XXL Invitational

A gallery of snapshots from the “aid” station at the last W@W race of the season. All kinds of shenanigans and fun from the XXL crew and fellow W@W racers.

Yazda and Trail Status Developer James Stoup

Yazda, Trail Status and James Stoup

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.

Mazda and Trail Status Developer James StoupI 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 StatusTrail 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 staus 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. I’ve also begun to integrate Trail Status on BestRidesDC.com’s “Where to Ride” Section. 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.

Frederick Road Ride with MORE friends

This past weekend was the Mid Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts’ (MORE) winter party. Generally, when MORE gather for such an ocassion the event is preceded with an off-road ride on a nearby trail. But, since this year’s winter has given us so much snow and the local trails needed a bit of a rest, 13 MORE members (including yours truly) headed out to do one of the rides in Best Bike Rides Washington DC, The Covered Bridges of Frederick.

The ride meanders through the rolling roads of Frederick County, MD and highlights three of Maryland’s eight remaining covered bridges. In the book I highlight the history of the area and provide detailed directions you can follow. Here a re a few snaps from that day. Great fun on the roads.

Little Bellas

Those of you who know me and have been visiting the site for a while know that I try to spend as much time riding with my 8 year-old daughter. Ari’s getting better by the day, but there is only so much I can do for her when we are out on the trail and I think it is critical that she ride with other kids (girls) her age to see that some of the stuff she’s hesitant to ride can be done and is ridden by kids just like her.

I searched far and wide for a program near the DC area where I could take her this summer but my attempts fell short. There is a great weekly ride in one of our local trails (Wakefield Park,) but my work schedule often prohibits me from getting there by the time the ride rolls out. The closest summer camp I did find was the Charlottesville Bike Camp in Charlottesville, Virginia, but she fell short of the age requirement (12 years old) and was likely not physically or technically ready for spending so much time (a full week) away form us alone.

The next best thing that popped up in my searches was the Little Bellas Camp at the Catamount Family Center in Williston, VT, just outside Burlington.

The prospect of getting in the car for nearly 10 hours wasn’t that enticing, but I really wanted my daughter to enjoy some quality riding and be exposed to other kids her age having fun on bikes. After researching the program and realizing it was founded and developed by pro cyclist Lea Davison and her sister Sabra I decided to pull the trigger and signed her up for the two day camp that coincided with the 3rd stop of the ProXCT Finals Mountain bike races. If anything, we would at least experience and witness first-hand some of the best mountain bike riders in the country competing for the national title.

The trip turned out to be quite the adventure for my daughter and her friend Marie. She was super excited to spend the night in a few hotels and swim in the indoor pools; We did not know what to really expect from the camp, other than she would be one of a group of about a dozen girls on bikes.

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.

Once we arrived it was clearly evident that the experience would be a positive one – you just got a good vibe from the group of women who would be the girls’ mentors for the next two days. They immediately welcomed the girls and set them up with a few gifts, including a very nice Jersey to wear during the time at the center. I really can’t speak specifically to the activities they did during the day, but all I know is that by the time I picked my daughter up in the afternoon she couldn’t wait to come back the next day. She quickly proclaimed that “NOW, I really love mountain biking daddy!” and that she wanted to ride in the next morning’s Kid Race.

She raved about meeting Specialized Pro rider Lea Davison (founder of Little Bellas with her sister Sabra) and Canadian Olympian and World Champion cyclist Catharine Pendrel. She went on an on about how exciting the day had been. Seeing her riding the teeter (below) and the pump track by the parking area was also an indication of how far she progressed in one day; I’m certain that had we tried the teeter before the program, she would most certainly not have attempted it…

ari-teeter

The next day we woke early so that she could ride in the kids race and see part of the junior races. By noon, after a quick lunch, we dropped the girls off again for the second day of camp, which included a few more activities and cheering on the women pro riders as they finished the day’s racing and culminated with the entire group of Little Bellas participating in the awards ceremony. Making the girls part of such a “big” event certainly left its mark and Ari is already excited about the prospect of coming back next year for another go at the camp.

I can’t give these group of women enough accolades. In just two days my daughter’s confidence on the bike has soared. She has a long way to go, but the exposure to the pro athletes, the other Little Bellas, and the positive influence of women role models has done far more than I could have in months. Seeing her smile at the end of a full day of biking, and being proud of winning the “most muddy” award made the nearly ten hour drive up to Vermont, and then back to VA totally worth it.

We’ll be back; see you in 2014 Bellas…

More on the Little Bellas

Chaos with purpose for Little Bellas

Danger Panda! Riding for World Bicycle Relief

As I explain in the acknowledgement section of the book I could not have completed it without the help of many people. Throughout the book I have placed a “you may run into” sidebar highlighting an individual who has not only made a contribution to my cycling experience, but who has also impacted the community around them in one way or another through their involvement in the sport.

One such person is my buddy Pete Beers; Pete is a local legend in the Arlington and Falls Church areas; He rides his bike virtually everywhere; to work, to the store, to group rides. He’s out to prove that you can leave your car at home and is a devoted advocate for cycling in the region.

His joy for cycling – and the amount of riding he puts in on a daily basis – has prompted Pete to venture into territory very few cyclists experience: endurance racing. This week (Saturday June 1st to be precise) Pete will be competing in the Dirty Kanza 200 (DK200) in support of World Bicycle Relief, a nonprofit organization that aims to transform individuals and communities through the power of bicycles. The DK200 is a solo, self-supported, non-stop, 200-mile-long bicycling endurance challenge on the gravel and dirt roads of the Flint Hills region in east-central Kansas.

The DK200 is the mother of all Gravel Grinders. What’s most interesting about the DK200 is that riders don’t quite know where they are headed until they reach designated check-points. At each of these the rider is handed a map and the location of the next checkpoint. It is up to the rider to then navigate to the subsequent checkpoints to receive further instructions until they finally complete the loop and the 200 mile distance.

As part of his participating in the event Pete has received a set of “rider trading cards,” seen here:

DK200 Trading Card

The image Pete chose to grace his is quite unique, and tied to Best Bike Rides DC for a couple of reasons. The first, yours truly is photo bombing Pete’s trademark “Danger Panda” maneuver. Pete never rides without his camera and often yanks it out mid-ride, while rolling, to take a series of self portraits. See slideshow above…

The second, is because the image was taken during a scouting ride for one of the rides in the book; Sadly the ride we headed out to map that day didn’t make it. Still, joy was had in copious amounts and that ride remains as one of my favorites.

I’m flattered that I am also on the “Pete Beers DK200 trading card,” and that in a tiny way, am part of his experience and efforts to support World Bicycle Relief.

So, please join me in wishing Pete, the rest of his team, and the other competitors of the DK200 the best of luck and a safe 200 miles.

If you do get a chance, please stop by his team’s page and make a small donation in support of their effort.