Because pain is the sign of
weakness leaving your body

Edge & Spoke Sufferin' Summits Passport 2 Pain RAMROD 7 Hills of Kirkland
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I live in the Seattle area, at the top of a hill, and that means that for most of my rides, I have a climb of a few hundred feet to get back to my house. When I first started riding more seriously, I started looking for the easiest way to get home. As you know, it's not very easy to tell the gradient of a climb when you drive it, so I started asking around on the Microsoft bicycling email list, and got some good tips. This scene is repeated as other people started cycling.

But there was no good list of climbs - both for the people who wanted to find the climbs, and for those who wanted to avoid them. There was a list of a few climbs maintained by Larry Kemp, but it didn't list all the ones I cared about, and with Larry's tragic death in the spring of 2004, there was a void to be filled.

I'd been toying with measure gradients for a while. There are small level vials that you can get that mount on your bike, GPS-based bicycle computers, barometric bicycle computers, and topographical programs. I even wrote a C# program that worked with my GPS hooked to my laptop, so I could drive around and measure hills. I ended up buying Topo USA from Delorme.

Then everything simmered on the back burner until Google Maps showed up, and that led to this site.

It's gone through a couple of revisions since then; a Silverlight version that never got out of beta, and the new fancy version.

Adding Climbs

To get started:

  1. Goto to the login page, and create a login
  2. Send me an email asking for access to create climbs. If you want to enter them for a new region, tell me what the region is.

This will let you add climbs. The routes are drawn on the map the same way you'd draw any other route using Google Maps.

Data Sources and Quality

The elevation data that drives the site comes from the USGS. The system takes the route that is drawn on the map, figures out the low and high points, and then uses those points to determine the elevation gain, length, and to draw the graph.

The USGS data is pretty good over the distance of a climb, so if it says that a climb has 245 feet of elevation gain, that's probably pretty close to the real value. Due to the noise in the data, however, it's not very good to figure out the gradient along the way, so the graphs may not reflect reality.

The maximum gradient is created by taking the elevation data, lightly massaging it, and then looking for the steepest part. It tends to overestimate gradient when there is wierdness in the elevation data - which is often - and it tends to underestimate it a bit when the climbs are steep. So, don't take it too seriously, and please don't tell me that the site says a climb is 13% but you saw 15% on your computer.

The drawn path is lightly massaged, but is in general a bit better than the maximum gradient. There are some climbs out there that still have old data on them, so if you find one where the data looks weird, let me know, and I'll fix it. Or, I'll tell you how.   

Eric Gunnerson