The Outside Blog

Skiing and Snowboarding : Biking

Beyond Strava

You're in San Francisco for a work conference. You've got an afternoon free, a mountain bike you've borrowed from a friend, and an itch to check out the singletrack at China Camp State Park, up in Marin County. You don't have a car, so you check an app on your phone that shows where you and your bike can catch the next Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train to a station where you can then catch a bus that takes you to within half a mile of the park.

Next time you enjoy this kind of incredible convenience, thank Bibiana McHugh.

While on vacation in 2005, McHugh, who manages the geographic information systems for TriMet, Portland, Oregon's transit agency, realized that it was very difficult to access an online map with quick, easy transit data. The timetables and maps various transit agencies put online—if they even did that—all looked and worked differently. So she started working with Google and transit planners to codify transit data—any agency's transit data. The result is a standardized format that many transit agencies now use and make freely available. Google used this data to integrate directions into Google Maps, and of course anyone who wants to build an app uses the standardized data, too. And there are thousands of such apps, for public transit systems all over the world.

This data standard (called the General Transit Feed Specification) is a huge deal. Without it, transit agencies might still use their own unique databases to store timetables and route information. Google Maps' transit directions would probably not exist, nor would those third party apps exist—or there would be far fewer, and they would cost more. The standard has made public transit an attractive, easily understood, and accessible travel option.

Now, the same type of standardization is happening for data about trail networks, which means the cash-strapped agencies that maintain the trails will be able to liberate that data for anyone to use to build accurate, easy-to-use, and dependable maps and apps. And this is also going to be huge.

Data Processors

Perhaps you've read how Strava, the mapping service designed to help athletes track bike rides and runs, is now feeding the anonymous, aggregate data they collect from users (more than 2.5 million GPS-tracked activities each week, according to the company) to urban and bike planners. The hope is that understanding where and when commuters ride will lead to better biking infrastructure.

Strava is also one of a handful of organizations working to standardize trail and public land data in a manner similar to the way McHugh helped standardize transit data. The nonprofit Code for America, which uses technology to improve local government and public services, is leading the project, called the Open Trail System Specification (or just Open Trails). 

Open Trails was born through a project to help visitors navigate the hive of different trails system in Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park, adjacent state and city parks, and trail systems in the Akron and Cleveland metro areas. "The specification is designed to help these parks communicate with one voice and provide one map for their 8 million annual visitors," says Alan Williams, who runs Open Trails development at Code for America.

Most states have at least one similar conglomerate of parks, governed by various agencies who use their own maps to illustrate their trails networks. There are often small feeder trails that link the networks together, but you may not see them on a map produced by one of the parks. But with the Open Trails standard, all the data will live in a standard format and look the same to mapping or application software, which will save a ton of time and expense when creating or updating maps or applications. Parks that are adjacent to or nearby each other will be able to create a single map, for example, making linking up a route through multiple parks a lot easier.

With trail data being set free, parks – many of them operated with small and strapped budgets – will also be able to develop apps that are useful and dynamic. You'll learn about trail closers before schlepping it to the park. Third-party apps will also emerge. Another app might help you get to one trailhead by bike, find a place to lock it up and trail-run to a beach, suggest a good lunch spot, and then find a bus back to retrieve the bike. Or an app designed for trail runners or mountain bikers might help you find races, clubs or training events, or provide an easy way to report a cougar sighting or a down tree to park managers. The maps might also show nearby services – eateries, outfitters, transit stops, swimming holes, whatever. Think of it as Google Maps for trails and parks.  
The specification for the OpenTrails standard is now complete (if you really want to nerd out, see it here) and Code for America is already working with parks and other interested parties to start collecting data and building out applications.

With trail data being set free, parks—many of them operated with small and strapped budgets—will also be able to develop apps that are useful and dynamic. You'll learn about trail closers before schlepping it to the park. Third-party apps will also emerge. An app might help you get to one trailhead by bike, find a place to lock it up and trail-run to a beach, suggest a good lunch spot, and then find a bus back to retrieve the bike. Or an app designed for trail runners or mountain bikers might help you find races, clubs or training events, or provide an easy way to report a cougar sighting or a down tree to park managers. The maps might also show nearby services—eateries, outfitters, transit stops, swimming holes, whatever. Think of it as Google Maps for trails and parks.  

The specification for the Open Trails standard is now complete (if you really want to nerd out, see it here) and Code for America is already working with parks and other interested parties to start collecting data and building out applications.

Open Maps, Open Data

The specification was written with input from The Trust for Public Land, GreenInfo Network, commercial partners such as Strava, and Trailhead Labs, a trail and public transit mapping application startup.

Trailhead Labs is the brainchild of Ryan Branciforte and Jereme Monteau, who previously developed Transit & Trails, a project of the Bay Area Open Space Council (which I tested out for this story). They've created a software platform called Outerspatial. Using Open Trails data, Outerspatial will serve as a framework so that park agencies and trail managers can create user-friendly maps and apps for park visitors—much more quickly than if they had to start from scratch.

