There's more than one reason that we love cycling. From group rides, to exploring the countryside, to coffee and cake. But Strava is one of the bigger reasons I fell in love with the sport, and it may be the same for many of you. Asides from being able to analyse your ride data, what makes Strava so special? Taking a Strava KOM.
There's no feeling quite like coming top of a leader board and getting another gold crown. And it's this 'gamification' of exercise likely explains Strava's surge in popularity.
In this article, we'll be covering a few topics; from finding segments to target, tips for taking KOMs and growing your list of KOMs in the future.
Table of contents:
What is a KOM/QOM?
If you’re not familiar with Strava, KOMs are awarded for taking the top position in a leader board. Male athletes take the KOM title (King of the Mountain). Whilst female athletes take QOM (Queen of the Mountain). For ease of the article and as a male, I'll be using KOM in this article.
This type of award system is what generates so much competition in Strava’s community. As soon as you take another athletes KOM, they’re alerted by email (and in app) and will try to take their title back.
It can get a little addictive.
Finding the Right Segment for You
If you’re a regular Strava user, there’s a good chance you’ve already got your eyes on a few segments. But that doesn’t mean these tips won’t help you find a few more to target.
Let’s be honest, the more KOMs you bag, the better a cyclist you are. That’s how it works… right?
Review past activities
If you have a few past activities on Strava, the best way to start is by perusing the segments you’ve already ridden. If you’ve placed in the top ten for a segment, your place will be listed next to the segments you rode.
Use Strava’s Segment Explorer
If you don't have any past activities, you can use Strava's Segment Explore feature to find some segments near you. You'll also have access to the current KOM for those segments, allowing you to gauge their difficulty.
Play to Your Strengths
Not all segments are the same and neither are all cyclists. The length, terrain and gradient of a segment can all influence your performance. But there's more to taking a Strava KOM than the segment itself.
What form of cycling you're most inclined to will also affect your effort. This is to say, whether you're a climber, sprinter, time triallist, etc. I tend to do best on short steep segments that need a quick burst of energy. And I don’t do so well on the straights, flats or downhills.
Don't let this dissuade you from attempting certain segments. Truthfully, you never know what you're capable of until you try. And if you read on, many of our tips may help you take a KOM regardless of what type of cycling you're best at.
Get a Feel for the Segments
Once you’ve identified KOMs you want to take, I’d suggest you go out and ride the segments a couple of times. By getting a lay of the land, you can determine a few things that will help you set a decent time.
Firstly, you can spot any obstructions on the route (potholes, overgrowth, etc.). Secondly, you can take note of traffic density in the area of the segment. Finally, you can identify the most difficult sections of the segment.
When you’re going out to test these segments, I’d suggest using Strava’s Route Builder. In doing so, you can get a good idea for how long you can rest between segments. Energy conservation is key.
16 Tips for Taking a Strava KOM
So, here come our top 16 tips on how to take a KOM. I’ve covered a few of these in the sections above, but they'll be covered in more detail here.
1. Know Your Strengths
When KOM hunting, it’s important to understand where your strengths lie. If you’re better on the hills, that’s where you should be starting. If you’re better on the flats, focus on those. This may seem obvious, but it can be tempting to go for a KOM with high competition. After all, there’s more glory in that.
But if you want to start building a collection, I’d advise you to play to your strengths. This doesn’t mean you can’t go for the bigger ones in the future but get some miles in your legs first. The more you’re out, the fitter you’ll get and the more viable other KOMs become.
2. Study the Segment Data
There’s a range of data Strava provides for some good research on a segment before you go out. The biggest indicators of a segment’s difficulty are: distance, average gradient and elevation gain.
You can use the above to discern whether you think you take the KOM. If it seems reasonable, you can dig a little deeper into the data to prepare. It’s also worth looking at other Strava users’ efforts for the segment. This will allow you to identify where you need to conserve energy, and where you should go all out.
3. Remember Where the Segment Starts and Finishes
This is essential, as very few records are set blindly. I'm not saying you have to approach this like a dirt track racer and memorise every twist and turn. But you do want to start with a good cadence, and you don’t want to finish with fuel left in the tank.
There’s no feeling like giving a segment your all, and that’s not possible without a little bit of research.
