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About


MTBtrails.info came into existence because of a feeling that there was no single place on the internet which brought together information on all kinds of mountain biking trails in the UK. There was also no obvious place for people who have discovered and enjoyed a particular trail to tell others about it in a way which genuinely makes it easy for someone else to figure out whether that trail is suitable for them, and in a way which allows that someone to physically find and ride the trail. Particularly with locally established natural trails it is very easy to spend a whole day in a forest riddled with fantastic trails and miss most if not all of them simply because you don’t know exactly where to look.

Now that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 has given us the outdoor access code in Scotland (with all its rights and responsibilities for cyclists), mountain bikers in Scotland have a legitimate right to roam the forests and hills in pursuit of great mountain bike trails. It's a little harder in the rest of the UK, but there's still loads of great trails out there. But they shouldn’t be a secret known only to those living right next door, they should be known to anyone willing to give them a go, shouldn’t they?

The primary objectives of this site are as follows:-
  • To bring trail information together in one place for all types of mountain biking in the UK, as a free resource for the benefit of the whole mountain biking community.
  • To use the “Web 2.0” concept of user generated content to gradually build a much more comprehensive, detailed, and up-to-date information resource than would ever be possible if the information were to come from a single source. (see below)
  • To properly take advantage of recent advances in technology which make it possible for a website such as this to provide an incredibly rich impression of the reality of a particular trail well before actually going out to ride it. (see below)
  • To allow a consistently applied set of trail statistics to be used to easily compare and contrast all the trails across the country.

Crowd-sourced information


No one person, or one organisation can ever possibly hope to keep up-to-date with the ever changing landscape of what’s happening on the ground at all the mountain biking venues across the country. Current online lists which attempt to do this are out-of-date almost the minute they are published, and never include anything about local ‘non-official’ trails.

MTBtrails.info relies on the fact that there are hundreds of people out there enjoying the sport every day, many of whom have a desire to share their experiences. So why not share them in a central location under a structure that makes every little individual contribution accumulate and add to the usefulness of an overall resource for the benefit of the entire mountain biking community. Hopefully, the site also makes capturing that passing thought or comment as easy as it possibly could be (see below), and more rewarding than it otherwise would be too.

So, this is not a place for one person or one organisation to tell you the way things are. It is a place for the mountain biking community as a whole to come together and create a hugely valuable resource which is free, open to all, and full of local knowledge not easily discoverable elsewhere.

Our philosophy on information editing


Making it as easy as possible for people to contribute to the body of knowledge on the site has been treated as a high priority in the design of the site. You must be logged-in in order to make any contributions to the site, but beyond that there are very few limitations on who can edit what. Any changes which are simply vandalism can be very easily ‘undone’ by any of the site’s Trusted users. So the concept is to rely on the community itself to quality control the information as it accumulates. This bias towards gathering as much as possible and filtering out the ‘noise’ has the advantage of capturing potentially valuable insights from anyone who cares to share their thoughts. Those with experience of Wikipedia will recognise this as being very similar to the way they encourage anyone to contribute by removing as many barriers to them doing so as possible, and rely on the community to keep any problems under control.

Most people who want to use the site much will want to create an account (Click here for details). This is encouraged by having the process of creating an account extremely quick and painless. There are no requests for unnecessary personal details. The only thing which is required is a valid email address and proof that you are a human being (i.e. not a script), which once validated will allow the account to automatically and immediately go live.

The technology mash-up


In recent years several key technological advances have taken place and become publically available in a way which has allowed MTBtrails.info to create an incredibly feature rich ‘mash-up’. The result of this for users is a very intuitive active map based way of discovering trails, each of which have detailed GPS data and automatically calculated statistics, routes plotted on full 1:50k OS maps, pictures, videos etc.

  • Google Maps is the now ubiquitous active mapping system on the web. But it’s recent API release and its elevation service allow a very neat user interface on the site (including a consistently applied elevation profile for every trail, and auto calculated statistics).
  • OS OpenSpace is a very recent change for the Ordinance Survey allowing FREE access to their entire 1:50k raster mapping for the UK. This mapping (still sold in the shops as their ‘Land Ranger’ Maps) had previously only been available by paying for it (or using a service which paid for it somehow).
  • The proliferation of GPS devices is a big change in recent years. Not only is it now inexpensive to purchase a rugged purpose built outdoor-pursuit type GPS device, but many mobile phones have GPS receiver hardware built right in. This means the number of people out there who are able to both use and generate GPS data has rocketed.
  • GPS Babel is an open-source software project which provides an interpreter between the myriad of manufacturer specific GPS data formats out there. This software gives MTBtrails.info the very user friendly capability of reading-in or outputting just about any type of GPS file you wish (click here for a detailed list).
  • YouTube is already the first choice for mountain bikers out there who want an easy way of sharing their exploits. But YouTube have recently created an API which allows MTBtrails.info to act as a window onto a particular set of videos as appropriate (e.g. per venue or trail). It also allows us to perform automated searches, and to access and store video meta-data. All of which gives video on the site a very ‘integrated’ feel.

