphill cyclists the Tour de France), being given to those who secure the fastest time for a given stretch of land. Intimate readings of the route taken, the mileage, the average speed, the altitude climbed and the calories burned are all publicly viewable and, by extension, comparable.

A bit of friendly competition rarely hurts anyone, but in the experience of myself and other cyclists, apps like Strava can contribute to a sense of toxic one-upmanship already prevalent in cycling. Strava does have a 'like' system (referred to on the app as 'kudos'), which presents itself as a supposedly supportive mechanic, but it does little to detract from the anxiety many face to get the absolute fastest time they can on every ride compared to others. It's a common experience among cyclists to finish an otherwise satisfying journey, only to feel a pang of disappointment when realising that hill you thought you tackled with gusto has only landed you at position 156 for that day.

[image description] a different angular white vase with delicate white flowers on a windowsill, placed opposite a sports water bottle and bike oil. More flowers can be seen outside the window.

Of course, this obsession isn't something that can be blamed on the app itself, but rather that existing culture of constant comparison so common in (often sterotypically masculine) activities. The app simply gives users the tools to see it more clearly. Though this drive has its place (cycling is a professional competitive sport, after all), I wanted to take this data gathering tool and use it to create something more mindful; something that celebrates the ride itself, rather than the numbers presented at the end of it.

[image description] A faraway shot of one of the vases in a shed stacked on top of tupperware containers filled with tools and bicycle parts. Three bikes are visible beneath it.

Each Stravase is the result of a bike ride, or more accurately, the data captured by the app. They are designed algorithmically using the cycle route and the motion data as their building blocks. This makes each vase a unique visualisation of a unique cycling experience.

The height and maximum-width-point of each vase is predetermined and the way each datapoint maps to different elements of the 3D model's construction (such as polygon count, twist amount and scaling ratio) is curated in such a way that makes discerning the original data inputs and amounts difficult to read. As a result, each vase is wholly individual, yet not something that riders can compare in a competetive way – unless of course they want to argue about whose one looks better on the mantlepiece.

[image description] One of the vases tucked in amongst other flower pots in a garden. The front wheel and handlebars of a racing bike are visible opposite it.

This project came at the tail-end of self-initiated research into the correlation in importance between statues or monuments and everyday data collection – a subject I'd been exploring in my free time since the end of university. Although I don't consider Stravases monuments or statues in a traditional sense, they mark an event in time and capture its essence in a form to be reflected upon through an emotional lens. Strava captures data and saves it in place forever, or until you choose to delete it. This sense of permanence comes with so many forms of everyday data: Facebook posts, Google Maps history, bank transfers. Stravases play on the permanence of moments that may have been fleeting in a time before the normalisation of data tracking and uses that data to sculpt a physical, visible, holdable object; a token of that moment.

[image description] A close-up shot of one of the empty vases. The image focuses on the top of the vase, which is the jagged outline of a path travelled on a map.