Comparing mountain bike trails

imagenibp.jpgWith the ongoing intersection of technology and mountain biking there have been some recent efforts to quantify and compare mountain bike trails. While the idea may sounds strange, some interesting progress has been made.

The International Bike Parameters Index (IBP Index) “is an index that values the difficulty of a mountain bike route or a road bike route” using GPS data collected on the bike. For example, you can upload your GPS data from a ride and the IBP Index will calculate things like distance and the grade along the route. I tried the index for a few rides with mixed results and I concluded the usefulness really depends on the quality of your GPS data. TopoFusion includes two similar indices for GPS tracks, one called the “difficulty index,” and the other the “effort index.” While the numbers don’t mean anything when taken by themselves, they are useful to compare across rides to get an idea of relative difficulty.

Here on singletracks we’ve even taken a stab at quantifying the technical aspects of mountain biking. Using the IMBA trail difficulty rating system we give members the chance to rate the technical difficulty of mountain bike trails around the world. Those ratings are then aggregated leading to an average or consensus rating for each trail. Such a rating would be difficult to compile without software and the distributed nature of the internet–yet another way technology is helping quantify MTB trails.

In the end though, no amount of technology or group polling will ever fully quantify a mountain bike trail. Even if you could take things into account like scenery, tread, and the like, could a number ever really communicate what it’s like to ride a mountain bike trail? It would be like trying to compare your friends–sure some friends are better than others but really they’re just different and you like them each for different reasons. Instead of relying on a rating, why not get out and ride for yourself–you might just be surprised at what you find!

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