Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Website Reviews: Trail Data Websites, Part 2.

2. CoMTB or Colorado Mountain Biking.com:

Kevin Swab, the webmaster of CoMTB, advertises that the site provides mountain bike ride descriptions with high quality maps suitable for navigational use. It's Kevin's navigational maps that makes CoMTB so uniquly valuable. By comparison, most any other site usually misses this mark providing its unwary users with poor quality maps that come with a disclaimer warning against the use of their maps for anything other than birthday hats for kids.

This site's visual focus is centered around the map of Colorado. Within that map are several clickable icons depicting various city centers that have trails of interest nearby. For instance, when you click on the Lyons icon, you are treated to trail beta for the following trails:
  • Betasso Link / Loop

  • Fall River Road

  • Hall Ranch

  • Heil Valley Ranch

  • Miller Rock Area

This graphic is an example of one of those previously mentioned high quality printable maps. They are without a doubt credible works of art of their own and should be printed, framed and proudly displayed in every Colorado rider's home.

As a devotee of the site for several years, I became worried of its sudden lack of updates after the mid 2006 model year. Some 15 months would go by before we would see the next major update. But news of the websites early demise were greatly exaggerated and updates to the UI and content come with regularity again. Most recently, the site has began Google Earth integration on many of its rides.

Each trail review featured on the site typically includes a blow by blow ride experience complete with related pictures. In addition to the beta are Google Earth'd trail downloads (when available), accompanying recommended Google Earth viewing settings, and downloads to those wonderful maps.

CoMTB's author is based out of beautiful Ft. Collins, CO and admittedly focuses on north central CO rides. To compensate for this, the site relies upon other MTB friendly sites that happen to highlight trails in other regions. For example, CoMTB has reviews for 11 different towns (with several trails per town), but provides useful links to content on other sites for an additional 23 towns within the state. This method is in contast to TrailCentral's user generated content model with the difference being noticible in the total amount of data available per trail and in the total number of trials reviewed on the site. But this could change with time as I eagerly await each new review and related map... mmmmmm like butter.

In all, CoMTB goes the extra mile at providing reliable trail ready maps with relavant information for when you are planning your trail ride. Two thumbs up again for CoMTB.

I'll dive into the next trail review website in the series soon so stay tuned. Until then, best of riding.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Return of: Picture of the Week(?) - January, 2008

I'm unsure of just how many Picture of the Week's I'll be posting in the coming weeks, so instead I'll be renaming this somewhat regular feature to... "Picture of the Interval, where Interval is x number of n units of time." Maybe a better name is "Picture of the x=(n)/T." I think that is right... anyway, this picture was taken at Garden Of the Gods near Colorado Springs, CO. The picture depicts 2 of the park's Three Graces.

Garden of the Gods contains vertical conglomerate sandstone formations belonging geologically to the Fountain Formation. The Fountain Formation is related to the Red Rocks, Roxborough, and Flatirons areas west of Denver, CO. The entire formation begins in southern Wyoming and continues south along the Front Range of the eastern Colorado Rocky Mountains, concluding in northern New Mexico. The name Colorado is said to come from the color of this particular sandstone formation. The rocks comprising the Fountain Formation are considered to be between 290 and 296 million years old and were formed by the erosion of the original Ancestral Rocky Mountains.
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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Website Reviews: Trail Data Websites, Part 1.

So you live in (or are thinking about moving to) Colorado, own a bike (or are thinking about buying one) with knobbly tires, but have no idea where to ride. Colorado is a big state with an abundance of public land, a staggering geographical variety and a mind blowing multitude of trails. It can be intimidating for newcomers and locals looking for new terrain alike.

Luckily, the intraweb has come to our rescue. With a quick Google search, I was able to track down the leading contendors: TrailCentral, COMtb, MTBR, singletracks.com, Wildernet, and BikeRag.com. (If your favorite trail review website isn't listed, post a comment below and I'll be sure to check into them).

Each one of the the website ablove tackles the complex task of mapping, reviewing, and posting useful information about the Colorado's trails in different ways. Some sites excel at trail beta, others include printable maps, others feature GPS integration, and yet others are gifted with prolific user reviews... Some do it all... Anyway, on with the show.