4. Identify Landmarks
This is a great tactic for breaking down segments and knowing where to apply power. The most obvious application for this is by using landmarks to identify the beginning and end of a segment. You can identify these using the satellite map on Strava or by going out and taking a look for yourself.
However, you can also use landmarks as indicators for when to change pace. For example, if there’s a road sign two thirds of the way through a segment, you know when to make your final push.
I used potholes as landmarks for many of my favourite segments… you know they’re not going anywhere soon.
5. Go for a Test Ride
Before you go for gold, go out and try a segment out. You don't have to go all out on the first try, just do a bit of reconnaissance.
Hey, you might want to try it a few times to get a real feel for the road.
6. Get a Flying Start
Beginning a segment at a higher speed gives you a bit of an advantage. This is especially helpful when used in conjunction with tip #4 (using landmarks). If you can see where the segment is going to begin, pick up the pace and hit it with a flying start. This way you’ll have a higher cadence much earlier in the segment.
But I want to make it clear that you should only attempt this when it’s safe. And never enter a segment blind at high speed. By this I mean; don’t pull into a side road or lane quickly when don’t know what’s around the corner. The KOM isn’t worth your life.
7. Start Before and Finish After
That’s a bit of a confusing tip at first glance, but I mean it quite literally. Always start your effort before the segment begins and finish after it ends. This is because GPS isn’t always the most reliable. And there’s nothing quite as irritating as smashing segment, for the GPS not to have registered your effort.
This is another way you can use landmarks. If you know exactly where the segment begins and ends, you can make sure you add an ample distance either side.
8. Start Fresh
You want to be able to give a segment your all, and so I don’t recommend going for a KOM at the end of a long ride. This isn’t to say you should warm up, in fact that’s very important if you want to put in a good effort. But you won’t be able to give it your best with shaky legs.
Although, it is more than possible to take a KOM at the end of a big ride. When you’re in the zone, not much can get in your way. And I’m a big believer in cycling being as much as a mental challenge as it is a physical one.
9. Stay Fuelled and Hydrated
Another obvious one, but one I have to mention. If you plan to be out for less than an hour, you’re not likely to need to take food out with you. But you should eat before you go out. You'll need a good source of carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose and stop you from ‘bonking’.
‘Bonking’ is that feeling you get when your energy stocks are plummeting, and you wish you’d never bought that bloody bike. But then you eat a flapjack and a handful of jelly beans, and all is right in the world again.
In this same vein, it’s also recommended you bring a bottle of water with you if you’re out on the bike for over an hour. However, when you’re out KOM hunting you’ll want one with you regardless. If you aren’t drinking at the top of that hill, you will at least want to pour it on your face. Trust me.
10. Give it Everything You Have
As I mentioned in tip #8, your mental resilience is often as important as your physical capability. If you’re serious about Strava KOM hunting, then you’ll need a strong mental faculty. If your drive falters for even a second during your attempt, and you stop pedalling that one bit, then all may be lost. Just keep going.
At the end of the day, the only one stopping you from taking that KOM is you. Unless the Tour of Britain happens to pass through your favourite segments. (Oh, how many I lost in 2018 to riders much better than I could ever be).
11. Ask for a Little Help to Take a Strava KOM
There’s no shame in asking for some help. There are some segments that you try and try to take, but still evade you by a few seconds. If you have a few mates who’re cyclists, get them to come out with you and lead you into the segment. By going aero you can build up more speed and lower resistance. Then, they can pull off in the last section of the segment and you can take the KOM.
Now, from experience I can warn you that one of them may get some ideas about going for the KOM themselves. You can stem that betrayal by offering the same service to them for another segment. You know they’ll have their eyes on at least one, and if you offer to help, they may show you some mercy.
12. Get Competitive
Sometimes it isn’t enough to have virtual competition, sometimes what you need is some live action. Take a few friends out and treat the segment as a time trial, this should give you some extra motivation.
The only downside of this is if one of your friends takes the KOM instead. But then you can just spend every waking hour trying to take it from them… so no biggie.
13. Be Aware of the Weather
This one's a bit out of your control, we all know how the weather can quickly go south (especially in the UK). But I’ve included this to emphasise how bad weather can affect Strava KOM hunting.
