A conversation with James Stoup, developer of Yazda and Trail Status on what prompted him to develop his apps.
Over the past 20 years or so, I have been volunteering with the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE). The bulk of my work for the club has been managing the club’s website and developing functionality to help MORE’s members connect, find places to ride, and stay informed about club news, events, and regional trails. It is through MORE that I ended up writing my popular guidebooks.
One of the biggest challenges I (we) faced over the years, and which many mountain bike clubs across the country face today, is how to accurately communicate the status of a specific trail in our region, so that riders planning an outing know whether or not a trail is rideable.
Last year, with the help of another long-time volunteer, Jason Ashmore, we implemented a system that allows MORE website users to submit trail status updates via a form on the MORE website. However, despite an army of volunteers, and automating the process, it’s still proving to be a challenge.
It was shortly before we developed that capability that another longtime MORE member and regional cyclist was putting the finishing touches on the first version of a mobile application to connect riders on local trails. James Stoup, a software engineer, developed Yazda to help him and his friends organize local rides. With Yazda successfully deployed, James began developing a new app, Trail Status.
I spoke to James (left), developer of Yazda and Trail Status, a few weeks ago to ask what prompted him to pick up and move to Colorado, all while in the process of developing his apps.
James explained that while he grew up in central PA, it really wasn’t until he moved to the DC region that he really started taking mountain biking seriously. “I was kind of bummed that I didn’t get into riding sooner,” he told me. “I used to live 15 minutes from Michaux which has some incredible riding, but once I got to Northern Virginia, I started getting together with a group of people every Thursday to ride the trails around Lake Fairfax, and that’s when I really got into the sport.”
James is fortunate to be able to work from home, so he is often able to pick up and ride his local trails. “I loved riding Meadowood and Fountainhead,” he told me, “but getting up to Gambrill State Park and the Frederick Watershed, my favorite places, was often more difficult because of DC’s traffic. That’s when I decided that I needed to move somewhere where I could ride close to home.”
“We [my fiancee and I] came to Colorado and looked at several places. We settled on Lakewood because of its proximity to Denver and the mountains as well as its large biking community. It’s helped with the development of Yazda.”
“Yazda was born out of a need for a better way to schedule rides,” James told me. “As I rode more and more in the DC area, I realized that most of the people I rode with didn’t have a preferred method of organizing and scheduling outings. There was Meetup, Facebook, email, and telephone, but no one was using the same thing. And, none of the available methods were specific to mountain biking or adventure sports,” said James. “That’s when I decided to build something that could help bring everyone together.”
Trail Status, James’ other app, came into existence out of his frustration from arriving at Fountainhead a couple of times and finding the gate closed. “We’ve always had the Fountainhead ride line, but often, in the haste to get a ride going, we’d head out to the trail and arrive to a closed gate,” he said. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if an app alerted you about a trail’s current status? An app that was crowd-sourced? So that anyone with a mobile device could alert other users about a trail’s status on the spot?”
By chance, James met with Ernie Rodriguez, MORE’s president, and Larry Cautilli, MORE’s Project Manager at Fountainhead. While on a ride at the Frederick Watershed, he told them about the idea to develop an app that would help the park keep the trail status’ more up-to-date, and that’s when the concept was born. Initially, Trail Status was just meant to be used for Fountainhead, but once I got wind of it from Ernie, I contacted James and pitched the idea to expand its functionality to include more trail systems.
James went with it, and the result has been incredible. “I’m incredibly pleased with the amount of people that are signing up to use the Trail Status app,” James said. “What’s great is that once you set it up and receive an alert that a trail is open, it makes you want to ride; so it’s getting people out there.”
More users are adopting both apps and providing real-time status updates for regional trails and organizing rides on those same trails. “Yazda is more than an app,” James said. “Yazda is a website and an app, which will continue to grow into a bigger community of adventurers. We will integrate Yazda and Trail Status, so that they both feed off each other. If you set up an adventure in Yazda on a trail that has a ‘closed’ status, the app will alert you. And if you are setting a trail status update, you’ll see what events are scheduled for that location. The ‘plan’ is to help adventurers plan accordingly.”
MORE is adopting Trail Status and integrating it into its website and actively encouraging its army of liaisons to use it, so that “boots on the ground” can update a trail’s conditions on the spot. If you ride a mountain bike, I highly encourage you to use Yazda and Trail Status. Join the Best Rides DC Group on Yazda and share your adventures with all your friends.
The Little Bellas Camp is more than just about riding, their focus is not to churn out little racers; instead, the program is aimed at showing girls 7-14 the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, goal-setting, and building teamwork. All of it using mountain biking as the “fun” vehicle to build strong bonds with each other. Their hope is to ensure that the girls remain with the sport beyond their teenage years.