"We are looking at mapping the whole outdoor domain: parks, trails, trailheads, amenities, campgrounds, points of interest, bathrooms, water, etc.," explains Monteau.

Trailhead Labs is already working with some Bay Area park agencies but hopes to expand to parks across the country. 

"Our vision is that there isn't just one app that tells you were to go and what to do. There are a whole bunch. I probably use four or five different transit apps just for the Bay Area," says Branciforte. Just as standardized transit data has enabled those different apps, Open Trails will foster the creation of unique outdoor apps. "There might be an app for finding fire pits, or another for playgrounds," he says. "That, ultimately, is how we'd get people engaged in the outdoors." 

Read More

Meb's No-Impact Workout Weapon

When I first heard that running pros—the likes of Meb Keflezighi and Magdalena Lewy Boulet—were supplementing their training with elliptical-style bikes, I was skeptical. Why ellipti-cycle when you could run? Why drop 3Gs on such a funny contraption when you could buy a carbon fiber bike for less? When I heard that ElliptiGO, the leader of this low-impact revolution, holds a 100-mile world championship event in September, I rolled my eyes. "Who are these weirdos?" I wondered. What’s the deal?

But despite my skepticism, when an ElliptiGO 8C arrived at Outside HQ, I was eager to try the product that so many professional and/or injured runners have raved about. I walked the gargantuan, 44-pound machine onto the Santa Fe Rail Trail and hopped on. 

Getting started is the hardest part. ElliptiGOs are about 11 inches off the ground, so you have to simultaneously jump on with one foot and push off with the other. I got off to a wobbly start: I'd erroneously assumed riding the ElliptiGO would be like riding a bicycle, that my feet would move in big, looping circles beneath me. But, like an elliptical machine (and like running, for that matter), your feet stay on a relatively flat plain. It’s a very forward motion, as opposed to a more centralized pedaling motion. After a minute or two, I fell into a comfortably rhythm. The wind whipped through my hair, and I felt alive for once on a Monday morning.*

{%{"quote":"“Meb got really excited about the ElliptiGO. As he’s aging, he feels that fear of injury more and more.”"}%}

Apparently, that’s the whole point of the ElliptiGO: feeling alive. Or, more specifically, helping runners (who are injured or have bad knees or are otherwise unable to run) to achieve a runner’s high. “It’s for people like me, who miss that experience of running,” says ElliptiGO founder Bryan Pate, a former Ironman triathlete who suffered knee and hip injuries. “The bike just doesn’t fulfill the runner’s high."

Pate dreamed up ElliptiGO in 2005 and sold his first contraption in 2010. The Solana Beach-based company has now sold more than 10,000 bikes and works with more than 100 elite athletes. Of that group, Keflezighi is the most well-known. “Meb got really excited about the ElliptiGO,” Pate says. “As he’s aging, he feels that fear of injury more and more.” The ElliptiGO allows him to have a cardio workout with minimal impact, which is particularly useful for recovery. “Instead of doing a 5-mile recovery run, he’ll go out and ride the ElliptiGO for an hour and a half,” Pate says. “So he gets a way better cardiovascular experience because he gets the blood moving, but he puts zero pounding on his body. When he goes to work out the next day, he’s way fresher.” 

Okay, that makes sense. But what if you want more than a recovery workout? “I just went for a run in Central Park on an ElliptiGO and my heart rate was probably 180,” Pate says. “It was the real deal.” ElliptiGOs—which have many of the same components as bicycles, just arranged a little differently—can reach speeds of more than 23 miles per hour and climb hills with a 30 percent grade. They have gears that allow you to tackle inclines, and hand brakes to slow you down. They also come sans-shocks, and aren't intended for technical off-roading (mellow trails are OK). 

The handlebars are reminiscent of those on a Razor scooter—flat and supported by a long stem. Balancing with one arm is tricky at first—removing a hand to signal to traffic might result in you falling off the ElliptiGO—but as with riding a bicycle, practice makes perfect.

Practice also makes you faster, which is why the company has teamed up with running legend Greg McMillan, who's agreed to write training plans for runners who'll use the ElliptiGO to help them PR (in running, not ElliptiGOing). Pate uses Keflezighi as an example: “I mean, if you think about how unlikely it was that Meb would have fun faster than he ever has in his career at age 38 without doing something different training-wise, that’s not gonna happen. The fact that he changed his training is what led him to be able to do that.” 

Maybe when I am 38 years old, I will agree. Although I enjoyed my ElliptiGO experience, I am not a complete believer—yet. But I will say, with the glide factor, riding an ElliptiGO is way easier than going out for a run. And, the ElliptiGO fills a void that long distance running often lacks: pure speed. You can go really fast on an ElliptiGO, and there is a sense of weightlessness while riding it. You are guaranteed to have fun on board.

You’re also guaranteed to get some really weird looks from strangers. 

*Helmets are recommended for ElliptiGO riding.

Read More

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Outside GOOur hottest adventure-travel tips and trips. Sent occasionally.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Subscribe
to Outside
Save Over
70%

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!

Categories

Authors

Advertisement

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

Previous Posts

2014

2013

2012

Blog Roll

Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.