Who created the site?


I have tried to keep references to me as an individual to a minimum on the site because I see it as a collaborative project and I want as many people as possible to get involved. But basically I am just a keen mountain biker with a desire to have better access to detailed trail information online.

How is the site funded?


Right now the overheads of running the servers are minimal and so funding is not an issue. However, as the site becomes more heavily used it may be necessary to move to a more capable hosting environment (which will incur more significant cost). So at some point we may make a call for donations, or (reluctantly) allow some minimal advertising on the site.


Site Structure


This page provides an overview of the fundamental structure of how information is organised on MTBtrails.info.

Venues and Trails


All the trails on the system can be accessed from the main ‘Trails’ page (simply click on the ‘Trails’ link in the main navigation bar). From there you can browse the trails in various ways.

Trails are stored in the system in groupings referred to as ‘Venues’. As a rule of thumb a venue can be thought of as a meeting point, car park, or trail-head to which a typical mountain biker might drive in order to access one or more trails. This means that particularly for ‘Natural’ and ‘Epic’ trails which tend to be out on their own, there will be many examples of venues with only a single trail (and that is perfectly ok). A venue is a meeting-point on the map, a trail has a whole sequence of points forming a route.

Venues:-
  • Can not exist without at least one trail in them
  • Can contain an unlimited number of trails
Trails:-
  • Can only exist inside a venue

The following diagram illustrates the above along with some detail of how the various types of information can be stored in this structure.




Pictures and Videos


A Picture album is a group of pictures which were uploaded together. A video is a YouTube video which has been identified to be included on the site.

As can be seen in the above structure diagram, both picture albums and videos can exist against an individual trail, or against the overall venue itself. If your pictures or video is not exclusively showing a particular trail it is best to allocate it against the venue. However, it helps the user to know what they are looking at if it is possible to allocate photos and videos against a particular trail where appropriate.


GPS Data


GPS data is pivotal to the way MTBtrails.info works. This data is used in order for the ‘Trail Viewer’ to provide active maps and elevation profiles, and it is also used to automatically calculate various trail statistics in a consistent manner across all the trails in the system. As a result, a trail can not exist on the system without a GPS file. This data file can come from either:-
  • A GPS or mapping software file uploaded by the user.
Or,
  • The ‘Point & Click’ Route Editor built into the site itself.
Either way, each trail must contain a single GPS file, and can not contain more than one (if you have more than one GPS file you want to upload, you need to create a trail for each).


Locations (Primary & Additional)


Each venue must have a ‘Primary’ location, which defines the point on the map to which people will go to in order to access the trails at that venue. However, a venue can also have a number of ‘Additional’ locations defined against it. These are intended to cater for situations where a group of trails has more than one car-park, or more than one starting point from which the trails at that venue can be accessed.


Star Ratings & User Comments


Star ratings are awarded to trails by users according to their opinion of them. This is intended to be a simplistic metric for the user’s overall like or dislike of a particular trail. The intension is that the user will enter a comment along with their rating to express any detail about why they have rated the trail as they have.

The trail’s overall rating is simply the mean average of these ratings (each individual rating along with any comments entered is also listed against each trail). It is also possible to enter a comment against a trail without providing a rating. These ‘un-rated’ comments do not affect the trail’s overall rating.

The ‘Venue Rating’ which is displayed at the top right of each venue page is calculated as the mean average of all the overall trail ratings which have been calculated at that venue. As such this ‘Venue Rating’ is really just an average of the ratings for the trails at the venue in question (i.e. it is not a separate opinion of the venue itself). Thus, users can’t award a rating for a venue as a whole. However, to give people the opportunity to express their views on the venue as a whole, you can enter comments directly against the venue.


Change History



The ‘Venue Page’ can be thought of as the central hub of all information relating to a particular venue. The underlying concept is that the venue page itself displays the ‘current’ version of all the information, but that all changes made in the past are each recorded and listed out in the ‘Change History’ page for that venue.

Amongst the reasons for having a change history are that:-
  • It provides a public record of who changed what, when, and in some cases (if the user leaves notes) why.
  • It allows everyone to see how recent the various pieces of information are, and how actively a particular venue is being edited.
  • It allows ‘Trusted’ users an easy way to detect vandalism, and an easy way to revert it back to a previous version if needed.
  • It allows notification of any changes or additions to be emailed out to those users who have explicitly expressed an interest in that particular venue.
It is very easy to toggle back and forward between a venue page and its change history using the two large buttons at the top right of each venue page (illustrated here opposite).

Once in the change history you will see that an entry is created in the list for absolutely any addition or change to anything which shows up in the venue page itself. Each entry in the list has a button next to it. The function of this button depends on the type of change. For example, in the case of changes to the main ‘Venue Details’ (i.e. the venue title, main description, location, facilities, etc.) this button takes you to a page which clearly highlights exactly what was changed.