How to Draw All Over Your Hometown
See how one man, one bicycle, and Strava turned a whole city into art.
Strava: Run, Ride, Swim
Track activity & map routes
Most artists create on a canvas, a sheet of paper, or an iPad.
Stephen Lund isn’t your typical artist.
His canvas is his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, where he draws city-size images with his bicycle, iPhone, and favorite app, Strava.
Lund was introduced to the GPS-enabled cycle-tracking app in the summer of 2014, and he quickly found himself hooked on the idea of monitoring all aspects of his rides. But as he did, he started noticing something.
“The more I looked at the red line following my path, the more I thought there was some creative fun that could be had,” he says. “On New Year’s Eve 2014, I thought, why don’t I try to write something on the streets?”
He planned out his route on a physical map, jumped on his bike, fired up Strava, and hit the road. When he was done, his digital trail read “Happy 2015!”
He admits the first project was a little clumsy. But in the years since, he has refined his technique. Today, Lund has more than 300 Strava-created works under his belt—each requiring an average of 70 kilometers of cycling. Sometimes he designs the images himself. And sometimes they just pop right out.
“Early on I highlighted all the main roads on a map,” he says, “and a giraffe just jumped right out. You couldn’t miss it. It’s so cool that it was right there in the streets of Victoria from the very beginning, but nobody else had ever seen it.”
Today his process is more refined. “Now I plan out a route on a map in Photoshop and save it as a PDF on my iPhone. And I’ll stop periodically to make sure I’m on the right course.”
That’s a good idea, because Lund’s adventures in Strava-based artwork haven’t always been issue-free. “I learned in the early days that GPS tracking doesn’t come with an eraser.” He laughs. “The first route I really botched. I was about 30 kilometers into this drawing when I lost my bearings, took a couple of wrong turns, and realized I had ruined the image.”
When that happens, there’s only one thing to do. “I rode back to the starting point and began all over again,” he says. “You don’t have to do that more than a couple of times before you learn your lesson.”
Missed turns aren’t the only issue he faces in creating images that can encompass more than a billion square feet. “Roads don’t always cooperate,” he says. “Sometimes you come up against an obstacle that’s right in the middle of where you want to go. I found a work-around where I can pause Strava on one side of the obstacle, take the long route around to the other side, restart the app, and connect a line straight through the building.”
Lund discovered that his project turned out to be more than art. “As I started to do more, I realized it wasn’t just about creating cool pictures,” he says. “It was about urban exploration. It’s a journey in problem-solving, about finding a route I can use to complete a picture in my mind. And if this inspires more people to get active, explore their cities, and have fun doing exercise, I think that’s wonderful.”