What is Elevation Gain in Cycling? How to Calculate it and Use it to Increase Your Power

By Falk Baumann •  Updated: 09/25/22 •  7 min read

You know that feeling when you’re pedaling up a hill and it feels like your lungs are about to burst?

Personally, I love that feeling which is why I moved to an area with lots of mountains. But if you’re like most of my riding partners you’d probably rather be cruising in the flats.

If you’re a cyclist, you’ve probably heard the term “elevation gain” thrown around quite a bit. But what is elevation gain? How do you calculate it? And what can you do with it to improve your cycling performance?

The amount of elevation gain is one of the most influential aspects of a ride that may affect a cyclist’s performance. It’s a crucial factor in bicycle rides and may affect other stats.

In this article, we explore the relevance of elevation gain in cycling, discussing its calculation and the ideal values that you should aim for.

What is elevation gain in cycling?

Elevation gain is simply the total amount of uphill climbing that you do in a given ride. It’s usually expressed in feet or meters, and you can calculate it by simply adding up all the elevation changes along your route.

For example, let’s say you’re riding a hilly loop that has two big climbs, one of which is 300 feet (91 meters) and the other is 200 feet (61 meters). The total elevation gain for that ride would be 500 feet (152 meters).

Any descending done during your ride doesn’t factor into calculating elevation gain. So if you descend 100 feet (30 meters) after your first climb and then only do the second climb your total elevation gain will still be 500 feet (152 meters).

Mountainbikers overlooking mountains with lots of elevation gain

Gaining elevation is a challenge for bikers. This is because it takes a lot less effort to cover 50 kilometers on level ground than it does to cover the same distance when climbing 1,000 meters. Therefore, the number of hills is taken into account when assessing the level of difficulty of a ride.

While every cyclist has his or her preferred ride metrics, certain metrics, like elevation gain, are unique to climbing and are thus of interest only to climbers.

While the total elevation gain of your ride may not be very large, riding across terrain with rapid ups and downs is more taxing. If you are training for a bike competition you may find rides with climbs useful every once in a while.

Climbing puts a heavy strain on the muscles since you need to use greater force to keep moving upward. Two uphill rides each week are recommended to build strength and endurance in hilly terrain.

Why is it useful to know your elevation gain?

Knowing your elevation gain can be helpful in a few different ways.

First, it can give you a better sense of how challenging a given ride will be. If you’re trying to increase your endurance, you can use elevation gain to gauge your progress from one ride to the next.

For example, let’s say you’re training for a big competition that has 5000 feet (1524 meters) of elevation gain. If you’re able to complete a training ride with 3000 feet (915 meters) of elevation gain, then you know you’re making good progress.

Second, elevation gain can be a useful tool for setting training goals.

If you want to get better at climbing, for example, you can use elevation gain to track your progress and set new challenges for yourself. For instance, you might try to beat your previous best time up a steep hill or see how much elevation you can gain in a day.

Finally, elevation gain can also help plan your rides. If you’re trying to avoid big hills, for example, you can use elevation data to find mostly flat routes. Or if you’re looking for a new challenge, you can use elevation data to find the biggest hills in your area.

How do I calculate elevation gain?

In cycling, the steepness of a climb is commonly expressed as a percentage.

The term “gradient” is used to quantify the incline of a certain stretch of road. A road with a 0 percent gradient is perfectly level, whereas a road with a greater gradient is steeper than a road with a lower gradient. A road with a negative gradient slopes downward.

The gradient of a climb is calculated by dividing the vertical distance (in meters) by the horizontal distance. So, if you’re climbing a 100-meter hill over a distance of 1000 meters, the gradient would be 100/1000, or a 10% grade. The steeper the grade, the higher the number.

Is there a cycling elevation gain calculator that will calculate it for me?

There are online tools to determine the elevation increase and gradient of any given route. If you enter the whole distance and the total climb of the road you’ll be riding on, this tool will calculate the elevation gain and the grade.

My favorite way to calculate elevation gain on a given route is to simply use Google Maps. Enter the addresses of your start and end point, and then click on the “Cycling” option. This will give you the distance of your ride as well as how much climbing you have to do.

So, now you finally know how to calculate elevation gain in cycling.

What is considered flat terrain in cycling?

Flat terrain in cycling is typically considered to be a road with a gradient of less than 1%.

This means that the elevation gain on such a road is minimal, and so it is an ideal location for cyclists who are looking to improve their speed and endurance.

While flat terrain is ideal for cyclists looking to improve their speed and endurance, some riders enjoy the challenge of elevation gain. For these riders, training on hilly terrain can be beneficial.

Hilly terrain is anything with an average gradient over 1%. Personally, this is what I like to ride because it really gets your heart rate going and you get to see some incredible views.

Did you know there are some Tour de France stages with more than 5000 meters (16,000 feet) or climbing?

Related Questions

What is a good elevation gain cycling?

That will depend on your fitness level and what you are trying to accomplish with your ride. If you are just looking for a leisurely ride, then any elevation gain will do. But if you are training for a specific event, then you will want to make sure your rides include enough elevation gain to prepare you for the race.

Remember, the key is to find a balance that works for you. Too much elevation gain and you will be exhausted before the end of your ride. Not enough elevation gain and you won’t get the workout you are looking for.

Find what works for you and stick with it. And have fun! After all, that’s what cycling is all about.

How can I measure elevation gain while riding?

There are a few ways to measure elevation gain while cycling.

One way is to use a GPS device, which will track and log the elevation gain of your ride. I like to use a Garmin bicycle computer. This will also allow you to save your route and upload your training data to an app to analyze it after your ride.

Another way is to use an app on your phone like Strava, which will also track and log your elevation gain. Strava has a feature called segments. When you finish your ride, your time on any climb is automatically compared to other Strava users who have ridden that climb so you can see how fast your time is compared to theirs!

Either of these methods can help you measure and track your progress as you train.

Elevation gain profile in Strava
Elevation gain profile after a Strava ride.


There you have it! Now you know what elevation gain is and how to calculate it. You also know how to use it to set training goals and plan your rides.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start climbing!

Falk Baumann

Falk Baumann is the founder of Prodify Cycling. Falk has been riding and competing in Mountainbike and Road Bike racing since he was very young. He started Prodify Cycling to bring more people into the sport and help them get started with the most fun sport there is.

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