What Is Elevation Gain In Cycling And Why Is It Useful?

Have you ever been on a bike ride and felt like you were climbing mountains?

Understanding elevation gain in cycling is key to tracking progress, pushing boundaries, and having an all-around enjoyable ride.

Knowing the elevation gain of a route can be the difference between an exhilarating challenge or an exhausting slog.

In this article, we will explore what elevation gain is in cycling and why it matters, as well as some helpful tools for measuring your own gains.

Let’s dive right in!

What Is Elevation Gain In Cycling?

In cycling, elevation gain can be an important factor in the difficulty of your ride.

To put it simply, elevation gain is how much you climb uphill (vertical distance) over the course of a ride.

Take for example two rides—one on flat terrain and one with hills.

On the flat ride, there may not be any noticeable changes in elevation throughout the route.

However, if you take a hilly ride where you’re constantly climbing and descending steep inclines, then that same distance could come with a much higher cumulative elevation gain than what was found on the first route.

Elevation gain is usually measured in feet or meters above sea level.


As long as you count up all the elevation increases, any descending done during the ride doesn’t factor into your total elevation gain calculation.

So, if you climb 50 meters, descend 20 meters, and climb another 50 meters, the total elevation gain is still 100 meters.

Knowing this number helps you gauge just how difficult your ride may have been compared to some other routes they have ridden before.

What’s The Point Of Knowing Your Elevation Gain?

I find it incredibly useful to know my elevation gain when cycling.

It helps me set achievable goals, track my progress, and helps me understand the type of gradient I’m comfortable with.

Understanding the elevation gain of a ride can give you an accurate sense of how challenging it will be.

It provides a necessary context that helps you prepare and plan for the effort ahead.

You can use it to track your overall progress with endurance in terms of following more difficult courses over time.


So, if you’re preparing for a race that involves a 1,000-meter elevation gain, it’s best to start training with a ride that’s slightly less, like 600 or 700 meters.

This way, you’re gradually building up your fitness levels while still giving yourself the chance to challenge yourself further.

You can also use elevation gain as a way to mark your progress and set yearly or continual goals for yourself every time you go on the bike.

Noting long-term increases in cycle climbs is both motivating as well as rewarding in terms of gauging your achievements across multiple rides within a given year or beyond.

What Counts As Flat Terrain In Cycling?

Flat terrains are typically characterized by low elevation gain and minimal vertical distance traveled compared to the horizontal distance.

To be precise, any pathways with a gradient of less than 1% are considered flat terrains.

Being a cyclist myself, I ride across flat terrain countless times and can confidently say it’s an ideal place for improving speed and endurance.

Going on flat roads is also great for recovery days or just leisurely rides.

The flat terrain makes for an enjoyable and peaceful ride as you won’t have any difficult inclines or declines that could otherwise slow down your progress.


You get to take in the beautiful scenery at your own pace without having to worry about making the climb back up again.

I prefer riding on hilly terrain, as it offers more of a challenge and really pushes me out of my comfort zone.

But, even seasoned riders like myself enjoy the occasional flat ride where there are fewer obstacles and you can focus more on developing technique instead of putting in maximum effort all the time.

Why Is Cycling With Elevation Gain (Uphill) Good For You?

Climbing hills and tackling steep climbs can be a daunting task for cyclists, but it’s one that holds many rewards.

For seasoned riders, climbing is an essential part of their training ride.

But even for the casual cyclist, adding elevation gain to a workout provides numerous benefits including:

  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Increased fitness levels
  • Improved leg strength and power
  • Better calories and fat burning

For starters, when you cycle with elevation, your heart must work harder to pump blood throughout your body and can become stronger over time.

Regular cardiovascular exercise like cycling can help strengthen your lungs and reduce the risk of certain diseases or illnesses.


Cycling with elevation gain can also improve your leg strength and power.

As with any other kind of exercise aimed at building muscle, when you’re cycling up a hill or incline your muscles have to work a lot harder than they would on flat terrain.

With regular workouts on challenging terrain comes increased stamina and endurance — allowing you to tackle tougher rides without feeling overly exhausted afterward.

So whether you’re looking for a challenge or just want some variety in your routine, adding elevation gain into your next cycle can bring powerful physical gains along with great satisfaction.

What Is The Best Way To Prepare For Cycling With High Elevations?

One of the key components to successful cycling with steep gradients is having a good training plan.

A well-planned program will help build your strength and endurance, as well as help you get accustomed to the gradients you’ll be riding.

Here are a few tips to help you train for high-altitude biking.

Get To Know The Course


Research which climbs you’ll be taking on and gain an understanding of their difficulty.

If possible, ride along parts of the route prior to your event so that you can gain a better sense of the steepness and distance.

Make sure to regularly push yourself into higher gear on flat terrain during rides leading up to your event, which will get your body used to working harder uphill.

This will give you a feeling for the slopes and let you know which parts will be the most challenging.

Train With Hill Repeats

To get ready for any kind of ascending, try doing a few hill runs of various inclines and lengths.

Look for a hill close by that is roughly a mile or two long and take your bike up and down it, pushing yourself each time to go faster.

This type of practice will help you become stronger and better able to last longer.

Add Threshold Intervals To The Mix

One fantastic way to get ready for hill climbing is to do threshold intervals on a stationary bike or in a spin class.

When you’re doing threshold intervals, you’re riding at or near your lactate threshold, which is the point when lactic acid accumulates in your muscles.

