The year is 1998. Radek Burkat and a motley crew of Calgary mountain bikers have descended on Rossland, BC, for their annual road trip shred fest.
Rossland, known as the Mountain Bike Capital of Canada, is the highlight of their multi-day freewheelin’ jaunt through British Columbia. Recently the host to the North American Mountain Bike championships, the quaint alpine village boasts some of the most progressive singletrack trails in North America, putting the 90’s era mountain bikes to the test.
With hastily drawn maps on paper napkins, Radek and his crew brave the rocky, technical descents on Monte Christo, above the quiet main street of Rossland, cheering each other on as they careen down towards town.
It Started with Pinkbike.com
These early road trips were the inspiration for Radek’s brainchild, Pinkbike.com. He envisioned an Internet community where people could share photos of crazy mountain bike stunts, cool trails, and epic locations. The website was created, and over time evolved into that community, only one that was larger than Radek had ever dreamed.
The site’s popularity went global, with mountain bike riders from all over the world sharing their own stories and photos. What started as a way to post road trip pictures for this group of dudes from Calgary turned into the largest action sports website in the world, in terms of page views.
When Pinkbike launched in 1998, there was no Google Maps or social media. Accurate mapping and tracking software didn’t exist, so the website began essentially as a simple image database.
As the site grew, and technology evolved, Radek never forgot about the paper napkin maps in Rossland.
The Next Level – Trailforks.com
As the Pinkbike community expanded, the obvious missing link to the rider experience was the ability to share the actual trails, the networks of rides that every mountain bike community invests blood, sweat, and tears into.
Finally, that vision of interconnected trail maps and rapidly evolving mapping technology came together, and TrailForks was born.
Resistance in the Mountain Biking Community
Once the platform launched, there was immediate resistance to the idea. Locals had very little appetite for highlighting all their favourite rides on a website for out of towners to come shred. Mountain bike associations were also wary. Many mountain bike scenes have historically had a tenuous relationship with other user groups, resulting in fines, closed trails, and years of animosity.
TrailForks seemed like another way to fan those fires of discontent even further.
In the Era of Renegade Trails
In the late 90’s, when Radek and crew were exploring the singletrack of Rossland, mountain bike trails were mostly illegal, unsanctioned, with no responsible groups to manage them. If this was happening in the Mountain Bike Capital of Canada, imagine what the state of disarray was in other communities.
For years this approach to trail building persisted, with renegade trails popping up on public and private land everywhere. Entire community sub-sets were built up this way, a sort of illegal source of tourism dollars.
The Economics of Mountain Biking
As towns started to recognize the significant economic impact of mountain bike tourism, associations rallied to bring in more members, create solid management plans, and legitimize mountain biking in their respective communities.
While relatively easy to demonstrate the effect mountain biking was having on local businesses like restaurants and retailers, there was no real effective way to properly highlight the use of the local trails.
This is where the simple brilliance of TrailForks came into play.
Growing the Biking Community with Data
The idea behind TrailForks is simple: create a mapping platform that is managed by the users that build and maintain the trails. This platform allows for local bike clubs to help guide the development and usage of trails in their area, and include all stakeholders in that process.
How SORCA Has Used Trailforks
The Squamish Off Road Cycling Association (SORCA) is a shining example of an organization that has used the information that Trailforks has to offer to help to manage their trail maintenance and planning.
By plotting trail usage stats, SORCA has been able to back trail development plans up with solid data, and have been successful in raising tens of thousands of dollars in government grants and private donations.
How It Works
Trail usage stats are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Trailforks functionality. Understanding the scope of what is available in the app is an almost daunting prospect.
Tens of thousands of trails, millions of check-ins, hundreds of daily trail reports all add up to a treasure trove of valuable information not just for local bike clubs, but for the riders enjoying the trails as well.
Want to know what is the most popular bike model on the Squamish trails this season? It’s the Santa Cruz Nomad. Curious about the average 2017 Squamish ride time? One hour, fifty-five minutes, and twenty-eight seconds. And then there’s a multitude of data on specific trails, visitor demographics, current conditions, etc, etc, etc.
As the app evolves, the user experience has become more complete; with enhanced navigation and tracking functionality, better photo sharing, filterable trail features, and more.
Despite initial resistance to the idea, Trailforks is almost universally recognized as a force for good in the mountain bike community. The app’s influence is being felt in other ways, too.
The website Ridespots.com, a Squamish-based business, highlights different riding destinations around the world. With trail data ported straight from Trailforks, Ridespots layers on more detailed info about dining and accommodation options in the featured area.
Parks Canada is using the mapping abilities of Trailforks to catalog their entire trail infrastructure and utilize the app to manage development and maintenance in Canada’s national parks.
Search and Rescue
Park City, Utah, boasts the largest trail network on Trailforks. With so many miles of trail, and a lot of users every year, accidents happen.The local Search and Rescue team is using Trailforks as a tool to aid in the efficiency of their backcountry rescues.
When a trail user calls in a rescue, the SAR team can cross reference the coordinates of the injured person with an uninhibited view of the Trailforks interface (meaning they can see all trails, hidden or public-facing) and get to that position in the most effective manner possible.
Bringing Riders and Communities Together
Radek’s vision has come a long way from paper napkin maps and raucous road trips. Beginning with a small group of dedicated Calgarians and evolving to the global Trailforks network of today, the community spirit has remained, strengthened even.
Riding hubs all over the world are using the platform to enable visitors to enjoy their trail networks in the best way possible. These same locales are leveraging Trailforks to continually develop their trails in a strategic, measured and impactful way.
Whether it’s for tourism or infrastructure advancements, Trailforks is more than just mapping software and a data repository. It’s a platform that brings riders and communities together.