Bicycle mapping software boosts pedal power

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2013 - 4:12 PM

Biking enthusiast and bootstrap entrepreneur Doug Shidell is taking his mapping expertise online with the launch of Bikeverywhere.com.

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Doug Shidell, who has been publishing the Twin Cities Bike Map since 1984, recently launched the website www.bikeverywhere.com.

Photo: Neal St. Anthony , Star Tribune

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 Doug Shidell is an innovator in the bicycle mapping business and an entrepreneur who still works a part-time day job.

Shidell has influenced the now-booming business of recreational and commuter bicycling. Over the last decade, he’s sold 78,000 copies of his Twin Cities Bike Map, complete with a water-repellent paper so water runs off when you’re trying to navigate the trail from Alexandria to Lake Carlos in a July rainstorm.

He’s invested about $50,000 of his own money and countless hours to recently launch www.bikeverywhere.com, his first interactive map project with a bevy of helpful features. For a yearly cost of $12, bike enthusiasts can find and map trips throughout the Twin Cities, Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Shidell, a fit 62-year-old thanks to a healthy diet and plenty of cycling, has yet to strike it rich. He still works three days weekly as a business analyst at Quality Bicycle Parts (QBP) in Bloomington.

He said he invested too much early on with software developers who initially made things too complicated. Still, he lived within a budget laid down by his wife, who also has a day job. He agreed that he wouldn’t refinance their debt-free house or cash out their retirement funds.

Unable to borrow money from a bank or raise capital from angel investors, Shidell used a book — “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses,’’ by Eric Ries — as his entrepreneurial guide to developing Bikeverywhere.com. The site offers helpful features, such as overlays that can be clicked to show where there are public bathrooms, water stops, campgrounds and other amenities along bicycle routes that range from a 90-minute ride in the Twin Cities to a ­several-day sojourn.

Bikeverywhere.com merges information into a mapping application that uses Geographical Information Systems (GIS) data to position roads, points of interest, and type of terrain in a way that lets riders use layers to explore and map customized routes that can be saved on laptops or mobile devices, shared and printed.

“I also want to add a lot more information to the site ... and improvements to the user interface that would make the site more interactive,” Shidell said last week. “Right now, I’m working on the launch. I’ve been slowly spreading the word so I can get early adapters on the site. I’m hoping they will uncover most of the start-up bugs before the general public learns about the site.”

Shidell is a bit of a perfectionist in an industry where competitors’ maps are readily available for free from the likes of Google, Yahoo and local governments.

For example, a neighborhood friend and collaborator, Les Phillips, said Shidell for years would ride every trail and road he included in a map, oftentimes rechecking every three years, to ensure the route was accurate and the services and landmarks were as advertised in his guides.

Shidell, a one-time bike mechanic, was one of the first people hired more than 30 years ago at Bloomington-based QBP, the 600-employee manufacturer/distributor of bicycles and parts.

“Doug’s an accomplished biking author and cartographer,” QBP founder and President Steve Flagg, said last week.

“He’s researched the digital-mapping process and it will be interesting to see if he gets traction with Bikeverywhere.com. He’s worked hard and works here only three days a week so he can be his own entrepreneur and venture capitalist. I’m proud of him.”

Just two weeks into the public launching of Bikeverywhere.com, Shidell said about four out of every 100 visitors to his site so far are “converting” to paid memberships. His goal is an 8 percent conversion rate, “which will tell me I’m resonating with bicyclists.’’

Shidell won’t quit his day job until he’s grossing $40,000 or so annually from the site.

“I’ve always made revenue from bike maps and writing,” Shidell said. “But never enough to go out on my own. But I’m a simple liver and I can live on a lot less than $40,000 a year. I’ll know when to quit ... when I know I can hold my own.’’

Besides, Shidell considers his impact in more than dollars.

“I’ve been publishing the Twin Cities Bike Map since 1984, and since 2002, I’ve sold over 78,000 Twin Cities maps,” Shidell said. “Magers and Quinn, the Uptown bookseller, tells me that my map is the third-best seller for their store every summer. Most of my sales are through bike stores, not traditional bookstores.”

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