A group of male cyclists on a mountain look at the camera and smiling

Distance and Elevation Gain for Cycling: Why It Matters

Your cycling distance and elevation are two of the most fundamental metrics you can monitor while riding your bike, whether indoors or outdoors. Monitoring these metrics can help you improve your strength, endurance, and cardiovascular health, and reach your goals. Let’s look at each of these metrics more closely to determine why and how you should be tracking them. 

What is cycling distance?

Older couple on bike path smiling at the camera.

Your cycling distance is exactly what it sounds like: how far you’ve cycled, indoors or outdoors. Once you complete a ride, your cycling distance is the total number of miles you’ve covered throughout the route.

If you’re new to cycling, you might wonder what’s “normal” for most cyclists or what’s considered “long-distance” cycling. In truth, the answer to both is subjective. How far you ride will depend on your fitness level, experience, and the type of routes you’re cycling. A less-experienced cyclist might consider a 20-mile route a long-distance ride, while a more experienced cyclist wouldn’t.

Why should I track my cycling distance?

Woman holding her bike while on top of a mountain celebrating.

If you’re new to cycling, tracking your distance alongside other riding data has many benefits. Most cyclists keep track of this key metric for the following reasons:

  • Motivation: Everyone likes to see how far they’ve cycled. Plus, biking a set number of miles and beating that mileage again in the future is hugely motivating! As you gradually increase your mileage over time, you’ll also see your endurance improve, which can be an exciting reason to keep going.
  • Weight loss or fitness goals: The further you cycle, the more calories you burn. So, if you started cycling to lose weight, biking a set distance (and increasing that distance over time) will help you reach your goals.
  • Training purposes: Let’s say you’re training for a century ride (100 miles). If you’re not used to cycling more than 20 miles in one session, you’ll need to train for several months to prepare your body and mind for the long ride. Keeping track of your daily rides and mileage will help you set goals and see your progress.

How many miles should I cycle each day?

Female cyclists on the road.

Generally speaking, your daily mileage goal should depend on your:

  • Overall fitness: Has it been a while since you’ve been active, or do you exercise daily?
  • Experience level: Are you brand new to biking, or have you done it for years?
  • Goals: Are you trying to lose weight? Training for a half-century ride? Want to improve your overall fitness?

Asking yourself these questions can help you determine a healthy daily mileage range that adequately meets your needs and abilities without putting you at risk for injuries.

How do I log my bike miles?

Group of male cyclists stopped at the side of the road smiling.

Accurately track the number of miles you ride on your bike with one of these tools:

  • Websites: Several websites allow cyclists to create maps of their routes as they cycle. Most of the time, you have to create an account, and then you can immediately start using it.
  • Your phone: You can also download apps on your phone to check your stats as you ride. Again, with most of these, you’ll need to create an account to start using them to track your cycling routes and mileage.
  • Virtual training apps: Use a virtual training app like Vingo to explore real-world virtual places and track your mileage at the same time. You can keep track of your stats as you ride, and when you’ve completed a route, you’ll see a summary of your ride stats (including the number of miles you biked) on your screen.
  • A bike computer: Bike computers attach to your handlebars and track stats like your speed, time cycling, distance, temperature, and calories burned. 
  • A bike odometer: A basic bike odometer attaches to your handlebars and runs on batteries. You can set it to display your mileage in kilometers, miles, or both.

As you can see, many different ways to track your cycling miles exist. Choose the one that best suits your preferences, routine, and available resources.

What is elevation gain in cycling?

Two male cyclists coming around sharp turn on a mountain.

Cycling elevation gain is the total number of feet you climb in a ride. If you’re training for a hilly competitive ride or want to improve your climbing abilities, most cyclists consider an elevation gain of 100 feet per mile, or 1,000 feet for every 10 miles, to be the gold standard for a good climbing route.

Why should I track the elevation gain in cycling?

A couple walking their bikes up a rocky mountain.

Cycling elevation gain is another important cycling metric to track because it will help you build strength and endurance. Biking hilly routes may not be the most fun type of riding (it’s hard work!), but it will improve your cardiovascular health and overall fitness level. 

Cycling uphill also engages most of the muscles in your body, strengthening your legs, upper body, and core. And if your goal is to lose weight or tone up, biking hills will help you burn plenty of calories, too!

Tracking the cycling elevation gain of your rides will help you determine if your strength and stamina are improving. Ideally, as your cardiovascular health improves, hilly routes will start feeling easier, and you’ll be able to tackle even more challenging rides.

How do I log my cycling elevation gain?

Two cyclists going down a rugged bike path.

You can use many of the same tools that help bikers track their cycling distance to log your route elevation. Examples include:

  • Websites: Many different websites will calculate your cycling route’s elevation, including Google Maps!
  • Your phone: Most apps that track your cycling distance will also track your elevation gain throughout your ride.
  • Virtual training apps: Apps like Vingo will also provide you with cycling stats, including the elevation gain of your ride.
  • A bike computer: Bike computers can provide a lot of information about your cycling route, including elevation, distance, and many other essential stats for monitoring cycling performance.

Key Takeaways:

Your distance and elevation gain tell you how far you’ve cycled and how much you’ve climbed along your route. Tracking these metrics while biking can help you improve your cycling performance, endurance, and strength. It may also help you reach any cycling goals you’ve set for yourself.

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