1. TrailCentral.com:

According to TrailCentral author, it took 3 college students eating a "rather disgusting" pizza in 1999 to create their very own Mountain Biking website. It took several iterations for them to nail down their presence on the web, but when they did the site took off. TrailCentral.com's mission is to enable its users to "...be able to find complete trail information on Colorado trails, such as; trail listings and directions, trailhead weather, local bike shops, as well as complete event listings." Or more simply put, to "...help mountain bikers look beyond the handlebars." It is a lot for a single site to offer, lets take a look and see how they fare...

Since their original inception, TrailCentral's scope has grown to include trails in other states, bike shop reviews, and more. The site breaks their trail reviews out first by state name and then by county. The state is listed only if there is a trail review in it. Likewise, the county is only listed if there are trail reviews in it. So, if you don't see your favorite trail on the map, you know what to do... Click on any county within TrailCentral and you will find a more detailed map of the area and a listing of trails in that county. click on any trail theirin and you get the following laundry list of useful trail specifics:

  • Local bike shops
  • Integrated hotel booking
  • Summer trail uses
  • Winter trail uses
  • Trail types
  • Physical exertion level
  • Technical Level (which evaluates the difficulty of the terrain)
  • Elevation at the trailhead
  • Park fees if applicable
  • Park facilities available
  • Directions to the trailhead
  • GPS datum marking the trailhead and route (if it has been gathered by a trail reviewer)
  • Current trailhead weather
  • A description of the trail itself
  • A RSS integrated "Ride Proposal" arranger
  • Overall Trail Ratings
  • and finally, Trail reviews written by users like you and I

It's a tough job filling in all those blanks for each and every trail the website reviews which is why the site relies on their user community to pitch in. It's this "user generated content" that helps to fan the flames at TrailCentral, adding useful content to nearly every part of their site. The site's crew has taken the trail review concept to even greater levels by adding a 3rd layer to the cake when they added the ability for website visitors to participate in their online forum, to post their blog (if they have one), to find training partners, and to post their own pics in the photo

TrailCentral is also kept up to date on a very regular basis. The websites development is ongoing, with new improvements made ever week at times. About a year ago, they integrated their original trail maps with the Google Maps api. This fantastic improvement allowed the site to later many features including trailhead markers, zooming in and out, route finding, and the integration of GPS data (and not just their own GPS data, but anyone's). TC also claims that 2008 will continue to be a big year for the website with usability enhancements that will dip into the power of AJAX (yay!).

In all, TrailCentral goes a long way to being a great one stop shop for gathering information for your trail riding plans. Two thumbs up.

Next up is the second website review in this series. Until then, best of riding!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dispiriting news for our mountaineering community...

Sir Edmund Hillary, known better to his New Zealand countrymen simply as "Sir Ed" has passed away recently. Sir Ed was 88 years old this year. he suffered an injury during another of his innumerable visits to his 2nd homeland of Nepal. Sir Ed and his Nepalese guide Tenzig Norgay became the first humans to stand on top of Everest, reaching that summit in 1953. He was knighted for his effort by the soon to be Queen of England just 3 days after his ascent. Hillary went on to climb another 10 other peaks in the Himalayas, as well as reaching the South Pole as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He will no doubt be missed. Sir Ed's state funeral will be held in Auckland, NZ on January 22, 2008.

I'll remember Sir Ed for his visit to Antarctica which coincidentally occurred with my 2005 deployment to McMurdo Station. I'll remember his tall, thin but frail frame cast against the unforgiving Antarctic landscape and his subtle but humorous honesty. I was fortunate enough to see him speak to our small crowd at an honorary celebration of the National Science Foundation's successful completion of the "Ice Highway" linking coastal McMurdo to South Pole Station nearly a 1000 miles away. But, rather than lauding the accomplishment with favors and praise when asked by a member of the crowd about how he felt regarding the whole affair, Sir Ed simply stated that it was a ridiculous effort and just plain silly. The crowd erupted in laughter knowing that the project's management was there to hear the shocking statement for themselves as well!

Colorado Cycling in 2008

The Mountain Flyer has recently revamped their presense in this big blue world of ours. You can check them out via this link (Click right... here).

Not only have they matured their graphical presence, but they are also upped their print interval every quarter and plan to have more of everything we love about cycling in Colorado: gravity, cyclocross, MTB XC and roadie content as well. If you live in CO and are planning on cycling, or just want to be... be sure to check out their fantastic rag!

Kicking off the New Year...

A video for you by an artist i discovered just today. Pasted below is a link to check out a video released recenetly by her. Her name is Emily Jane White and she describes her musical style as Folkish with some Blues and Gothic drama mixed in for added spice.