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!

4 comments:

TC guru said...

Hi Dub,

Thanks for including TrailCentral in your list of sites worthy of review. It was good to read what you think of the site.

As you said in your post, 2008 will be a big year for TrailCentral in terms of usability. I don't plan on adding much in the way of new features, but there are plenty of ways that I can make the current features on the site more useful.

I'm looking forward to your reviews of the other websites. It will help me understand what other sites are doing well from a different perspective and will likely give me good ideas on how to make TrailCentral even better.

Thanks again,
TC guru

dub said...

Thanks for your comment TC Guru. Keep an eye out, I should have the next post up very soon!

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