Loose cannon correspondent David Bristow outlines the plan for a people’s network of mountain bike trails across South Africa. It’s called Dragon Trax, it’s free and it’s super cool. Here’s how it came about and how it works. Photography by David Bristow.
When the Daytripper, Steve Thomas and I conceived the Spine of the Dragon trail, we had the Big Idea of it being, or becoming, the people’s trail. It was not going to be a race, or an event. It was – and is – just a route, one anyone (well, just about anyone) could do at any time, and at any pace they pleased.
Crucial to achieving this was creating GPS tracks, and for this I have to thank Steve, aka Henry the Navigator. We began by uploading 58 tracks, one for each daily leg of the Spine trail, and we put them all on our Spine of the Dragon website. I believe it was somewhere in the Great Karoo, when the riding was easy but the days were unnaturally long and boring.
At one point Steve rode up to me and expounded the idea of creating a network or “people’s trails” all across South Africa.
“Dude,” I said to him. “Let’s focus on the problem at hand. We’re only about halfway home there. Let’s get this one done and we can start thinking about other stupid things to do.”
I think I upset him, because he took off in a thin plume of dust and we didn’t talk again until we got to Steytlerville that evening. But the idea stuck like a burr in my riding shorts and over the next bunch of days and weeks we discussed how it would work.
Once we’d got the Spine of the Dragon route nailed, documented on the MTBradar, we would build a website that would be a repository of GPS tracks, for all MTB tracks, all across South Africa. Ha-ha-ha. That was more than two years ago. But the good news is that, not only has the Spine route now established itself as a Really Big bucket list ride, it looks like we have engineered our Dragon Trax site to actually work something like we envisaged it.
So, forgetting all the back-end engineering that went in to making the site, as “they” say, agnostic (i.e. able to upload and download GPS tracks from and to any device), how does it work? Simply we hope for you, but not so for our ever-cheerful web designer Bruce of Mnemomic.
So, the Big Idea is that mountain bikers across the land can get any GPS track to any trail in the land, for free. Why? Because it’s the people’s trail, or trails, remember, and because we can. Any time you go on holiday to say Cape Town, or Cape St Francis, or the Drakensberg, you go to the Dragon Trax website (www.dragontrax.co.za) and download the tracks the other good people have uploaded. Because mountain bikers are like that. Most of us would all be hippies if the bikes didn’t cost so much and we didn’t have to work so hard to afford them.
In this way, we all have access to all the amazing open-to-the-public MTB tracks across South Africa. To get this thing going we have put all the Spine of the Dragon tracks on the Dragon Traxsite. The site is organized by province and then region. To use the site you merely have to register and enter a password. Then you upload (submit) the tracks you have amassed (we all store our GPS tracks don’t we!). As the old saying goes, or if it doesn’t it should – what goes around comes around; or, the more you give the more you get.
To upload you first have to load your track or tracks onto a computer: the code has to be converted in one of the popular GPS software formats like Map Source, as actual GPS tracks are Greek to a computer. Whatever program you use to play with, your tracks will do. From there you open Dragon Trax, click on “upload track” and a form will pop up. It asks for the info you would want to have for any track, like where it is, is there an entry fee, secure parking, a grading and so on. Even where the nearest coffee is!
When that is done, the web master (that’s usually me but it could be Steve or Bruce) gets a notice to verify the information (like the trail is legit and open to the public) and then it’s up and good to go.
Thereafter you can download any track you want, gratis. How easy is that? They also say, somewhere, that many of the best ideas are really quite simple ones. How simple is this one, and how cool! Except for Bruce that is, who has spent many dark hours these past few years getting the back end working.
But before you all go rushing off to download tracks to your next secret holiday spot, let’s lay down one rule of honour: if you are going to download tracks, you should upload at least one – if only to uphold the basic age-old truism that there is no free lunch. Or mountain bike trail.
If you are not sure what to do or how to go about it, you can contact me at email@example.com, or failing that (I’ll be travelling all over Africa this year and not home much), Steve the Daytripper at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you find the site is not being nice to you, you can send a query to our webmaster Bruce at email@example.com. One thing, please start the subject line with DRAGON TRAX or you risk having your mail fall into the great morass of cyber noise.
So I have a dream, that in a year or two from now, we can all go to Dragon Trax and there we’ll find the GPS tracks of all the cool mountain bike tracks in South Africa, and maybe beyond!
Sometimes big things have the most humble of starts. Like when Adam said to Eve “Stand back, I’m not sure how big this thing gets.”
And that, as my hero Forrest Gump would say, is all I have to say about that … for now. Ladies and Gentlemen, load your tracks and let’s ride!
Sus Dragon Trax
Upload & Download free GPS MTB routes
David Bristow: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Thomas: email@example.com
Bruce the Webmaster: firstname.lastname@example.org