Barney takes a look at the ideas behind komoot, and what it can offer the The Modern, Up-To-Date Mountain Biker Of Now.
I am, I think it’s fair to say, a bit of a luddite. I’m not the first adopter of the spangly technological newness, by a stratospherically long chalk. With lots of new things, I wait until the first iteration’s totally broken, and they release a second one with all of the issues fixed. I then wait some more, so that version three has been released, and I’ll tremulously hand over some cash for a second hand version of version two. It’s a cunning system, based on shrewd market observation, and astonishing tightfistedness.
When it comes to biking, I was a late adopter of full suspension (I am now, mostly, a firm advocate). I was frankly terrified of the mere prospect of bleeding hydraulic disc brakes (that’s bleeding as both verb and pejorative), and by the time I’d plucked up the courage to service my first pair of suspension forks (1996 Judys, fact fans), the elastomers had crumbled to dust, and the stanchions resembled tree trunks.
With the relentless marching of digital progress into our heretofore staunchly analogue mechanical sport, I’ve looked askance at such horrific jeejaws as electronic damping (I was right about that one) and bar-mounted GPS devices (I was wrong about those; mine is ace). And, as smartphones have replaced everything from bike computers to GPS devices to (apparently) humanity’s ability to attend to anything other than the hand held idiot-box, there are naturally apps springing up left, right and centre which aim to augment the mountain biking experience.
It’s not all about the rarrrrrgh
Competition is A Good Thing. Whether it’s to pit yourself against your mates, or to simply compete against a past version of yourself, it can work to help make you faster, stronger, a better rider. And of course, there are plenty of apps for that. And yes, being a better rider will of course enhance your experience. But just as important is finding the cool stuff – experience as the primary goal. Where it’s not as much about *how* you ride, as where you ride, and the experiences you have along the way.
And where there’s a need, there’s an app (I think that’s how the saying goes), and it’s called komoot.
It’s a komoot Point
So what’s the point of komoot if you can’t use it to metaphorically rip your mates a new one online? Well, it’s not a program that you can compete on (well, you can time yourself, but that’s incidental); nor is it a basic ‘follow the route’ app. Essentially, the whole philosophy of the thing is built upon the idea of ‘experiences’.
Yes, you can, of course, record what you’re riding, as you’re riding it, and how long it takes – as you can with many many other apps. But that’s the very least you can do with komoot.
Spread the love
On a basic level, let’s say you come across a sweet bit of trail that you find reassuringly nadgery-but-cleanable. Or even ‘no way in hell’ rideable, but you think that someone else might fancy a challenge. Or you just think the view is cool: whatever. You can take a photo, and upload it to komoot as a highlight with your phone. A couple of words of description, and you’re done! It’s there for everyone to see, and if they like the look of it, they can have a go themselves. You can even do it at home after the ride, if you like.
And when you do get back home, if you want to put a route together you can choose a start point and an end point, and the software picks the best way from one to the other. If it’s missed a highlight you fancy, you can add it to the route. And the software will find the best way to get there, based on the activity you’re participating in – hiking, running, mountain biking, bike touring or road biking. You can even do this on your mobile too – and you can add your highlights to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Lend me your Pioneers
Actually, there is a sort of competitive element to it, thinking about it: the ‘Pioneer’ and ‘Expert’ categories. Each time you generate a highlight, other users can like it online – and if enough people do, you become an ‘expert’. Get the most votes in a given area, and you become a ‘Pioneer’, which basically entitles you to stand on a craggy hilltop, squinting into the sun adventurously while frost plays around your beard (I’m assured it’s not necessary to actually have a beard – perhaps they provide them?). A bit competitive then, sure, but with less embrocation and or massaging of your legs (unless you *really* want to), and more actually sharing cool stuff with people, more steely adventuring and more – er – squinting into the middle distance like a mighty Outdoors God.
Talking Utter Map
There are, of course, plenty of pitfalls when it comes to digital mapping in the UK – there’s the cost of OS mapping if you’re trying to get a hold of it offline, and a lot of the alternatives are – uh – less than detailed. Komoot uses OpenStreetMap (OSM), which is (as you might expect) open source – it’s a collective effort, written by countless thousands of people with experience of the places they’re describing. And so honestly, it’s pretty good. It’s actually quite a lot more detailed in many ways than the regular OS map – even in 1:25,000.
The other thing which is pretty neat is the amount of way type information; singletrack, forest road, path and so on – and there are sports specific maps available too. So you can get specific info on the types of terrain you’d be covering when hiking, cycling or mountain biking too. This last uses the ‘single trail scale’ grading system all the way from S0 (wide path, gravel or soft earth, devoid of difficulty) all the way up to S5 (incredibly tight hairpins, little to no braking time, blocked terrain, extreme steepness – basically, monumentally AARGH).
You can download all of these maps and routes to use off-line, there’s (actually good) turn-by turn voice navigation if you like that sort of thing, and you can use the routes with Wahoo and Garmin GPS devices if you don’t want to get your precious phone covered in industrial grade levels of clart. It all ties into a neat package.
Who’s on the komooter Run
Komoot was started in 2010 by six outdoorsy types from Germany and the Austrian Alps. It’s a distributed company – although its HQ is in Potsdam, its 65-ish employees work remotely, all over Europe, getting together every three months somewhere hilly to catch up (and, more often than not), ride bikes and generally adventure about a bit. Although the company may be spread out, the ethos is definitely on starting experiences with people – preferably in person, but through the app as the next best thing.
And so far, it’s doing pretty well. At present, it’s the largest outdoor App in Europe – no small claim, this; komoot claims that it’s used by 8.5 million people throughout the continent.
In the words of one of the founders, Jonas Spengler, “We believe that every day spent outside exploring is a valuable day; more valuable than anything you can buy. At the end of your life, you will look back not on the things you owned but on the things you experienced — we help people experience more”.
Which is a pretty sweet philosophy, whichever way you slice it.