Become a Strava Artist with These GPS Tips
The GPSdoodles.com creator reveals his secrets to creating Strava art by bike
BY MOLLY HURFORD AUGUST 31, 2015
If getting a KOM isn’t high on your bucket list of cycling goals, there’s another way Strava can boost your motivation to ride: using it to create art. Rather than focusing on speed, some cyclists are focusing on creating routes that, when ridden, show up as designs or words—even marriage proposals! Stephen Lund, creator of GPSdoodles.com, is one of the best “Strava artists” in the world. “If you have a GPS and you have a bike, you can experiment and explore and see what’s possible,” he says. “And it’s great fun!” He’s working on a book to share a complete how-to for Strava art, but for now, he shares a few of his top tips.
The Route Is King
Before he sets out, Lund meticulously pre-maps his route to get his design perfect. To start a design, Lund finds it most helpful to highlight the main thoroughfares in an area on a map (on paper or in Photoshop) and then stand back and look for ready-made shapes. He adds that unfortunately, maps don’t always account for roadwork and detours, and even a minor route change can throw off a drawing. Using Google Maps to design a route and then uploading it to a GPS device is a great way to prepare.
Work with What You’ve Got
Even rural cyclists can use rolling, curving landscapes to create cool stuff, though they might have to look harder at maps to create cool routes. “Anywhere you are, there’s creative potential,” Lund says. Zoom in and out of an area on Google Maps, look for cool lines and shapes (or have a rough idea of a word or shape to create), and then look for roads that will match it.
Start with Words
“My first was a Happy New Year sign on Strava,” Lund says. Words are easiest to create because they’re fairly straightforward, he explains, and you can—if you plan carefully—simply pause Strava for a few yards in order to create a space between each letter. Words are particularly easy, Lund adds, if you live in a neatly gridded city.
Expect to Increase Your Mileage
„Doing Strava art the past seven months has gotten me to do 4,000 kilometers of riding that I wouldn’t have otherwise done,” Lund says. He adds that having a purpose for his rides has added a new element of fun to them, and now he can’t wait to get back home to upload his files to see if his designs worked out.
… And Expect to Be Out for a While
“Most of the pieces take about 70 kilometers to do,” Lund says. Budget for extra time on Strava art rides, since following a route perfectly is key to a flawless design, and you’ll likely need to stop to ponder your route map at least once or twice. He also adds that he occasionally has restarted a ride after a wrong turn, and that mileage definitely adds up!
Don’t Be Cliché
“I hear a lot about people drawing penises,” Lund says. “It seems weirdly popular. And maybe I would do that one day, but it would be on a statue of David, to give it some context.” Be original with your artwork.
Large Scale Is Your Friend
Especially for new Strava artists, focusing on a bigger picture will make mistakes less visible on the overall map. If you’re in a city and focused on a small range of city blocks, each misstep will be ultra-apparent—but if you create a cool shape from a 100-mile journey, even if you made a minor error, it won’t be as obvious on the overall map.
Go Off-Road to Smooth Curves or Connect the Dots
„I use a lot of off-road improvisation,” Lund says. He’ll occasionally use trails, stairwells, and even open fields to create the perfect image when the roads aren’t cooperating. “It’s that urban exploration that makes it fun,” he adds. It’s about the art of adventure, and it helps you get better acquainted with the area you live in—you might find some great backroads in the pursuit of art!
Don’t Get Discouraged
If you miss a turn, your drawing might be ruined that day, but you can always try again tomorrow. “It can be demoralizing at times,” Lund explains, when you’ve spent a day on a careful artistic route only to find an early wrong turn derailed your drawing. “There’s no eraser, so you’ve got to pay closer attention in rides,” he adds. There is a silver lining to being hyper-aware, though: That attention to the route can actually bring a new element of focus to your rides.