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A great app-ortunity

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December 2020 Issue

Kingston cartographer Gary Patterson developed the Great Rides App to enhance the cycle trail experience for riders.

Getting lost on a trail rarely amounts to much good, but for cartographer Gary Patterson, it sparked a life-changing idea.

After becoming disoriented on the Alps 2 Ocean trail, he realised there was a gap in the market for a Great Rides app, so over a drink and fries in Twizel he ironed out the details later that day.

Five years on, the app has nearly 50,000 users and has become Patterson’s full-time job.

“After I made it live, I had 6000 users after about six months, the following year 12,000, then 25,000. This year I was going for 50 but COVID knocked the figures a bit,” he says.

The app is GPS enabled, works offline, and has 1500 pages of information and images, all of it provided by Patterson.

The process of building the app was “pretty intensive”, requiring Patterson to cycle each of the great rides with three GPS devices, two cameras and his phone.

“I took photos of anything relevant; huts, toilets, historic points, lookouts – I had a couple of hundred photos for each trail,” he says.

Deciding early on to keep the app free for users, Patterson sells advertising to the many services riders may require, from accommodation to transport and food.

“I wanted people to be able to use it without restrictions, so I took the harder path,” he says.

Patterson says the Great Rides haven’t captured the international market the way Great Walks have.

“About 90 per cent of riders are Kiwi, five per cent are Australian, and five per cent from the rest of the world – it’s a very Kiwi thing to do,” he says.

Patterson rates the Great Rides for their diversity.

“The Great Walks are a bit same-ish, and follow a similar formula,” he says.

“With the Great Rides, there is such a great diversity – some are really easy and others are more challenging. You can get right into the remote backcountry, like on the Old Ghost Road, and other rides are completely urban – you can visit a vineyard one day, and bungee the next.”