Rain is the biggest perpetrator and leads to poor visibility and slippery surfaces (obviously). On the converse end of that scale, the hot days aren’t too great for it either. They can leave you dehydrated and with heatstroke (in the worst cases). But how many hot days do we see anyway?
Now, wind. This one’s a bit of a wildcard. If you’ve got a strong headwind, you might as well give up on the segment, unless it’s well sheltered. However, you can try and get to a segment where the wind is an advantage. Tail winds can be a real blessing, especially on flat straight segments. I’ve taken a couple of KOMs I couldn’t have dreamed of getting otherwise with this tactic.
14. Compare with Other Riders
One of the many things I love about Strava is the capability to compare your efforts with other riders. To do this: click the ‘compare’ button in a leader board or segment and choose another user from the list.
You can then watch both efforts take place at the same time and identify the sections where you need to improve. (If you have a Premium Strava account, you can compare up to 5 efforts).
15. Use Strava Live Segments
This one’s another way you can use Strava’s tools to your advantage. Live Segments allows you to receive notifications for upcoming segments (whilst you’re out riding). Once you’ve completed the segment, you’ll get a list of personal records alongside your most recent effort. You’ll also have access to friend’s fastest times and the record set by the current King of the Mountain. And of course, you’ll get a notification if you take first place.
Live Segments can be used on most GPS bike computers and mobiles devices. In fact, many bike computers will have some sort of virtual rider or partner features that allows you to race against your previous records.
This is a handy feature as you can retry the segment immediately if you didn’t quite take it the first time.
16. Try and Try Again
Our final tip is a very simple one. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Failure is a natural part of life and learning, and it’s no different in cycling. At the end of the ride, you’ll have collected valuable data concerning your efforts. And that will prepare you for your next attempt. A Strava KOM may not be within your reach now, but there’s no reason it can’t be. Besides, if you’re taking every KOM the first time around… you should start thinking about the Tour de France.
Although, if you suspect someone to be cheating, don’t be afraid to flag their ‘ride’. I’m sure we’ve all seen a KOM with an average speed of 40mph (seems legit). But don’t go flagging left, right and centre for no reason. Sometimes, they're just faster than you.
Finding Segments in the Future
When you’ve done the best with your initial segments (for now), there’s a nifty way of finding more. If you take a look at the leader boards you placed highest in (or most enjoyed), you’ll start seeing the same names cropping up. These are your new competition, and you can use their activities to your advantage.
Take a look at their Strava KOMs or peruse their activities and take note of the segments most convenient for you to get to. If you’ve placed similarly on segments already (or you annihilated their time), there’s a very good chance you could take their position. You may think this tactic slightly unsporting, and it’s totally up to you whether you want to use it.
However, in doing so you encourage further competition with other riders. And if you think your KOMs are safe once you’ve taken them, you’re going to get a real shock. If that isn’t your style, but you can’t find any other segments near you, why not create a few of your own? The beauty of this is you can choose an area you already excel in and create the segment there.
But don’t assume you’ll take the KOM just because you created the segment. Your’s will be the only effort recorded at first, but Strava takes a while to compile all the times set by other users. So, you may be top when you first check, but find you’re not even on the leader board the next day.
Let’s wrap this up
If you’ve done your research on segments, and put in some good training, you’re likely to start seeing positive results. You can then use the data collected from those rides to inform your future strategy. And remember: PRs mean progress.
If your plan is to collect a large amount of KOMs, take note of the segments you did best in. Then repeat the process of planning routes, testing the segment and going for the KOM. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, put yourself out there and go for something a little different.
The best advice I can give is to be careful. I said this up in tip #6 and I’ll say it again: No KOM is worth your life. This especially applies to downhill segments, which require a little more skill and confidence to attempt. I’m sure most of the cycling community is sensible and doesn’t put their lust for first place before road safety. But we’ve all heard a story or two about those who don’t consider this.
As a last note, I realise that Strava KOM hunting is usually more popular in the warmer months. But that's no reason you can't go on setting records in the winter. If you have a Turbo Trainer, I'd suggest using it with a game like Zwift. This will allow you to continue to train and compete with friends when it's cold outside. There's plenty of affordable options available.
This article ended up being a lot more comprehensive than I intended it to be, and I've taken as much as your time as I can ask for.
However, if you have any of your own tips and tricks for taking Strava KOMs, please don't hesitate to leave a comment or get in touch.