Because pain is
the sign of
weakness leaving your body
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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 message board, and got some good tips. This scene was 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 a few months ago.
Then everything simmered on the back burner until Google Maps showed up, and that led to this site.
You can now enter climbs dynamically. To get started:
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 a guess, and if you have a better value than listed, let me know.