Google added elevation data to its Maps program this week, an addition that will help cyclists determine which way to go for a serious workout or an easy ride. This news is welcomed by those who commute back and forth to work and would prefer not to arrive drenched in sweat. The bad news is that the information is only available when specifically examining bike routes via a desktop internet browser.
In cycling, hills are separated into categories by the steepness of the incline. Most commonly referenced in professional races like the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia taking place now, categories are determined by the length of the climb, the increase in elevation and the maximum elevation reached. Hills or climbs are rated Cat 5 to Cat 1, with the latter being the more difficult. “Hors catégorie” abbreviated HC, translates to “Unclassified” or “Apart From” categorization, and is the most difficult climb rating. This practice began with the Tour de France as a way to make the mountains point system of the race fair. Initially, the difficulty of a climb did not change the points given to riders for finishing first. In 1947, race organizers separated the climbs into two categories, and over time those increased to the current day five. The difference between pro-race climb classifications and what online applications use is that hills are classified on an individual basis as opposed to by where they fall on the route. In the Tour, one hill that would have received a Cat 4 rating will jump up to 5 if it comes at the end of a long and difficult day.
Google Map’s latest addition is nice, but unlikely to impact their competitors performance numbers. Strava and Map My Ride are two cycling sites with companion apps that detail popular biking and running routes. Neither website offers an experience exactly like Google Maps, though the versatility and options provided by both services are robust, even with the free versions. Map My Ride and Strava work more like location lists, pocket trainers and social networks all in one. Riders or runners could search for routes that fit their criteria, record their workouts, compare their records and rides with others and join clubs online. Each website has a unique offering that is useful for athletes or commuters and goes above and beyond what Google is doing for the athletic sub-group of consumers. In Strava, people can compete in challenges designed with help from the Strava team. In Map My Ride, users that are more visually inclined can use the 3D Route flyover option. Once a rider has a course in mind, they can click on the link to show aerial video of the selected route. Users can create their own routes with beginning and end points.
Of course, Strava and Map My Ride and their apps include the feature that Maps just added, apparently specifically to help cyclists: altitude changes. The internet giant is behind the times in this respect. While the addition of elevation data on the desktop version is welcome, it is virtually useless since most users do not have a computer at the tip of their fingers when they go out for a ride or run. Not to mention the fact that people who walk or drive stick-shifts with questionable transmissions could definitely use the information about inclines as much as bike riders, and since Maps is broader service not focused on cycling, it would behoove them to add that feature for drivers and pedestrians. However, until the elevation feature is added to the app as well as to the other transportation options, it will pass under most people’s radar and be underutilized. Google Map users everywhere look forward to the day when the internet giant develops its own app to help cyclists, runners, and other outdoor enthusiasts get the most out of their sport.
By Aliya Tyus-Barnwell