After a few minutes of cycling, you get a short rest and then you start again.

Doing these intervals will increase your VO2 max, which is the amount of oxygen your body can use, and also strengthen your leg muscles.

This makes it easier to climb hills and reach the top.

Off-The-Bike Training

Don’t forget about off-the-bike exercises like core work or running, which can bring more power when pushing into higher gears and holding a steady cadence up inclines.


Proper Fueling

When you’re working hard during your training or competition, especially in high-altitude areas, it’s essential that you take in enough food and liquids.

Make sure to bring enough snacks and drinks with you, and don’t forget to keep your energy up by refueling and drinking often, even if you don’t feel like it.

If you become dehydrated or your blood sugar is too low, your energy reserves will quickly deplete and make it harder to climb.

female cyclist drinking from water bottle

So, make sure to take care of yourself and stay hydrated.

With consistent practice, gradually build up your speed and endurance so that eventually, you can tackle longer distances considering any elevations along the way.

How To Calculate Elevation Gain

To begin, it’s important to understand the concept of gradient.

The gradient is used to quantify the incline of a certain stretch of road and is calculated by dividing the vertical distance (in meters) by the horizontal distance.

For example, if you’re climbing a 50-meter hill over a distance of 1000 meters, the gradient would be 50/1000 or 5%.

There is also an online calculator to determine the elevation increase of any routes.

What Devices Can I Use To Measure My Elevation Gain While Cycling?

Measuring elevation gain in cycling is a key metric for riders of all skill levels.

Knowing how much you’ve climbed can help inform your training and identify areas where you may need to focus your efforts.

The simplest way to track total climbing during a ride is by using an altimeter watch.

For those looking for more comprehensive information, GPS-enabled units like Garmin Edge computers offer even greater detail with route mapping capabilities and performance analysis features.

Below are a few popular options to measure elevation.


I’ve been using Strava app on my phone to track my rides for many years and it’s been a real game-changer for me. I think this app is a must-have for everyone.

The app has this great feature that allows you to measure your elevation gain on each ride, along with many other important metrics.

cyclist attach his phone with Strava app on

With this, I can get a better understanding of how much total elevation I’m gaining throughout the entire ride, as well as the average gradient and how much flat terrain there is.

For those looking to track their rides more accurately, Strava offers features like segment analysis and leaderboards where you can compare your results against others who have completed similar routes or ascents.

This allows you to set goals and push yourself further.

Google Maps

Google Maps has been a great tool for me when it comes to finding new cycling routes.

To get started, you’ll need to figure out where your route is going to take you and identify any potential hills or mountains that may pose an issue for your ride.

I love that it takes into account the cumulative elevation gain, so I can get an idea of how much climbing is involved in my ride.

I also appreciate that it gives me an indication of what kind of gradient to expect – whether it’s a flat road or a painful gradient for seasoned riders.

This way, I can plan ahead and make sure I’m not overexerting myself on any given route.

On top of this, Google Maps also gives me detailed information about the terrain, making it easier to choose routes that are suitable for my level of fitness.

Google maps elevation gain data

All in all, Google Maps has allowed me to discover and explore new cycling paths with confidence, which has made a huge difference in my training ride!

Of course, these numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt since GPS readings aren’t 100% accurate.

However, they can still serve as great indicators when planning rides around hilly areas.


I’ve been using my Fitbit to track my cycling for the past few months.

Whenever I go out for a ride, I now have all the data I need right at my fingertips, including total distance covered, speed, elevation gain, and more.

This has allowed me to monitor my progress and adjust my training sessions accordingly.

When properly configured and used with the right metrics, Fitbits are actually a great tool for measuring elevation gain when cycling.

man wearing fitbit

First of all, you’ll need to make sure that your Fitbit device has built-in GPS tracking (not all models have) so that the app can collect accurate location data while you ride.

Alternatively, connect your Fitbit to your phone’s GPS.

Once these steps are taken care of, you’re ready to start recording elevation gains during your rides.

As long as all of your settings were configured accurately beforehand, this will track several useful pieces of data such as duration time, distance traveled, calories burned, average speed, etc., including elevation gain over the course of your ride.

Bike Computers

The onboard computer has been instrumental in helping me track my progress as I cycle.

Simply attach the device to your bike handlebar to start tracking data.

With it, I’m able to monitor every aspect of my ride, such as total distance covered, speed, and elevation gain over a period of time.


Make sure to buy one that has built-in GPS so you don’t have to carry always carry your phone.

There are numerous models of onboard computers available, from basic designs with just the basics to more advanced models with a variety of features.

Some of the top-rated brands for biking computers are Garmin, Wahoo, and Bryton.

Final Thoughts

Elevation gain is an important metric for cyclists as it helps track and measure the difficulty of a ride.

By knowing the elevation gain, you can better plan your routes and training programs to improve your fitness and performance.

It’s also a great way to challenge yourself and set goals for future rides. So next time you hit the road, don’t forget to pay attention to the elevation gain and use it to your advantage.

Frequently Asked Questions

To adjust for cycling in elevation, make sure to use lower gears on climbs, as this will give you more torque and help make climbing easier.

Also, it’s important to vary your cadence while cycling in elevation – mix up faster and slower speeds to avoid fatigue.

The average elevation gain for any cycling route can vary drastically.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a flat route, you might barely experience any elevation gain, but if you’re tackling a hilly course, you could be looking at over 1000 feet of elevation gain.

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