I have to wonder if this data set shows rides that were marked as private? Many Strava users will make a ride on illegal trails private out of respect for the builders. This essentially hides it to everyone, but still counts the mileage/elevation for personal tracking reasons.
I find the heatmap to be particularly useful if you're traveling to a new location and want to determine which trails are popular. Say you're on a road trip and want to know where to camp that's near some good trails. This makes it easy. Then again, so does calling a local shop and getting real beta.
Strava is selling user data to cities/counties, which may help with the addition of bike lanes in urban areas. I can also see them using it to hunt down/close non-sanctioned trails or to know when to show up to ticket users.
"Prior to GPS/phones, we had some great memories on great "personal" trails that could not have happened with today's technology...not for as long a time at least."
How so? Great memories are still made every day.
Strava is a tool and like any tool there are good ways and bad ways of using it. For those who are required to track miles and time, it is a fantastic tool. Estimating those values before was vague, at best. I personally use it to track growth and fitness throughout the year, put a qualitative measure on my pain, and reality-check my ego when I'm feeling saucy. Point is, its use is mainly internally focused.
On the other end of the spectrum is the externally focused user. Logging miles, observing growth, and turning up the volume once in awhile to see where they're tracking is not their priority. Their priority is to be the absolute fastest guy on the trail and they only flip on the GPS when they feel they can be. For them, Strava is the racecourse and the horribly inaccurate timing that comes along with it is their stopwatch. I have no respect for that type of user because they have no respect for the trails and others on it. A real rider can knock out a big loop, throw down on a few segments during the ride, earn some top 10s, have the maturity to shut it down when other users are around, and have the respect to mark the ride as private - essentially throwing away the visibility to all those big miles and achievements - if any part of their ride touches a stash. That's a real rider, IMO, and if the heat map encourages more people to behave like that, I am for it. But I suspect it does the opposite and I am therefore against it.
"I have to wonder if this data set shows rides that were marked as private? Many Strava users will make a ride on illegal trails private out of respect for the builders. This essentially hides it to everyone, but still counts the mileage/elevation for personal tracking reasons."
Good question. I am interested as well. A good friend has a gem he built that a small group of us ride often and keep close to the chest. We know the rules; don't upload it to Strava, or if you must for miles' sake, mark it as private. On the heat map there is the faintest line showing his stash. Either one of us forgot the private flag or Strava ignores that flag when generating the heat map. It could go either way since there is no key that ties the color gradient and intensity to number of times ridden. Just sucks that it's on there at all. :-/